Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A monarch of the insect variety ruled at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2015 Spring Gathering at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall on May 21st. Over 130 people gathered for the 6th annual dinner, awards ceremony and presentation, Mysteries of the Monarch Butterfly.

The Almonte Civitan was a flourish of butterflies, spring wildflowers and brilliant ‘butterfly & spring’ colors of green, orange and yellow sprouting from sparkling glasses, thanks to the design inspiration of MVFN members Lucy and Neil Carleton. An interesting educational display on butterflies was created by Neil Carleton. The large group mingled and met with friends as much interest and excitement was generated by the Burnt Lands Alvar Silent Auction fundraiser, organized by Bob and Cheryl Smith and the Alvar Campaign committee. Amongst the items:  a basket loaded with everything needed to create a monarch butterfly garden with a young child! Thanks to the generosity of club members and local community gardeners, birders, artists, business owners, and of course successful bidders, the Burnt Lands Alvar fundraiser was a resounding success!


Following a delicious dinner by Civitan volunteers, awards presentations began with MVFN Past President Ken Allison as Master of Ceremonies. Friend and Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) co-board member, Mary Vandenhoff, presented an MVFN Champion for Nature award to Howard Clifford, MMLT President and co-steward of the ‘Cliffland’ nature preserve and Blueberry Mountain.  Almonte and District High School student Ruth Tamas was awarded the 2015 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Award, presented by Bursary Chair Mike Macpherson. Dedicated to a sustainable future, Tamas plans to study Environmental Engineering. An exciting announcement also took place when Barbara Chouinard of the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club presented a $5000 cheque for MVFN’s Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

Guest speaker Jean Lauriault (Canadian Museum of Nature Associate) was enthusiastically introduced by Mary and Howard Robinson who were part of MVFN’s first ever international outing, led by Jean, to the overwintering grounds of the Monarch butterfly in Mexico.

In an inspired presentation, Jean told the story of the Monarch, the only butterfly to migrate; with the eastern North American ones migrating to Mexico and back each year. Now they are on their way back —the ‘great grandbutterfly’ descendants of the ones that left here last fall. Almost here now— out of Mexico they follow spring weather and healthy milkweeds through the Southern U.S. (where native milkweeds grow in early spring but then die off),   progressing northwards to our area. Once here several generations lasting only a few weeks are born, but in August those born will live for ~9 months. During that time the same individuals seen here will fly to the mountains of Mexico using staging grounds such as Point Pelee to cross large lakes, live the winter in Mexico along with millions of others in very dense clusters in trees, and finally travel north out of Mexico, then breed and die. Still a mystery: how they manage the journey; is it an inherited behavior triggered by circadian clock, or is navigation via the sun, magnetic fields, etc.? Originally a tropical species, it is thought that 10,000 years ago the species came north as glaciers melted and they now must migrate. Also a mystery: why one location in Mexico, El Rosaria, is the choice overwintering ground, chosen first over others.

Between Monarchs and milkweeds, a delicate relationship exists. Eggs must be laid on only certain milkweed species; the only plants the caterpillar can eat. The adult chooses plants with enough, but not too much, toxic cardenolides (which is sequestered to make the Monarch toxic to prey); plants are evaluated carefully using receptors on the legs and antennae. Loss of wildflower habitat (nectar species for the adults) in the U.S. where millions of hectares are planted with corn and soybean for biofuels, pesticides such as the neonicotinoids,  loss of the critical milkweed hosts, threats to the integrity of overwintering grounds,  and climate change all threaten the Monarch. Efforts in the Southern U.S. to plant certain milkweed species are now known to backfire because unlike native milkweeds, some species do not die off and the population’s movement north and its subsequent migration (which keeps the population healthy and lowers diseases) may not take place. Protecting milkweed and preserving pesticide-free wildlife space here helps the butterfly.

Jean was thanked by former MVFN President Joyce Clinton and the evening wrapped up with door prizes and hidden chair-prizes of mixed milkweed seeds to be planted as food to help out the larvae of our favorite butterfly!

Continue reading...

Click here for 2015 application form 

Press Release

April 1, 2015

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary committee are  looking for a young person with a passion for nature who believe they can make a difference in meeting the environmental challenges of the future. The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary is offered annually to assist a graduating high school student  to pursue post- secondary studies in a field related to the natural environment which may lead to a career in this field. This year, one bursary of $1000 will be awarded to a deserving student from our area. The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Fund is named for Cliff Bennett, a founding member of MVFN. The award was established by Cliff’s many friends in 2007, to honour his contributions to the community and nature, with a lasting legacy. To date, over $7000 has been awarded to local students pursuing their studies.

The 2015 bursary will be awarded to a local student who attends a high school in Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth, or West Carleton. To be eligible, a student must be graduating from high school and be undertaking post-secondary studies in an aspect of nature or an environmental field. As well as academic achievement, the bursary selection committee will consider an applicant’s involvement in issues relating to the natural environment. Previous recipients have actively promoted environmental awareness through school projects and volunteering. Interest in protecting our environment has led previous Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary award winners to pursue degrees in marine biology and zoology. Some award winners followed their passion in environmental stewardship by studying fish and wildlife technology or biotechnology.

 “I am pleased that this award may encourage a young person today to become an environmental leader tomorrow” says Cliff Bennett. “I consider it an investment in our environmental future”.

