Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Jean Lauriault
Press Story
Amazing Monarchs at MVFN
January 24, 2008
by Sheila Edwards

A large crowd gathered January 17 for a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture on Monarchs presented by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature. As one of Canada’s foremost Monarch experts and member of a tri-national committee for conservation of these animals, Lauriault knows Monarchs well. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have a very interesting life cycle, as short as 20 days, or 9 months long. During a hot summer the cycle is quick and thus more generations are born. From June to August, adults lay eggs on milkweed. In 3 to 15 days they hatch and there are 5 instars or molts of the caterpillar (larvae) taking up to 14 days, before the pupa or chrysalis (not cocoon) stage is reached. The adults emerge within 7-15 days and will live as little as 14 days or as long as 8-9 months for the late-season adults emerging in August. These are the adults which go into sexual diapause and begin the amazing migration south, remaining sterile until starting their return trip.

Monarch migration has always fascinated scientists, children, and nature lovers alike, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the site of their winter home in Mexico was discovered. As they leave Canada, Monarchs in Ontario gather at ‘staging’ areas to cross Lake Erie and Ontario. Then, covering distances of up to 100 km per day at heights of up to 1 km, they head to locations in southern US and remote areas in Mexico. Little is known about the stopover locations used during their trip, but upon arrival as many as 50 million butterflies may congregate within trees in a single hectare. They do not eat all winter but survive on stored Lipids. In March as the area gets drier, they mate and head north, with many stopping in Texas to lay their eggs and die, leaving the next generation to complete the return journey. Those arriving in Canada are the children of those that left in August.

It is hard enough to conserve a species that stays put, but conserving Monarchs, Lauriault noted, poses a ‘super challenge”, requiring the efforts of three countries. Concerns in Mexico include protecting the remote wooded area favoured by the Monarch, from illegal logging. When return migration commences clouds of butterflies fly low over the land and thousands/millions may be killed by vehicles. Important also are the stopover areas in the US, many not yet identified, where a generation may be raised in the spring, and where non-migrating Monarchs may also live.

What can we do here in Canada to conserve Monarchs? The staging areas in southern Ontario need continued protection. Secondly, Milkweed, the sole food of the caterpillar, is classified as a weed since it is toxic to cattle; action needs to be taken to remove this classification. A very aggressive invasive species that has gotten a strong foothold in Ontario is dog-strangling vine (Pale Swallowwort), also in the milkweed family. Adults can mistakenly lay their eggs on it, but the hatched caterpillars cannot eat this plants leaves. Dog-strangling vine should be eradicated whenever possible. Finally as Lauriault pointed out, the adult butterflies feed on nectar of various wild flowers and thus roadside flora need to be protected from mowing and herbicide application. On an up note, provide habitat by planting a butterfly garden, and enjoy!

To wrap up our evening, we presented Jean Lauriault with a Monarch T-shirt. He then drew a name for a second Monarch shirt, won by Teresa Peluso. Both shirts were donated by Neil Carleton, a local educator who often uses Monarchs for teaching biology and conservation in his classroom.

The next lecture in our series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” on Thursday, Feb 21st will be “Ontario’s Birds” presented by Cliff Bennett, an MVFN founding member and Ontario East Director for Ontario Nature. For more information please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or email . MVFNs Annual Winter Walk will take place February 17th. Learn about Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals. For more information call Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or refer to for information on either of these upcoming events.


1. Further information on butterflies can be found in The Butterflies of Canada by Layberry, Hall and Lafontaine, parts of which can be found on-line at

2. More information on dog-strangling vine may be found at, and

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
July 11, 2007
by Sheila Edwards

“MVFN canoe outing: A fine day for a paddle”

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Most who witnessed the procession of canoe/kayak laden vehicles heading into the Lanark Highlands were probably questioning our sanity given the rainy weather. In fact the weather proved fine for the paddle organized by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) on Sunday, July 8. Fourteen of us took the risk and reaped the benefits of a great day spent on the water.

Our group, led by MVFN’s Cliff Bennett, was greeted by a family of loons as it left the shore to explore Park Lake. Another family was seen on Horne Lake, and there was much calling from unseen birds, indicating more in the area. Although these lakes are quite small, Park can reach a depth of over 13 meters, which is likely where the loons are feeding.

Other bird species recorded by the group included spotted sandpipers, Swainson’s thrush, Veery, ovenbird, rose-breasted grosbeaks, great blue heron, and a great crested flycatcher.

These lakes appeared quite pristine, with no signs of zebra mussels eradicating our local eastern elliptio mussel population*. This may also explain the muskrat population, as they use mussels as a source of protein. On two occasions, muskrats were watched swimming and diving down for food.

