Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

2015 Champion for Nature Howard Clifford

Last night at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Spring Gathering, Howard Clifford was presented with an MVFN Champion for Nature Award. The presentation was made by friend and fellow-MMLT board member Mary Vandenhoff.

“Howard is a founding member of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) and has been for the last five years the President, leading that organization to be one of the acknowledged innovators in the Land Trust movement in Ontario. A friendly and thoughtful man, he is highly respected for his deep understanding of the importance of Nature and his passion for sharing his knowledge of it.  The head of one of the largest of the Ontario Land Trusts advised that we “wrap him in bubble wrap” – and MMLT members surely wish they could.  You could say that like John Muir before him, he is a worthy Voice of Nature.”

Cliff, Howard, Mary

l-r: Cliff Bennett, Howard Clifford, Mary Vandenhoff. Photo by Pauline Donaldson


Nature has no greater champion than Howard, long time member of MVFN.

Howard is a founding member of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust and has been for the last five years the President, leading that organization to be one of the acknowledged innovators in the Land Trust movement in Ontario. A friendly and thoughtful man, he is highly respected for his deep understanding of the importance of Nature and his passion for sharing his knowledge of it.  The head of one of the largest of the Ontario Land Trusts advised that MMLT  “wrap him in bubble wrap” – and MMLT members surely wish they could.  You could say that like John Muir before him, he is a worthy Voice of Nature.

Howard and his wife Jean and family own cliffLAND, a 1250 acre special  wilderness tract of land in North Lavant.  This property was the first property formally put under a conservation easement with the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, in order to ensure that it remains a wilderness sanctuary in perpetuity.  This they have done not only from a personal commitment to and love of nature, but for the benefit of the community, now and in the future.  The Clifford’s see wilderness areas in our region as an integral part of a healthy community. In that light, they have generously and strategically ensured that this tract will be accessible to future generations.

cliffLAND is home to Blueberry Mountain, which has been identified as one the Seven Wonders of Lanark County.  In the past two years, Howard has annually welcomed and engaged (often accompanied personally) over 1000 local, national and international visitors to the top of the mountain, sharing his love of nature and people and making their visits memorable and educational.  It is becoming a popular tourist attraction, and an important natural asset in the county.

Howard works to introduce to the wilds special groups for whom wilderness has restorative and health benefits.  He has a particular interest in youth and has hosted, on repeated occasions, groups from the local schools and youth centres.  He established the Blueberry Mountain Under 6 and Under 12 clubs to recognize with certificates (and sometimes even cakes) those who have walked to the top of Blueberry Mountain.  He has a special knack of making children marvel at and appreciate the natural world around them, and they (over 200) are delighted to be members of these clubs. Special recognition is also provided to those at the other end of the age spectrum.  His Over 80 Club now numbers 17, demonstrating that in later years, one can still enjoy the walk and absorb the quiet pleasure of sitting on top of the world in Lanark Highlands.

Howard shares his knowledge and affection of nature through inventive theatrical means.  Young and old alike have experienced the world and lives of the great naturalists Grey Owl, Thoreau, or John Muir, as Howard, up on top of Blueberry Mountain emerges from the bush to do moving impersonations of these heroes whose passions Howard shares.  So impressive are these performances, he has been invited to perform them in several other locations around Ontario.

One example of forward thinking was Howard’s proposal to utilize new approaches and technologies to better understand our natural heritage.  Some scientists in the United States had begun to use audio recorders to capture, identify,  and archive natural soundscapes. Others have made recordings of the sounds of certain fauna (bats, whales, certain birds of special interest) in the course their research.  Learning about these practices, Howard immediately saw the potential to supplement traditional annual monitoring of conserved lands with sound recordings, helping to track changes in habitat health. There can be changes, not notable visually but clearly evident through the changes in sound, especially with the assistance of special software able to deconstruct the recordings made.

An important educational application of audio recorders and amplifiers is to provide the public with an opportunity to listen to the sounds of nature amplified through headphones.  Several “soundscaping” opportunities have amply demonstrated how this enhanced listening experience leads to increased attention to sound, whether the frogs, birds, or the wind in the trees (as binoculars enhance bird watching).  Howard’s curiosity and initiative has shown that another world surrounds us, waiting to be appreciated and understood.

Well aware of the scientific evidence now proving what we all feel intuitively, that exposure to wilderness and nature have a healing influence on people, this gentle man is working to  contribute to community health and well being through  nature appreciation. He has generously shared his appreciation of wilderness with groups of children, young people and adults who have visited Land Trust properties, and helped them to learn about and experience nature. Privately, he has provided reassurance to challenged young people and facilitated peaceful final days for the dying. Publicly, he encourages all to experience and take advantage of the powerful mental and spiritual healing benefits of nature, and he has been pursuing new initiatives, to see if partnerships with community health organizations might broaden the range of beneficiaries.

