Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Freezing temperatures are bringing an end to another growing season-but could the frost-free growing season be getting longer?

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
October 1, 2006

by Neil Carleton and Paul Egginton, MVFN members


Plants and animals are limited in their distribution and activities by climate. By May 8th the last frost of the year is usually reported in the Ottawa area. This is followed by a period of relatively high activity and growth for plants and animals, which continues throughout the summer until the first fall frost.

While this frost may not severely limit all species, to an observer of nature it signals a major seasonal change and the end of another growing season. The timing and length of the frost free season is of interest to all of us and especially naturalists, farmers and gardeners. As the climate warms the timing of the first and last frosts may be expected to shift and the growing season may become longer over the whole Mississippi Watershed.

In 2005, some 90 students and families in three towns and surrounding areas participated in a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) frost watch project to observe when the first frost arrived near their homes. Special thanks to the participating students, families and teachers at Carembeck Public School in Carleton Place (teacher Kirk Belisle), Pakenham Public School (teacher:Leanne Wing) and R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte.

Many of us in participating in the 2005 frost observations were simply curious how our gardens or areas of interest would compare with others nearby.For the students, making the observations and sharing them with their class gave them a first hand look at the geographical and temporal variability of frost in our area. Details will be posted in the climate change awareness section of the MVFN website at

When should we expect the first frost each year?

This of course depends in part on where you live, whether you live in town or in the country, beside a moderating lake or on an exposed hillside. Typically some local areas will experience frost when the forecasted overnight low temperatures for the area are 40C but if lows of 0 0C are forecast we are almost certain to get frost. This is anticipated to occur on about October 8th each year. For many of us however, the growing season of 2005 was quite exceptional. The Fall season seemed to go on and on; some of us enjoyed hardy fall blooming flowers and garden vegetables until the heavy freezes of October 20 and 21st. Will such long growing seasons become normal?

Scientists’ analysis of Eastern Ontario climate station data shows that over the past 40 years the length of the frost free growing season has increased by 15 days, in other words at a rate of a day every 4 years. At this rate there would be another 10-15 days added to the growing season by 2040-2060.

Interestingly, outputs from some 40 climate models also indicate that regional warming trends may persist into the future. Thus, current trends are in line with what model projections tell us is likely to happen.

To put these changes into perspective, by 2040 Mississippi Mills, Perth, and the Ottawa area could have growing seasons as long as those found in the Windsor area today. There are significant ecological implications to such warming of our climate. MVFN is examining various aspects of the climate sensitivity of local ecosystems as part of our climate change awareness program and will report on these as information becomes available.

Neil Carleton is a teacher at R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte. He and his students took part in recording frost observations in 2005.

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Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

August 17, 2006

by Cliff Bennett

When a child is showing signs of stress, we naturally take its temperature. With the potential of climate change to stress the Mississippi River watershed, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) decided to take its temperature. So, from Upper Lake Mazinaw at one end, to the Ottawa River at the other, we took the temperature of lakes and rivers of the watershed. The volunteer driven water-temperature survey, conducted on the August holiday weekend, was one of 75 projects celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature, formerly The Federation of Ontario Naturalists. As an outreach project, the goal was to engage the public in considering the implications of future climate change for the Mississippi River.
The health of our lakes and rivers is important to us: the watershed is where we live and play. Water temperature, levels, flow patterns and distribution of flora and fauna are not static; change can occur quickly in response to various environmental stresses. Water temperature, specifically maximum surface-water temperature, usually occurring during the first week of August in our watershed, is one important control on the distribution of aquatic plants and animals which can be measured.

Eighty to one hundred people, MVFN members and other volunteers, thermometers and home-made water-samplers in hand, set out in canoes, row boats and motor boats to take the watersheds’ temperature in the perfect weather of August 5-7th. From families in rented canoes, people in motor boats, and those sampling from bridges and docks, we thank all participants who helped make the survey a success! Please send in your location and temperature data if you have not already done so, as information on all lakes and river sections within the watershed is valuable. Raw data will be archived with MVC and the field naturalists.

The water-temperature survey project was a result of nearly a year of planning by MVFN organizers, coordinated by Cliff Bennett and including Paul Eggington, Michael Macpherson, Michael McPhail, Howard Robinson and Pauline Donaldson. Of course, MVFN could not have completed this Herculean effort without partnerships with Lake Associations, local Fish and Game Clubs, and volunteers from NRCan, to which heartfelt thanks and congratulations are extended. Special thanks go to Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) staff member Susan Lee and summer student Tom Thistle, whose efforts in contacting and encouraging the Lake Associations were outstanding.

