Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

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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The Lay of the Water Over Mississippi Lands

The Lay of the Water Over Mississippi Lands

By Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora, and People, continues April 21 with the seventh presentation, “The Lay of the Water Over Mississippi Lands.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy these lectures—just bring your curiosity or appreciation for the environment and wild nature.

Larkin and Keddy photo (1024x768)

















How often do you give a thought to a glass of water? Well, if you live in Lanark, the answer may be quite often, however for most of us the answer is likely to be, rarely if ever. Most of us take this essential resource for granted—the water that comprises 70% of our body mass, expecting always to have an unending supply to do everything we wish. We even have the luxury of using water fit for drinking to flush our toilets! On average we use 300 l of water each day! Compare this to the water ‘footprint’ of the average citizen of Mozambique (4 l/d), Cambodia (15 l/d), England (149 l/d), Japan (374 l/d) or the US (575 l/d).

Here in the Mississippi Valley, why do we have such a plentiful supply of good, clean water? The answer lies in the lay of the water over and under the lands of the Mississippi watershed. Watershed . . . catchment area . . .drainage basin . . . whatever term we use, water, the essential element of all life in our area enters the Mississippi River Valley we call home, spends time in it, and then leaves.

From its headwaters above Upper Mazinaw Lake till it reaches the Ottawa River, the Mississippi River, over 200 km in length, is associated with over 250 lakes and countless wetlands. With 19 constructed dams (average of one every 10 km!), its flow is governed largely by human desires. Covering an area roughly 3765 km2 (3/4 the size of PEI) the lands of the watershed include large forests, small tracts of agricultural land, limited industry, and the many small towns and villages we know so well. The surface geology ranges from a thin veneer of till over Precambrian rock in the northwest (great for groundwater infiltration), to thick Champlain Sea clays near the outlet (great for surface runoff in a storm event).

At MVFN’s upcoming presentation, speaker Patricia Larkin will explore water diversity and tell us about the lay of our water and how land cover, surficial geology and flow influence its quality and quantity for our use and the health of our natural environment. Larkin is an award-winning environmental educator who delivered the successful MVFN-sponsored Engaging Grade 8’s in Source Water Protection program in local schools in 2009. Larkin currently is a member of the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Committee and recent winner of a Tri-Valley Conservation Award for her work in protecting local waterways and fostering an understanding of water as a resource.

Learn the lay of your water, and develop an appreciation for it. Wet behind the ears about water? Then bring your hard, heavy, fresh, and stagnant water questions to this presentation “The Lay of the Water Over Mississippi Lands,” Thursday April 21, 7:30pm., Almonte United Church Hall, 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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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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