Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Natural Heritage Plan Workshop

The Municipality of Mississippi Mills is holding a workshop on March 1st,  to share the Natural Heritage Plan for the municipality and to obtain public input to the plan. Details below and at the town website at  http://www.mississippimills.ca/en/news/index.aspx?newsId=8427c6f5-420c-4185-91d4-1e4ac746dd48

For further information about the Natural Heritage System concept and MVFN’s role, under the leadership of Dr. Tineke Kuiper, in development of a plan for Mississippi Mills, see this description in an article by Dr. Kuiper:  http://mvfn.ca/upcoming-council-vote-on-the-adoption-of-the-natural-heritage-system-concept-plan/

NATURAL HERITAGE PLAN WORKSHOP DETAILS:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Almonte Old Town Hall, 14 Bridge Street, Almonte, ON

ALL MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC are invited to attend a workshop to review and comment on the Municipality of Mississippi Mills Natural Heritage Plan Workshop.

THIS WORKSHOP is an opportunity to review the preliminary information and material associated with the Natural Heritage Plan, as well as a chance to discuss and comment on the Natural Heritage Plan.  Please join us in order to provide your insight.

THE WORKSHOP will be held on:  Wednesday, March 1, 2017 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Almonte Old Town Hall, 14 Bridge Street, Almonte, ON.

If you require additional information, please contact the Municipal Planner, Stephen Stirling, at (613) 256-2064 ext.259.

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Turtle Time in Lanark County!

By Dr. Paul Keddy

June is [nearly] here.  The nesting turtles are back! March is for maple syrup, in April it’s goodbye to the melting ice, in May the leaves come out, and in June it’s turtle time!

Every one of these annual events reminds us where we live; the previous statement could not be made in Paris or Los Angeles.  Of course, if you are a high rise building dweller who rarely ventures outside the big city, you may not appreciate my point.  Here in Lanark County, every June, many turtles crawl out of their ponds and streams and start crossing the highways looking for nesting sites.  Elsewhere tourists might pay a fortune, say, to travel to South Africa for lions, or British Columbia or Quebec for whales, but here the wildlife comes to visit us!

Turtle Parade

CAUTION PLEASE: Crossing the road!  In June, Lanark County turtles cross the roads to look for nesting sites.  The three species most often seen are the painted turtle (left), Blanding’s turtle (middle), and snapping turtle (right).  Please, drive carefully, and let them nest in peace. Images courtesy of Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-pond conservation program.

Most of the time turtles are rather secretive – hibernating nearly half the year on the bottom of lakes and pond. Much of the rest of the year they swim around looking for dead things to eat and occasionally taking a break to warm up in the sun stretched out on a log.  Overall, turtles are harmless, and in fact do some good since they are efficient scavengers that clean up dead animals from our water supply.  All of our turtles – even the large snapping turtle – are opportunist feeders.  They eat whatever they can conveniently find, which is mainly insects and dead fish. Biologists have spent many years studying turtle diets –by counting the items in their stomachs – and have this well-documented.  Even large snapping turtles, which get blamed for eating ducks or game fish, rarely have any of these items in their stomachs. They too eat carrion. Yes, snapping turtles will snap at you — when on land — particularly if you let your dog frighten them, or if you poke them with a stick.  Many people would do the same.

Let me mention, too, that every part of the world has its own set of turtles. If you were lost, and someone gave you a list of local turtles, you could pin down almost exactly where you were. North America has just over 50 species in all. Some places, like the west coast, are impoverished, having just one species.  Other places, like Louisiana, are blessed with turtles – more than 30 species. Lanark County, has exactly, five.  In approximate order of size, beginning with the smallest, they are musk turtle (or stinkpot), painted turtle, map turtle, Blanding’s turtle and snapping turtle. All but the painted turtle are now considered species at risk – that is, they are declining.  Two, the musk turtle and the Blanding’s turtle, are officially considered threatened species. The decline has two main causes, (1) death on roads and (2) destruction of wild places.

NESTING IS A DANGEROUS TIME!