An island in the middle of Horn Lake was perfect for lunch, allowing for swimming, birding (small ones in the trees and loons flying overhead) and it’s resident snake. The

Northern Water Snake, which is often confused with the more southern venomous water moccasin, remained undisturbed by our visit Numerous marsh milkweeds dotted the shoreline, just out from the shore was the beautiful pink water smartweed, pickerel weed was spotted in shallow areas, and many other plants were photographed for later identification.

For details on our bi-weekly canoe trips and other MVFN activities, visit the MVFN website . All members and friends are welcome. The next canoe trip planned is Sunday July 22, Mississippi River, Appleton-Almonte, site 15 on Lanark County Canoe & Kayak Journeys.

Contrary to popular belief, the mussels in Park Lake were eastern elliptio, not eastern pondmussel. According to André Martel “when most of us see mussels in rivers and lakes, we’re likely looking at the more common eastern elliptio, eastern lampmussel, the plain pocketbook or perhaps the fatmucket, which is especially adept at that minnow disguise.” The eastern pondmussel is apparently a rather rare species, thus in the Mississippi Valley mussels seen would most likely be eastern elliptio.

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
October 20, 2006

by Sheila Edwards

Big Creek Fall Hike with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Big Creek Fall Lake - People on LogOver a dozen members and friends of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists gathered near Watson’s Corners for a fall ‘natural history’ hike Sunday, October 15th. Although the 16th century term ‘Natural History’ refers to a systematic account of natural phenomena, and not ‘history’, our walk did frequently provide glimpses into the past. Led by MVFN member Joel Byrne, we spent a beautiful day wandering through this rugged terrain of fall hardwood and wetland areas.

The area featured downed trees, broken trunks, and boughs caught by branches above us. Occasionally we heard: “That’s not a good place to stop” when someone in the group inadvertently paused in a precarious place. Hiking here is not recommended on a windy day! The prevalence of “widow makers” in the woods brought back stories of the ice storm: how views from windows became drastically changed, and dense forests were thinned. Of course not all the damage was caused by the ice storm. When a forest is left in its natural state short-lived trees come and go, fallen branches decay where they land, and trees left behind from logging may stand out from the crowd. A series of blackened stumps may have been remnants from fires during the Depression. Studying these impacts gives us insights into the history of the area.

When first entering the forest along an old lumber road, we were lucky enough to come across a couple of Grouse, or the same grouse twice, it’s sometimes hard to tell in the forest. Although large flocks of birds are common at this time of year, winter seemed to have come early to these forests and not many were spotted. Mammals were about. Close examination of scat found on a large log indicated a fisher had recently been eating the red berries of Bittersweet Nightshade. Blue Jays were seen (and heard) as we started out on the trail. A Hairy Woodpecker was easy to see at one point, due to the lack of foliage. And friendly Chickadees helped themselves to peanuts right out of Joel’s hand.

The few remaining flowers on the Herb Robert (a native Geranium) and the slightly more hardy New England Aster, brought to mind the recent colder nights. Several in the group enjoyed looking at some of the minute details of the flora and fauna with hand lenses. Others enjoyed sampling the abundant and potent wild leek.

Our picnic lunch site also reflected an earlier time. Parts of a wall from an old dwelling became a backrest for hungry walkers. An old circle of rocks was cleared for a campfire, and dead wood hung up in trees became our firewood. After lunch, a rusty sap bucket was lowered into a well so we could douse the fire. The time it had taken the original settlers to make the well seemed incredible. The walls made with tight fitting rounded rocks showed no effect from the passage of time. The well had to pre-date the large tree growing just inches away, yet there was no sign of damage from the roots. We completed the hike walking back along the ridge following an old split rail fence, along the edge of the wetland area, then following the deer trails in the field, ending at Joel’s summer home.

MVFN’s next outdoor event has not yet been scheduled. On November 16th MVFN presents a lecture with Pat Ferris of MAPLE who will discuss the ecology and rehabilitation of shorelines. If interested, and for more information contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879, e-mail  or see our website at

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
September 21, 2006

by Sheila Edwards

Michael Runtz brings to life the work of one of nature’s great engineers in the watershed – the Beaver

BeaverA large crowd gathered on Thursday the 14th for Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) September lecture. Michael Runtz was the keynote speaker for the first of a series of talks exploring the “Mississippi Valley Watershed”.

One sign of a great educator is when an audience doesn’t realize how much they are learning. In his presentation “Beaver Ponds in the Watershed”, Michael Runtz showed he is one such educator. His enthusiastic delivery style brought to life information based on his astute observations of nature. A well respected naturalist, nature photographer, and author, Runtz captivated his audience with stories about beavers, the topic of his next natural history book. Based on the response Thursday, it should prove as popular as his other Canadian best-sellers such as Wild Wings, Algonquin Seasons and Moose Country .

