Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count December 27th

by Iain Wilkes

Birders and nature enthusiasts in Carleton Place and surrounding areas can join citizen scientists throughout the Americas and participate in the Audubon Society’s longest-running wintertime tradition, the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The Carleton Place CBC will be held this year on Tuesday, December 27th and it is sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) and coordinated in Canada by Bird Studies Canada.  The count area is a 24 km circle centered on the bridge over the Mississippi River in Carleton Place, and includes Almonte, Appleton and Ashton. Details for Christmas Bird Counts can be found on the Audubon website.

Thousands of individuals participate in counts throughout the Americas and beyond between December 14, 2016 and January 5, 2017. “Each CBC volunteer observer is an important contributor, helping to shape the overall direction of bird conservation.”  Bird Studies Canada and our partners at the National Audubon Society in the United States rely on data from the CBC database to monitor bird populations.  Last year, during the 2015 Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count over 60 volunteers spent the day observing birds resulting in the recording of over 6700 birds and 46 different species.

The CBC tradition began over a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history.  On Christmas Day in 1900, the small group posed an alternative to the ‘side hunt,’ a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals.  Instead, Chapman proposed that they identify, count, and record all the birds they saw, founding what is now considered to be the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation effort.   The first Audubon bird count in Carleton Place took place in 1944.

Volunteers are essential to the success of the CBC. You don’t need to be an expert but it helps to be familiar with local bird species.  In any case, participants in the field counts will be placed in a team led by an experienced birder and everyone is welcome. You will need a pair of binoculars.  As well residents with bird feeders within a count area can  help by listing all birds at your feeder or in your yard on the count day.

For more information or to register for the Carleton Place CBC on December 27th, please contact Iain Wilkes at    If you are interested in helping out by counting birds at your feeder/yard, please register with Georgina Doe at 613- 257-2103.  At the end of the Carleton Place count day, field participants return to the Community Room upstairs at Mitchell’s Independent in Carleton Place on McNeely Avenue for the count-in as well as refreshments.

Best of the Season to All!

Red-breasted Nuthatch (1024x892)

A red-breasted nuthatch, one of the species which may be seen during the Christmas Bird Counts being organized by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists.  Photo by Susan Wilkes

Continue reading...

Peter Gilling “Pete” Goddard

GODDARD, Peter Gilling


Left us suddenly and too early with dignity and love, while walking the autumn trails of Shaw Woods with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and his brother, Allan.

Third son of his late parents Elizabeth Anne Goddard (Macdonald) and Raymond Gilling Goddard of Smiths Falls. Survived by brothers John (Debbie), Allan, David (Nancy), sister Jennifer (Grant), Barbara (and husband) Kathy, nephews Graeme (Emily), Geoffrey, nieces Naomi (Andrew), Keenan Anne (Adam), friend Caroline and especially the twinkles in his eyes, Zoey Elizabeth and Winston Gilling.

Pete served with dedication the Boy Scouts of Canada for over 40 years in various capacities of teaching, instruction, leading and managing. He instructed and lead outdoor activities at the Bill Mason Center and recently retired from active outdoor field management and instructing with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. He was an active and caring member of the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa.

Dear Peter, so fondly missed by his loving family and so many friends and especially by brother Allan, room-mate, friend, brother.

In memory of Pete, please plant a tree, save one, contribute to his beliefs. He cared so much about the world in which we live.

A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, November 26 at 4:30 PM in First Unitarian Congregation, 30 Cleary Ave., Ottawa. Dress casual.

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the care of the C. R. GAMBLE FUNERAL HOME & CHAPEL 127 Church Street, Almonte, Ontario. (613)256-3313

Condolences & Tributes:


Continue reading...

Black caterpillar seen on December 9

Black Caterpillar seen in December

MVFN Naturenotebook sighting: On December 10, 2015, Lise Balthazar of Lanark Highlands (Sheridan Rapids) wrote: “I spotted a large black caterpillar yesterday and took a picture.”

Ken Allison: It looks like a species of tiger moth caterpillar, a large group which includes the common Woolly Bear caterpillar.
Black caterpillar
photo by Lise Balthazar
Continue reading...

