Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A Lanark Big Year – February 28th – One Bird at a Time!

pdf  with photos: A Lanark Big Year –  February 28- One Bird at a Time!

Southwest Corner of the CountyLanark Country Roads2









February! What can one say about this month of cold and snow? Well for one thing, it has been a season of seeing one bird at a time! Lots of local day trips coupled with outings to the NW and SW corners of the county resulting in a maximum of one new species on any given day. As well I have noticed that Lanark has an incredible mixture of tree species, from the Pines, Spruces, Oaks, Maples, Hackberrys, Hickorys and many more. Last year I guided a couple, who are birding buddies of mine from Ferintosh, Alberta (south of Edmonton), around eastern Ontario and they loved the variety of tree species as much as the eastern birds. He worked as a forester for the Alberta government so he know his trees, and he was amazed at the variety. As well one notices how young many of the trees are, a result of the centuries of logging, both for settlement of the land and to supply the Royal Navy’s ship building yards.

This is also a year that the Great Lakes are more frozen then they have been in decades with the result that there may be more and different duck species on any open water there is left. In Almonte, I saw the 5 Redheads just east of the bridge, a first for my Lanark life list.


First Catholic Church2

I have walked and driven the Mississippi River several times in the last month and regularly see Common Goldeneyes and Mallards at Appleton, and Carleton Place. I also spotted one sleeping male Red-breasted Merganser in the rapids by the Pakenham Five Span Bridge. He seemed unconcerned about the chunks of ice bopping around him as he dozed. In the last few days 7 Lesser Scaup turned up on the river across from the Carleton Place High School.

In early February, Zaza and I did a tour of the southwest corner of the county. It was another cold but at least sunny day and we worked our way west on County Rd 6 from Perth to Althorpe and then onto to County Rd 36. South on 36 takes you out of the county as we crossed the Tay River which still had an open stretch. We turned left onto Parish Rd to head back toward the county and came across the site of the first Roman Catholic Church in that area established in 1840. It was established by Irish priests from Armagh and all that was visible was a marker. Parish Rd got us back to County Rd 10 (Westport Road) and travelling east we came to the Lanark County sign. So far all we had seen were Crows, Ravens and Blue Jays. Is it just me or are there many more Blue Jays this year? We see them throughout the county as well mobbing feeders. From there we travelled all the way to Merrickville, where just on the edge of town a Sharpie dashed across the road and behind a house. I suspect lunch was ready at the feeder. We ended the day by coming up the eastern edge of the county surveying all the fields for Larks but no luck.

Blueberry Mountain

Our second day trip was to Blueberry Mountain. The drive turned up a beautiful Adult Bald Eagle soaring near Hopetown, Purple Finches on Flower Station Road and of course Blue Jays everywhere. We reached the Blueberry Mountain parking lot but there was way too much snow to do any hiking without snowshoes. I now know the area better and plan on hiking the K&P Trail in the spring.

I decided it required a more concerted effort to find Larks so I started driving all of the eastern county roads with large open fields between Pakenham and Merrickville. Persistence paid off. We found a small flock of Snow Buntings on the edge of McArton Rd near the Appleton Road end and stopped. Again Zaza was the first to notice the two Horned Larks just into the open field and separated from the Buntings.

Okay now for the numbers. Remember I had identified 61 target birds for the first three months of 2014, well I have only seen 34 so far; not a single Siskin, Redpoll, Crossbill or Grosbeak in sight. In addition I have seen 8 species I didn’t target for this season, such as the Varied Thrush, Robin and some of the Ducks, for a total of 42. It is a slow start for a target of 200.

purple finch2




So remember to let me know of interesting birds you see, such as Owls, Raptors in general, Longspurs and any of the normal winter finches I am missing. Email me at

Cheers and may March be better!




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A Lanark Big Year – January 23 – Winter Birding

“A Lanark Big Year – January 23 – Winter Birding”

Well it is near the end of January and it has been a tough month for birding. Between the snowsqualls, cold, and wind, many birds are hunkered down, requiring a lot of effort for each sighting. I spent time birding on 19 days so far in January, mostly by car and I have seen 35 species. I think this is a good time to introduce the concept of a nemesis bird. During a lifetime of birding there is always, at least for me, been a species that alludes you for months or maybe years before you see it. These nemesis species are often not even particularly uncommon but for some reason you just keep missing them, while your friends seem to have no problem locating them. Well this year is no different! So far, no matter how many trails I walk and how many trees I scan the trunks of, I have still failed to see a Brown Creeper or Golden-crowned Kinglet. Oh well that is birding; so let us get started with some highlights and pictures of the first 20 days of 2014.

