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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