So, for about 50 weeks out of each year, turtles are rather quiet, inoffensive neighbours, who pretty much keep to themselves.  In this way, they might set a good example for human neighbors, like the ones with the loud stereos and motorbikes … but I digress, I was asked to write about turtles.  My point is that, finally, after 50 weeks of peace, all hell breaks loose in mid June! All the females of reproductive age climb out of the water and begin the laborious task of hiking around to find a nesting site.  It is probably terrifying for them to leave the familiar water and venture onto land, but the nesting urge is too strong to resist. Once they find just the right location, they dig a hole, bury their eggs, and leave.  That is the end of motherly care.  The eggs are heated by the summer sun, and then, in September, baby turtles about half the size of walnut dig their way up to the surface and somehow find their way back to water.

This means that without fail, near the middle of each June, we are treated to a parade of female turtles, wandering around our roads and properties, trying to nest.  They have been doing this for about 200 million years, more or less.  Turtles existed before the dinosaurs, and they even survived whatever it was – an asteroid collision? – that eliminated the dinosaurs.  Despite their long history, turtles just have not had time to learn to adapt to two new things: cars and roads. That tiny brain has no idea that a road means danger. And so, increasingly, we are losing our turtles as the reproductive females (and often the eggs they contain) are killed on highways.

Biologists have calculated how important certain types of individuals are to their species survival, i.e. their “reproductive value”.  New baby turtles have low reproductive value because only a few ever survive –skunks, raccoons, crows, fish and even bullfrogs eat them.  This high mortality rate for babies is natural for turtles.  However the reproductive value of the adult female turtle is extremely high. Once she has made it to 20 years old she has the capacity to make up for the high mortality rate of the babies by laying from 10 to 30 eggs every year for decades.  The turtles being killed on our roads are usually the adult females — with the highest reproductive value. When a female is killed – it means the loss of hundreds of offspring she might have produced over future summers.  These loses cannot be replaced. As a result, turtles that were present in my childhood, like musk turtles and Blanding’s turtles, are now uncommon. Not only do turtles just cross roads, they are actually attracted to roads.  The warm sand and gravel along the road side makes a perfect nest site.  So turtles will come long distances to climb onto the shoulder and lay their eggs.  If drivers are careless, the highway becomes a ribbon of death.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

1. The first is to accept and even appreciate this annual eventJust as the maple syrup flows in March, so do turtles flow across our roads in June.  We might even build an annual tourist event around the nesting week.  We could put up some highway crossing signs at critical locations, or better still, plan ahead and build small underpasses when roads are being reconstructed. And, of course, we have to protect critical nesting areas from subdivisions. More urgently there is the immediate issue of death on the roads.

2. Drive carefully.  Turtles are slow-movers, so it really does take a complete idiot to hit one with a car.

Don’t tailgate (which your driver training instructor no doubt told you anyway), as you may run over a turtle that the car in front just missed.

Help them out. Stop, and carry the turtle the rest of the way across the road – in the direction she was headed, of course.  Yes, some will not appreciate your help, and might try to scratch or bite, so keep a pair of gardening gloves handy and perhaps a shovel to help lift. A big snapping turtle is heavy, so I would recommend extreme care – probably best to simply act like a shepherd.

Alert other drivers.  Yes, you can stop your car and let other people know that a turtle is crossing the road. Not a good idea at 100 kilometers per hour, perhaps, but certainly feasible on many side roads.

Let them nest in peace.  If one arrives in your yard, keep the pets away, and let the children watch quietly from a respectful distance more than ten feet away. Think about the respect we give to pregnant women, and give the pregnant turtle the same courtesy.  If she does nest, you can put a piece of chicken wire (not mosquito netting – that will trap the baby turtles in the fall) over the nest.  Then, wait.  Given the right amount of sun and rain, baby turtles should emerge in September.

One of the joys of living here is the annual spectacle of the June turtles.  If you still think you must drive so fast that you ignore the crossing turtles, may I respectfully suggest you consider moving to downtown Phoenix or Las Vegas or Toronto, or one of our other larger urban centers, where you won’t have to be inconvenienced by other living creatures.  Learning to share the landscape with wild animals is part of what it means to live here. We might start with courtesy to turtles, and then extend it to frogs, birds, butterflies, bears and all the other animals that lived here long before our ancestors decided to settle in North America.