Runtz showed us how beavers play the role of engineer when it comes to creating nutrient rich ponds, teeming with life. Water levels are raised, new species are attracted, and the forest gradually acquires a pond, marsh, and ribbon of grassland. The habitats thus created by this impressive rodent are vital to the health of our watershed.

As the seasons change, a beaver pond changes as well. In the spring, nutrients will be washed out, enriching the water downstream; frogs will be at their noisiest, many birds will be arriving to nest in the forest and on dead trees standing in the pond; and the beavers will be busy feeding and working on their dams and lodges. Beavers feed on tree bark, the soft layer under the bark, and also herbaceous plants like pond lilies. As fall approaches, the beaver becomes more visible during the day as it works on creating a food pile for the winter and does fall maintenance on its structures; the lodge’s insulation is upgraded by piling more mud on top and the dam must be high enough to ensure the pond does not completely freeze. The lodge’s exits are about 1.5 m below the water’s surface, at a depth which hopefully will remain unfrozen throughout the winter. The beaver swims underwater to the food pile, eating the branches that are weighed down by less edible wood like alder. Beavers keep the lodge’s upper chamber clean for sleeping by eating and defecating in the lower chamber. Like the rabbit, the beaver has a ‘two-pass’ digestive system to maximize the nutritional benefit of its high-roughage diet.

If you are interested in observing beavers, Runtz had some good suggestions. For the paddler, beaver can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes, so if they startle and dive down, they could be gone a long time. For the XC-skier, if the hole at the top of the lodge is open, and surrounded by frost; the occupants are alive and well. When watching a beaver cutting wood, they may use their tail as a stool by leaning back on it; they will also use either their front teeth or side teeth depending on whether they are eating or cutting respectively.

On Thursday October 19th, MVFN welcomes guest speaker Aquatic Ecologist, Brian Potter (OMNR) who will discuss “Wetland Habitats in the Watershed” (7:30 p.m. Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin Street). For more information on the lecture series please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879/email , or visit our website at . For those interested in an MVFN nature walk, the next one will be hosted and led by Joel Byrne at his property “Big Creek” near Watsons Corners, Sunday October 15th. If interested, and for more information, please contact Mike McPhail at 613-256-7211 or email

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Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

September 19, 2006

by Sheila Edwards

End of summer paddle to Canonto Lake

Sometimes a paddle is great because of the unusual birds we see, sometimes it’s the flowers in bloom, and sometimes it’s a little frog that tries to jump into the boat; after a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) outing each paddler has a renewed interest in nature.

September 10th was a great day to be out on the water, leaving behind the yard work, window caulking, car washing, and other fall chores that our neighbours were up to. An intermittent breeze kept a bit of a chill in the air, but not enough to deter even the most novice paddler in the group.

For the Canonto paddle there were many points of interest, some quite unexpected. It surprised some of us that one could head south-west on Wolfe Grove Rd (with a zigzag at Hopetown, past Poland and beyond) for such a long distance without encountering a heavily populated area. Once out on the lake, the water was so different from many of the other locations we have paddled. Many Eastern Ontario lakes have super-high levels of nutrients, making them eutrophic; Canonto Lake has less nutrients, as evidenced by its clarity and lower populations of species.

The geography of this lake was a mixture of marshes, treed shoreline, and majestic rocks. The marshes were home to the occasional Midland Painted Turtle and Great Blue Heron. Birds were heard from the trees but rarely seen; several times yellow leaves fluttering down were mistaken for American Goldfinch. An otter was spotted weaving among the trees near the shore; luckily we had not interrupted its fishing, as its fur was dry. One rock island was particularly appealing and if it had been up for grabs would likely have been adopted.

For lunch, we pulled our boats onto a rocky area large enough for the six canoes and two kayaks, with room left over for us to picnic. An unusual mushroom was found in the woods near the rock face. As no one had a clue as to its name, we snapped a couple of pictures for later identification. It was a Four-Footed Earthstar (Geastrum quadrifidum), visible during the late summer under conifers. For a closer look please see the latest additions to our website photogallery.

A detailed description of how to get to the Canonto Lake public boat launch can be found on the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists website, Although our club paddling has come to an end for this season, for those interested in an MVFN nature walk, the next one will be hosted and led by Joel Byrne at his property “Big Creek” near Watsons Corners, on Sunday October 15th. If interested, and for more information, please contact Mike McPhail at 613-256-7211 or email .

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