Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Alvar Birdathon

To raise funds for the Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign, Cliff Bennett and Lynda Bennett will go birding for a 24-hour period sometime in May, to record all species of birds seen or heard during the 24 hours. In previous 24-hour counts, they have averaged about 100 species.

You may sponsor/pledge a fixed amount or an amount per species. Those pledging $20 or more will receive a receipt for Income Tax purposes (receipts will be issued for lesser amounts only on request).

A contest is also being held for people who wish to have sponsor sheets and collect pledges. To make a pledge or to receive pledge sheets to get involved in the contest (winner to receive prize donated by Gilligallou Bird), please contact Peggy McPhail at  .

Clay coloured sparrow. Photo by Arnie Simpson

Clay coloured sparrow. Photo by Arnie Simpson

NOTE: the Clay Coloured sparrow is a species reported from Burnt Lands Alvar.


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Burnt Lands Alvar Pub night goes on the road again

Celebrate the return of spring to Burnt Lands Alvar

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) club, a member of the Ontario Nature Network has a mandate to promote a better understanding and conservation of the natural world within the Carleton Place, Mississippi Mills and nearby areas of the Mississippi River watershed. The club’s activities include a Young Naturalist program, natural history lectures, nature walks, paddling and birding programs and conservation and environmental awareness initiatives.

Presently MVFN is drawing attention to the ecological sensitivity of Burnt Lands Alvar and the development pressure it faces. Burnt Lands Alvar (on both private and public land north and east of Almonte) is a unique ecosystem of exceptional quality, with outstanding examples of alvar grasslands and other alvar habitats, and home to locally and globally rare species. Earlier this year MVFN formed an ad hoc ‘Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign committee’ to raise awareness and funds to challenge a housing development project within the alvar. “It would be a tragedy if an ecosystem that has lasted 10,000 years is allowed to be fragmented to the point where it becomes unviable. The Ontario Provincial Policy Statement, the Lanark County Official Plan and the Mississippi Mills Official Plan all require protection of this special natural heritage area. Unfortunately, it has been left to ordinary citizens like us to fight this battle,” explains MVFN’s President Cliff Bennett.

The campaign continues to draw crowds to its popular pub night fundraisers. The March 6th pub night at Moose McGuire’s in Almonte duplicated the success of the first. A large crowd enjoyed music of the Jimmy Tri-Tone Band, a trivia challenge, etc. When not up dancing, pub goers donated generously to the campaign, or took part in the draw and silent auction. “People came to show their support for the campaign to protect the Burnt Lands Alvar, and stayed to enjoy the camaraderie of old friends and new acquaintances”, said Gretta Bradley of the campaign committee.

Due to their popularity, one more pub night is planned.  So, to celebrate the return of spring to the alvar, the campaign goes to a “lively spot with all the trappings of a pub”, Ballygiblin’s Restaurant and Pub, 151 Bridge St., Carleton Place, Friday April 10, 2015 (7- 9 pm) . Rubber boots optional! Again, the popular trivia quiz, heads-or-tails, silent auction and music of The Jimmy Tri-Tone Band will provide the entertainment. For those wishing to arrive early, organizers point out Ballygiblin’s salads, ribeye steak, butter chicken and gluten-free menu items, such as curried salmon salad, which are sure to entice those who opt to enjoy a Friday night dinner; or, for the more adventurous, the fried pickles or quinoa poppers with a pint!

Spring underfoot on the alvar. Photo by Pauline Donaldson

Spring underfoot on the alvar. Photo by Pauline Donaldson

There is no charge for the April 10th event. Attend just to connect with people who genuinely care about this wild space (Burnt Lands Alvar) with its unique ecology. For further information about the alvar and the campaign, contact the MVFN alvar committee at , visit or find ‘Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign’ on Facebook.


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Alvar Fundraiser Pub Night # 2

Alvar Fundraiser Pub Night # 2 at Moose McGuire’s in Almonte

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and its Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign committee invite you to share a companionable evening with friends of the alvar at a Pub Night downstairs at Moose McGuire’s at 385 Ottawa St. in Almonte (former location of JR’s Restaurant) from 7 – 9 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Listen, or kick up your heels to the Celtic folk music of The Jimmy Tri-tones Band. Challenge a friend to a game of darts or engage in a game of pool. There will be a return of the popular heads-or-tails 50/50 draw, a silent auction and a lightning trivia round. If the ancient fossils of the alvar ignite in your imagination a strange sea-world of times long past, measured not in centuries, but in epochs and eras, come lift a pint or two with us. Funds raised will go towards MVFN’s campaign to preserve the Burnt Lands Alvar. Further information about the campaign and the alvar can be found by going to the Donate Now button on the MVFN website; or contact the campaign committee at .


