Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Wild Bird Care presentations wildly successful

Patty Summers of the Wild Bird Care Centre (WBCC) gave her first presentations to two classes at Beckwith Public School in March 2011. These enthusiastic presentations and fourteen others that followed at other area elementary schools in 2011 (in Pakenham, Almonte and Carleton Place) were sponsored by MVFN through our Environmental Education Program (EEP). In 2014 more of these presentations by Summers are taking place in local schools.

Patty mesmerizes Grade 3 and 5 students with fascinating and factual details of the wings, claws and beaks of many wild birds native to our area. She is a natural teacher and does a superb job. The students touch and inspect real beaks, wings and claws, and study them through magnifying glasses, with the exception of those who just cannot bear to touch them! Patty’s love for the natural world and birds in particular really shines through, and her encyclopedic knowledge keeps every child engaged and excited, and asking questions for over an hour.

Wild bird care centre 1

Teachers are very grateful to MVFN and the WBCC and are most impressed with Patty and her presentations. The children learn a lot –  how bird beaks and claws have adapted to enable each bird to capture their food in the most efficient way possible. For example, did you know that ospreys have little rough scales on the bottom of their feet which enable the bird to hang onto the slippery fish after it has been caught?

MVFN should be proud of this contribution to the students in our local schools. I am sure it will contribute to their quest and thirst for more information about birds, their environment and the natural world.

Other presentations by Summers cover  topics such as: What’s on the Menu?;All about Feathers; How to Eat and Not be Eaten; How Birds Survive our Canadian Winters; Human Impacts on Birds: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; and Pairing Up: Building a Nest and Raising Young.

A huge THANKS! to Patty and the WBCC for developing these inspiring programs for our students. Please feel free to visit the Wild Bird Care Centre any day between 12 and 3 pm (it’s free) or for more information about the centre call 613-828-2849, or visit For more information about EEP, please contact EEP Chair Brenda Boyd.

~ photo by Brenda Boyd and text from story written by Brenda Boyd


Continue reading...

Field Naturalists deliver ‘water smarts’ to Grade 8’s through drinking water source protection education

Printable pdf with photos – Field Naturalists deliver source water protection education to Grade 8’s

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 3, 2010

Field Naturalists deliver ‘water smarts’ to Grade 8’s through drinking water source protection education

by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are pleased to sponsor an environmental education program for Grade 8 students in 7 local schools in the Mississippi Watershed this year. Engaging Grade 8’s in Source Protection Planning was launched with the financial support of an Ontario Ministry of Environment Drinking Water Stewardship Program grant received last May. The objective is to provide experiential curriculum-linked learning of basic environmental stewardship concepts related to drinking water source protection (both ground and surface water sources) under Ontario‘s Clean Water Act.

Last June, MVFN hired Nature Works Learning of Mississippi Mills, to conduct the program. The fall sessions were held from September to December 2009 at R. Tait McKenzie Public and Holy Name of Mary Catholic School in Mississippi Mills, Caldwell Public and Notre Dame Catholic School in Carleton Place, Huntley Centennial Public School in Carp, and Maple Grove Public and Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Lanark Highlands. With the bulk of the in-class programs completed, schools should now be busy implementing the action plans which they developed following the student-conducted ‘ecoreviews’. In all, over 185 students have been engaged in some very interesting exercises bringing to life how water cycles in the environment, where and how drinking water comes to them, and what affects the quality and quantity of their drinking water.

An introductory presentation on the Clean Water Act included a video about the water cycle. Earth’s fresh water supply, vital to humans and all life, circulates as precipitation (rain and snow) which is then taken up by plants, enters surface water bodies (lakes, rivers etc.), seeps through the ground ‘recharging’ underground water reserves (aquifers), and then ‘cycles’ back to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration.

Following the introduction, students began a hands-on hydrogeology exercise in which they created their own groundwater models, complete with ‘wells’ in large clear plastic containers (Photo 1 a, b). They followed what happened in their ‘wells’, for example, when they pumped water out (with a syringe), when it ‘rained’ (simulating recharging of groundwater aquifers), or when they introduced a ‘contaminant.’ After watching the changes in their models, students were able to make deductions about the effects of precipitation, contaminants, and water table level on the quantity and quality of water in real-life underground aquifers such as those supplying fresh drinking water to municipal and private wells for most of Mississippi Mills, Carp, and Lanark. Discussion emphasized groundwater as an important resource and the key role of land-use planning in preventing contaminants from entering groundwater sources of drinking water, particularly on land near municipal wells (well head protection areas).

