Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count: the more the merrier, counting birds!

Thursday December 27, 2018

NOTE:  In addition to the December 27th Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count, several other counts are taking place in the local community. The 16th Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count takes place Sunday, December 30 and is centered on Watson’s Corners, with the circle taking in Brightside to the north, most of Dalhousie Lake to the west, south to within a kilometer of Balderson and east to include Middleville. Count organizer is Marilyn Barnett:    or 613-259-2269. Follow this link to the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club for further details of the Pakenham-Arnprior Christmas Bird Count which will take place December 26th.

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 119th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The Carleton Place CBC will be held this year on Thursday, 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, 2018 and January 5, 2019. “Each CBC volunteer observer is an important contributor, helping to shape the overall direction of bird conservation. Bird Studies Canada and its partner at the National Audubon Society in the United States rely on data from the CBC database to monitor bird populations. Last year, during the 2017 Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count, 60 volunteers spent the day observing birds resulting in the recording of over 5700 birds and 42 different species.

Cardinal. photo Susan Wilkes

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!

Great Horned Owl. photo Howard Robinson

Join a team or count at your feeder

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 also 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 613-250-0722 or   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 Carleton Place Library, 101 Beckwith St., for the count-in as well as refreshments and snacks.

Best of the Season to All,

Iain Wilkes

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Records set for Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls and others on cold Christmas Bird Count day

2018 Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count

On December 27th, 38 hearty field and 20 feeder observers participated in the 68th Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count.  It was a cold day with sun in the morning and cloud in the afternoon.


Wild Turkeys on Rae Side Road, photo Howard Robinson


This years count is very close to our 10 year average with over 5400 individuals and 45 species.  Despite this we had a number of records set and/or tied for:

Mallards at 68

Wild Turkeys at 498 – keep setting a new record every year

Coopers Hawk 3 – tying the old record.  One lived in my backyard on count day enjoying the Starlings for snacks

Snowy Owls 3 – tied the old record, all close to Hwy 7

Barred Owls 3 – a new record

Pileated Woodpecker 18 – a new record

Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 – tied the old record

White-breasted Nuthatch 176 – a new record

Complete list at

Evening Grosbeak, photo Ken Allison

Kestrel, photo Michel Gauthier

We also had a hand full of Rough-Legged and Red-tailed Hawks, as well as 1 Kestral.  After several years of Juncos being at record levels their numbers collapsed.  Handfuls of Pine and Evening Grosbeaks as well as Redpolls and Siskins were seen.  Waxwings were back in abundance after few to none for several years, with 630 Bohemians and 188 Cedars seen.  As always the Bohemians maintained their coolness by wearing berets, smoking Gaulois and discussing Proust.

Bohemian Waxwings, photo Howard Robinson

Barred Owl, photo Ken Allison


At the end of the day the count in was conducted at the CP Library with refreshments and snacks provided by the MVFN social committee.

Happy Year’s End to all and best wishes for 2019.


Iain Wilkes

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Grand Opening of the MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter

Wednesday, September 5th at 2:30 PM

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are very pleased to announce the grand opening and dedication of the Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter, located just west of Almonte, behind the Municipality of Mississippi Mills Waste Water Treatment plant.

This special project to create a new local birding facility was conceived, developed and built by the MVFN Birding Committee and many other construction-minded MVFN volunteers.  The viewing shelter is dedicated and named for the late Mike McPhail, a former President of MVFN and a tireless advocate for nature in our community.  The Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter is located along the same path as the Al Potvin Observation Tower, which has been well used by birders from near and far for many years and overlooks the largest and westernmost of the decommissioned lagoons.


Bringing a big project from conception to completion involves a lot of planning and many steps.  Starting in the spring of 2017, the investigation of several designs and sizes and shapes of bird viewing shelters was undertaken, and a preliminary structural plan was designed by Michel Gauthier.  This was taken to Mississippi Mills municipal staff for review, and a request to build beside the lagoon on town property.  The project was approved unanimously by Council in the fall, and the necessary building permits were obtained.