In all these ways, Howard Clifford is a true Champion of Nature.

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MVFN Champion for Nature Award and Nomination Form

Nomination Form for Award of MVFN Champion For Nature

Terms of Reference  for Granting a Champion for Nature Award

The MVFN Champion For Nature Awards were established in 2008 to provide opportunities to acknowledge, celebrate and congratulate the efforts of individuals or groups, whether MVFN members or non-members, who have been truly outstanding Champions for our Natural World in Ontario’s Mississippi River Watershed.

The MVFN Champion For Nature Awards are awarded annually or when appropriate to deserving individuals and groups that have, within Lanark County, West Carleton and area demonstrated their commitment to nature protection and conservation through active involvement as volunteers, or professionals. Their actions will have helped raise awareness and contributed toward the protection of our local natural heritage.


  • Any member or person may nominate a recipient for this award.
  • Nominations must be submitted to the Board of Directors (BOD) using the approved application form, at least one month before an Annual or General Meeting of the members, to allow the process to follow through prior to making a presentation event for the award, including a press release. The nomination must have a seconder.
  • Nomination applications shall be reviewed by a three (3) member subcommittee appointed by the BOD. This subcommittee shall assess and validate the merits of the application and submit their recommendation to the BOD for approval.
  • Members may not nominate or second themselves nor nominate any immediate family member. Members of the BOD shall declare a conflict of interest in the case of a family member being a nominee for an award, and shall not exercise a vote.
  • Nominations may be submitted more than once but only once per calendar year.
  • the award shall be the prescribed certificate, framed appropriately.
  • nomination forms are on the MVFN website (see link to pdf above) or may be obtained from MVFN President Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or
  • Completed forms may be submitted by mail to MVFN, P.O. Box 1617, Almonte, ON or submitted in person to an MVFN board member.

In 2014 an MVFN Champion for Nature Award was presented to  David White.  For further information about the award and a list of past winners follow the link under About.





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MVFN celebrates another successful year

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

June 2, 2014

MVFN celebrated another successful year at its Spring Gathering and AGM

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) held their Annual General Meeting at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall on May 15th followed by their ‘Spring Gathering’ event which had record-setting attendance. The AGM was conducted by Ken Allison, President of MVFN with attendance by the Board and club members.  Ken provided the membership with an overview of the organizations activities and finances over the last year.  This is the Club’s 26th year as an organization and throughout this time it has been very active promoting the understanding and awareness of the natural world in our community, with its popular natural history lectures series, canoe, hiking and birding outings, environmental programs for children and youth, and strong support for local conservation issues.  The Treasurer, Robert McCook presented the finances which show a well-managed club which can continue to be very active.  Ken introduced each of the board members for the coming year, and of special note is that Cliff Bennett, one of the founding members, will once again be President.  The 2014/15 board members can found on MVFN’s new website ( under the ABOUT MVFN menu.

Ken Allison (980x1024)


















Ken Allison presents the highlights of the year to kick-off MVFN’s annual Spring Gathering event. Photo Pauline Donaldson

The AGM was followed by the ‘Spring Gathering’ event which started with a reception, where old friends and acquaintances shared drinks and chatted; many visited the Young Naturalists exhibit and purchased raffle tickets in support of the MVFN Bursary fund, which supports young people going into the environment education field.  Presentation of the 2014 MVFN Champion for Nature also took place. Botanist David White was presented with the award for his work in establishing a Lanark Flora which is available on-line for public use and furthers plant and habitat conservation in our region.

David White 2014






















Cathy Keddy presented the 2014 MVFN Champion for Nature award to David White. Photo Pauline Donaldson

The Almonte Civitan Club did an excellent job of providing top notch service and a very tasty meal.  A special thanks to all the volunteers, especially Cliff Bennett who organized the team and co-ordinated the event.

The Master of Ceremonies, Iain Wilkes, MVFN’s Publicity Chair and well-known leader of the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count, enthusiastically guided the group through the evening culminating in a talk by Dr. Jayne Yack.  Jayne provided a fascinating talk on the secret world of insect communications with a focus on butterflies and caterpillars, many of them native to eastern Ontario.  Jayne played recordings of sounds caterpillars make and demonstrated that some butterflies can actually hear sounds made by birds, insects and even people.

