Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Echoes in the mist


-submitted by Cheryl Morris-Putman for MVFN

On Thursday, March 16 at 7:30 pm., the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host a fascinating presentation, reflective of the theme “Wild Creature Close-Ups”. We will enter the mystical world of the Common Loon (Gavia immer), led by experienced naturalist and well-known educator from Lanark County, Cliff Bennett. His presentation is entitled “Loons and Human Interactions”. This event will take place in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, Ontario.

 How many of us have paused by the shore of a calm lake on a warm summer evening and had our hearts opened by the plaintive cry of a loon? We linger there, calmed by this sacred moment as the mist settles silently over the glassy surface of the moonlit water. We smile as that call is answered by the echoing laughter of another loon from somewhere across the dark lake. Such moments, poignant and inspiring, are gifts offered to us by our natural world . . .

The Common Loon is the official provincial bird of Ontario. The name derives from their rather awkward way of moving on land, resembling the gait of a bent-over penguin. The Icelandic word “lomr” and the Swedish word “lom”, from which the term “loon” derives, both refer to “a clumsy walk”. In water however, the loon is a powerful swimmer and diver, allowing this aquatic bird to chase down its main food source—small fish.

Cliff’s vast knowledge and insights will allow us to explore the world of loons, including their various habitats, their classic calls and habits. He will demonstrate how man’s intrusion into the natural world is threatening the existence of these beautiful birds.

In the second part of his presentation Cliff will outline the findings of the 2016 Mississippi Lake Loon Survey. In summary of this survey, Cliff writes: “Our iconic common loons are now gathering upon our larger lakes in large rafts all across Canada, ready for take-off to the warmer south for the winter. Groups of up to sixty should be found now on the Big Mississippi Lake. Many of these local loons were counted this summer, as breeding pairs and chicks were surveyed during the Mississippi Lake Loon Survey, conducted by members of the MVFN, in conjunction with the Mississippi Lakes Association (MLA). MVFN observers were divided into four teams of two, and each team was supplied with an MLA boat driver. The teams made three visits to the lakes during the months of June, July, and August. The local loon survey is part of the Canadian Lakes Loon Surveys conducted across our country by Bird Studies Canada”. Dr. Doug Tozer, Ontario Program Scientist at Bird Studies Canada describes the purpose of Canadian Loons Surveys in his own words: “Through the Bird Studies Canada-Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, hundreds of citizen scientists each year help track the number of chicks that Common Loons produce as an indicator of the extent of acid rain, mercury pollution, and the associated health of our lakes, one of the most prized components of our wild spaces.”

Cliff Bennett is one of the founding members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and is the past-president of this organization. He has been the recipient of several regional, provincial and national awards for his work in the area of conservation. 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. He is 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.

Please join us for this interesting and informative evening. The doors will be open at 7 pm. for those wishing to socialize until the start of the presentation.  Refreshments are available then and during the evening. A discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. There is no charge for MVFN members or youth 18 and under. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at .

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Living a double life


– by Cheryl Morris-Putman for MVFN

On Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm., the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the fifth presentation of the season, reflective of the theme “Wild Creature Close-Ups”. This event will take place in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, Ontario.

The guest speaker for the evening is an experienced naturalist, gifted painter, and author, Mr. Peter Mills. His presentation is entitled “Metamorphosis: Changing The Way We Look At Amphibians”.

He has worked professionally as a naturalist in Algonquin Park over the past nine years and is currently studying at-risk salamanders by using mapping technology to plot where different species are found and how they interact with one another. Using photos and videos, Peter will be speaking about a two-year journey that he undertook to write and illustrate a unique field guide, dedicated to enhancing our knowledge of the critical, developmental first half of the lives of frogs, toads, and salamanders. Up to that point, the available resources outlined in detail only the adult lives of amphibians. His masterful book, published in 2016, is entitled “METAMORPHOSIS: Ontario’s Amphibians At All Stages Of Development”. It is an in-depth illustration of how these specific amphibians develop into the adult, land-living forms that we are familiar with. Most people know little about, let alone have observed, the aquatic larval stages that precede essentially all adult amphibian forms. In the creation of his book, Peter maintained his focus on the amphibians found within Ontario’s borders in order to describe and illustrate in detail the great variability among the immature forms (larvae) of these same species over the broad ranges that they occupy.