Looking for Brown Creepers

Rarest bird by far is the Varied Thrush which has been at a feeder north of the Mill of Kintail since December. After standing 20 feet from the feeder for 30 minutes, freezing my hands and feet as it was -27C that morning, the thrush flew into the cedar next to the feeder but would not show itself. Despite this I could pick out the bold supercilium and the orange and black colours. After a small victory dance, I moved into a back roads drive west using roads north of Hwy 7, and discovered the village of Harper and the Campbell Cemetery on Drummond Concession 7. It sits on high ground across open farmer’s fields mixed into a set of trees. There is also a small Baptist church north of the village dated 1886. A little Googling turns up some interesting families and history in this part of Lanark. After that I called Ken Allison to see if the Great Horned Owls were active. I arrived at his place around 4:30 PM and hiked down to the pond. It was bitterly cold and there were no hoots. As my fingers began to go numb I pulled out my cell and played the call, which soon resulted in two Great Horned Owls calling back. It was magical to listen to them through the cold still air while looking across the pond at the last light in the western sky.

Baptist Church near Harper Campbell Cemetery

January 8th, Zaza and I headed for the western edge of the county. Taking Hwy 7, then Ferguson Falls road where we came across 50 Snow Buntings at a feeder. This was one of two large groups we found, the other at a house on the edge of the village of Lanark. Further along the road we found 30 Cedar Waxwings in front of a house. From Lanark we drove to Fallbrook and then onto Bennett Lake Road and headed toward the end of the county. We saw numerous Blue Jays which seem to have taken over every feeder in sight. Near the end of the road Zaza spotted a Red-tailed Hawk by a small marsh, first of the year. Going north on the Elphin Maberly Road there were half a dozen Turkeys eating in the Sumac. After passing the end of Dalhousie Lake where the Mississippi winds beside the road we spotted two River Otters. They were in and out of the water regularly arriving back on the ice with food. They are more active during the daytime in winter than in the summer. Across the road was another Red-tail which immediately leaned forward and defecated when it noticed us. I have seen this behavior many times and I have heard the explanation that they want to be as light as possible if flight is necessary. Not sure we know what is in the mind of a Red-tail! A quick drive into Purdon CA turned up 10 Purple Finches. Then we stopped along the side of Watson Corner Road and ate lunch to the sounds of logging trucks passing by. In the distance, bird #25, an adult Bald Eagle, soared in the sky probably over the Heron Mills area. We decided to head home at this point and just north of Carleton Place at Ramsay 7 and Rae Road there were 200 Snow Buntings in the corn stubble. During the day we saw deer many times, but only 1 or 2 at a time.



During an afternoon walk along the Mississippi River trail from the Carleton Place arena to the McNeely bridge I saw a flock of 20 Common Goldeneye plus one Bald Eagle cruising the river at maybe 100 feet off the deck going east.

A Coopers Hawk has taken up residence in Carleton Place starting late last year and is still worrying the feeders across town. Arnie Simpson spotted it in the area close to the hospital and Mike Jaques saw it near his home in the south section of town. It reappeared around our place on Jan 12th and has been seen on and off since then.

Thanks to Mike, I got the Rough-legged Hawk on Glen Isle that has been in that area at least since the Christmas Bird Count.

I decided to visit Pakenham, which has some great feeders, especially up the hill just off Waba Road. I found a flock of over 20 House Sparrows merrily calling while bouncing around a backyard feeder. The males always look cocky to me. Large groups of Jays, Goldfinches, Starlings and a few Downys accompanied them. From Pakenham I crossed the five span bridge where two Goldeneye were diving. Up the hill and south onto County Road 17 where there is a house that must be the best bird diner around. I stood at the roadside and watched Jays from all around fly in, while a dozen or so Tree Sparrows shared the feeders with the Jays, Mourning Doves and Hairy Woodpeckers. In the distance on a tree top sat a Northern Shrike likely eyeing up his candidate lunch. Down the east county line there are many open fields with exposed water in the low areas. A possible Horned Lark flew up in front of the car but eluded my binoculars. By rambling around this area I discovered Mountainview Road between Panmure Road and Needham Side Road. This must be a great drive in the summer because even in the winter your view west is of fields going down to the Mississippi which, combined with the twisty turning, up and down road, is charming. The roadsides are dotted with apple trees still hanging with fruit, dried, frozen and a deep burnt ombre colour. Zaza and I have seen these trees all over the eastern half of the county and here they just seem to fit. Halfway along there is a grove of very tall pines, filled with Woodpecker holes. I shall return here when the weather is better.