Not everyone can personally save a blue whale, or a black rhinoceros, but everyone can drive responsibly, and, like a good boy scout, help the occasional turtle across the road.

This article on turtle nesting season was prepared in 2009 by Dr. Paul Keddy on behalf of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and is reposted here in May 2016. Dr. Keddy, is a local Lanark County resident, and scientist and author of many articles and books on wetlands and wildlife including Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County; Dr. Keddy’s website:  http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/  For more information on identifying Lanark County turtles, please visit a local bookshop or consult the Toronto zoo’s adopt- a- pond website  www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/turtles.asp

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Clayton Road Clean-Up Morning with MVFN

Help Wanted Help Wanted Help Wanted

Saturday, April 30, 2016

MVFN’s Environmental Issues Committee is embarking upon a new effort to help make our part of community more ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ by removing as much trash as possible from roadways.

We have decided to “adopt a road” each year. This year we will clean up on Clayton Road, Mississippi Mills AND we are asking your help to achieve this task! Meet afterwards for donut and coffee to relax and celebrate.

Date: Saturday April 30th from 8:30 to 10:30 am; coffee at Equator Coffee in Almonte afterwards.

Fourteen volunteers plus one or two pick-up trucks would easily complete the task. Please register for this event so I’ll know who is coming. Let me know if you have a pick-up and can help to drive helpers and/or help by collecting litter.

What to wear: long sleeves and trousers, tucked in to protect from deer ticks and wild parsnip.  Gloves are essential.  Also sun screen and insect repellant.

What to bring: a light pail with a handle and a stick with a nail in the end.

Where to meet: Esso station (corner of Highway 29 and Ottawa Street) in Almonte at 7:45 am for car-pooling.

To Register: Contact Cliff Bennett at 613-256 5013 or

IMG_2442 (1024x768)

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Chad Clifford on Soundscaping: Listening to the Orchestra of the Wild

NOTE: The following is a reflection on MVFN’s January 2016 natural history presentation. Join MVFN on February 18th for “Purdon: Unique Wonder of the Natural World” with guest speaker Shannon Gutoskie, as MVFN’s “Naturally Special Places” series continues.

Feature photo is by TK Marsh

By Gretta Bradley

Sit quietly and listen.  You may be surprised at what you can learn. Chad Clifford of Wilderness Rhythms, speaking at the monthly MVFN speaker series advocated just that, and because we can, get a little help from technology.

When Chad’s father suggested he read a book by pioneering soundscaper Bernie Krause, as can often happen with books, something shifted.  Not wildly.  Already deeply interested in enhancing our experience in nature through music, Mr. Clifford slipped seamlessly into soundscaping.

Originally, soundscapers recorded rain and wind and whales from exotic locales, orchestrating beautiful compositions to evoke powerful emotional responses to the sounds of the natural world. Relax, uplift, inspire.  Now, research has begun to document the power of nature to heal, and “nature deficit” as having an adverse impact on our well-being. For all our sophistication, there is still a part of us that needs the call of the wild.

How do you get the sound of larvae hatching in the bottom of the pond or sap running in the tree? Capturing the sounds that fall outside our capability to hear, offered Chad a technical challenge. Microphones and dishes are commercially available, but jerry-rigging is often required to adapt the equipment to the requirements of the job.  Very appealing to the tinkerers in the crowd.

While sound recording continues to be used to human benefit, it is software that has allowed soundscaping to morph into a research tool in the service of protecting wild spaces. Chad illustrated how audio software can take the “noise” of a busy marsh, separate and record as an audio signature (spectrogram), one chirp, call, howl, bark, or warble from another. Databases can help distinguish and identify, in a cacophony of sound, the spring peepers from the leopard frogs, the feeding chuckle of a mallard, the throaty call of an American bittern and the presence or, more importantly, absence of a species. Each species occupies its own niche on the spectrogram much as they do in the marsh.

