Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

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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Birds in Your Backyard

Do you know your backyard birds? Do you want to attract and nurture birds in your backyard? Join us at 7:30 pmThursday, November 17, 2016  at the Almonte United Church Social Hall (106 Elgin St., Almonte) for the next presentation in MVFN’s Natural History presentation series “Wild Creature Close-Ups”  . . .

“Birds in Your Backyard” will be presented by Cliff Bennett.

Cliff is MVFN’s best known naturalist and birder and he is also one of several founding members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists,  founded nearly 30 years ago. Well-known locally –  a retired teacher and former Municipal Councillor – Cliff is an MVFN Champion for Nature, and currently sits on the MVFN Board of Directors and writes a birding column for the Lanark Era. Cliff has won many awards locally and provincially for the great many conservation and education initiatives he has headed up, including MVFN Christmas Bird Counts and other birding surveys contributing to bird conservation in Ontario, writing and publishing MVFN paddling and birding guides for exploring Lanark County, local “bioblitz” projects, and many other initiatives.

Do you know your backyard birds? Take a quiz during Cliff’s presentation on November 17th.

The presentation begins at 7:30 pm and discussion and refreshments follow the presentation. As always the natural history presentation event is FREE for MVFN members and FREE for youth 18 years and younger; others entrance fee of $5.

All are welcome. Hope to see you there!

Press Release: A Glimpse of Colour


Cliff at presquile



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AGM and Wildlife Journals: Member’s Night

Members and friends of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are invited to attend the organization’s 2016 Annual General Meeting. The meeting will take place beginning at 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 21, 2016 at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin Street, in Almonte. The meeting will be followed by discussion and refreshments, and two, sure to be engaging, “Wild Life Journals: Member’s Night” presentations! Full details at

For the presentation “Encounters with Intriguing Owls,” Simon Lunn, biologist and nature photographer, will introduce us to several very different owls that he has encountered in recent years, both in his wooded backyard and special places within an hours drive of his home just south of Smiths Falls. Each of the owls has a unique story to tell.

Members night 2016 great grey owl flying close up Simon Lunn

Photo: Great Gray Owl photo by Simon Lunn

The second presentation will be “Loons and Human Interaction” by MVFN President and well-known bird expert and local naturalist, Cliff Bennett.

Loon by Gloria Opzoomer

Photo of loon by Gloria Opzoomer.

The past year was a busy one for MVFN (a local member of the Ontario Nature Network serving Lanark County, West Carleton and areas), with significant growth in membership and interest. Highlights included a very successful Program schedule (led by committee Chair Gretta Bradley) – a speaker series and many nature related outings, including an ever popular canoeing program led by Linda McLaren and new birding events held by the Birding Committee, chaired by Tim Pullen. Other highlights were the vigorous fund raising and education effort supporting a campaign to protect Burntlands Alvar, led by Environmental Issues Committee (EIC) Chair, Theresa Peluso; and formation of a new committee, Conservation and Habitat Restoration, chaired by David Garcia. In an effort led by EIC member Tineke Kuiper, MVFN continues to work with the Municipality of Mississippi Mills (MM) on the recognition of Natural Heritage Areas and “wildlife corridors” in MM. The popular Young Naturalists program at Mill of Kintail, continued to thrive under the guidance of instructor Patty McLaughlin (of the Wild Bird Care Centre) and coordination by Ron Williamson of MVFN’s Environmental Education Committee chaired by Bob Smith. Also in 2015, the Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary committee (chaired by Mike Macpherson) awarded a $1000 nature bursary to Almonte and District High School graduate Ruth Tamas. The meeting will feature reports on all of these activities plus a complete financial report and voting for election of directors for the coming year.

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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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Canoe Journeys – #27 Bennett Lake

Bennett Lake :

#27 (Tay Valley Township)

How to Get There: From Perth, travel north on County Rd. 511 to Balderson, then west on County Rd. 7 to Fallbrook, then west on County Rd. 19 (Bennett Lake Rd.) 2 km to Ennis Rd. Follow on Ennis Rd. to Ennis Cottages (approx. 6 km).

The Launch Site: Boat launch site at Ennis Cottages. Launch fee $2.50 per vessel.

The Paddle: 1) Follow the lake shore clockwise and into Fall River and Fagan Lake. Several lunch spots on islands. 2) Follow the lakeshore counter-clockwise into Fall River to dam and back. Lunch at small park at dam, with permission.

Watch For: 1) Many small coves with various duck species and wild wetland flowers.
2) Rare black tern nests and other marshland birds.

Seasonal Information: Beautiful fall colours. Good both ways until freeze-up.

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