Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Field Naturalists Form New Bird Count Area in Lanark Highlands

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Cliff Bennett
Friday, Nov.28, 2003

Field Naturalists Form New Bird Count Area in Lanark Highlands

Cardinal (Photo Credit:  Sandra Bauer)Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have been around in the Western Hemisphere since the year 1900. Three count circles (71/2 mile radius) have been operating for decades in Lanark County and area including Carleton Place, Rideau Ferry and Pakenham.

A new count circle, designed to fill a large gap in Lanark County, is being established by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) in the Lanark Highlands area, centred on Watson’s Corners. This circle will take in Brightside to the north, most of Dalhousie Lake to the west, south to within a km. of Balderson and east to include Middleville. Activities in this new circle will be on a trial run basis for this year, with the first formal count being conducted in 2004.

A count is conducted by interested birders forming into teams and combing the roads, trails and woodlots during the count day to record every bird seen or heard. The results compiled for Canada are sent to Bird Studies Canada. CBCs take place all over North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. This annual event produces a definitive census of our bird population and is used for many research and conservation programmes designed to encourage the continuing health of our avian friends.

The date for the new Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count will be Tuesday, Dec. 30. All persons interested in the health of our local bird population, are invited to join in on the count. Teams will be formed, each team with a more knowledgeable birder. They will be assigned a count area and will spend the daylight hours counting every bird they see or hear. At the end of the day, all will gather at the Nature Lovers Book Store in Lanark Village, to record their findings and enjoy hot refreshments.

Residents in the count circle who have active bird feeders can also take part in the final tally. To register for the feeder counts, contact the feeder coordinator Marj. Gilmour, 259-3078 before the tally date. Then, on Dec. 30, feeder watchers will count every bird coming in to their feeders or appearing in their yard and phone in their resulting tally to Marj. These numbers will be totalled and added to the main count from the field observations.

Count coordinator for this first count is MVFN Director Cliff Bennett, . To register for the field count, contact Cliff at 256-5013 or by e-mail

For further information, call Cliff.

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Rare Black-headed Grosbeak sighting in Pakenham

Rare bird alert!

Black Headed GrossBeak (photographed by Andrew Keaveney of Toronto)Nov. 28/03 A first winter male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK has been seen coming to a feeder in the Pakenham area for approximately one week — a first for Eastern Ontario! It was seen November 28, at around 3:30 pm. This bird is coming to a feeder at the property of Bob and Iris Jurmain and it is requested that anyone interested in seeing this bird please call ahead to arrange a visit. The phone number is 613-256-0160.

Updates from Bob and Iris Jurmain

Dec. 11/03 Our friend has not arrived at the feeder for 2 full days. Prior to that he often came when Evening Grosbeaks were at the feeder so perhaps he is hanging out with his new friends. The modifications to the feeder were quite successful. The heating pad between the boards and the SM made for a warm base and the heat lamp heated up the felt covered perch and seeds. The last time we saw him he was actually standing with both feet even though it was quite cold outside. The weather is supposed to turn cold again soon (what else is new?) and perhaps he will return. Until then, I am not encouraging anyone to visit our house. I’ll report as soon as he returns, if he does. The consensus among birders is that he is staying here for the winter but perhaps he is continuing on his mistaken direction.

Dec. 6/03 We’ve received about 70 birders so far, most from southern Ontario. I’m continually canvasing for ideas as to what we can do to help him survive and many good suggestions have been made. We have a heat lamp on the seeds, SM insulation under the feeder and tomorrow I will put felt on the perch and a heating pad between the SM and the boards. The main concern at this time is his feet which Mike Runtz told me was not adapted to this kind of cold. He is continually standing on one or another of his feet while feeding. While perched we can see he crouches down and covers his feet with feathers so it may not be a problem when he is away from the feeder.

We also discovered an Indian Meal Worm (moth) in our sunflower seeds after being warned to freeze our seeds before bringing them inside. This is a very invasive critter that we didn’t know about before. We are experiencing a steep learning curve with all these visitor-experts.

We had a little excitement today with a visiting Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile). With the extra feeding and goodies, we have had a slight increase of bird activity and hence someone else looking for a meal of another sort. I didn’t think bringing my .22 rifle out would go over too well with 10 birders watching and photographing but that’s what I felt like doing. Our grosbeak did not come to the feeder until later than usual and did not stay as long each time. Perhaps the hawk had been around all day and he was being a little cautious. The extra seeds are also been enjoyed by at least one deer at night. So far, everyone has seen the bird save one who came on the one day he didn’t show up.

About the Black-Headed Grosbeak

The Black-headed Grosbeak is a resident of the American southwest and is a summer breeder in the lower interior and coastline of British Columbia. A bit larger than our summer rose-breasted grosbeak, the male’s head, back, neck and wings are black and the breast and around the neck is cinnamon brown. It has two white wing bars. The adult female looks like our female rose-breasted except the breast is buffy brown.The bird at the Jurmain’s feeder is a juvenile male, like the female but with a more cinnamon brown breast with fine streaking towards the belly. A key indicator is the beak, which is dark on the upper mandible and light on the lower.

The Jurmain bird is a record for this part of the continent.

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MVFN Holds Successful Spring Bird Count

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
April 23, 2002
Submitted by Cliff Bennett

MVFN Holds Successful Spring Bird Count

WoodpeckerAn exercise in saturation birding occurred on Sunday, April 21 when twenty -one members and friends of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists met in Appleton to take part in the club’s first annual Square Bashing bird census. The skies were clear but a brisk northern wind reddened everyone’s face and hands. Organized by MVFN Past -President Cliff Bennett, the event was an introduction to the second year of the five year Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (OBBA) programme.