Zaza and I did another day trip on the January 18th and the route involved a drive to Pakenham, west on Waba Road to Campbell Road and then along to Bellamy Road. White Lake was alive with the buzz of planes going in and out, presumably to deliver fisherman to the many ice fishing huts. Bellamy road produced my first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the year, sitting atop a pine, bobbing its tail, otherwise there were few birds out. The next day I visited the Mill of Kintail and walked the outside blue trail in the hope of rustling up a nemesis bird without luck. It was still a very pleasant walk with a cold front passing through so the wind was up and the snow was flying. A beautiful Pileated flew over in the hardwoods calling loudly. One tree, roughly half-way around the trail, had a significant hole around 15 feet up, which definitely had an occupant. I was unable to climb high enough on nearby trees to make a positive identification. It looked like the top half of the head of a Screech Owl, but that may just be wishful thinking, so I can’t really count it.














I have included my list so far Lanark Birds 2014-1 Tracking and I want to thank everyone who has provided assistance so far. Keep those emails and texts a coming.





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A Lanark Big Year – January 1st – Land of the Snowy Owls

“A Lanark Big Year – January 1st – Land of the Snowy Owls”

New Year ’s Day and we didn’t get up until after 9 AM. A very quiet evening and a long sleep before day 1 of my Lanark big year. The sun is up, it is very cold (-21) and very clear. It is at least 30 minutes before any birds arrive at our feeders. A lone Pigeon claims the honour of Bird #1 followed by Starlings, Goldfinch and Blue Jay. Zaza and I are planning a couple of hours searching the fields on the east end of the county for Snowy Owls. Of course being an engineer I just had to reduce the year to numbers. So I created a spreadsheet checklist for Lanark. There are 279 species possible but the total could be more depending on how many super rarities you wish to include. Next I divided them into three groups; Common = 157, Occasional (usually a few are seen each year) = 47, and rarities =75. This means a target of 200 is a tall order but I believe in tall orders so here we go. After that I created a 3 month target list for January through March which has 61 birds which I intend to concentrate on. Of course the real enjoyment is to forget the numbers and wander the county enjoying whatever presents itself.

Steaming cups of tea (640x385)

Zaza and I packed up tea and Christmas goodies and headed out for a 3 hour foray. We wandered through the side streets of Carleton Place looking for the Coopers Hawk in town to no avail so we headed down Cavanagh to Appleton Side Road. A small flock of 10 Snow Buntings were on the road near the intersection which seems to be a locale where I often see them. We headed north to farm fields on the east side of Appleton Side Road north of Hamilton Side Road. This is the western edge of the Ottawa Valley and after this the large open fields drop off dramatically. I had one Snowy here both on Dec 30 and 31st but today nothing. We circled the area 3 times with no luck. So onto to Almonte, where we enjoyed a Raven gliding effortlessly with its large wedge tail. We headed for the open water near the Barley Mow where we found one Common Merganser. A local stopped to ask if it was a duck and said “Now – Will it be alright out there!” I assured her it would.

Common Merganser Almonte (640x585)

From there we headed west along Wolf Grove Road hoping to spot any Grosbeaks or Crossbills with no luck. Turning north onto Union Hall Road we picked up a couple of Robins and an ambitious Black Squirrel dragging a corn cob across the road to his lair. It is a well treed area with the occasional majestic eastern White Pine looking like it could be in a “Group of Seven” painting.

White Pine Union Hall Road (640x617)

Hoping against hope we headed back to the Appleton Side Road fields for one last ditch attempt at finding a Snowy but with no luck. Discouraged we pulled into the old feed store lot at Hwy 7 and Ashton Side Road, parked and settled down for tea and biscotti. A flurry of emails from Arnie Simpson alerted us to Snowy Owls on the south side of Hwy 7 less than a kilometer away. After three tries up and down Hwy 7, I started pulling away from the shoulder to go home when Zaza spotted one flying and it landing atop a light standard close by. A beautiful first year female by colouration. Arnie saw three Snowy in all. Zaza and I returned home to end a successful first day.