The bottom of the tropical ocean that once covered our area was teeming with marine life during the Paleozoic era about 450 million years ago. The limestone bedrock of the Burnt Lands alvar contains fossils from this time, including orthocone cephalopods. The head and tentacles of this ancient marine predator extended from a straight cone-shaped shell divided internally into chambers. Exposed in this photo taken by Neil Carleton,  on an area on Pakenham Concession 9 with similar bedrock and alvar topography to Burnt Lands,  is a cross section of a small orthocone on the bedrock surface.

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Hugely successful pub night for Burnt Lands alvar conservation

The Burnt Lands Alvar ‘Save Our Alvar’ campaign continued to gain momentum, thanks to a well-attended pub night held by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) on Friday, February 6 at the Barley Mow in Almonte. Donations on the night exceeded $1500, to the delight of the organizing team.  “What a fantastic success our pub night was! Everyone was happy to be there, had a great time, and gave very generously. There can’t be too many communities as terrific as ours,” said Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign co-chair Theresa Peluso.

Funds were raised by direct donation, a 50/50 draw, and the silent auction of several framed prints featuring Burnt Lands flora and fauna. The room was packed to capacity the whole time. Organizers estimate approximately 100 people came and went throughout the evening, with many staying for the duration of the event.

The funds raised will be used to hire a planner and lawyer to guide the MVFN through an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) challenge, expected to take place this summer.  The group hopes to persuade the OMB to overturn a recent decision to allow a housing cluster lot development within the Burnt Lands Alvar area east of Almonte. The campaign has now raised more than half the money required for the first phase of this effort. Other fundraising activities are proceeding in parallel. A second pub night is planned for early March. “We still have some way to go, but are very optimistic that our funding goals will be achieved,” said Peluso. MVFN thanks all those who participated in the pub night fundraiser.

Spring on Burnt Lands Alvar. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Spring on Burnt Lands Alvar. Photo Pauline Donaldson

 The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are a local field naturalist group and member of the Ontario Nature Network. To find out more about the Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign, visit the MVFN website at  Donation information is found via the Donate Now button on the home page. Information about the campaign is also posted on the Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign Facebook page.

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Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign is now under way

Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign is now under way

Press Release

January 29, 2015

A campaign has just been launched by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists to promote awareness and raise funds to save the Burnt Lands Alvar from ‘development creep’. A property owner recently obtained approval from Lanark County to build a “cluster lot” housing development within this alvar region.

The Burnt Lands Alvar, a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality,  is designated an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) by the Province of Ontario because of its uniqueness and ecological significance. Local residents will be familiar with the open tract of land on the northwest side of March Road, between the Burnt Lands Road and Golden Line Road, which is part of the Burnt Lands Provincial Park. The Burnt Lands Alvar, however, extends well beyond the park boundaries in all directions, and into Lanark County both to the north of Almonte and to the southwest of Golden Line Road.

The campaign, officially launched at the monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) on Thursday, January 15, in Almonte, was attended by over 120 people. MVFN president Cliff Bennett began the meeting by saying, “In our role of protecting nature, we are challenging this [development] at the Ontario Municipal Board”.

Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality: seen here on a rainy day in May, 2009; guided tour of the alvar led by Dr. Paul Catling.

Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality: seen here on a rainy day in May, 2009; a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists guided tour of the alvar led by Dr. Paul Catling. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Ken Allison, past president of MVFN, gave an engaging presentation to explain what an alvar is and why it is so unique. The many rare species of plants and animals supported by this ecosystem are under significant threat for reasons mostly related to humans: gravel quarrying, illegal dumping, ATV usage, and urban/suburban sprawl.

See the slide presentation

Ken explained that the Burnt Lands got their name from the many fires that have occurred there over the years. Recovery from these fires is lengthy due to the thinness of the soil over top of the limestone rock bed. “The Burnt lands have always been, and probably always will be, repeatedly disturbed, and it’s part of what makes it special,” said Ken. Manmade destruction, however, is a huge concern given the current rate of planet-wide extinctions and the global warming trend.

Theresa Peluso, chair of the MVFN Environmental Issues Committee,  concluded the presentation by noting, “We learned that what looks like a piece of scrub land is actually a beautiful natural gem with an abundance of unusual plants and animals … a piece of land we should treasure.” Theresa outlined the MVFN plan for an OMB challenge in order to protect this land, explaining that significant funds will need to be raised very quickly to hire a planner and lawyer for the hearing, which is expected to take place in four months’ time. Meeting attendees generously contributed to a collection jar at the entrance, providing a positive start to an effort that will involve several fundraising events, appeals, and social networking. To donate to the Save Burnt Lands Alvar campaign, go to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists website at and look for the Donate Now button. Further information about the alvar, campaign updates and contact information can be found on the MVFN website, with updates also posted to the MVFN Facebook page.

 A 'barren' landscape, but lush with spring growth: photo May 2009, Burnt Lands Alvar tour.

A ‘barren’ landscape, but lush with spring growth: photo May 2009, Burnt Lands Alvar tour. Photo Pauline Donaldson

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