Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Nature Notebook – It’s Heron’s Turn

By: Joel E. Byrne

This happened Sunday October 2, 2005 at “The Pool” (my nickname for the spot).

It was early October, a time of great change in Lanark Highlands. The colours were coming! I was touring the byways searching for early patches of crimson leaves. The close of day found me standing on a riverbank completely enraptured by the play of light and shadows on a limpid pool. Suddenly, a huge feathered creature came into view, gliding swiftly down the river valley, wheeling and plunking down awkwardly in the crown of a silver maple. Ah, a Great Blue Heron. After this undignified landing, it stretched its neck to full length the better to survey its dining table— the swift water and eddies of the Mississippi River where it narrows to the Playfairville rapids.

I watched the heron, it watched me. I had my trusty 7×50 binoculars at hand, but did not raise them, because the previous day I’d learned a lesson. This heron (and here I presume it was the same heron that has steadfastly returned day after day to this very spot) was not at all happy about being stared at by binoculars. Such an intrusion seemed to agitate it. In fact I’ve concluded that my ogling of it the day before forced it to try to stare me down; when this failed it crouched, shifted from foot to foot several times, and flapped off in a huff, giving me a baleful look.

That wasn’t going to happen again. Heron had been working his way down to this productive spot where he could enjoy the last rays of the sun, and check out the fishing. He was still hungry and there were plenty of fish and frogs; he would have no trouble filling his belly. All he had to do was wade quietly, and wait. Concentrate, then stab with speed and precision. No distractions needed. He did not relish a huge pair of glassy eyes following his every move, stalking the stalker, so to speak. Heron fished best alone. I climbed the bank, got into the car, and drove away slowly, leaving the windows down on the river side, listening to its rush. I will be back, as well as heron, and we will share the river’s hospitality, in peace.

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Autumn: a time of idyll observation, or is it?

Submitted by Celina Tuttle
10th October 2007

Autumn: a time of idyll observation, or is it?

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Fall. It’s marked by spectacular bursts of color and periods of idyll observation. It’s a time to watch leaves spiral lazily to the ground, one where sunlight filters through canopies of orange, yellow and vivid reds. The smooth, silver bark of beech trees contrasts sharply with the craggy black and grey of maples and the corky bark of the hackberry. Lacy fronds of balsam, cedar and hemlock sway gracefully above carpets of red and gold pine needles; gardens and streets are littered with crisp brown leaves. The aromatic scent of cedar and the damp, rich smell of wet leaves carries on the slightest of breezes.

Well, perhaps it’s not such idle observation. There’s always a burning question. What causes the change from the verdant greens of spring and summer foliage to shades of brown and yellow and the brilliant oranges and reds that sometimes takes our breath away? What determines whether a leaf will be purplish in color, a mellow yellow, brilliant red or dull brown, and what causes trees to shed their leaves?

The leaves of trees provide most of its food and nutrients through a process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, a molecule that gives most plants their green color, is an important ingredient in photosynthesis, as is sunlight. Chlorophyll uses the sun’s energy to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars and starch.

Along with the green color of chlorophyll, there are yellow and orange pigments in leaves. These pigments, the carotenoids and the xanthophylls, are in the leaves for most of the year but are overpowered by the large amounts of green chlorophyll produced during the growing season. In the fall, with fewer hours of sunlight, leaves are unable to produce as much chlorophyll, their green color begins to fade and the yellow and orange pigments are revealed. The hackberry, birches, elms and poplars change color in this way.

Another cell pigment in leaves, anthocyanin, causes the red and purple colors in maples, sumacs, dogwoods and ashes. Sugar is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops in the fall and is changed chemically into anthocyanin. The pH levels of the tree’s sap will determine whether its leaves turn red (acidic sap) or purple (alkaline sap).

In other trees, the anthocyanins and the carotenoids combine to create the deep oranges, reds and bronze colors that mark our local hardwood forests. The brown leaves of the oak and some other trees are caused when tannic acid, an astringent found in tree bark and pine cones, combines with the carotenoids.

Another process, occurring at the same time as the colors change, causes the leaves to fall. Cooler temperatures and less daylight stimulate the growth of a layer of cells, called the “abscission” or separation layer, between the leaf stalk and the woody branch. These cells slow the exchange of water and carbohydrates between the leaves and the tree’s roots, as the tree begins its winter dormancy. Food trapped in the leaves becomes the pigment for red and purple-colored leaves.

Other factors influence fall colors. Early frosts will cause leaves to die before the abscission process begins and they may drop before the fall pigments develop. Photosynthesis, the production of green chlorophyll, will continue with warm weather and the colors won’t be as vivid. Low light and water levels will diminish the color of the leaves.

Celina Tuttle is a member of the Urban Forest/River Corridor Advisory Committee, the aim of which is to ensure our urban forests and river corridor are healthy, attractive and available for future generations. Questions may be emailed to the Committee’s Chair, Jim McCready, , and will be considered as topics for future articles.

FUN FACT: What do autumn leaves and ripening bananas have in common?

The green color in unripe bananas comes from chlorophyll, the same pigment that gives green leaves their color. As bananas ripen, the chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, revealing the yellow color, which has been there all along. The yellows and oranges of autumn leaves are also revealed as their chlorophyll breaks down. Other changes also occur as bananas ripen: the starches change to sugar and the flesh softens as pectin (a carbohydrate) breaks down. Source:

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Nature Notebook – The Turquoiose-Blue Green Frog

By: Cliff Bennett

On June 28, I received a call from MVFN member Holly Francis of Carleton Place. Holly was walking off the unmaintained end of the 5th Line of Ramsay and came upon a turquoise frog in a mud puddle in the middle of the road. She wanted me to ID it but frogs were not my forte. I replied I would try and get her some information on her discovery.