Snowy Owl Hwy 7 (640x633)

I next expect to post around the third week of January before we go south for a week.

Adios amigos

Iain and Zaza


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iain and scope

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! This is my first post of many for 2014 to document the Big Year of Birding I plan on doing within the boundaries of Lanark County. What is a Big Year? Well the goal is to record as many bird species as possible between January 1st and December 31st, and as far as I know it has not been done before.

Birding has been my obsession since I was a child and I have birded around the globe including a Big Year for Ontario in 2012 when I saw 290 species by travelling to all corners of our province. Now I want to combine exploring all the corners of Lanark County with birding in order to establish the first Big Year count for the county. As well, seeing Lanark in all four seasons should provide a chance to discover more than just birds. I am hoping to become familiar with the landscape and its underlying geology, the trees, plants, forests, wetlands and communities. I plan on posting my progress near the start of each month on the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ website with what I have seen and maybe a few pictures care of my partner Zaza.

If you see any interesting birds within the year please feel free to email me asap at and remember to provide clear directions and the date and time of your sighting. A network of birders is essential to a big year!

So until my next post adios amigos.



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Tool Toting Naturalists Repair Potvin Observation Tower

Tool Toting Naturalists Repair Potvin Observation Tower

By Neil Carleton

October 28, 2012

As nine, nimble naturalists hiked back to the 8th line before noon yesterday, it brought to mind the opening words of a nursery rhyme our children liked years ago for its alliteration. “One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather …”. Although the forecast called for rain, it was a fine, cool morning for working out in the open. Not until we were all heading home for lunch did the precipitation start in any significant way.

The team of volunteers, all members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), assembled about 8:30 a.m. just a few hundred meters or so from the Auld Kirk Church, across from the cemetery. This is where you’ll find the entrance to the MVFN’S trail that goes along a cultivated field, and through an abandoned pioneer farm yard. It leads to a unique observation tower overlooking Almonte’s western sanitation lagoon, also known locally as ‘Lake Almonte’.

Bird enthusiasts from close to home and across the region have been visiting the lagoon site for years to catch a glimpse of many avian species on and around the water. A rare western sandpiper was spotted in 1974. Yesterday, the voices of hundreds and hundreds of landing and rising Canada geese echoed across the landscape.

With the generous donation of material from Al and the late Barbara Potvin, owners of Hilan Creative Playstructures, the three-level observation tower was erected by the MVFN in 1996.

MVFN volunteers Michael Macpherson and John Grierson have a low corner of the Potvin Observation Tower jacked up with a Simplex 19

The volunteer team arrived well prepared with wheelbarrows and a cart, shovels and a post hole digger, drills, rope, lumber, and a come-along to complete a variety of repairs. Put into service right away was a 1914 Simplex 15 ton railroad jack, model 19. With mechanical simplicity, a low corner that had slowly subsided over the years was easily raised, stabilized, and leveled. In the meantime, the other group was strengthening the structure’s bracing. New balusters were also added to the tower railings. It was indeed a case of many hands making light work.

MVFN volunteers l-r Tim Pullen, Gary Hanes, and Al Potvin prepare a come-along to level the observation tower for bracing

With the additional bracing installed, and new balusters added, MVFN volunteers posed for a group photo. (l-r) Michael Macpherson, Sheldon Scrivens, Gary Hanes, Bernhard Gesicki, Al Potvin, Tim Pullen, John Grierson. Cliff Bennett had to leave before the photo was taken to deliver meals on wheels.

During the year, Lanark County is home to some 200 different kinds of birds. About 130 migratory birds nest in the county, 32 more are permanent residents, and 35 species migrate through the area to nest in the north. With binoculars or a spotting scope, the MVFN’s Potvin Observation Tower is a good place to look for shorebirds, geese, ducks, herons, and grebes. If you visit, please leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos.

For a listing of another 31 good locations around Lanark County to look for birds, visit the website of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists  ‘Bird Watching Locations in Lanark County’. The Al Potvin tower is listed as number 5. As Cliff Bennett notes in his introduction, birding has become a very popular activity for individuals and families alike. Whether driving slowly or walking along county roads, hiking on trails, exploring the forests, or peering across marshes, creeks, and rivers, there’s so much to see and hear.

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