Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Canada’s Five Cent Animal: Our Beaver, Past & Present

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

March 4, 2011

Canada’s Five Cent Animal: Our Beaver, Past & Present

by Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora, and People, continues March 17 with the fifth presentation, “Canada’s Five Cent Animal: Our Beaver, Past & Present.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy these lectures—just bring your curiosity or appreciation for wild nature.

The beaver, Castor canadensis, is Canada’s national animal. It is the second largest rodent in the world next to the capybara, another semi-aquatic rodent (native to South America). Trapped during the fur trade, the beaver played a key role in the exploration and settlement of our country. Historically beaver population in North America reached 60 to 90 million. It is hard to believe today that this species experienced a decline and almost became extinct in the early 1900s. In 1849 the beaver appeared on our first pictorial postage stamp (known as the ‘three-penny beaver’). By 1937 the beaver-on-lodge had made its debut on our nickle.

Generally, we take beavers for granted, but we are still in awe of their unusual tails, ability to overcome massive, solid tree trunks, and their dam engineering feats. Beavers have become more a part of our lives than we realize. Phrases such as “works like a beaver,” “busy beaver,” “eager beaver,” and the verb “to beaver,” are part of our everyday language. We are all familiar with the modern manifestation of the beaver, but how, where, and when did it evolve to become this particular animal? What pressures or circumstances led to such morphology and behaviour? What do vertebrate fossils, fossil beaver-cut wood, and other environmental evidence tell us about our beaver’s heritage and its relatives? Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, paleobiologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature and just back from a research exploration in Antarctica, will lead us on a journey from the beaver’s earliest ancestors, via modern evidence uncovered, to the making of this modern-day national animal.

The next time you are asked about our national animal, by those quite unfamiliar with the Canadian beaver, don’t be at a loss for words. Attend Dr. Rybczynski’s presentation “Canada’s Five Cent Animal: Our Beaver, Past & Present” and you will have a rich treasury of incredible stories to draw upon. She will be speaking at MVFN’s next lecture on Thursday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m., Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For more information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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Presentation by Paul Keddy: “Where the Wild Things Are”

“Where the Wild Things Are”

 On Saturday March 5th, The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy (MMLTC) will welcome Dr. Paul Keddy, an internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident, to speak about some of the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. The MMLTC works with private landowners and in the community to help preserve spaces where wild things are found.

 “Wild places,” says Dr. Keddy, “are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for ourselves. I will describe our wild places of Lanark County, and also explain why they are important, and how scientists set priorities for protection. Not all wild places are the same, and it is important that over the next few decades we build a proper network of protected wild places. But we have to focus on the important places when we can.”

 “Of course, in one way, it is obvious that wild species need wild places. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Lanark County has some remarkable species. A few of my personal favorites are the Black Rat Snake, the Blanding’s Turtle, the Black-throated Blue Warbler, and the Gray Tree Frog. None of these will survive for the next generations without the wild places in which they live.”

 “But it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. Jesus, after all, spent 40 days in the wilderness of the Middle East. The Buddha spent years living in the forests of India. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why. Canoe trips, wilderness hikes, hunting camps, and summer cottages all give us some experience of wildness.”

 When he was younger, Dr. Keddy spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. “In my lifetime,” he says, “many of the places I once loved have been turned into subdivisions or carelessly logged. Species that I used to see are missing, or there are only a few where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. People have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township.

 Although he has returned to live in Lanark County, Dr. Keddy still works on wild places elsewhere. He has recently worked on projects involving restoration of the Everglades, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and even San Francisco Bay. He will be drawing upon some of these examples to provide further insight into Lanark County.

 Although he has an international reputation as a scientist and writer, Paul is probably best known to us for writing Earth, Water Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Now in its second printing as a revised edition, this book is an easy-to-digest, delightful and informative sail through the surprising natural and recent geological history of this area. The book will be available for purchase at his talk.

 By the end of the talk, we should know where our wild places are, and what we should do to keep them intact. Since the Land Trust exists to take gifts of wild places to protect them for future generations, how better to spend an afternoon than hearing about wild places and meeting other people who care too.

 Dr. Keddy will be speaking at MMLTC’s annual meeting which will be held Saturday, March 5, from 2-4 pm at the United Church Hall, 115 Clarence Street, in Lanark village.

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The Essential Element: What Makes Charleston Lake, Bon Echo, and Sandbanks Parks Special

 

 

Press Release

February 4, 2011

The Essential Natural Elements According to Park Naturalist David Bree

by Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora, and People, continues February 17 with the fifth presentation, “The Essential Element: What Makes Charleston Lake, Bon Echo and Sandbanks Parks Special.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy these lectures—just bring your curiosity or appreciation for wild nature.

David Bree, Senior Natural Heritage Education Leader (Chief Park Naturalist) at Presqu’ile Provincial Park and a native of Almonte, will be MVFN’s guest speaker. He has travelled six continents and worked as a naturalist in as many different provincial parks. David’s accumulated knowledge of birds, plants, insects and geology will greatly enrich our appreciation of three spectacular Ontario parks and place them in context as outstanding natural areas designated to conserve the integrity and diversity of eastern Ontario nature.