The next day, when Holly was back in the same area, she came upon another of these curious specimen. This time, she captured it and took it home, from whence she called me again, this time triumphantly telling me of her conquest.

The next day, I drove to Carleton Place to see this wonder and, sure enough, it was a bright turquoise colour. I took the frog away and drove to Jim Bendell’s residence above Clayton. If anyone could explain this marvel, he could.

Arriving at Jim’s home, he picked it out of the bucket I had it in and exclaimed he too had never seen such an animal before. We looked through all of his reference books and concluded it had to be either a mink frog or a green frog, with some strange variant. Jim gave me two authoritative sources to call.

I took the frog home and jumped on the phone. The first call was to Dr. Fred Schuiler of the Bio Diversity Museum at Kemptville, an authority on amphibians. He immediately identified the animal as a green frog, but with no yellow pigment in its skin. This variant is quite rare; about once a year someone shows up at the museum with one and he personally sees one about every two and one half years. The other source, Dr. Cook from Carleton University confirmed the assessment and suggested getting it’s picture so he could have a copy.

Now getting a picture of this very active, slippery specimen is not that easy, as Dr. Cook agreed. So he offered a solution. Place the frog in a plastic bag with holes in it and put it in the refrigerator for about one hour. This I did and sure enough, he came out looking like he needed a scarf around his neck.

I placed the frog on a sheet of white paper and he dutifully posed while I snapped several shots from different angles. Then I placed him back in his bucket in the garage and fed him some garden worms.

I was instructed to take him back to Holly the next day, to have her replace him in the same puddle he came from. Alas, when I went to check on him the next morning, he was gone. I searched the garage but couldn’t find him. Somewhere in my forest is a turquoise coloured green frog.

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Natue Notebook – A Bird Day In The Life On Country Street

By: Eileen Hennemann

When the sun warms your bones after a disappointing week of uninspired gardening weather, and you can get out there for hours of bliss, you’d think nothing else could make you happier. We were proven wrong by being very pleasantly surprised from all the bird activity throughout the day. What should have taken us but a few hours to finish stretched out to a full day of working and stopping to watch the aerial activity.

While Allan turned the soil over in the front area where the shrubs have taken over he would stop often to listen to an odd “kwock” sound emanating from the Buckthorn hedge. A trio of Green Herons finally flew out and perched in a tall tree beside him. After quickly referring to the bird book did we learn that they really shouldn’t be here with us but instead by water of some kind. Throughout the day they would entertain us with their very un-birdlike sounds.

As we became blasé with the Green Herons we returned to our chores only to stop in our tracks while a couple of Baltimore (Northern) Orioles swept in, their orange feathers blazing through the budding lime-green leaves. This is the only time of year we are privileged to enjoy this bright and elusive bird. They joined in the chorus of the brilliant yellow Gold Finches and glorious red Cardinals swooping in to the feeders at the front door.

While I returned to the back yard, Allan continued his digging by the Forsythias. The buzzing around him was deafening as not only were the yellow blossoms covered in bumblebees but with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. They’d chitter and chatter while trying to buzz each other away from the best blooms and jet-zoom by Allan’s ears while in chase.

Meanwhile the Warblers were keeping me company out back with the various local Sparrows, Chickadees, and Grackles. The Mourning Dove was watching me silently from her perch waiting for a good time to flutter back into the cedar hedge where her nest lay.

Three other nests nestled in the cedars and juniper around me – two Robins’ nests and a Grackle’s. They were constantly swooping at each other to make sure their individual nests were left undisturbed.

The Cat Bird did its best to hide from us but couldn’t resist singing her meow-like call while she flitted along the length of the hedge. And not to be outdone, the Thrasher appeared later in the day to mimic as many of the birds he heard entertaining us until that time. A very prolific bird, he’s proud and shameless.

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Flickers stayed on the telephone poles at the end of our driveway and made many irritated sounds while we went to and fro in our gardening chores. We probably could have finished several hours earlier but who could resist such an aviary delight. In addition to stopping to smell the roses we got to stop and hear the birdsong. We’ll remember this day during the dark and bitter cold days of winter.

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Nature Notebook – You Don’t Need To Rent a Car

By: Gene Fytche,


Janet and I have just returned from three pleasant weeks in the Algarve in southern Portugal, having made our way by public transport. That decision was made from a previous experience when I saw nothing on the roads and Janet was overcome by the antics of our opponents for tarmac space. Out of season, the competition on the Algarve highways seemed tolerable

The Algarve is 150 km from east to west and 40 km north to south. A railway runs from Lagos in the east to Vila Real in the west. And is parallelled by a coastal road that runs through all the famous tourist towns, and a throughway further north for those in a hurry. Both busses and trains are frequent, both along the coast and to towns in the foothills, each with its own scenes of interest. Cost is about 10 cents per km. If each town visited takes a day, it is cheaper than a rented car, which you can’t park, and you see the people close up! What’s time, anyway.

We chose Faro as our first base: it is the major airport, but ignored by most tourists who head for better known tourist spots. But it has everything, our 4* hotel was facing the marina, was two blocks from the bus station and three from the train. The fortress and cathedral are interesting, and the town is walkable. From there we saw Vila Real, Loule, Tavira, Estoi, and Albufeira. And made side trips to Seville and Gibraltar.Then we moved to Lagos,because it was a much smaller (lovely) town, from which we saw Sagres (remember Henry the Navigator) Portamao and Silves

Walking is safe, (needed to walk off the enormous meals of good fresh food) and pleasant once one gets away from the high rise developments. The nature parks on the west coast, and along the ocean front from Faro to the Spanish border give scope for the walker and opportunities to bird watch, sea birds, waders and field birds. In season, there are boat trips to satisfy the sailors, and these go for the birds too.

Try it!

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