Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Each summer/autumn, tens of thousands of shorebirds migrate through our area from their breeding grounds in the high Arctic.  Hundreds stop off to rest and feed at the Almonte Lagoons (behind the waste water treatment plant on Wolf Grove Road near Almonte).

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) maintain an observation tower, the Al Potvin Observation Tower, overlooking the lagoon, and a trail into the tower. For fifteen years, birders from all over the Province and beyond have made this prime shorebird location an important viewing spots. The 200 m trail in to the tower also may feature many fall warbler, sparrow and other species.

On four consecutive Wednesdays in August and September, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists invite you to walk in and view the multitude of shore birds between 3 and 5 PM. An expert birder with a spotting scope will be at the tower to talk about the birds and to provide the opportunity to learn the identity of the different birds present.

On August 23 between 3 and 5 pm the first birding open house at the Almonte Lagoons Al Potvin Observation Tower will take place. Visitors to the tower are encouraged to bring binoculars (and a spotting scope if you have one). Birder Ken Allison will be present with a spotting scope.

Open houses, all between 3 and 5 pm will also take place on August 30, September 6, September 13.

Directions to the trail and tower: from Almonte, take Wolf Grove Road (County Rd. 16) towards Middleville, 2 km. Turn north onto Ramsay Conc. 8 at the Auld Kirk church and cemetery, and travel approximately 100 m to the trailhead. The trail entrance is on Ramsay Conc.  8 across the road from, and just past, the cemetery. A small yellow sign marks the entrance.

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 August 19, 2016

The Almonte Lagoon and Nature trail, across from Auld Kirk cemetery on Ramsay Concession 8, has been the recipient of several rare birds over the past few years. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) Potvin Observation Tower provides  views across the lagoons.

On Saturday morning, August 13th, a Western bird, a juvenile male yellow-headed blackbird was spotted by noted Ottawa birder Mark Gawn, feeding on the exposed mudflats and hiding in the cattails. Immediately the signal went out over the birding networks and area birders began pouring in to get a glimpse of this rarity. At one point in the morning, a peregrine falcon zoomed in over the lagoon like a marauding spitfire and scared all of the shorebirds and the blackbird away, but within half an hour, the rare visitor returned, much to the delight of those who came to observe the bird and log the sighting in their records.

The yellow-headed blackbird has a range across the west from Lake Michigan, with a few coming into the Point Pelee area around Windsor. An inch larger than our most familiar red-winged blackbird, the adult male is all black with a brilliant yellow head and chest. Most distinctive is a white wing patch. The adult female has a more mottled yellow head and chest and does not show a wing patch.

The Almonte lagoon and Nature Trail sports an observation tower overlooking the fence and berm. The tower, named for its donor Al Potvin, was erected by MVFN several years ago and the nature trail leading to the tower is maintained regularly by MVFN members.

Having this excellent site and access trail in our area is of great value to local birders and others, and also has value for the local economy. In an economic study of the facility done in 2015 by MVFN member Cliff Bennett, a questionnaire was sent out all across Ontario through the ONTBIRDS network to gauge the dollar value of this magnetic draw of rare shorebirds and other birds coming in to rest and feed during migration. The results showed that during the year, 88 people had visited the lagoon, making a total of 265 visits. While in town, they spent over $4000 on gasoline, food and other shopping.  Today, the Lagoon and nature trail is regularly visited and reported on by the Ottawa birding network as well as local birders.

If you have not yet visited this facility, watch for MVFN’s series of September Open Houses at the Potvin Observation Tower. These will be held on four Wednesdays in September/October, details tba. From 3 to 5 P.M. on each of these days, an expert birder will be on site with a spotting scope to help you identify the lagoon’s visitors.

Submitted by Cliff Bennett, MVFN Past-President

 

 

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