 Application forms are available from student services departments in area high schools, or from the MVFN website at The deadline for applications is Friday, May 1, 2015.

 For further details or questions, students may contact Mike Macpherson of the Nature Bursary Committee at 613-256-3043 or send an email to


Continue reading...

Two Area Students to Benefit from Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Cliff Bennett Nature Bursaries

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are pleased to announce that on June 19th Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary awards were presented to two local graduating high school students. The deserving recipients of the $600 bursaries are Katelyn Cadieux of Notre Dame Catholic High School, in Carleton Place, and Derek Oliver of Perth and District Collegiate Institute.

Katelyn will be attending the Environmental and Resource Studies honours program at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Derek will be attending McGill University’s Macdonald Campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, for studies in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

2014 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary


Photo:High school students Katelyn Cadieux (Notre Dame Catholic High School, Carleton Place) and Derek Oliver (Perth and District Collegiate) were each recipients of $600 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Awards for 2014. Presenting the awards on June 19th in Carleton Place were Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Bursary Committee chair Mike Keffer (left) and MVFN President Cliff Bennett (right). Photo by Neil Carleton.



The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary was established in 2007 by MVFN members, friends, and the family of retired educator Cliff Bennett on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The annual bursary is awarded to graduating high school students who are pursing college or university studies related to nature or the environment.

Since 2007, more than $7,000 has been awarded to 14 students from Almonte and District High School; Carleton Place High School; Notre Dame Catholic High School; Perth and District Collegiate Institute; St. John Catholic High School; and West Carleton Secondary School.

Application information for the bursary awards is available on MVFN’s website, at, or through Mike Keffer, Chair of MVFN’s Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Committee, at 613-256-8686, or


Continue reading...

Maberly area student winner of 2013 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are pleased to announce that Maberly area student Sierra Ramsey is the recipient of the 2013 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Award for post-secondary studies. Sierra, a graduating student of St. John Catholic High School in Perth, was presented with the $500 bursary on June 5 and was congratulated by MVFN Vice-President Cliff Bennett and Bursary Committee volunteer Lucy Carleton. Sierra has been accepted into the Fish and Wildlife Technician program at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario, for the Fall.

In her application, Sierra states “I am very interested in and spend a lot of time in the outdoors. I take saving the environment seriously”.

2013 Bursary winner (552x800)

Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary committee volunteer Lucy Carleton (left) joins Cliff Bennett as he presents Sierra Ramsey with the bursary award. Photo Neil Carleton

Sierra’s love for the outdoors has motivated her to take a demanding workload of courses in math, biology, and chemistry at St. John’s Catholic High School this year. She knows that this academic focus will help her in attaining her educational goal of becoming a conservation officer. Her summer experience includes working outdoors at a local provincial park. Teachers at her school have commented that she is “passionate about becoming a conservation officer, and even a short conversation with her makes this very evident. She has earned the respect of many teachers at this school and certainly the admiration of her peers.”

The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Award is given annually by the MVFN to a local graduating secondary school student going on to post-secondary studies relating to nature or the environment. The Bursary Fund was established in 2007 by friends and family of local naturalist, MVFN founding member, and retired educator Cliff Bennett on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The bursary is intended to assist local students who have a love and appreciation of the natural world in following this passion towards a career in environmental stewardship and conservation.

The annual Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary is administered by the MVFN. Application forms and further details may be found on the MVFN’s website at




Continue reading...

Three Area Students to Benefit from 2012 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursaries

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are pleased to announce that three winners have been awarded the Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary for students intending to pursue a college or university education in studies related to the environment. The deserving recipients of the $500 bursaries are Sarah Bird of West Carleton Secondary School, Laura Symon of Perth and District Collegiate Institute and Ryley Steele of Almonte and District High School.









L-R:  Laura Symon, Cliff Bennett, Ryley Steele and Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird has been accepted at the University of British Columbia’s Okanogan Valley campus and is planning on obtaining a major in zoology. She already has travelled to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon to gain a better understanding of these two significant ecological areas of the world. After completing her education Sarah hopes to work for an organization like the World Wildlife Fund. Overall she “would like her work to help raise global awareness about some of the harmful impacts our human activity has on the habitats of many species and use that awareness to drive global change.”

Laura Symon will be attending Dalhousie University in the fall and will be enrolled in marine biology. This summer Laura will be working on the Water Monitoring Program for the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority. She has been very active in school and has maintained a part time job during her years at PDCI. For Laura “hearing things about decreasing biodiversity in certain ecosystems, habitats home to amazing wildlife being destroyed, the state of our lakes, rivers, streams and oceans, and the melting of yet another glacier, make me very sure about what I want to focus my life on in the future.”

Ryley Steele will be attending St. Lawrence College in Kingston where he will be enrolled in the Biotechnology Technologist Program. Ryley is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and has recently participated in a project in Norfolk Virginia. He is also an active member of the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of Canada(CCFC). His involvement with CCFC has given direction to his choice of post -secondary education “My focus as a graduate is to work on research projects that are undertaken to determine what role the environment has played on the increase of this disease.”

The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Award was established in 2007 by MVFN members and friends and family of naturalists and retired educator Cliff Bennett on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The annual bursary program is supported by MVFN and applications and other details may be found on MVFN’s website at .

Congratulations to the three award winners and best wishes for your studies.


Continue reading...