The word “amphibian” means “living in and out of water”. It is a creature with two modes of existence  (i.e.“a double life”). Who among us has not paused on a warm summer evening as dusk quietly settles over the shimmering surface of a pond to hear the song of the frogs who call the water and its surrounding land their home? We are comforted by this chorus and yet what do we really know about these creatures who sing their praises to all who would listen? The salamander species represent small-tailed amphibians of the order “Caudata”. They possess porous, scaleless skin, usually two pairs of limbs of equal size, and are found chiefly in northern temperate regions. A more ‘romantic’ depiction of the salamander in classical, medieval and renaissance folklore and legend is that of a mysterious creature generally resembling a lizard and believed capable of “living in or withstanding fire”.

In his presentation, Peter Mills will briefly talk about amphibian biology, but his focus will be on the process of creating this book. The project began in 2014 and included tireless hours dedicated to “swamp sleuthing”, the careful raising of delicate larvae, his detailed and artistic illustrations, the combing of  literature, and learning the details of formatting and self-publishing. The finished product is an inspired intertwining of art and science.

 Please join us for this interesting and informative evening. The door will be open at 7 pm. for those wishing to socialize until the start of the presentation.  Refreshments are available then and during the evening. A discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. There will be no charge for youth 18 and under. Copies of the book “Metamorphosis” will be available for purchase ($30 total, cash or cheque). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at .



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Birds in Your Backyard

Do you know your backyard birds? Do you want to attract and nurture birds in your backyard? Join us at 7:30 pmThursday, November 17, 2016  at the Almonte United Church Social Hall (106 Elgin St., Almonte) for the next presentation in MVFN’s Natural History presentation series “Wild Creature Close-Ups”  . . .

“Birds in Your Backyard” will be presented by Cliff Bennett.

Cliff is MVFN’s best known naturalist and birder and he is also one of several founding members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists,  founded nearly 30 years ago. Well-known locally –  a retired teacher and former Municipal Councillor – Cliff is an MVFN Champion for Nature, and currently sits on the MVFN Board of Directors and writes a birding column for the Lanark Era. Cliff has won many awards locally and provincially for the great many conservation and education initiatives he has headed up, including MVFN Christmas Bird Counts and other birding surveys contributing to bird conservation in Ontario, writing and publishing MVFN paddling and birding guides for exploring Lanark County, local “bioblitz” projects, and many other initiatives.

Do you know your backyard birds? Take a quiz during Cliff’s presentation on November 17th.

The presentation begins at 7:30 pm and discussion and refreshments follow the presentation. As always the natural history presentation event is FREE for MVFN members and FREE for youth 18 years and younger; others entrance fee of $5.

All are welcome. Hope to see you there!

Press Release: A Glimpse of Colour


Cliff at presquile



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Coyotes: A Southeastern Ontario Study

Join us on Thursday October 20 at 7:30 pm, as MVFN proudly presents the 2nd presentation of our 2016-17 Natural History talks series, “Wild Creature Close-Ups.”

Coyotes: A Southeastern Ontario Study will be presented by Tyler Wheeldon, M.Sc. Wheeldon comes to us from the Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate program at Trent University in Peterborough, where he is studying population dynamics and genetics of the Eastern coyote in Prince Edward County. Please see full details of this October presentation in the press release The Coyote Way by Cheryl Morris-Putman.

The presentation will take place at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, ON. As always, discussion and refreshments will follow the talk, and the event is free of charge for MVFN members and youth 18 years and under.


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