A call was sent out to MVFN members for help with construction, and the response was amazing – 22 people signed up!  The first step was to level the ground, and spread gravel, which was done by Howard Robinson and his trusty tractor.  Because of the early onset of winter in mid-November, the cement support posts had to be formed and dried in Al Potvin’s heated garage.  Over the long winter months, volunteers calculated materials needed and arranged to purchase them from Home Hardware in Almonte.

Then the long wait for spring to arrive began, and the crew waited, and waited, then waited some more. Finally, we emerged from early spring to high summer weather, the ground was dry and firm, materials were ordered, and the eager volunteers finally began construction. There were many talented volunteer carpenters and apprentices, which kept the cost down significantly.  However, the “commanders-in-chief” had a knack for organizing work crews on the very hottest days of June!  In spite of the heat, however, the construction moved along quickly, and by early July, the shelter was complete.

And what a beautiful and sturdy shelter it is, with a perfect panoramic view of the lagoon and marsh areas.  Constructed of beautiful pine with a green metal roof, it can be seen off in the distance from Wolf Grove Road. Future plans include permanent signage along the path to the shelter and at the shelter, educational material inside, and natural landscaping around the shelter, which hopefully will attract even more wildlife.

The MVFN Board of Directors and members are delighted with the results of the tireless efforts of the co-managers and construction crews over the past year.  We are proud to offer the public birding community a unique place to visit, spring, summer and fall.  MVFN is also very grateful to the Municipality of Mississippi Mills for allowing the shelter to be built, for the help and support they offered throughout, and to Home Hardware for their expert advice.

Besides migrating waterfowl and shore birds at the lagoon, there are woodland birds along the path, and field birds which can be seen out from each side of the path.  To access the path, turn right off Wolf Grove Road to Concession #8.  The path is located a few hundred meters up Concession #8, across the road from the far end of the Auld Kirk Cemetery.  Parking is permitted on both shoulders of the road, except in front of the gate.  The rather hard-to-see entrance to the pathway is marked with a small yellow sign on the right.  Please respect the “Rules of Etiquette” on the path and in the shelter.

MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter: photos August 29, 2018, P. Donaldson

The Official Grand Opening and dedication of the MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter will take place Wednesday, September 5 at 2:30 PM at the shelter. All are welcome to attend the ceremony. This also marks the start of four September Birding Open Houses taking place every Wednesday in September from 3 to 5 PM, when you will have an opportunity to speak to an MVFN bird expert who will have a scope ready for very close-up and personal views of the birds!  Bring your binoculars!  All summer, spring and fall, the Observation Tower and the Bird Viewing Shelter are open at any time for the public to walk in and view birds.

NOTE: Link to current E-bird checklist for this location is at

For further information, please visit or email inquiries to or 







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Wild Fluctuations of Bird Numbers at the Almonte Lagoon – Fact or Fake News?

This year again, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, held four bird-watching events at the Almonte Lagoon. The Fall Open Houses, as we call them, took place on consecutive Wednesdays in September at the brand-new Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter. The total number of visitors during the four events topped one hundred.

Enthusiastic birders at the Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter

Before the first event on Sept 5th, we celebrated the official opening of the shelter. After speeches and ribbon cutting, visitors filed into the structure where our volunteers showed many species of birds to anyone interested in looking through one of the available scopes. And so it went for the first two events: people in the shelter, ducks and geese on the water, birds in the sky, and hot weather for all.

To some of the observers, the hot weather of the first two weeks seemed to hinder bird movements. Ducks in particular, did not fly to and fro as much as expected, and numbers appeared to be down.

The third week saw cooler temperatures and the arrival of a large flock of Canada Geese. Now the lagoon was covered with geese and ducks. Thoughts of fewer birds dissipated in the breeze.

During one of the later events, a few conversations turned to climate change and how it could possibly cause wild fluctuations in bird numbers. Were those conversations based on facts or on subjective observations? In the past, we had to rely on personal experience to form a judgment on this, but not anymore.

