Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Fascinating Gray Jay Presentation At MVFN Gala

Press Release
Mississippi Vallery Field Naturalists
Submitted: 30 May 2004
Cliff Bennett

Fascinating Gray Jay Presentation At MVFN Gala

Gray JayEverything you ever want to know and then some, about the gray jay (A.K.A. Whiskey jack) of Algonquin Park fame, was the feature of a presentation by renowned Algonquin Park researcher Dan Strickland, at the MVFN fundraising Gala on Saturday evening, May 29.Held at the Carleton Place Canoe Club, the large crowd in attendance was fascinated with the detail of the topic presented . In addition to a wide variety of activities Dan Strickland was responsible for in the development of the modern Algonquin Park, he still found time to conduct thirty-five years of studies on this impossibly impish feathered character of the deep boreal forests.

As part of Dan Strickland’s studies, he spent time in China, Siberia and Scandinavia researching similar jays of the same family. A hallmark achievement was finding the first ever nesting of the Szechwan jay in a remote spruce forest in China. Three main themes of all of Dan’s jay species studied centred around seeking answers to three puzzling points about the bird.

One point was why the gray jay always started nesting in early February in the midst of winter, another was the actions of one dominant male juvenile bird which always chased his siblings away from their parents and the third aspect was the relationship between the gray jay and spruce forests. Dan concluded his presentation by showing compelling evidence that the spruce forests of the world are shrinking, due to logging and possible global warming. And, with the shrinking of the spruce habitat for the gray jay, the bird’s populations are also shrinking.

The speaker was introduced by host Jim Bendell, who outlined to the audience some of Dan Strickland’s many outstanding achievements over the years spent in Algonquin Park, including the development of the logging museum and the new visitor centre. MVFN member Rod Bhar thanked the speaker and presented him with an honourarium and a gift basket of local products.

The other important part of the Gala evening was the holding of a silent auction to raise funds for MVFN’s Environmental Education Projects Programme (EEPP). Newly elected MVFN President Michael MacPherson welcomed the members and guests to the event and MC Cliff Bennett conducted the auction and other proceedings. Mississippi Mills resident Joyce Clinton was the winner of the evening’s 50/50 draw and five door prizes were awarded. The auction yielded $3000 for the club’s programmes. MVFN wishes to thank the over ninety commercial and private donors for their contributions of items for the auctin and door prizes.

Other than the canoeing programme, this event concludes MVFN activities for the summer. Watch for announcements on the new fall and winter programmes and check out the MVFN website at for more information.

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Bats A Very Fascinating Topic at MVFN Meeting

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by: Ian Baker
March 20, 2004

Bats A Very Fascinating Topic at MVFN Meeting  

Bat ImageOn Thursday March 18, Perth resident and long-time bat enthusiast, Jim Ronson presented an interesting talk on Bats at the popular monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists.

The speaker was introduced by MVFN member Ian Baker.

Ronson, who is the President of the Rideau Valley Field Naturalists, started the evening by sorting out myths and facts about bat-lore. His vivid description of the bats’ ability to use Echolocation to “see” their surroundings in the dark stimulated a lively discussion. The speaker indicated bats use this sonar-like talent to detect size, shape and texture of their prey. Jim also shared highlights of the Bat Conservation International video “Secret World of Bats”. The audience was entertained and enlightened about the many bat species from Flying Foxes in Australia, Fruit Bats in Mexico to Vampire Bats of South and Central Americas. Ronson talked about the need for public education, stating that bats are at risk primarily because people don’t understand how valuable they are.

Bats native to the Almonte area include the Little Brown bat, the Large Brown bat, the Red bat and the Eastern Pipistrell. While these little creatures are often difficult to differentiate due to their nocturnal habits and without close examination in the hand, Mr. Ronson pointed out some characteristics of flight pattern that can be helpful as well as tips on when and where to observe. Bats native to Ontario are largely insect eaters and will consume 1/2 their weight a day. They live 10 to 15 years, some to 30 years.

Jim Ronson concluded his presentation with a donation of a home-made Bat House. He described the simple and practical design and where best to locate. After the audience participated with many questions and personal experiences, the speaker was presented with a gift basket of local honey products, to the sounds of a hearty round of applause.

In other business, MVFN Director Cliff Bennett announced the upcoming Environmental Education Projects Programme fund-raiser in May. Look for Jim Ronson’s Bat-house at the Silent auction.

The next MVFN evening programme will be held Thursday, April 15 at the Almonte United Church on Elgin Street. The topic will be the Peregrine Falcon Release Program with guest speaker Gary Neilson of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

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Threatened Snake Topic at MVFN Meeting

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by: Cliff Bennett
Feb. 20, 2004

Threatened Snake Topic at MVFN Meeting

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The largest snake in Canada, the Eastern black rat snake, is becoming scarce and is now on Ontario’s list of threatened species. This two metre long reptile was the topic of a presentation by Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) District Ecologist to the monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), held in Almonte United Church, Thursday, Feb. 19. Mr. Thompson is Deputy Conservation Officer for the Kemptville District.

Introduced by MVFN host Patricia Matheson, Thompson thrilled the audience with tales of his life-long interest in snakes since he was two years old, running around the countryside chasing after his quarry in order to study their habits and habitat. Much of his adult life has been spent as a Provincial Park specialist enthralling children and adults on snakes, explaining facts and dispelling myths.

The Eastern black rat snake can still be found in this area, mostly in the Frontenac axis lands, west of Perth and south of highway 7. Programmes are currently underway to maintain and protect existing populations. A few small and diminishing colonies are still recorded in Southern Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie where recovery efforts are concentrating on maintaining and restoring lost habitat.

