Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Costa RIca 2012 Local field naturalists return from international nature trip they won’t soon forget

Press Story

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Friday, March 30, 2012

Local field naturalists return from international nature trip they won’t soon forget

by Mary Vandenhoff and Joel Byrne

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One of the many Costa Rican species seen:  jacana on a water plant. Photo courtesy Jack Donaldson (Perth) who also travelled to Costa Rica in February.

A glorious trip to Costa Rica in mid-February brought together sixteen nature lovers from Arnprior, Perth, McDonalds Corners, Almonte, and Carleton Place. Most had met on local nature outings and share a love of nature closer to home as members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) club, the trip organizer. A few members of the Friends of Bon Echo and the Ottawa Field Naturalists also joined them. They trekked to Costa Rica to learn about the flora and fauna of that lush and beautiful region on the isthmus of Central America. This was the third international nature outing organized by MVFN with the first being to Mexico to view the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly and the second to Cuba. The tour was co-ordinated by MVFN member and Mississippi Mills resident Cliff Bennett.

 

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Photo 1: The MVFN group in Costa Rica. Front (seated): Nancy Madregal-Castro (Costa Rican guide); Kneeling (l-r): Dave Milsom (Canadian guide), Mary Vandenhoff , Olga Janoska , Rysha Colp (Ottawa Field Naturalists); Standing (l-r), Tim Pullen, Betty Pearce (Friends of Bon Echo), Joan Lindey (Friends of Bon Echo), Gary Hanes, Howard Clifford, Jean Clifford, Terry MacIver, Dorice Hanes , Al Potvin, Joel Byrne, and Wally (Costa Rican driver). Photo courtesy Cliff Bennett

The tour began February 9 from the capital San Jose where the excitement built as the group divided into four small aircraft and flew over the mountain range and the Pacific to a lodge in the southern lowlands near the Panamanian border. For three days, hikes through rain forest and along the Pacific were undertaken during which dozens of bird species and three species of monkeys were seen. Trip participant Mary Vandenhoff: “Our introduction to Costa Rica was a bird’s eye view of the country from a single prop Cessna flying from the capital nestled in the mountains (yes, under a volcano) over the mountains and along miles and miles of sandy coastline south to a jungle lodge. Where oh where is the runway? All I could see was forest rising from the beaches, but circling round, suddenly between the trees, lies a grassy strip. . . . We had arrived at Tiskita Jungle Lodge for three days of blissful immersion in exotic plants and flowers, spectacular birds (a daily treat was a flypast of Scarlet Macaws glittering in the rays of the setting sun) – even whales, sloths, and a white Ghost Bat sharing the cabin…”

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One of the many Costa Rican species seen: a blue morpho. Photo courtesy Jack Donaldson (Perth) who also travelled to Costa Rica in February.

After flying back over the mountains, the group was met by a bus, transportation for the rest of the tour which first headed north into the Braulio Carrillo National Park on the Sarapiqui River and the trails of the Selve Verde Organization of Tropical Studies Research Station. Here they were able to see three-toed sloths, poison-arrow frogs, green iguanas, caymans in the river and agoutis. One group walked by a well-camouflaged poisonous eye-lash viper, not two feet off the trail! Next stop was up the mountains and into a valley and the famous Arenal Volcano. This perfectly conical volcano exploded in 1968, leaving many casualties. Scars from a more recent eruption were evident but the cone was silent and mostly cloud covered when MVFN was there. Local hikes were undertaken including a boat ride through the Cano Negro Reserve on the Rio Frio and a visit to Danaus Ecocentre with its dozens of orchid species. The next few days were spent in the cloud forests of Bosque de Paz Biological Reserve. There, the group were keen to glimpse one of the most beautiful neo-tropical birds, the quetzal. Though this species remained elusive many others were seen as the group hiked several mountain trails and at the lodge, where the dozen hummingbird feeders attracted at least fifteen species, including Eastern Canada’s only hummingbird, the ruby-throated.

