Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Naturalists Learn the Science of Bird Song

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Cliff Bennett
April 29, 2005

Naturalists Learn the Science of Bird Song

Bluebird IllustrationBird song was the subject of the most recent monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) held at the Almonte United Church on Thursday, April 21.

With the aid of slides and sound recordings, Dr. Bruce Falls, noted ornithologist and scientist, shared with his audience a scientist’s perspective on the world of bird song. “We enjoy hearing birds, but their songs are really directed at other birds”, he explained as he began his in-depth presentation. A retired professor, Dr. Falls spent his career teaching and performing research at the University of Toronto’s Department of Zoology, where he was involved in pioneering studies in bird behaviour.

Introduced by MVFN host for the evening Rod Bhar, Dr. Falls began his talk by explaining how birds produce their songs. He illustrated some of the unique physical adaptations that allow birds to produce sounds. He also reviewed some key experiments that led to our current understanding that bird song is both learned and inherited by the members of individual species.

In the last half of the presentation, Dr. Falls explained why birds sing. He explored some of the studies that he and others have been involved in that show how male birds use song to mark their territories, attract mates, and scare off intruders.

The talk was followed by a question and answer session. Members of the audience came away from the presentation with a new perspective on the complexities of bird song and how it forms an essential part of the survival and reproductive strategies of many bird species.

Mr. Bhar thanked the speaker and presented him with a gift basket of local herbal products.

Coming up in the near future is MVFN’s 17th Annual General Meeting, to be held at Union Hall on Thursday May 19th. The general public is welcome to attend. Feature of the evening will be a sound and slide presentation by noted local photographer Bill Pratt.

Other programme items include canoeing Contstance Creek, led by Rod Bhar on Sunday May 29 and a walk in the natural world of Mer Bleu, date to be announced. For more information on MVFN and events, go to the website

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Amherst Island Adventure 2005

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
February 26, 2005

Amherst Island Adventure 2005

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On Saturday, Feb. 5th, twenty-six MVFN members and friends descended upon Amherst Island ferry early in the morning to sail to the island for hopefully, some quality bird watching. The expedition was led by Chris Grooms, Eastern Ontario Ontario Nature Coordinator.

The weather was bright and near perfect, until the car convoy passed by Elgin and into a solid fog bank. The fog stayed with us the whole day, making the spotting of white snowy owls in white fog and against white snow, virtually impossible. The fog might explain how one van load of participants ended up at the Wolfe Island ferry in downtown Kingston and thus missed the 10:30 sailing of the Amherst ferry. We doubled back to meet them getting off the 11:30 ferry on the island one hour later.

The group convoyed around the island, making several stops to catch a glimpse of hawks and owls. Parking on a main road, we trekked into the famous owl woods where most of the owls are usually logged. However, after a couple of hours, in which we took time for our lunch stop, we were only able to find a boreal owl and one great gray owl.

Back out in the open in the afternoon, we were able to find many short-eared owls flitting from tree to post in the fog. Back on the ferry and cutting through the pan ice, we found many ducks and a few gulls. All-in-all, the trip was very successful and, we finally got out of the fog on the way home just north of Smiths Falls.

MVFN members participating in the Amherst Island expedition were Jim and Yvonne Bendell, Rod Bhar and his mother Jill Bhar, Sheila Edwards, Chris Hume, Mary and Howard Robinson, Maida Lowe, Tine Kuiper, John and Sandra McManus and their son and Cliff Bennett. The rest of the group were friends and guests.

Below is the observation list from the day (30 species altogether):

Crow, Rock Pigeon, Chickadee, Blue Jay, Common Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Ring Billed Gull

Northern Harrier (female), Horned Lark, Mourning Dove,Starling, Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Boreal Owl

Great Gray Owl, Cardinal, Ring-necked Pheasant, Robin, Brown Thrasher, Goldfinch

Horned Lark, White-breasted Nuthatch, Short-eared Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-breasted

Merganser, Rough-legged Hawk.

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Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count 2004

Press Release
Written by:  Mike Jaques
January 5, 2005

The 61st annual Carleton Place Audubon Christmas Bird Count took place on Monday December 27th. Birds were counted within a circle of 15 miles diameter centered on the bridge over the Mississippi River in Carleton Place. The weather was bitterly cold but sunny with moderate wind-chill factor and lots of snow on the ground. Mississippi Lake, River and streams were frozen except where water was fast flowing. 27 field observers and 27 feeder operators took part in the count.

The number of species recorded was 45, a little better than usual. However, the number of birds counted was 4480, which is lower than normal. Two species never before seen on our count were tallied: a Tufted Titmouse near Almonte and an Eastern Towhee in Carleton Place. Both were coming to feeders in the weeks before the count and graciously stayed to be counted.