Jayne Yack and Iain (1024x785)

















Dr. Jayne Yack is presented with a thank you gift by MVFN’s Publicity Chair Iain Wilkes following presentation of her ground-breaking research and intriguing details of butterfly and caterpillar communication. Photo Pauline Donaldson

It was a very successful and enjoyable evening, and everyone is reminded to put May 15th 2015 on their calendars for next years’ gathering. This summer MVFN will be running its regular canoe/kayak program and annual summer walks, and the clubs’ monthly natural history lectures will resume with a new series in September. Please see our new website, , for details of these upcoming activities and for membership information.   The new site took roughly one year and hundreds of hours to define, design and have implemented by MVFN’s web team along with Chris Bruce, a local naturalist and web designer.  The new site makes it much easier to see what activities MVFN is involved in and to find information in a user friendly manner.


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2012: Bluebirds feature at MVFN’s Spring Gathering

Bluebirds Feature Award at MVFN’s Annual Spring Gathering

by Cliff Bennett

Every MVFN bluebird box you see in Lanark County has Al Potvin’s prints on it. Al was honoured at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ annual Spring Gathering banquet, held Thursday, May 17 at the Civitan Club in Almonte. The 128 participants stood in applause as then MVFN President Joyce Clinton presented the Almonte native with the prestigious MVFN Champion for Nature Award. Al has been instrumental in organizing the construction of over 300 Peterson oval bluebird boxes, which are sold as a fundraiser for the club. He was also active over the years with several other MVFN environmentally- related activities and continues as an avid supporter of the club’s habitat creation projects.

In the photo below Al Potvin of Almonte receives a Champion for Nature Award from Joyce Clinton, President of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, at MVFN’s 2012 Spring Gathering banquet.

Another exciting event at the banquet was the unveiling of the Mike McPhail Memorial Bench. Commissioned by MVFN to honour the late Mr. McPhail, the bench will be installed at the Mill of Kintail where Mike contributed to various programs. Mr. McPhail was MVFN President for three years, during which time the club grew immensely in stature and importance.

Also on display during the evening was a table of activities of the newly-formed MVFN Young Naturalists program. A function of the MVFN Environmental Education Program, chaired by Brenda Boyd, the Young Naturalists are in their first full year of activities, lead by Patti Summers of the Wild Bird Care Center in Nepean. The group meets monthly at the Mill of Kintail. MC for the evening, Cliff Bennett, auctioned off a donated spotting scope with funds raised to be dedicated to the Young Naturalist program.

The main feature of this very successful evening was a presentation on the World of Woodpeckers by guest speaker Dan Schneider. Dan, a senior interpreter with the Grand River Conservation Authority, entertained the crowd with anecdotes and tales on the life of woodpeckers, backed up by an excellent slide show. Mr. Schneider was thanked by the new president, Ken Allison, and presented with a signed copy of Dr. Paul Keddy’s book, Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County.

Prior to the banquet festivities, the Annual General Meeting of the club was held. President Joyce Clinton outlined the highlights of the past year, noting substantial growth in MVFN membership. The election of officers resulted in the following Board of Directors for the coming year: President, Ken Allison; Vice President, Stephen Collie; Past President, Joyce Clinton; Secretary, Janet Fytche; Treasurer, Bob McCook; Publicity and Public Relations, Bob Volks; Program Chair, Cathy Keddy; Environmental Issues Chair, Theresa Pelusa; Environmental Education Program, Brenda Boyd.

Stay tuned for MVFN’s 2012-13 lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, beginning in September. Summer activities can be found at

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2011: Interesting Wild Mississippi Places and Faces, and their Champions

by Pauline Donaldson

Press story pdf with photos

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) held their Spring Gathering 2011 and AGM May 19th at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. The evening was a celebration of wild nature and a tribute to those who help champion it including keynote speaker Paul Keddy, and Mike McPhail (MVFN Champion for Nature for 2011). The over one hundred members of MVFN and the public in attendance were treated to a delicious banquet served by Civitan volunteers.

MVFN President Joyce Clinton presided over a short business meeting during which MVFN’s officers for the 2011-2012 year were elected. Returning to MVFN’s board of directors are Joyce Clinton, President; Janet McGinnis, Vice President; Mike McPhail, Past President; Janet Fytche, Secretary; Cathy Keddy, Program Chair; Brenda Boyd, Chair of Environmental Education; Bill Slade, Chair Environmental Issues; and Janet Snyder, Social Committee. Newly elected to the board of directors are Elisabeth DeSnaijer, MVFN Treasurer; Ken Allison, MVFN Chair Publicity; and Bob McCook, MVFN Director at Large.