To understand surface water quality issues, such as for water in the Mississippi or Tay rivers (which provide drinking water for the towns of Carleton Place and Perth), students measured turbidity, temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen in several water samples. They discussed the meaning of the results and asked the following: Is this water good for drinking? Is this water good fish habitat? Why? They discussed what might affect these and other water quality parameters. Examples included runoff from river banks and the influx of dirty discharged stormwater. They talked about how threats to water quality at drinking water intake areas might be reduced, for example through proper stormwater management and maintaining wetland buffers.

In a third hands-on lesson, students considered the universal right of all humans to fresh drinking water and the concept of global limits to this supply. In groups they chose a virtual meal and calculated its ‘virtual water’ content. The virtual water content is the sum total of all the water used to produce the food. Using a scale of one large paper water droplet per 100 litres of water, students illustrated to fellow students, the ‘water footprint’ of the meal they chose (Photo 2). When thinking about water quantity, students looked at ways to conserve water in the school and at home and considered who the main users of local water reserves are; they include some industrial water takers, municipal and private wells.

In addition to these fun activities in the classroom, the students were also given the opportunity to visit water and waste water treatment facilities in their own or adjacent communities. On these field trips they saw and heard first hand from municipal operators and employees from the Ontario Clean Water Agency about how these facilities worked. In the Mississippi Mills area the field trip included a tour of waste water treatment facilities at the Almonte sewage lagoons (Photo 3 a, b). Students also toured the operating system for the two wells near the Almonte water tower, which are part of the drinking water source for the Mississippi Mills urban area. This included an explanation of the water distribution system and the role of the water tower. Students were also toured around side roads by bus, to get a sense of how long it takes for water contaminants to seep underground and reach the wells and to understand the vulnerability of well-head protection areas to contamination. Carleton Place students toured the water treatment facility for surface water drawn from the Mississippi River as well as the waste water treatment facility in their town. Lanark students whose homes are largely served by private wells and septic, toured water and waste water treatment facilities at nearby Perth where surface water sourced from the Tay River is treated and treated waste water is returned to the river.

Finally, a project which was inspiring for many students was the opportunity to investigate and improve practices in their own schools with respect to water use and water protection. During drinking water source protection ecoreveiws, teams of students toured classrooms, hallways and bathrooms. They interviewed other classes, as well as school staff knowledgeable about facilities maintenance and storage practices, including school custodians and principals (Photo 4 a, b, c). Are students encouraged to use water wisely? Is water being wasted due to high flow rates in sinks, leaking taps and toilets, or from taps being left on? Are water-saving devices such as aerators, low flow toilets, and toilet dams being used? Are rain barrels used on the property outdoors for watering gardens? Do the school grounds allow adequate groundwater recharge? Are hazardous products such as salt, fuel, and paint stored properly, or are items such as batteries and electronics disposed of in a manner which will not prove a threat to drinking water sources, now or in the future? The students rated their school’s level of implementation and, based on the results, they worked together to develop a specialized action plan for their own school. These are being implemented this winter.

In April, Nature Works Learning will be returning to the classrooms to do follow-up ecoreviews to see what improvements to source water protection have been made in the schools. Students should also hear how the water quality of the water samples they obtained for two local rivers, the Mississippi and the Clyde, compare to worldwide results registered through the ‘World Water Monitoring Day’ program.

To date, MVFN’s Engaging Grade 8’s in Source Protection Planning has progressed well and by all accounts has been a great success. As a conclusion to the program, it is anticipated that some students will make a submission to the Mississippi Rideau Source Protection Committee later this spring. For further information about this program please contact MVFN’s Board member and Environmental Education Chair Brenda Boyd at 613-256-2706 or .

Continue reading...

Environmental Education to get boost from Going Gemmill!

MVFN has taken great strides with its environmental education project over the past few years. Therefore we are pleased to report there is another initiative underway in the local area to broaden the horizons for local children to study nature close to home, and for many without getting on a school bus.

Going Gemmill! is a grassroots approach to outdoor education that utilizes municipal greenspaces and examines how their natural resources can be made accessible and used as a context for teaching existing curriculum taught in local schools.  The pilot project in Almonte is being funded through a grant from the Valley Heartland Community Futures Corporation. Nature Works Learning, led by MVFN member Patricia Larkin, is the local local environmental education company using the project to see how parks in various communities in our region could become a living classroom and an integral part of school life.  There are dozens of opportunites for science lessons for Grades 1 to Grade 10 to be taught within many park environments.   Social science lessons may also be possible.

During the Going Gemmill! pilot project three lesson modules customized to the myriad of environments and resources that exist within Gemmill Park are being developed.  Lesson plans and their field testing for Grades 2, 4 and 9 should be completed by the end of February, 2008. They will then be distributed free of charge to area schools to benefit local children and youth and, ultimately, the whole community.

