Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Tool Toting Naturalists Repair Potvin Observation Tower

Tool Toting Naturalists Repair Potvin Observation Tower

By Neil Carleton

October 28, 2012

As nine, nimble naturalists hiked back to the 8th line before noon yesterday, it brought to mind the opening words of a nursery rhyme our children liked years ago for its alliteration. “One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather …”. Although the forecast called for rain, it was a fine, cool morning for working out in the open. Not until we were all heading home for lunch did the precipitation start in any significant way.

The team of volunteers, all members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), assembled about 8:30 a.m. just a few hundred meters or so from the Auld Kirk Church, across from the cemetery. This is where you’ll find the entrance to the MVFN’S trail that goes along a cultivated field, and through an abandoned pioneer farm yard. It leads to a unique observation tower overlooking Almonte’s western sanitation lagoon, also known locally as ‘Lake Almonte’.

Bird enthusiasts from close to home and across the region have been visiting the lagoon site for years to catch a glimpse of many avian species on and around the water. A rare western sandpiper was spotted in 1974. Yesterday, the voices of hundreds and hundreds of landing and rising Canada geese echoed across the landscape.

With the generous donation of material from Al and the late Barbara Potvin, owners of Hilan Creative Playstructures, the three-level observation tower was erected by the MVFN in 1996.

MVFN volunteers Michael Macpherson and John Grierson have a low corner of the Potvin Observation Tower jacked up with a Simplex 19

The volunteer team arrived well prepared with wheelbarrows and a cart, shovels and a post hole digger, drills, rope, lumber, and a come-along to complete a variety of repairs. Put into service right away was a 1914 Simplex 15 ton railroad jack, model 19. With mechanical simplicity, a low corner that had slowly subsided over the years was easily raised, stabilized, and leveled. In the meantime, the other group was strengthening the structure’s bracing. New balusters were also added to the tower railings. It was indeed a case of many hands making light work.

MVFN volunteers l-r Tim Pullen, Gary Hanes, and Al Potvin prepare a come-along to level the observation tower for bracing

With the additional bracing installed, and new balusters added, MVFN volunteers posed for a group photo. (l-r) Michael Macpherson, Sheldon Scrivens, Gary Hanes, Bernhard Gesicki, Al Potvin, Tim Pullen, John Grierson. Cliff Bennett had to leave before the photo was taken to deliver meals on wheels.

During the year, Lanark County is home to some 200 different kinds of birds. About 130 migratory birds nest in the county, 32 more are permanent residents, and 35 species migrate through the area to nest in the north. With binoculars or a spotting scope, the MVFN’s Potvin Observation Tower is a good place to look for shorebirds, geese, ducks, herons, and grebes. If you visit, please leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos.

For a listing of another 31 good locations around Lanark County to look for birds, visit the website of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists  ‘Bird Watching Locations in Lanark County’. The Al Potvin tower is listed as number 5. As Cliff Bennett notes in his introduction, birding has become a very popular activity for individuals and families alike. Whether driving slowly or walking along county roads, hiking on trails, exploring the forests, or peering across marshes, creeks, and rivers, there’s so much to see and hear.

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2012: Bluebirds feature at MVFN’s Spring Gathering

Bluebirds Feature Award at MVFN’s Annual Spring Gathering

by Cliff Bennett

Every MVFN bluebird box you see in Lanark County has Al Potvin’s prints on it. Al was honoured at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ annual Spring Gathering banquet, held Thursday, May 17 at the Civitan Club in Almonte. The 128 participants stood in applause as then MVFN President Joyce Clinton presented the Almonte native with the prestigious MVFN Champion for Nature Award. Al has been instrumental in organizing the construction of over 300 Peterson oval bluebird boxes, which are sold as a fundraiser for the club. He was also active over the years with several other MVFN environmentally- related activities and continues as an avid supporter of the club’s habitat creation projects.

In the photo below Al Potvin of Almonte receives a Champion for Nature Award from Joyce Clinton, President of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, at MVFN’s 2012 Spring Gathering banquet.

Another exciting event at the banquet was the unveiling of the Mike McPhail Memorial Bench. Commissioned by MVFN to honour the late Mr. McPhail, the bench will be installed at the Mill of Kintail where Mike contributed to various programs. Mr. McPhail was MVFN President for three years, during which time the club grew immensely in stature and importance.

Also on display during the evening was a table of activities of the newly-formed MVFN Young Naturalists program. A function of the MVFN Environmental Education Program, chaired by Brenda Boyd, the Young Naturalists are in their first full year of activities, lead by Patti Summers of the Wild Bird Care Center in Nepean. The group meets monthly at the Mill of Kintail. MC for the evening, Cliff Bennett, auctioned off a donated spotting scope with funds raised to be dedicated to the Young Naturalist program.

The main feature of this very successful evening was a presentation on the World of Woodpeckers by guest speaker Dan Schneider. Dan, a senior interpreter with the Grand River Conservation Authority, entertained the crowd with anecdotes and tales on the life of woodpeckers, backed up by an excellent slide show. Mr. Schneider was thanked by the new president, Ken Allison, and presented with a signed copy of Dr. Paul Keddy’s book, Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County.

Prior to the banquet festivities, the Annual General Meeting of the club was held. President Joyce Clinton outlined the highlights of the past year, noting substantial growth in MVFN membership. The election of officers resulted in the following Board of Directors for the coming year: President, Ken Allison; Vice President, Stephen Collie; Past President, Joyce Clinton; Secretary, Janet Fytche; Treasurer, Bob McCook; Publicity and Public Relations, Bob Volks; Program Chair, Cathy Keddy; Environmental Issues Chair, Theresa Pelusa; Environmental Education Program, Brenda Boyd.

Stay tuned for MVFN’s 2012-13 lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, beginning in September. Summer activities can be found at

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2012 Champion For Nature Al Potvin

Al Potvin is known in the Mississippi Mills area for his contributions to nature and people’s enjoyment of nature. He established a walking trail on his property lined by many well-cared for trees. Al also invites people to bring their leaves to his property where he composts them, and provides the screened compost to the public in exchange for donations which he gives to the Almonte General Hospital. In photo below Joyce Clinton presents the award to Al.

Al Potvin MVFN Champion 2012 (818x1024)

For many years Al has also been the driving force for MVFN’s habitat creation program. In his workshop, Al and others cut and sand thousands of pieces from Al’s repurposed wood to be used by teams of MVFN volunteers to assemble, under Al’s expert guidance, MVFN Peterson style bluebird houses. Hundreds of these bluebird boxes have been created and thousands of dollars have been raised for Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ programs through their sale. In creating these bluebird boxes, said lecturer Dan Schneider the night of the award presentation, Al fills the ecological niche of a woodpecker in providing habitat for bluebirds and other cavity nesters.

These artificial bluebird nesting homes are now helping to re-establish these beautiful songbirds to our area. Many of the Peterson Bluebird boxes constructed and sold by MVFN have gone to property owners who have space to establish a bluebird trail.

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