Clinton reported on the year’s highlights, including a recent significant change to MVFN’s status. “I am pleased to announce that through the efforts of the board of directors and in particular Cathy Keddy and Howard Robinson, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is now officially a charitable organization. To help the board gain a clearer focus for the future, we held a visioning meeting in August last year. Our financial pulse is strong and healthy. Our treasurer Howard Robinson will be stepping down this year. I want to thank Howard for all his hard work over the last 3 years. Referring to other highlights with implications for children and youth Clinton stated, “The Environmental Education committee (Chaired by Brenda Boyd) has also begun the process of developing a plan for an MVFN Young Naturalists Program. The project is still in the pilot project stage, but it is a very exciting step for our group.”

Christine and Peggy










A special part of the evening was presentation of the 2011 MVFN Champion for Nature Award, given to individuals or groups who make outstanding contributions to the natural world in the Mississippi Valley. “This year we are awarding the MVFN Champion for Nature Award to Mike McPhail” said Clinton. “Mike was born and raised in Almonte . . . a geologist by training and has many passions in the field of nature. As MVFN’s vice president for three years, then president for three, Mike continues to serve on MVFN’s board.” Without a doubt, many MVFN projects would not have taken place without the driving force of Mike McPhail, a quintessential organizer, natural public speaker and leader, and a man with a passion and curiosity for our natural world. To mention a few such projects: Mike researched and organized MVFN’s first bioblitz which was held on the Bell property in Mississippi Mills in September 2009. This bioblitz quickly become a model for other clubs. Another project close to Mike’s heart is MVFN’s Habitat Creation which has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of blue-bird houses for our feathered friends as well as duck nesting platforms and other habitat projects still in the works.

Mike was unable to attend the evening due to illness, however the award was accepted on Mike’s behalf by his wife Peggy McPhail and daughter Christine (photo above).

Following the banquet and business meeting, the audience settled in for local ecologist Dr. Paul Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” “These [wild] species don’t come to meetings and don’t vote, so it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf.” Keddy’s virtual tour gave the audience an opportunity to reconsider a few of Lanark County’s special natural places, or to learn about them for the first time. In Lanark County we live in the great northern deciduous forest region which also includes some relatively rare (globally) areas of deciduous forest over marble. In the county, as farm land returns to forest, we are seeing good signs, such as the return of fishers, natural predators of porcupines. We share the northern deciduous forest with Ontario’s only lizard species (the five-lined skink), but few of us realize just how many salamanders we share it with. ‘Salamander Central’, the forest is teeming with these seldom seem amphibians. In addition to the return of favorite birds, spring in the deciduous forest means that spring ephemerals are about. These include often fragile and beautiful perennial woodland plants, such as wild columbine. These plants must quickly sprout from the forest floor, grow and flower while the sun can still reach them through the leafless trees. Attached to the seeds of ephemeral species such as Trillium, Hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches is a little oil-rich snack for ants. Attracted to this food, the ants spread the seeds, but colonization of new areas occurs only very slowly. When plants are lost from an area, re-colonization is very slow and not guaranteed, since, as Keddy pointed out, ants do not travel far and are not good at crossing highways. As soon as the leaves bud out on the trees the tree frogs arrive and summer begins again in the forest.

A second special place featured was the Innisville Wetland Complex, an area officially designated as an ANSI (Area of Natural or Scientific Interest) by the provincial government. It is a huge, significant wetland area and yet it is relatively unknown and unseen by visitors and locals alike. Why aren’t there interpretive signs and perhaps an access point to the Innisville Wetland Complex, and a boardwalk to allow people to safely enter and experience this important natural area?

A third local area discussed was the ‘Lanark Highlands Glacial Spillway Forest’, an area so named by Paul Keddy. This glacial spillway, near White Lake, is a remarkable area which was carved in the past by tremendous volumes of glacial meltwater which flowed past carrying and depositing loads of sand and gravel. Surprisingly, one corner of the spillway ‘valley’ actually overlaps part of Blueberry Mountain, but this is possible. As is often the case for unique areas such as this, a variety of interesting things are aggregated there. For example a rare southern tree species, the shagbark hickory has been found there, and in shady areas, walking fern (found in forests over marble) which spreads by producing new plants where the leaf tips touch the ground.

Keddy’s lecture was an excellent conclusion to MVFN’s 2010-2011 lecture series Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People. People connected with the presentation, the local natural areas featured and were educated and inspired. MVFN’s lecture program is on break now until September but the canoe and summer outing season is just getting started. The next MVFN summer walk takes place June 19th at the Purdon Fen and the next canoe outing is scheduled for July 10th. Please watch the MVFN member email network or consult for further details on these outings.


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