Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Wild Life Journals

submitted by Cheryl Morris for MVFN

 On Thursday, April 21 at 7:30 pm., the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host Member’s Night, to be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario. At that time and place, we will enter the intriguing worlds of the loon and the owl, described by two well-known ambassadors for nature in our region, Cliff Bennett and Simon Lunn.

 Simon Lunn is an accomplished photographer and naturalist from Smiths Falls, Ontario who has enjoyed a 30-year career with Parks Canada. Simon entitles his presentation “Encounters With Intriguing Owls”. Through a series of  alluring photographic images, he will introduce us to several different owls encountered in recent years, both in the wooded backyard of his home in Smiths Falls and in other special places in nature that are within an hour’s drive from his home. These fascinating birds each have a story to tell…

Simon’s interest in the outdoors and passion for photography came early in life. When he was a young lad, Simon’s parents gave him a brownie camera and introduced him to a photographic darkroom. With his family, he explored the natural outdoor world throughout rural Ontario. Simon’s early career in photography included photographing landscapes, plants, and animals in their natural habitats; the images were then shared with park visitors through detailed slide presentations. More recently, he has shared his stunningly beautiful images of nature with various magazines and tourism agencies, and contributed his talents in the form of local photography workshops and community presentations.

 Cliff Bennett is a well-known naturalist and educator from Lanark County. In 1988, he was one of the founding members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and is currently serving a second term as president. Cliff has been the recipient of several regional, provincial and national awards for his work in the area of conservation but the MVFN Champion For Nature Award is most special to him because it was presented to him by his peers, the people who, in his words, “inspire him to continue doing the activities for which he received the award”. Cliff is an avid birder and canoeist, and until recently was the Eastern Regional Director with Ontario Nature. Cliff was also one of the people responsible for the development of MVFN’s flagship Environmental Education Program (EEP). The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Fund was created in 2007 by Cliff’s many friends who wished to honour his contributions to the community and nature.

Cliff’s presentation on April 21 is entitled “Loons And Human Interaction”. He will explore the world of loons in various habitats, explaining their classic calls and habits. He will demonstrate how man’s intrusion into the natural world is threatening the survival of the loons.

 Please join the MVFN for this interesting and informative evening of presentations. Refreshments will follow the talks. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley, at .


Continue reading...

Exploring the remarkable Shaw Woods

by Cheryl Morris

On March 17, 2016, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists will once again host a presentation describing a uniquely special place in our natural world. This will be the sixth event of the current season and will take place in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.

The guest speaker for the evening will be Grant Dobson and his presentation is entitled “Shaw Woods: A Diverse Ecological Gem.”  Grant is the Chair of Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre.

The Woods first opened to the public in the 1970’s. More recently, it has become a not-for-profit charitable organization involving local volunteers including Mr. Dobson. Together they have expanded the 13-kilometre trail network, built boardwalks over sensitive areas and developed a self-guided interpretive program. A lookout perches high above Shaw Pond along the Dore Scarp. In his own words Grant describes this exceptional venture thus: “The mandate of the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre is to foster an ethic of responsible environmental stewardship and sustainable forestry management through experiential education aimed at school-age children and the public at large. . . Shaw Woods is indeed a ‘Special Place’. Within these woods you will find one of eastern Canada’s premier examples of an old-growth maple/beech/hemlock forest. It supports a wide variety of ecological communities and has been carefully protected for generations. In addition, the property features a variety of managed forests, plantations, and wetlands.” Some of the trees in the forest are over 200 years of age!

This magnificent forested area near Lake Dore is named for the Shaw family that has lived here for many years. It spans some 124 acres of old-growth forest as well as 395 acres of wetlands and mixed forests. In 1847, John Shaw, a Scottish miller, and his wife Barbara Thompson arrived with their 2-year old son, having canoed from Bytown (the former name for Ottawa). They built a dam on the Snake River and developed a three-story grist mill to serve the early settlers who would often walk up to 12 miles carrying a 66-pound bag of grain on their back. By nightfall they would be able to return home carrying a sack of flour. For thousands of years before that, people of the Algonquin nation inhabited the shores of Lake Dore and traveled along the Snake River to the Ottawa River watershed. They accessed the wetlands in search of food—animals that could be hunted and plants that could be gathered. Plants such as the American elder were also sources of vital medicine.

The presentation, featuring examples of Grant’s stunning photography, will examine the physical environment of Shaw Woods, from the Paleozoic era to the present, as well as the range of flora and fauna which has evolved there. The 240 hectare property includes a great diversity of biological communities and is the perfect outdoor classroom for inquiry-based learning programs developed on site. In his words, Grant will “highlight some of the recent drivers of change in the forest environment, a citizen science initiative developed to track some of these changes, and the importance of small steps when it comes to environmental stewardship.”

Please join us for this fascinating presentation. Refreshments and discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at

Continue reading...

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

Continue reading...

