Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

 

 

 

 

The results are in, large or small we listed them all!

The Bell Bushlot Bioblitz 2009 Report with complete species lists and photographs as pdf

There was intrigue during the February lecture of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) which began with a contest to correctly identify the total number of species found on their first ever 24-h bioblitz carried out in a special local woodland. As Tineke Kuiper progressed through her presentation, A September to Remember: Bioblitz Secrets of the Bell Woodland Preserve, the audience listened attentively as the tally kept rising with additions from each group of species. Where would it stop? Just how many species had been found?

As Dr. Kuiper, ‘tally master extraordinaire’ for the Bioblitz and former MVFN board member explained, a bioblitz is a 24-h survey of the biodiversity of a property. It is part challenge, part social gathering and most importantly, an educational citizen science event. MVFN’s bioblitz started at 3 pm Saturday, Sept 19 and ended at 3 pm Sunday, Sept 20, 2009 at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Bell Woodland Preserve near Clayton. The property is deciduous forest on Canadian Shield dominated by Sugar Maple forest, with small areas of mixed hardwoods. While the stream crossing the north end of the property was flowing during the bioblitz, wetlands through which the property drains to the east had no standing water. The weather both days was sunny and cool.

100 participants took part in over 20 one-hour expert-led guided walks. During these walks, experienced and novice naturalists poured over the 95 acre property looking and listening for every living thing. On each walk a photographer was present to record the finds. Experts also searched on their own adding to the species seen. Once sightings were verified, sometimes after further examination, they were added to the tally board and bioblitz database. The final species tally and complete species list have just been published in a report posted on MVFN’s website. As Tineke illustrated in her virtual tour, you don’t need to go any farther than your own forested backyard in Lanark County to see spectacular natural beauty and diversity: the vivid greens of the snakeskin liverwort, the impressively large larvae of the imperial moth, incredible floral diversity, wild and wonderful fungi such as the chocolate tube slime and artists’ conk, the elusive but seemingly numerous red eft, and large mammals ever-present but seldom seen face-on.

As Dr. Kuiper guided us through what the experts uncovered during the bioblitz, the species count on the ‘bioblitzometer’ continued to rise. Among the 30 birds, an early one recorded was the barred owl hooting in answer to Joel Byrne during his ‘Calling Creatures of the Night’ guided walk on Saturday night. Then the next day as walks led by Jeff Mills, Mike Runtz and Cliff Bennett began, the first bird to be seen was the hairy woodpecker, spotted by young bioblitz-naturalist Gillian Larkin. The bird population was much reduced except for a few stragglers which had yet to migrate. Some species such as the owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays, ravens and crows would remain during the winter, and it was too early for the winter finches to move in. Surprises for the fall were the scarlet tanager, three warbler species, vireos and flycatchers.

The greatest number of species tallied for a single group was 261 for vascular plants (bringing the blitzometer to 291), but this represented just a fraction of the year-round floral biodiversity. Fall species such as asters, goldenrods, daisies, and ferns were well-represented, while spring ephemerals (e.g. trout lily, dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty) which flower before the trees leaf out and shade them, were not seen. Eight of the species observed are considered rare in Lanark County.

Although fungi were very limited due to the bioblitz being held at the end of a warm dry period, there was no shortage. Where but in the fungal kingdom could you find such interesting names as dead man’s fingers, brick tops, witch’s hat, or chicken of the woods? The 58 fantastic fungi included basidomycetes, ascomycetes, a slime mold, and some fungi imperfecti.

Then there were the 50 marvelous mosses and 16 lovely liverworts which overall were indicative of a woodland in good ecological condition. Along with the fungi the count now soared to 415!

Insects were most abundant in the more open areas with asters and goldenrods. 63 species from 8 orders including beetles, bugs, grasshoppers & crickets, dragonflies & damselflies, butterflies & moths, scorpionflies, flies and bees were found. Due to the cold weather moth traps were not set up at night, so any moths recorded were from larval observations. With considerable adeptness, Chris Schmidt shook saplings and caught the ‘rain’ of Lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) in a large four-cornered umbrella net for later identification.

Seventeen species of invertebrates without 6 legs, (i.e. excluding insects), were found including 4 millipedes, a clam, 4 snails, 2 slugs, an earthworm, a sowbug, 3 spiders and a mite.