Shawn Thompson has spent the past twenty years of his life studying the Eastern black rat snake. His programme includes genetic studies and tagging with radio chips to follow their range of activities . Public education is key and working with land owners produces much assistance in protecting the population. Shawn asked those present to spread the word around to watch out for these critters on the roadways. “Break for snakes” is a constant slogan. After a vigorous question and answer period, he was thanked by Ms. Matheson and presented with a gift of local honey products.

Prior to the main speaker, MVFN Director Jim Bendell conducted an enthusiastic show and tell exercise in which members of the audience described their recent nature sightings and experiences. In other business, MVFN Director Cliff Bennett announced the awarding of a grant of $1000 from the Community Stewardship Council of Lanark County for the club’s Environmental Education Projects Programme. The next regular MVFN meeting will be held Thursday, March 18 and the topic will be all about bats.

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Sharing the Earth with 200 million year old creatures

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by MVFN member Jill McCubbin
October 17, 2003

Sharing the Earth with 200 million year old creatures

TurtleCo-existence (between people and turtles) was the subject of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ discussion at their monthly indoor event held at the Almonte United Church Hall on this past Thursday (Oct. 16). It was an excellent, informative and entertaining evening that included a presentation from turtle expert, Michele St. Cyr, from Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue. Members of all ages were in attendance, listening attentively, and asking questions.

The event began with a National Film Board film presentation on video: Creatures of the Sun: a natural history of the painted turtle. This film, shot in Quebec, is an exploration of pond life that focuses on the life cycle of the painted turtle. It has a conservationist perspective and super footage of turtles-from hatchlings and reproduction, to life span and habitat. The Almonte library does not currently have this video in its collection, but perhaps with a little pressure…

Michele St. Cyr and the organization Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue ( began a turtle crossing sign crusade back in 1999. The turtle crossing signs aim to educate motorists about where & when to look out for turtles crossing the road. The signs are yellow and diamond-shaped with a black turtle motif in the centre. Arrows show the direction of the crossing turtles, and the months they’re on the move are marked on the signs as well. These signs have been adopted by municipalities through the Ottawa region and are effectively aiding in the protection of turtles. Mississippi Mills supports this program and has a few signs within the municipality. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists hope to co-ordinate an increase in the number of these signs in our local area. There are many unmarked areas where turtles regularly cross roadways near wetlands, swamps, and ponds in our county.

Ontario has populations of more species of turtles than any other province or territory. (According to St. Cyr: Newfoundland and PEI have none!). One small step toward increased turtle survival: Please avoid insecticides and pesticides used in commercial and household gardens. These cause deformities in turtles. We are lucky here in Lanark to provide the habitat for these turtles: common map, Blandings, common musk, painted, spotted, snapping, and wood. We need to act responsibly to protect our Triassic cousins.

Visit the Field Naturalists’ website at for more information about the club and about the exciting line-up of upcoming indoor and outdoor events. The next indoor event is Species at Risk on Thursday, November 20. Speaker: Michel G Vermette, from the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, at the Almonte United Church, 7:30 PM.

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Moon Eclipse Featured at Field Naturalists’ Annual Meeting 2003

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Cliff Bennett
May 20, 2003

Moon Eclipse Featured at Field Naturalists’ Annual Meeting

Full MoonThe night of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Annual General meeting,Thursday, May 15, coincided with a full eclipse of the moon. To place members in the mood for watching the details later in the night, MVFN member Al Seaman presented a series of slides on the 2000 winter full eclipse of the moon. His presentation was introduced by MVFN member Joel Byrne through a series of his haiku poems on the eclipse as well as conoeing. As it turned out, the recent eclipse was not nearly as spectacular as the blood red moon of the millennium year.

The annual meeting of MVFN was held at Union Hall, corner of County Roads 16 and 9 in Ramsay. After an earlier reception, the meeting was opened by Acting President Cliff Bennett, who outlined several features of the previous year. MVFN is represented on several Boards involving rural clean water, forestry management, municipal official plan creation, development of a regional land trust and two municipal Environmental Advisory Committees. Bennett also expresses satisfaction with a substantial increase in memberships.

Reports of the year’s successes were presented by various BOD members. Financially, the year ended up with a deficit balance but MVFN will have a balanced budget for the new year. Proceedings of this meeting can be found on the website

Two members of the BOD, secretary Karen Richter and Susan Fisher, who chaired the Environmental Issues Committee, have retired. Acting President Cliff presented both with a well-earned gift of appreciation.

Two new Board members were elected;

Elizabeth Wiles, Carp, as secretary and Michael McPhail, Ramsay, to chair the Environmental Issues Committee.

They will join the following slate:
President, Sandy Atack, Ramsay;
Vice-President and chair of the Financial Committee, Michael MacPherson,
Past-President Cliff Bennett, Ramsay;
Treasurer, Reiner Hollbach, Ramsay and
Directors Pip Winters, Almonte, Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON)
Tine Kuiper, Ramsay, Programme Committee chair;
Jim Bendell, Lanark Highlands, Natural Resources Issues chair;
Franziska VonRosen, Lanark Highlands, Stewardship Council representative;
Eileen Hennemann, Ramsay, Publicity, Publications and Public Relations chair
Yvonne Bendell, Lanark Highlands, Social Convenor.

The final MVFN spring event will be a members only visit to the Duncan’s Organic Farm, Appleton Side Road, on June 8th. Informal canoeing trips are available for members and friends, by contacting Cliff or watching our website. For further information, contact Cliff Bennett at 256-5013 or at .

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