Trip participant Joel Byrne: “Great memories, all . . . How about the incredibly iridescent Blue Morpho butterfly that nobody could get to sit still long enough to get a photo of? On a side trip our Costa Rican guide very gently captured a Morpho on the fallen leaves, and we had our picture taken with it in full splendour, and immediately released it unharmed. Or . . . the beds in our jungle cabins that shook mildly at 5 am, no, not room service, but Mother Earth grinding her plates out in the Pacific. How about the rogue wave that wiped my glasses off my face, and the outgoing tide sucking sand, pebbles and my feet and legs out to sea. . . and the words of caution about rip tides and undertows surfaced in my brain as my body sank into the froth. Scramble for the blessed beach! . . . Capuchin monkeys looking like little men cowled and intrepid, defying death in the treetops, devouring fruit as if sitting at table while we clung to long, narrow bridges swinging above gorges with no visible bottoms. Secretive forest beasts, pacas, and agoutis, like giant rabbits (without the long ears) that nibbled at laid-out fruit, ready to bolt from some big cat. And of course the ubiquitous, laid-back lizards enjoying life in paradise.”

On the way back to San Jose, the group visited Poas Volcano Park and toured a coffee plantation. At a dinner prior to departure the group celebrated their experiences and toasted tour group leaders, Quest member David Milsom of Bolton, Ontario and Nancy Madregal-Castro, guide from San Jose’s Sun Tours. In all, they had trekked through four distinct climate zones and a variety of microclimates. Mary Vandenhoff: “We visited jungle, rain forest, cloud forest, river and ocean shorelines. Travelled by plane, bus, boat and walked, and sometimes just sat and the birds would come to us. Full days filled with awe and laughter – look, fig tree, 11:00 o’clock, 3rd big branch above the red bromeliad, a Trogon, a Honeycreeper, a Toucan . . . and 16 pairs of binoculars whip up to gawk in wonder at the brilliant colours of the magnificent birds. We never lost the sense of wonder at the incredible diversity of Costa Rica with its brilliant colours. Thank you Cliff for this incredible experience.” 

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2011: Take a walk on the wild side at MVFN’s Spring Gathering

 Press Release April 24, 2011

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places

Take a walk on the wild side with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) at MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2011 which will take place on Thursday, May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. All are invited to enjoy a delicious banquet and keynote presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places” by internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident Dr. Paul Keddy.

Dr. Keddy is well qualified to speak about the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. He will speak on behalf of a natural world he is very passionate about: “Wild places are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for us. I will give you a tour of some of our wild places in Lanark County, and introduce a few of the special, wild species that live there. Driving along the highway, it is easy to forget that a forest or wetland over the next hill may have wild species that are every bit as amazing as those found in Africa or South America. The wilder parts of our county still harbour important wildlife species. Since these species don’t speak English, and don’t come to meetings, and don’t vote, it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf. I will have to be their representative.”

“The most important thing we can do for these species is to protect their homes, or speaking more precisely, their habitats. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Among the remarkable species of Lanark County, a few of my personal favorites are the gray ratsnake, Blanding’s turtle, black-throated blue warbler, fishers, and gray tree frog. And let’s not forget the plants—some of these special plants include hackberry, walking fern, ginseng and Ram’s-head Lady-slipper. None of these will survive for future generations without the wild places in which they live. Although I will be emphasizing the importance of wild places for wild species, we should remember that it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why.”

When Dr. Keddy was younger he spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. He is probably best known locally for his book 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 history and recent geological history of this area. “In my lifetime 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 individuals remaining where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. For example, people have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township. Today species including chorus frogs, musk turtles, and Blanding’s turtles and even eels are in decline. Even populations of bull frogs and snapping turtles, which were once abundant along the Mississippi are far less common. Our challenge is to identify the causes of the declines and reverse them. The key in nearly all cases is to maintain the habitat that the species need.”

“It is not all bad news though. The county now has a scientifically justifiable and officially recognized list of significant wetlands and natural areas. The latter are called Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSIs). I will show where these areas are in Lanark County and talk about a few of the biggest, including the Innisville Wetland Complex at the west end of Mississippi Lake and the Lanark Highlands Spillway Forest in the north part of the county. Some species are also recovering from past harm inflicted on them. Ospreys and bald eagles, for example, are now more common, since we took the step of banning DDT. Fishers and wolves, which are important wild predators, are recovering from near extermination. Areas like the Burnt Lands Alvar and the Purdon Orchid Bog are now officially protected.”