Exploring the Wonders of Purdon Conservation Area

by Cheryl Morris

On Thursday February 18, 2016, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the fifth presentation of the season. The theme for the current series is “Naturally Special Places.” The event will be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.

Our guest speaker for the evening will be Shannon Gutoskie and her presentation is entitled “Purdon: Uniquely Natural.” Shannon is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) and has many years of media and communication experience in the public and non-profit sectors.

Being a newcomer to the Mississippi Valley, Shannon has enjoyed exploring all that the area has to offer. In her presentation on February 18, she will take us on a journey into a fascinating world found within our local area that can only be described as “naturally special,” the Purdon Conservation Area. It is one of the “Seven Wonders of Lanark County” and is home to the largest colony of Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) in Canada. This rare plant is a member of the orchid family.  It is native to North America and is restricted to the northeast region of the United States and the southeast regions of Canada. This beautiful orchid has vanished from much of its historical range due to threats such as habitat loss, wetland drainage, and over-zealous horticultural collectors. It grows in wetlands such as “fens” and also open wooded swamps.


Photo banner,  MVCA

The main area within the Purdon wetland is classified as a fen, which is defined as: “A peatland characterized by surface layers of poorly-to-moderately composted peat, with often well-decomposed peat near the base.” The Showy Lady’s Slipper grows mainly in mossy hummocks within this fen. What started out as a small cluster of native orchids in the 1930’s when it was discovered by Joe Purdon, has grown into a colony of more than 16,000 blooms! After purchasing the property in 1984 with the help of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, MVCA pledged to preserve the site for public enrichment. The conservation authority cares for the colony by following a management plan that was created by Ted Mosquin, a well-known ecologist, who has volunteered his expertise since the mid-1980’s. The active management of the site consists of some tree clearing to allow more light to the fen, water level management through the beaver pond (also known as Purdon Lake), and hand pollination. The MVCA offers an Adopt-An-Orchid Program to support the upkeep of this unique and vital conservation area.

From late spring until early autumn, the Purdon Conservation Area is open daily from dawn until dusk for the nourishment of body, mind, and spirit. Spanning a three-week period of time in June, visitors can stroll along an accessible boardwalk for a close-up view of the orchids. Families can enjoy self-guided hikes through an uplands (hardwood) forest or experience “extreme birding” along the boardwalk of a rare fen wetland. The Ted Mosquin Highland Trail is a more challenging 1.3 km. route along the shores of Purdon Lake and into the woodland that surrounds the orchid colony. Interpretive signs lead you through the site, identifying the plants and wildlife and telling the Purdon story. Directions to Purdon Conservation Area are available on the MVCA website at

Please join us for this delightful and informative presentation. Refreshments and discussion follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at .

Continue reading...

The sounds and rhythms of nature

by Cheryl Morris

On Thursday, January 21, 2016, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the fourth presentation of their lecture series which is based on the theme ‘Naturally Special Places’. The event will be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, Ontario at 7:30 pm.

Our guest speaker for the evening will be Chad Clifford, and he has entitled his presentation “Exploring the Soundscapes of Naturally Special Places.” Mr. Clifford is a soundscaping specialist and works to record nature’s symphony of sounds. He will provide an introduction to soundscaping including the aesthetic qualities of nature sounds and how nature-based recordings are used in research. A glimpse at Cornell’s Raven Pro software will demonstrate the power of technology in studying the sounds nature provides to those who are intent on listening. Chad will describe some of the common and not-so-common gear used for nature recording, including do-it-yourself options for microphones. Numerous recordings made by the speaker will be played throughout the talk. The presentation will also describe the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust’s efforts to collect data in support of their biological monitoring of properties, a function with which Chad has been intimately involved. As well he will touch on some public education events that are offered by this important group.

Photo by TK Marsh

Photo by TK Marsh

Mr. Clifford is the founder and director of “Wilderness Rhythms”, a  Lanark-based company with a focus on facilitating a deeper appreciation and respect for nature through quality wilderness experiences and the introduction of practical survival priorities – shelter, water, fire and food – plus an awareness of the aesthetic essence that is a part of nature. Mr. Clifford is author of the book “Wilderness Rhythms: Playing Music to Enhance the Nature Experience”. Through this insightful and sensitively-written book, Chad shares his extensive understanding of traditional woods and survival skills and nature lore, as well as his experience of injecting music into nature-based activities. The second section of the book is written in the form of a journal through which the author uncovers how a state of expanded awareness can be reached when one practices within the realm of nature.

Mr. Clifford states, “With the expanding intrusion of the noisy and mechanized world, our natural soundscapes could soon be listed as endangered. How fortunate we are in the Lanark Highlands to still find natural soundscapes where we can attain at least 15 minutes of nature’s voice uninterrupted. Beyond the aesthetics of natural soundscapes, we are collecting hundreds of hours of soundscape data within the protected land trusts of our area.”

Please join MVFN for this informative and fascinating presentation. Refreshments and discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at

Continue reading...