Nine amphibian species were seen or heard including the blue-spotted salamander, northern two-lined salamander, red-spotted newt, American toad, gray treefrog, spring peeper, green frog, northern leopard frog and wood frog. Due to the lack of much permanent water, conditions were not suited to turtles and none was found. The two reptiles found were both snakes—a gorgeous smooth greensnake and an eastern gartersnake.

The mammals enumerated were seen, heard or identified by tracks and/or droppings. Combined with the insects, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, the addition of 19 mammals brought the bioblitzometer to 525. One of the first mammals recorded was a coyote which called back in answer to the howls from participants on the Saturday night walk. To inventory small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews, two lines of live traps, bait and track tunnels (containing tracking paper smeared with black stove polish and oil to ‘capture’ foot prints) were set up the day before the bioblitz. The number of footprints showed that small mammals were present at a relatively high density.

Interestingly, despite the majority of the area being upland Sugar Maple forest, one fish species was found in the stream on the property—the Bluntnose Minnow.

At this point the tally reached 526—the total number of all species seen in the 24-hr period and it was time to identify the contest winner. Howard Robinson, who guessed 518 (just 8 species short) was closest to this number and won a copy of Earth, Water, Fire: An ecological profile of Lanark County by Paul Keddy.

The bioblitz was an ambitious undertaking and Tineke Kuiper thanked all those involved for their enthusiasm as well as the experts for their vital role in the event. To view a copy of the entire bioblitz report prepared by MVFN, listing all species identified and filled with gorgeous photographs, please visit MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

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David Seburn

Press Story
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 26, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

MVFN’s recent lecture explored why turtles outlived the dinosaurs but are now in trouble in Ontario

Photo: David Seburn discusses local populations of Blanding’s turtles with a carapace after MVFN lecture. Photo by Howard Robinson

Ecological consultant David Seburn was guest speaker March 20th for the 6th lecture in Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The lecture focused on Ontario’s turtles which Seburn describes as ‘endlessly fascinating’. As a species they have been around for so long they saw the dinosaurs go extinct! This is especially remarkable when one considers the relatively few species of turtles worldwide and only eight in Ontario.

The turtle’s shell, perhaps their best known and most unique feature, represents a serious biological limitation, Seburn explained. “They are enclosed in a little box so when they breathe they must compress their organs.” And when they need to pull in their head and limbs for defense, they have to hold their breath! Egg-laying is also a challenge. Not surprisingly the females tend to be larger than males to make room for eggs.

Seburn took the audience through the characteristics and distribution of Ontario’s eight turtle species and the conservation challenges they face. Interestingly, though loss and fragmentation of Ontario’s wetlands was one challenge highlighted, habitat protection did not dominate the discussion. Neither was the threat of global warming a major concern as we are at the northern limit for these reptiles’ successful egg hatching, so warmer temperatures could be beneficial. Why then, are six of Ontario’s eight turtles on the Canada’s ‘species at risk list’? As Seburn explained, Painted turtles and Snapping turtles are doing well. However the large Map turtle is of ‘special concern’ and the Spiny softshell, the Stinkpot, the Blanding’s and the Wood turtle are all considered ‘threatened’. The spotted turtle is in more serious trouble listed as ‘endangered’. It is rarely seen now.

Clues to the answer are the increasing adult mortality rate and the survival of eggs. Once turtles reach adulthood they can live a long time, and have the potential for a surprisingly long reproductive life combined with low rates of adult mortality. However, the natural success rate for eggs is so low that adult mortality must be kept at only 1-2% to maintain population stability. Unfortunately increasing adult mortality from road hazards has become a major problem when turtles travel on land to lay eggs or move to different food sources. The Blanding’s and Wood turtles are quite terrestrial and can travel 1-2 km to nest. Secondly, exacerbating a naturally low egg success rate is increasing predation from overpopulations of ‘subsidized’ predators such as raccoons in parks. Reaching more than 4 times regular rural numbers they can eat 100% of any turtle eggs in an area. Sadly sometimes the only warning sign a population is in trouble is it’s disappearance as all the adults eventually die off leaving no young.