If successful and other funding is secured, up to seven more modules designed for other grade levels would follow.  It is thought that these ongoing student visits throughout the park and through different seasons will foster an ever-increasing appreciation and respect for this tremendous local natural resource. Other nearby municipalities also have greenspace with tremendous potential to support environmental education which is also currently being underutilized.  Thus, it is hoped this project could be replicated elsewhere for the benefit of residents in other communities.

For further information about Going Gemmill! contact Patricia Larkin at 

Continue reading...

EEP Chair DeSalaberry Update

MVFN EEP update December 2006

By Pauline Donaldson

In May, Janine DeSalaberry retired as Chair of EEPP, the important BOD position in charge of our Environmental Education Projects Program. Many thanks for your years of dedication to EEPP Janine. A great variety of projects funded by MVFN took place in the 2005-06 school year. As Janine reported at the May 2006 AGM: “Roughly 1,700 children and 90 adults were given the opportunity to learn about snakes and other small creatures. Both Paul Fry, with his excellent program, “The Critter Guy” and Jeff Hathaway, with his “Sciensational SSnakes!” were outstanding, providing vital scientific information with a hands-on experience. …As the principal of Maple Grove Public School wrote: “the presenters were truly exceptional speakers and were able to engage the students throughout the presentations. The learning that occurred is still evident in the information that they are able to recall…” Some of the other programs receiving an injection of financial support were visits by astronomer/author, Terrence Dickenson to Almonte schools, and a Grade 2 full day program of stream study and a land animal learning program at Mill of Kintail in June. In closing Janine welcomed Patricia Larkin the new Chair of EEPP for 2006-07, and offered her continued support for the program. MVFN’s EEPP typically funds both hands-on education in schools and field trips, such as a November class trip to MVC’s Water Festival at Mill of Kintail. If you require further information on EEPP funding, contact Patricia Larkin at 613-256-5301 or by e-mail .

Application for the last $5000 installment of the current Trillium grant has been made and EEPP is awaiting receipt. Late in 2006, the BOD enthusiastically launched work on another gala fund raiser for EEPP, which is to be held in 2007.

In September, MVFN’s Board of Directors approved EEPP funding to Maple Grove Public School in Lanark for an exciting new environmental program, the “Maple Grove EcoSchool Initiative”. Under the guidance of Nature Works Learning, Grades 3-8 are learning more about their school in the areas of water use, energy use, waste/recycling and schoolyard landscape/planning. An ‘EcoTeam’ of teachers, support staff and students performed an ‘audit’ to see how school operations measure up in these 4 categories.

Having completed this they will develop action plans in the New Year to improve performance. Environmental literacy is the goal of student-produced newsletter articles, an EcoSchool Bulletin Board and an “EcoTree” in the schools’ entrance where good news ‘leaves’ are attached as the year progresses. We wish the staff and students of Maple Grove school much success in this project. Look for further updates on the EcoSchool project in the coming months.


Students at R.Tait McKenzie school get ready for frost watch, Nov’06.

Photo: Neil Carleton


Stream study at Mill of Kintail, June ‘06.

Photo: Pauline Donaldson


Continue reading...

Giant Peace Dove Project comes to Almonte

peacedovesat puppetsup

















Local Students bring Jane Goodall’s giant peace dove project to life in Mississippi Mills

In 2004, with assistance from EEPP, several local primary students attended the United Nations Childrens’ Conference on the Environment, in New London, Connecticut. Returning from that conference, the students spoke enthusiastically to our group at one of our regular meetings. They were particularly inspired by the keynote address. This was given by Dr. Jane Goodall, who believes that we, as a species, are becoming more peaceful! To spread this message of incredible hope, Dr. Goodall had organized the flying of Giant Peace Doves each year on International Peace Day. If these giant home-made dove puppets are flown on the same day all around the world, then perhaps the white spots created on Earth could be seen from space.

Working from instructions, and using old white sheets, hockey sticks and chicken wire, students in the R. Tait McKenzie “Peace Dove Club”, led by Patricia Larkin (one of the parent chaperones to the conference), fashioned 5 enormous puppets. MVFN was invited to fly one of these giant birds. They took flight on September 21st, a beautiful but windy day, on the grounds of R. Tait McKenzie School. In a parade complete with drummers, MVFN member, Pat Matheson took her turn, and kept up the heavy head end of one of the five doves during most of the parade. In addition to staff and students, others from nearby schools, plus local politicians, and curious residents, joined in. A peace flag was raised and a short presentation was made by Patricia Larkin, with the message “Peace is possible”.

One dove was also flown in the Puppets Up parade in Almonte.




Continue reading...