Naturally Special Places: theme for MVFN’s 2015-2016 series of nature talks

updated Jan 4, 2016

The theme for this season of MVFN nature talks/presentations is Naturally Special Places. We have a wonderful group of guest speakers for these presentations. All presentations take place at 7:30 pm at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte:

NOTE: featured image of gray tree frog on cardinal flower is by our March speaker, Grant Dobson, President of Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre, one of our featured Naturally Special Places.

September 17

Sparrows, Warblers and Hawks, OH MY! Taking a Peep at the Wild Bird Centre, Patty McLaughlin, Wild Bird Care Centre

October 15

What’s Happening Down in the Pasture?  Pesticides and Pollinators, Dr. James Coupland, FarmForest Research

November 19

On Guard for Nature: Ontario Nature’s Fight to Uphold the Endangered Species Act,  Dr. Anne Bell, Ontario Nature

January 21,  2016

Exploring the Soundscapes of Naturally Special Places, Chad Clifford, Wilderness Rhythms

February 18

Purdon: Uniquely Natural, Shannon Gutoskie, Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority

March  17

Shaw Woods: A Diverse Ecological Gem, Grant Dobson, President, Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre

April 21

Wild Life Journals, Members Night 

Grant Dobson (1280x899)

photo by Grant Dobson, Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre


Continue reading...

What is an alvar? Burnt Lands: a rare alvar of exceptional quality

What is an alvar?

The word alvar refers to an open area of limestone or marble pavement ‘barrens’ or ‘plains’ with little or no soil or may sometimes refer to the plant community found there (as on the Swedish ‘Great Alvar’ on the island of Oland, Sweden).

Alvars have unique ecological features that  support distinctive flora and fauna. Alvar environments are rare and are recognized as globally imperiled ecosystems by The Nature Conservancy of Canada. Often flooded in the spring and affected by drought in midsummer, they are home to a very hardy group of flora and fauna that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the alvar.

From a conservation perspective, alvar communities command interest because of their rarity, distinctive character and their large number of rare species; some of these rare species may be relicts from ancient times which became isolated populations surviving where other species cannot.

“What alvars have in common is an ancient and unforgiving environment, a set of climatic and geographic parameters that seem designed to make it as challenging to life forms as any habitat on the temperate side of the Arctic circle.”

Dan Brunton: ” . . anything that can grow there is one tough cookie”

Summary: alvars are globally imperiled ecosystems; home to rare life forms; relicts of an earlier postglacial landscape

Burnt Lands Alvar: a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality

The Burnt Lands Alvar, designated as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI),  is an outstanding example of alvar habitat – combining various vegetation communities on alvar pavement, alvar grasslands, alvar shrub lands, treed alvar and wetlands. Besides its unique flora, the alvar also supports 82 breeding bird species, 48 butterfly species, 98 species of owlet moths, globally rare species of land snail, globally rare invertebrates, and a kind of carabid beetle found nowhere else in the world.

The alvar meadows and rock flats communities on the Burnt Lands Alvar are provincially significant. Although the alvar is not a prairie, its significant grassland meadows of dropseed are extensive and considered equivalent to grassland habitat of the Great Plains and a relict from the receding glaciers.

The Burnt Lands Alvar : ” . . . stands in a class by itself in terms of condition, extent, alvar development, and significant species and features. Due to the rarity of alvar environments, and the exceptional quality of the Burnt Lands, there has been, and will continue to be, significant research interest by MNR, university, conservation and scientific groups and others.” [reference/link to Burnt Lands Interim Management Statement, Ontario Parks, 2001]. 

Summary: Burnt Lands Alvar is home to western prairie-like grasslands,  unique rare species, unusual fossils and is an important research and teaching site.

Link to finding the Beauty in the Burnt Lands; Dan Brunton explores the Burnt Lands Alvar

Blue link below: a  recent presentation What is an Alvar? and What’s So Special about the  Burnt Lands Alvar by Ken Allison to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists on January 15, 2015 (note: all photos in the pdf by Ken Allison except title page picture  from Wikipedia).   Ken Allison is an expert naturalist and former President of both the Ottawa Field Naturalist’s Club and the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists.

pdf Burnt Lands Alvar Presentation by Ken Allison





725 x 450 alvar




Burnt Lands Alvar MVFN Walk in 2009 led by alvar expert/botanist Dr. Paul Catling; snail found on alvar during walk (photos Pauline Donaldson); Fringed Gentian (photo Cathy Keddy).  


DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Press Release –  Field Naturalists launch campaign to save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI



Continue reading...