Our guided investigation of these natural environment parks, all within 100 km of Lanark County, will tease out the essential element that makes each one special. Using clues from park geology to help identify the essential element for each park, David will then show us how it affects the plants and animals (and human behaviour) we observe at these protected natural areas.

Do you know which park is closest to where you live? Which park has drawn artists (including The Group of Seven) for hundreds of years, has over 260 native pictographs (the largest visible collection in Canada), is home to five-lined skinks, and is renowned for a sheer rock face 1.5 kilometres long and rising 100 metres above an adjacent lake—one of the deepest lakes in Ontario? Exposed to the waves when the glaciers retreated, another park contains two spectacular stretches of sand dunes up to 25 m high, including one considered the largest freshwater baymouth sand dune system in the world—which park is this? The third park, once on the boundary between two ancient bodies of water, now sits on the strip of Canadian Shield stretching between Algonquin and the Adirondacks. Twisted, folded and deformed, its rocks tell of intense heat and pressure in the distant past. See the accompanying photograph for a hint for identifying the park trio.

Don’t know these parks? Plan to attend David Bree’s presentation, “The Essential Element: What Makes Charleston Lake, Bon Echo and Sandbanks Parks Special.” Get up to speed and add one of these natural spaces to your special summer places! His lecture takes place Thursday, February 17 at 7:30 p.m., at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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Lanark’s Leaping Lizards

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

January 10, 2010

Lanark’s Leaping Lizards at MVFN’s January Lecture 

 

In the photo above (left) a female five-lined skink tends her nest and nine eggs. Can you spot the charismatic five-lined skink in the photo above (right)? These seldom-seen lizards share Lanark County with us. Photos courtesy Briar Howes

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora, and People, continues January 20 with the fourth presentation, “Lanark’s Leaping Lizards.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy these lectures—just bring your curiosity and appreciation for wild nature.

Did you know we share Lanark County with lizards? In this upcoming lecture, the biodiversity spotlight will shine on Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink. From its orange chin to its electric-blue tail, this 20 cm long lizard is our most charismatic reptile. Even Little Orphan Annie would be excited to learn about this leaping lizard from Dr. Briar Howes. Skink ecologist Briar Howes completed her thesis work on the five-lined skink at Queens’ University and is currently ‘Species-at-Risk’ Biologist with Parks Canada.

In Canada, skinks are found only in Ontario. The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population is distributed from Georgian Bay to the St. Lawrence River, along the band of Canadian Shield that connects Algonquin Park to the Adirondacks. Skinks are very active predators, well-adapted for darting quickly from place to place looking for insects, worms or other invertebrates. So though you may know they are amongst us, you may not have caught sight of their smooth and shiny bodies. You must know where to look! In our area, their preferred habitat is rocky outcrops in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, where they seek refuge from the elements and predators in rock crevices and fissures.

Curious to learn more about this secretive species-at-risk in our midst—one that takes almost two years to mature, lays eggs which are carefully tended by the female, and which may autotomize its tail to escape predators? Dr. Howes will answer your questions at MVFN’s next lecture, “Lanark’s Leaping Lizards,” Thursday, January 20 at 7:30 p.m., Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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“Talking Turkey-It’s Wild” at October MVFN lecture

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

October 8, 2010

Wild turkeys ‘Talk’ at next MVFN lecture

Bring your appetite for wild turkeys to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) October lecture “Talking Turkey—It’s Wild” to be presented by MVFN’s Program Chair and biologist Cathy Keddy. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy MVFN’s monthly lecture series on natural history and biology held Thursday evenings in Almonte —just a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature.

Wild turkeys are native to North America and although they were not native locally, they are certainly here now and these large game birds are well known not only to hunters. Wild turkey ‘rafters’ often made up of numerous individual birds can be seen at almost any time of the year in fields from the roadsides of Lanark County, from our forest homes, and even in urban areas of Almonte. In fact due to reintroductions, alterations in habitat, and warmer climate, wild turkeys are thriving in Ontario in areas from which they had been extirpated and in areas such as Lanark County that are outside the historic range for these birds.

What is there to learn about the wild turkey’s status, distribution and abundance in our area and unique aspects of their habitat, sensitivity to harsh winter, and behaviour? Bring all your turkey questions to the lecture.

Wild turkeys unlike their domestic relatives, are strong agile fliers and are said to be ‘wild and wary to the point of genius.’  These cautious creatures have good eyesight and feed during the day, thus being quite visible to people and prone to receiving erroneous accusations relating to crop damage.

Wild turkeys communicate with one another with yelps, purrs, cackles and gobbles, but what does this cacophony sound like? Find out at Cathy Keddy’s presentation. Enjoy an evening among friends, find out more about these interesting birds and meet Cathy’s mystery guest, a former resident of the Clayton area. The presentation “Talking Turkey—It’s Wild” takes place Thursday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m., at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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