Seburn made some suggestions to help conserve Ontario’s turtles. Short of closing down roads, municipalities can use drift fences or culverts to channel turtles across roads, and perhaps turtle crossing signs. Individuals can help turtles cross roads in the direction they were going (do not handle snapping turtles -lift them with a shovel). Large ‘ecopassages’ have been used in some places with great success in reducing mortality of a wide range of wildlife species. Recovery strategies for Ontario’s turtles also include research and population monitoring.

Info. from Seburn on identification and reporting turtle sightings has been posted on MVFN’s website (see Turtle Watch 2008 filed under Conservation). Turtle sightings can be reported locally to Mississippi Valley Conservation or to the Toronto Zoo Turtle Tally project by calling 416-392-5999.

‘Focus on Mammals’ by Glenn Desy (MNR) will be the last lecture in MVFN’s Conservation Challenges series, Thursday April 17th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall in Almonte. For more information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or visit MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson
November 19, 2007

Last Thursday an enthusiastic crowd gathered at Almonte United Church to learn about our nine Eastern Ontario snakes from Tobi Kiesewalter at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture. ADHS teacher Mike Keffer introduced Tobi who had just returned from New Zealand where there are no native snakes!

Kiesewalter lecture (1280x960)

 

Kiesewalter has been studying and educating people about snakes for more than 10 years as
naturalist at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, and his enthusiasm on the topic was infectious. He
works hard to get out the Park’s message “live and let slither” on behalf of the 9 species that call
Eastern Ontario home. Key conservation issues which emerged included maintaining habitat and
increasing awareness of risks snakes face from road hazards and human persecution. Although
none of Eastern Ontario’s snakes pose a danger to humans, as Tobi explained, they are often
misunderstood or feared because they are rarely seen or when seen they may be mistaken for a less
benign species. Our Northern Water snake for example may be mistaken for the venomous water
moccasin. The Eastern milk snake may be encountered acting aggressively while shaking its tail
against dry leaves, and be incorrectly identified as a rattlesnake.

The evening began with an excellent video, Black Ratsnake Conservation in Ontario, filmed in St.
Lawrence Parks and Murphys Point Provincial Park and featuring university researchers and
Ontario Parks staff conducting research on this species considered ‘threatened’ in Ontario. The
snakes were seen climbing trees, being measured or implanted with tracking devices and having
their over-wintering hibernaculums monitored. Tobi donated a copy of the 20-minute video to
MVFN, who is pleased to loan it out. Sightings of rare black ratsnakes can be reported to the
Natural Heritage Information Centre at http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca.

Tobi followed the video with fantastic slides of other snakes. The audience learned the difference
between black ratsnakes and the northern water or eastern milk snake, and the northern brown
versus the northern redbelly. There were also wonderful photos of white half moon markings in
front of the tiny northern ribbon snakes’ eyes and of the elusive but beautiful smooth green snake.

Tobi showed us that our snakes are a tough bunch. They survive in spite of challenges of being
‘ectotherms’ in our cold climate, thanks to adaptations and to the proper habitat still being found
here. Forest edge habitat is critical since to regulate body temperature they need both cooling
forest shade and open areas for basking in the sun. In winter black ratsnakes congregate in
communal burrows or hibernacula and they return to the same ones year after year. Therefore they
should never be relocated more than 100-200 metres away because they will die when winter
comes. Temperature regulation is also important in the summer. Eggs layed in carefully chosen
nests will require 10 weeks of 30 degrees C to develop. Therefore it is critical to not disturb rock
piles, rotting stumps or standing dead trees.

Surprisingly, although it is generally rare for snakes, five Eastern Ontario species do not lay eggs
at all but give birth to live young. The live-bearing or ‘gravid’ females can control the temperature
of developing young by regulating their own temperature. As a consequence, however, hazards of
the road are even more serious for these species if a gravid female is involved.
Following the slides, Tobi brought out the 20-year-old, bred-in-captivity black ratsnake which had
accompanied him to Almonte and challenged those uncomfortable around snakes to hold the
animal. The snake was seen moving from person to person, checking its route with a constant flick
of its forked black tongue drawing in traces of a chemical trail to determine if it was going right or
left.
The public is invited to the next lecture of MVFN’s “Conservation Challenges” series January 17,
2008 with Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature who will focus on Butterflies. For
further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see
MVFN’s website at http://mvfn.ca.

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