Several years ago Dr. Keddy returned to live in Lanark County but continues to do restoration related work for wild places elsewhere. In this talk though, he does not want to talk about alligators in the Everglades, or salmon in San Francisco. These sorts of species get lots of attention from residents of Florida and California. He wants to talk about our own wild species, the ones in our own county in particular, and the Ottawa Valley in general. These wild species are ambassadors for the wild habitats in which they live.

MVFN invites you to take a walk on the wild side and celebrate spring with others who care about wild places. Come to Spring Gathering 2011, Thursday May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall, 500 Almonte St. (just west of Highway 29), Almonte. A reception beginning at 6:00 pm will be followed by a banquet and Dr. Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” Tickets ($30) are available at Read’s Book Shop (130 Lansdowne Ave.) in Carleton Place, Nature Lover’s Bookshop (62 George St.) in Lanark and Mill Street Books  (52 Mill St.) in Almonte or by contacting MVFN’s Brenda Boyd (613-256-2706). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at (613) 257-3089.

NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance by Friday May 13.

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Our MVFN EcoTour to Cuba

Our MVFN EcoTour to Cuba

by Brenda Boyd

In late February 2010, 16 intrepid naturalists embarked on a 10-day magical adventure to the western half of Cuba. We had two wonderful tour guides, Don from Quest Tours, Yuri Padrón, our Cuban guide, and our own bus driven by jovial Emilio. We changed locations every two nights, and did day tours from our hotel base, with optional pre-breakfast bird walks.

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We saw a great variety of landscapes, from arid plains to lush mountains with towering pine and eucalyptus trees; from mangrove salt/fresh water marshes in the Zapata swamp to the City of Trinidad, founded in 1514; from rich agricultural land dotted with small villages to Havana, a city of two million.
Above: Cuban Tody, photo by Howard Robinson.

We identified 117 species of birds, several of which are endemic to Cuba including the tiny, but exquisitely colourful and vocal, Cuban Tody, and many of our “own” birds such as the Baltimore Oriole, which enjoy the warm winters in sunny Cuba. We visited an Orchidarium, stunning, even in a torrential downpour, which had been developed in a natural setting amongst outcroppings of limestone laden with fossils. The Orchidarium housed over 600 species of orchids, 200 endemic to Cuba.

We visited two rehabilitation and breeding centres for the endangered Cuban sub-species of the American crocodile and rare Cuban Parrot. It was fascinating to see and hear the interaction between the parrots in their breeding cages, and the wild Cuban parrots flying around them! A 40-kilometre causeway journey took us to Cayo Las Brujas (yes, 40 k.!!), built by the Cuban government to promote tourism on the islands offshore. We had a great day on a catamaran, observing the mangroves, shorelines, sea caves, wandering on a deserted beach, doing some snorkeling, and getting to meet some other fun-loving tourists.

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Banyan tree and crocodiles. Photos Brenda Boyd

The grand finale was a quick visit to Old Havana, which is now a World Heritage site, with beautiful centuries-old Spanish buildings, cobble-stone streets with only pedestrian traffic. Our last dinner at the magnificent Cafe Oriente was a page from the 1930’s, complete with a live dance band and tuxedoed waiters.

In addition to the astonishing variety of flora and fauna that we saw and learned about, Yuri shared many fascinating stories of the history of Cuba, one of revolutions and economic upheavals. We learned a lot about life and attitudes in present-day Cuba, and realized that a strong commitment to the good of Cuba and each other is still very much alive and well. Cubans have an excellent free educational system (97% literacy rate), and universal health care. There are no homeless, and everyone is provided with basic food and shelter. As one Cuban said, “You have so much, and we have so little, but . . . we are happy!”

The best part of this incredible experience was the camaraderie amongst our group, and the development of friendships that will endure along with the marvelous memories of this experience of a lifetime! ~ Brenda Boyd

MVFN Cuba 2010 group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

l-r: Eric Wilson (sitting), Pip Winters, Tineke Kuiper, Cliff Bennett, Emilio, Aileen Merriam, Gray Merriam, Janet Noyes-Brown, John Clinton, Brenda Boyd, Joel Byrne, Anne Mason, Don Shanahan, Mary Robinson, Howard Robinson (kneeling), Noel Noyes-Brown, Al Potvin, Joyce Clinton, Yuri Nápoles Padrón. Photo Howard Robinson

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2010 MVFN Spring Gathering – Adirondacks Come to Lanark County