The whole province is divided into ten km. squares for the purpose of conducting the OBBA. MVFN has undertaken to cover one of these sections, identified as the Appleton square.The early morning Sunday birders were divided into six teams and each team was assigned a series of twelve point counts. With topo map and count sheets in hand, they set off to stop at each point, count everything heard or seen, compile their results and return to base. With so many counters in the field at one time, very few birds escaped notice.

The final tally for the count include forty-eight species of birds, totaling 3265 individuals. Collecting the highest score were Canada geese, with 2034 counted, followed by red-winged blackbirds, a mere 228. In spite of the cold wind, most birds were active with their mating rituals. An exception was a colony of purple martins in Appleton. They were huddled by their holes on the leeward side of the martin house, soaking up the sunshine but not moving one feather.

Over the next two months, individual birds listed at specific points in the square will be followed up, in the search for successful breeding evidence. During the 1980 ‘s OBBA , ninety-seven species were confirmed breeders in the Appleton square. So far, during the first year’s efforts, MVFN has listed twenty-seven confirmed as breeding. Special thanks go out to all those who took part in Sunday’s square bashing exercise.

The next MVFN event, Saturday, May 11, will be a walk in the forest to study edible wilds, conducted by noted authority on the subject, Martha Webber. For more information call Sarah Coulber, 256-2162 or visit the MVFN website at mvfn.ca.

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Ed Lawrence is for the Birds

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 25, 2002
Submitted by Susan Fisher

Ed Lawrence is for the Birds

SunflowerEd Lawrence is for the Birds Gardening guru, Ed Lawrence, drew a crowd of nature lovers March 21, to hear details of how to grow a garden with birds in mind. The evening was organized by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists as part of its popular on-going series of nature presentations and field trips.

With the help of slides and a detailed handout, Mr. Lawrence offered a bonanza of tips on the best species of trees, shrubs and flowers guaranteed to appeal to our feathered friends. Pines are high on the list of bird havens. Their rough, dense foliage offers good nesting, protection from weather and predators, while the cones and seeds are good to eat. Sweet, sticky maple buds attract bugs in the spring, and bugs will bring the birds.

The horticultural expert also spoke of the importance of leaving dead trees to rot, if at all possible. As the wood disintegrates, it becomes home for many tasty insects, fungi and other organisms that are important to the functioning of an ecosystem. Imperfect foliage is a good sign! It means that insects and bugs are helping themselves because the leaves have not been sprayed with toxic pesticides.

How you arrange your garden can be important, too. Birds are more likely to visit a garden that is broken into curves and a diversity of heights, colours and species, rather than a straight hedgerow. Water is important. Just a simple birdbath will do. Even better­hang a 2-litre bottle with a pin-hole in the bottom over the birdbath. The slow drip-drip will be irrestible to many bird species.

Mr. Lawrence is perhaps best known as CBC radio’s popular gardening expert. He is well respected for his down-to-earth advice and his environmentally friendly solutions to gardening problems. From 1997 until last year, he oversaw the grounds and greenhouses for the six official residences in the National Capital Region, including that of the Prime Minister. He is now the horticultural specialist for the N.C.C.

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Famous Birder Hoots on Owls to MVFN

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Feb. 22, 2002

Famous Birder Hoots on Owls to MVFN

OwlFamous Canadian and International birder Bruce Di Labio brought owls into the lives of over one hundred Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist members, friends and general public who attended the MVFN monthly meeting at the Almonte United Church, Thursday, Feb. 21. Bruce lives in Carp.

Di Labio’s presentation with slides took the audience through habitat descriptions, preferred locations for specific owl species and then the owls themselves, their description and nuances. Using tape recordings and verbal sounds, Bruce introduced each species’ various calls, from the wee sawhet to the large great horned owl. He pointed out the various seasonal times one is most likely to hear these raucous rodent retrievers.

Introduced by MVFN host Joel Byrne, Mr. Di Labio immediately showed that owling is not as easy as it seems. Being largely nocturnal, he noted owls have an uncanny habit of blending into any habitat during the day sleep period, making sighting very difficult and calling for much patience. In several slides used, finding the owl was a real challenge for the viewers even though it was right in front of them.

Looking first around trees for signs of “whitewash” and then for regurgitated owl pellets is the best indicator of an owl’s roosting tree. Bruce extolled the advantages of visiting Amhurst Island west of Kingston to get one of the best views of owls in Eastern Ontario. After numerous questions from the audience members, Di Labio was thanked by the host and presented with a basket of local maple syrup products.

A special presentation was made during the evening to the two main winners of last summer’s MVFN Annual Field Sketch Contest. MVFN Chair of Publications, Publicity and Public Relations Eileen Hennemann presented a nature book and a gift certificate to Mary Beth Lalonde, daughter of Margaret and James Lalonde, for her sketches of a wren family habitat and a common loon and, to Sonja Koster, daughter of Ken and Michaela Koster, for her display of a dragonfly and a painted turtle.

The summer field sketch contest requires children to take their sketch pads into the field, forest and stream to illustrate natural observations. The contest is open to all children in various age categories and is best shared with parents or adult friends.

Ms. Hennemann also announced during the evening, the launching of MVFN’s own Web site. On the site, one can find all news and information about MVFN plus a message board for posting nature news, observations and enquiry’s. The site can be gained by calling up mvfn.ca.

The next MVFN evening programme will be held on Thursday, March 21, at the Almonte United Church. The keynote speaker will be MVFN member and famous broadcaster Ed Lawrence. His topic will be on planting your garden with birds in mind. For more information, contact MVFN Programme Chair Sarah Coulber

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