Sometimes in a presentation, there is a point when your jaw drops without you even realizing it has happened . . . surprise: the human reaction to learning that something we thought we knew to be true, is wrong. Chad’s story was of one of the most surprising examples of what we can learn about the impact of human intervention on an environment, if we only listen.  Lincoln Meadow is in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was at this site in 1988 that a company planned to do selective logging, the “greener” alternative to clear cutting. Bernie Kraus had recorded the meadow in photographs and sound before the logging company moved to take the selected trees. In 1989, he returned to the site to photograph and audio record the meadow following completion of the operation. The result can be described as no less than astounding. The photographs were virtually identical. Anyone would have been hard pressed to find differences in the two. But the sound recordings revealed a dramatically changed landscape.  The original recording was filled with bird song, and the spectrogram, the “picture” of the sound, showed abundant birdsong in the higher sound frequencies and a rushing stream in the lower.  A year later the silence is deafening.  Birdsong is absent. The stream still shows up in the recording, but a lone woodpecker’s tap as it extracts bugs from infested trees is the only bird sound occupying the once crowded recording.

These tools have given rise to whole new lines of research. Acoustics as applied to the study of the natural world is advancing our understanding of volcanoes and fault lines (geophony) and elephants and whales (biophony) and the impact of human sound (androphony) on the natural environment.  Recordings give science new insight into the density and diversity, the habits and communication patterns of animals, and establish baselines to determine changes over time: data that can be used to determine findings as diverse as the health of a habitat to the likelihood of a volcanic eruption.

That book, by the way, was entitled “The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.” Described as simultaneously weird and wonderful, it is a halcyon call. Not surprisingly, natural soundscapes are at risk. Having recorded in 15,000 places over the past 40 years, Bernie Krause estimates that at least half of these soundscapes have been silenced, or thinned or drowned by the intrusion of human din or the loss of species and habitat. Chad stated that only three places in the continental U.S. have to date been identified as being free of the intrusion of human sounds for a span of 15 minutes.  In the same way as we recognize the need to protect our sky from light pollution, Chad has called on Canadians to set aside preserves where we can experience untainted, wild soundscapes protected from noise pollution. Places set aside for sitting quietly and listening.  As Bernie Kraus famously said, “While a picture is worth a 1,000 words, a sound is worth a 1,000 pictures.”

Carson Walk sedge

A vernal pool,  Burnt Lands Alvar, June 2015. Photo  Pauline Donaldson

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Town of Mississippi Mills set to hear your views on environmental zoning for Burnt Lands Alvar

NOTE: Featured photo with this post is of the wildflower Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus). photo by Ken Allison

One of the most effective ways you can help protect natural areas is to support municipal government when they consider policy changes to enhance protection of natural areas or restrict development in these areas.

If you live in the Town of Mississippi Mills, you have that chance Tuesday, May 5, 2015. Council is set to consider public opinion on their proposed rezoning of  much of Burnt Lands Alvar as an environmental protection zone. This is a good thing! If you agree, then attend the public meeting in support of the rezoning (or write to tell Council that you support this rezoning. Details for submitting comments are found below and on the Public Meeting Notice). Even if you do not intend to speak, attendance at the meeting would afford you the opportunity to hand deliver your written views or to simply be an observer and register your name to be informed of the Council decision, which will be made at a later date. If you cannot attend, you may wish to make your opinion known to the town by submitting your written comment, as mentioned.

When: May 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm.

Where: Town of Mississippi Mills Council Chambers, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte, Ontario.

What:

  • THE PURPOSE AND INTENT of the Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments are to provide environmental protection for the Burnt Land ANSI from intensive rural development by amending rural development policies in the Community Official Plan and placing the lands within the Burnt Lands ANSI within an Environmental Protection (EP) Zone.
  • ANY PERSON may attend the public meeting and/or make written or verbal representation either in support of or in opposition to the proposed Official Plan Amendment and the Zoning By-law Amendment. Written submissions regarding the proposed amendments are to be filed with the Town Clerk at the Town of Mississippi Mills Municipal Office, 3131 Old Perth Road, R.R. #2, P.O. Box 400, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0.

Further information about the Burnt Lands Alvar may be found elsewhere on our website; as well as an opportunity to donate to our Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

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