Time to register for MVFN’s Thursday, May 20 Spring Gathering banquet and lecture—May 20, 2010. Tickets must be purchased in advance by May 14.  See details at end of articleAdirondack Park Comes to Lanark County!

by Cathy Keddy

Tahawus, Adirondack

Where is North America’s nearest and largest protected landscape? Perhaps the Everglades, or maybe Yellowstone National Park? No, not even close. They are much too small and distant. In fact, North America’s largest protected landscape is only a few hours drive from Lanark County. Not Algonquin Park, although at roughly 3 times the size of Lanark County it is indeed large and significant. However, it isn’t nearly as big as the Adirondacks, in the opposite direction, and just south across the St. Lawrence River in northern New York.

Double the size of Algonquin, the Adirondacks are easily eight times the size of all of Lanark County. Very big and near—just over the horizon, a vast reservoir of plants and animals already adapted to our northern climate. In fact, the Adirondacks are so close that many birds could spend the night in the Adirondack forests, and drop in the next day to visit us. The wood thrushes, rose- breasted grosbeaks and yellow-rumped warblers are already making their way north to Lanark County, and may right now be planning their last night of rest in the Adirondacks before dropping in to breed in our forests. Some may also carry seeds from their last meal to deposit here. It is entirely possible, therefore, that the Adirondacks and Lanark County are biologically linked. Did the beech trees of Lanark County spread slowly north after the ice age, or did they simply drop out of the sky as seeds in the crops of passenger pigeons? Yes, there are old records of passenger pigeons nesting south of Carleton Place, and beech seeds were one of their favoured foods. Of course, hunters exterminated passenger pigeons, so they are no longer carrying tree seeds north. But other birds may be taking up some of the slack.

A truly remarkable aspect of the Adirondacks is its similarities to Lanark County, and Algonquin Park. It is a large dome of hard rock, mostly gneiss and granite, of the same age and chemical composition as the rocks that underlie much of our county. Consequently, it is the headwaters for rivers. The forests have northern tree species like white pine, red oak, sugar maple, and hemlock. (Indeed, if you were dropped by helicopter on the shore of a small lake, you might not know whether you were in Algonquin, the Adirondacks, or northern Lanark County.) Even the bird calls and frog calls would be the same.

Early in its history, the Adirondacks experienced the same impacts as Lanark County. The area was logged and mined. Wildlife was trapped for felt hats, forests were harvested for potash bound for Europe and charcoal was exported for iron ore. Hemlock trees were stripped for tanning leather. By the mid 1800s, the wild landscape was beginning to show the negative impacts of human exploitation. Then, remarkably, in 1892, in what was then a cutting-edge environmental decision, the state of New York decreed that the forests of the Adirondacks would remain “forever wild.” Although much of the landscape had already been altered, the remainder, perhaps some 200,000 acres, remained intact, leaving one of the largest stands of old growth forest in eastern North America. So, if you want to see what Lanark County looked like in the really old days, drive south into New York State. Saranac Lake is accessible by highway, but some of the hills around it have never been cut. In contrast Algonquin was so heavily logged that old growth is rare.

Of course, not everyone has the time to drive to the Adirondacks, so the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have gone one better. They are bringing the Adirondacks to Lanark County with Dr. Jerry Jenkins, a well known biologist who has spent 40 years exploring the park. Jenkins, Forest Issues Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will speak at MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2010 being held May 20 in Carleton Place. Enjoy a banquet dinner beginning at 6 pm, and following the banquet, let Dr. Jenkins be your guide to the delights of the Adirondacks and their lessons for the future of Lanark County.

Spring Gathering 2010 will take place Thursday, May 20 at the Carleton Place Curling Club, 102 Patterson Crescent. Tickets ($20), which include a reception and banquet, are available by contacting Brenda Boyd (613-256-2706) in Almonte. Tickets must be purchased in advance by Friday May 14. They can also be purchased at Read’s Book Shop in Carleton Place or the Nature Lover’s Bookshop in Lanark. Or send a cheque to MVFN, Box 1617, Almonte, ON K0A 1A0 (must be received by Friday May 14), and your tickets can be picked up at the event.