For the last three years, volunteers from our birding committee have recorded our events’ data into eBird, an online citizen science tool launched in 2002 by Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. eBird keeps our data in a central database, available to us at the click of a mouse. Now, we can find out what is really going on with our bird numbers.

Take a look at the following charts. The average number of birds spotted at the Almonte Lagoon during our fall events decreased in 2017 only to bounce back higher this year. On the other hand, the number of species increased in 2017, but decreased this year. So, we end up with a quandary: more birds counted in the years when fewer species are present.

Do those charts show that our bird numbers fluctuate because of climate change? We do not have enough local data to properly answer that question. Some of us wish we did, but we don’t – not yet anyway. Many factors may have skewed this year’s high bird count. For instance, had the large flock of Canada Geese arrived one week later, our average count would be lower. Also, the experience and accuracy of our birdwatchers may have changed over the three-year period. More importantly, the time frame and the sample size of our data are too small.

But what about the hot weather of this year’s first two weeks? Well, some people would say it was just a normal fluctuation. Hum… So many factors to consider…

In any case, our data gathering is a good start. Our checklists now form part of eBird’s database, a database that includes more than twenty million checklists – a huge sample size. It includes historical sightings going back to the days of the passenger pigeon.

Scientists across the globe use this windfall of data to study anything and everything that has to do with birds, including the effects of climate change on bird populations.

Their findings? Yes, climate change has an enormous effect on bird populations. Some species fare better, others worse. Migration patterns change. Ranges expand or contract depending on how well species adapt to change, and according to Nature Canada (How is climate change affecting birds?), extinction risks are on the rise.

But hey, we should remain neutral and not speak about climate change. After all, it’s fake news, right?

Enough said for now. We will revisit the issue next April, after the Spring Morning Walks, yet another yearly MVFN series of bird-watching events.

Until then, hold on to your binoculars.

Photo, charts and report by Michel Gauthier, MVFN

Click here for bird species and numbers at 2016, 2017, 2018 Almonte Fall Open Houses – an xlsx document

Link to current e-bird data for this location at

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September Birding Open Houses at the new MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter

September 5, 12, 19 and 26

NOTE: Link to current E-bird checklist for this location is at

Each autumn, tens of thousands of shore and water birds migrate through our area from their nesting grounds in the Arctic. Hundreds stop off to feed and refuel at the Almonte Lagoons behind the wastewater treatment plant, just west of Almonte.

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have just completed construction of a beautiful new bird viewing shelter overlooking the westernmost decommissioned lagoon. For fifteen years, birders from all over the province and beyond have made this prime location for observing shorebirds and other species one of their important viewing spots. The trail in to the existing Al Potvin Observation Tower now leads on to the new MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter close to the lagoon. Many fall warbler and sparrow species may also be seen during the short walk in to the new shelter.

On four consecutive Wednesdays, September 5, 12, 19, and 26, MVFN’s Birding Committee invites you to walk in between 3 and 5 PM to view the multitude of shore and water birds from the shelter.  On each of these occasions, you will be greeted at the trailhead by an MVFN member, who will point out directions to the tower and the new shelter. An expert birder with a spotting scope will be at the shelter and will be ready to offer an opportunity to learn the identity of the different birds and tell a bit about them.

Directions: from Almonte, take Wolf Grove Road (County Rd. 16) towards Middleville, 2 km. Turn north onto Ramsay Concession 8 at the Auld Kirk Church and Cemetery, and travel approximately 100 m.  The trail entrance is on the right, across the road from the far end of the cemetery, just beyond the gate. A small yellow sign marks the entrance.  Parking is permitted on both shoulders of the road.

You may visit at any other time on your own.

For further information on other MVFN activities, please visit our website:

The Official Grand Opening and dedication of the MVFN Mike McPhail Bird Viewing Shelter will take place Wednesday, September 5 at 2:30 PM at the shelter. All are welcome to attend the ceremony.


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