There were record high counts of four species:

Wild Turkey 72 (previous high 49 in 2001)

Great Gray Owl 2 (previous high 1, last seen in 2000)

Bald Eagle 2 (tied the previous high from 2003)

Barred Owl 2 (tied the previous high from 1984)

At the end of the day the field observers gathered at the 7 West Cafe to report their findings, enjoy refreshments and view the field results displayed on the master chart. The count was organized by on behalf of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists by Cliff Bennett. Georgina Doe organized the feeder counts and Mike Jaques compiled the final results. Bennett thanked all participants for their efforts under trying weather conditions.

A list of all species recorded and their numbers is as follows;

Canada Goose 3

Common Goldeneye 40

Hooded Merganser 1

Common Merganser 1

Bald Eagle 2

Sharp-shinned Hawk 2

Northern Goshawk 2

Red-tailed Hawk 6

Rough-legged Hawk 1

Ruffed Grouse 14

Wild Turkey 72

Rock Pigeon 626

Mourning Dove 286

Barred Owl 2

Great Gray Owl 2

Downy Woodpecker 57

Hairy Woodpecker 64

Pileated Woodpecker 6

Northern Shrike 3

Blue Jay 300

American Crow 297

Common Raven 21

Horned Lark 15

Black-capped Chickadee 1038

Tufted Titmouse 1

Red-breasted Nuthatch 4

White-breasted Nuthatch 101

American Robin 3

European Starling 225

Bohemian Waxwing 46

Cedar Waxwing 55

Eastern Towhee 1

American Tree Sparrow 110

Song Sparrow 2

Dark-eyed Junco 35

Lapland Longspur 3

Snow Bunting 78

Northern Cardinal 65

Purple Finch 4

House Finch 17

Common Redpoll 328

Pine Siskin 23

American Goldfinch 278

Evening Grosbeak 6

House Sparrow 234

Bird Counts:

Xmas Bird Count 2004

Field Report

Feeder Report

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February 5 – 2005 Owling trip to Amherst Island

Submitted by: Cliff Bennett,
Jan. 20, 2005

An outing with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

For all members and families and friends.

Leader: Chris Grooms, Ontario Nature co-ordinator for Eastern Region.

(Rideau Valley Field Naturalists are also invited to join us but will make own arrangements to get there) .

When: Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005

Car pooling at Petro Can Station, Almonte,  for leaving 8:00 to catch the 10:30 ferry sailing.  

Return sailing, 4:00 P.M. for return home by 6:00 P.M.  

If Petro Can is not convenient, please call to make other arrangements.

Please register in advance by calling Cliff Bennett at 256-5013 or email

Amherst Island is west of Kingston and is a favourite spot for at least six species of owls plus many other bird species.

Bring a lunch and a hot thermos.

Cost: The price of the ferry trip ($5) and sharing with gas.

In case of poor weather, alternative date is Sat. Feb. 12. If in doubt, call Cliff before 7:40 A.M.

Call Cliff for any other details

Dress warmly as we will be away from cars for some of time.

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Watson’s Corners Christmas Bird Count yields surprising results

Press Release
Submitted by:  Cliff Bennett
January 2, 2005

The 2nd Annual Watson’s Corners Audubon Christmas Bird Count, held on Thursday, Dec. 30, yielded an unprecedented twelve great gray owls, indicating a major invasion of these large northern-breeding raptors. The local results mirror similar tallies all across Ontario, probably due to a collapse of the owls’ favourite rodent source of food in the northern boreal regions.

The Watson’s Corners count area includes a circle centred at Watson’s Corners and taking in every space within a fifteen mile circumference. Twenty-four participants in eleven different search parties, took to the field to count every bird they could hear or see. As well, the count included birds recorded by ten different feeder watchers.The results tallied showed 3716 individual birds included in 20 different species, a significant increase from the first year ‘s count of 2833 birds and 20 species.

Highlights of this year’s count, aside from the great grays, were one snowy owl in the Balderson area, one common loon on the Mississippi River and three gray partridge. High counts were registered for (brackets show 2003 numbers) rock pigeons 220 (72), blue jays 342 (76) and chickadees 1162 (572), while low counts showed crows 98 (143), starlings 61 (349), common redpoll 269 (698) and evening grosbeaks 80 (387). Species not seen this year included barred owls, hoary redpolls, rough-legged hawks, bald eagle, common mergansers, red-tailed hawks and golden-crowned kinglets. Aside from the owls, raptors were very scarce. Only two sharp-shinned hawks were reported but one goshawk and one bald eagle were reported during the count week.

The count area was divided into four sections, each with a team leader. Leaders included Bruce LeGallais, Hopetown section, Bobby Clarke, Lanark Village section, Claire Fisher, McDonald Corners section and Ted Mosquin, Poland Section. Marj Montgomery coordinated the feeder counts. Organizer and compiler was Cliff Bennett.

At the end of the day, observers gathered at the Nature Lovers Book Store in Lanark to enter results on the master chart and enjoy refreshments, provided by members of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Foundation. On behalf of the Count sponsor, Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, Cliff Bennett thanked all of the participants and announced the date of the 3rd Annual 2005 Watson’s Corners Christmas Bird Count, to be held on Friday, Dec. 30.

Bird counts:

Watson Corners Species Report

Watson Corners Section Report

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