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Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists celebrate two founding members

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists celebrate two founding members as “MVFN Champions for Nature” at 21 st AGM

by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), an Ontario Nature Network group promoting knowledge and stewardship of the natural world, held their 21st Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Union Hall in the welcome heat of May 21st. The evening began with a social hour and silent auction to benefit the Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary, and was capped off by a beautiful wildlife slide presentation by Mark Garbutt.

Champion Carleton

Recipient of an MVFN Champion for Nature award at MVFN’s AGM, Neil Carleton is seen here with nature displays at MVFN’s Art of Being Green festival booth. Photo: Pauline Donaldson

A highlight of the evening was presentation of MVFN Champion for Nature Awards to two of MVFN’s founding members who are truly outstanding champions for the natural world in Ontario’s Mississippi Valley. The first award was to Neil Carleton, naturalist, community volunteer and elementary school teacher from Almonte, for his contribution as founding member of MVFN and in teaching local children and adults about the natural world. Carleton was an active member on MVFN’s first Board of Directors (BOD) – in the early years lobbying for environmental causes, monitoring rare birds, and leading groups in astronomy, geology and other outings. He was also instrumental in the recent establishment of Canada’s first municipal Geopark in Almonte. “Neil is one of those special individuals who combine passion with knowledge in teaching others about the natural world and the need to protect it,” stated club President McPhail in presenting the award. “He has influenced countless individuals in his role as a teacher in and outside the classroom. To make learning interesting he leaves no stones unturned.” An active member of MVFN, Neil continues to inspire others to take notice of the wonder of details in the natural world and in its conservation.Champion Bennett

Cliff Bennett (right) receives an MVFN Champion for Nature Award from MVFN President Mike McPhail (left) at MVFN’s AGM at Union Hall. Photo: Howard Robinson

A second Champion award was presented to MVFN founding member Cliff Bennett of Mississippi Mills who has served MVFN’s executive in various roles. Cliff Bennett is a canoeist, birder, former special education teacher and Councillor, and until very recently Eastern Region Director for Ontario Nature. Cliff was responsible for development of MVFN’s flagship Environmental Education Program (EEP) and is still coordinator of MVFN’s outdoor program of nature walks and canoe outings. Although Bennett was recipient of a 2006 award for Excellence in Environmental Conservation from the National Capital Region and a 2008 Conservation award from the Ottawa Field Naturalists, he stated the MVFN award was special because it was from the peers who inspire him to continue doing the activities for which he received the award. “Cliff’s passion as a naturalist is what shines through” said McPhail during the presentation ceremony. “It seems a bit of an understatement to say that Cliff is also an avid birder. Cliff your nomination is the result of your sustained commitment to protection of the environment over many decades and perhaps even more importantly for your influence on so many individuals to take a stand for nature as we go about our lives.” It was Bennett’s efforts which resulted in publication of MVFN’s successful Lanark County Canoe and Kayak Journeys in 2007 and the 2009 companion guide Lanark County Birding Journeys.

The AGM directors reports showcased recent club activities such as the From the Ground, Up lecture series and the many presentations made on climate change awareness to local councils within the Mississippi watershed this year by Howard Robinson and Cliff Bennett, who received a special thank you from Environmental Issues Chair Bill Slade for that work.

2009 agm Slade thanks climate change group

 Environmental Issues Chair Bill Slade (left) was pleased to formally thank Howard Robinson (middle) and Cliff Bennett (right)  for their hard work in delivering messages of climate change awareness to local councils. Photo: Pauline Donaldson

Photo 3 McPhail thanked at AGM

MVFN’s President Mike McPhail was presented with a copy of The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario in appreciation of three years leading the club. Photo: Howard Robinson

BOD nominations were also held. Stepping down after three productive years as MVFN’s President, Mike McPhail was presented with a copy of The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario from fellow board members. Joyce Clinton of Carleton Place was elected new President of MVFN. Newly appointed to MVFN’s executive were Janet McGinnis of Carleton Place as Vice-President and Alison Ball of Appleton. Brenda Boyd was appointed Chair of the Environmental Education Program and continues as representative to Ontario Nature. Other returning BOD members are Howard Robinson, Treasurer; Janet Fytche, Secretary; Bill Slade, Environmental Issues; Amelia Ah-You, Membership; Pauline Donaldson, Public Relations, and Franziska Von Rosen, MVFN Representative on the Community Stewardship Council of Lanark County.

 

 

 

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