In all, an estimated 500 plus temperature readings were collected, both at the surface and one metre deep across the watershed. Collected at a single point in time they will provide a baseline of data on temperature distribution across the watershed. The baseline can be used for assessing future change. In addition, lake associations and other groups can use the data in a more specific way, for example to look at temperature variations within their lake or river area to locate useful sites where data loggers could record future change as it happens. Already, as a result of this project, temperature loggers were installed by lake conservationists in Buckshot Lake, Clayton Lake and White Lake, and plans are underway to install them in additional places. Valuable ongoing monitoring work also continues to be done by volunteers such as Lake Stewards and organizations such as MVC and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Future climate change is only one environmental stress which may change our watershed. The provincial government and MVC have now begun serious consideration of the implications of future climate change. Hopefully, our work will encourage the local public to engage in discussions about how we can manage future change. Just what is at risk and how can we best adapt to changes that are already underway?

Once all of the water temperature results are in, MVFN will prepare a summary report of the 2006 water-temperature survey for public release. Copies will also be sent to participating groups and individuals and posted on our website at For further information on this or other MVFN projects, please contact MVFN President Michael McPhail at 613-256-7211 or .

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Climate Change Awareness Project – Water Temperature Monitoring

Lake and River Water-Temperature Measurements in the Mississippi Watershed:

“A Doors Open to Nature, Ontario Nature 75th Anniversary Project, organized by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists”

Water Temperature Measurements – Guidelines  Water Temperature Measurements – Form

Help gather data on one aspect of wildlife habitat in our local watershed which may be affected by climate change!

During the past year the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have been exploring the theme of change in our natural world, particularly climate change. Several of our regular seminar sessions focused on aspects of global climate change including recent changes in the arctic and changes in Ontario fish populations. We also began several local monitoring projects to raise awareness of the issue of climate change and to better understand the possible effects in our own backyards.

We are interested in how climate change may directly affect the Mississippi watershed and adjacent areas. Therefore, for Ontario Nature’s “Doors Open to Nature” we have organized a data collection weekend engaging participants with a direct interest in the watershed to measure surface water temperatures across the watershed on the three day August holiday weekend, August 5-7, 2006. One important aspect of watershed wildlife habitat in the watershed is temperature of the water. Maximum annual surface temperatures, which typically occur here around the first week in August, are a key factor determining which species of fish and other aquatic life thrive.

The plan is to collect water-temperature readings at the water surface and 1 metre below the surface on the Mississippi River and connected lakes in the watershed. To our knowledge, this is the first ever volunteer-driven survey of the entire watershed. The data could be used as a starting point, or baseline, which, along with other available information, can be compared with future temperatures. We hope the activity will promote discussion of this aspect of habitat variability in our watershed, and of the implications of climate change here.

Participants will include individual cottagers, vacationers, fishers etc., as well as groups such as cottage and lake associations. If you will be out on the water on the holiday weekend, plan to participate. All that is needed is a boat, a good thermometer, a home-made sampling device and the project’s water-temperature reporting form to record temperatures.When the weekend is over and temperature readings are sent in, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists in partnership with Mississippi Valley Conservation will look at the results and prepare an overview for public release. Some data collected may indicate sites where long-term monitoring would be useful. An increased awareness of this aspect of habitat change should also serve to promote sustainability practices and measures.

To participate, please see a copy of the Water Temperature Measurements – Guidelines and the Water Temperature Measurements – Form.

Remember to stay safe on the water; do not sample in dangerous weather or water, and always wear a lifejacket.

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Local naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to water-temperature survey weekend to mark “Doors Open to Ontario Nature’s” 75th Anniversary celebration

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted July 2, 2006

by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

Local naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to water-temperature survey weekend to mark “Doors Open to Ontario Nature’s” 75th Anniversary celebration

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to take water temperatures in the Mississippi watershed over the August holiday weekend, August 5-7. MVFN is organizing a volunteer-driven water-temperature survey of the entire Mississippi River Watershed. Why the interest in taking temperatures in lakes and rivers, and why on the August holiday weekend? Water temperature is an important characteristic of aquatic habitat. Maximum annual surface temperatures, which typically occur here around the first week in August, are a key factor determining the species of fish and other aquatic life present.

The water-temperature survey weekend is MVFN’s contribution to “Doors Open to Ontario Nature”, a year long project celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature. It was 75 years ago that a University of Toronto Professor and zoology director at the Royal Ontario Museum proposed that natural history clubs join together to speak with one voice for nature conservation in Ontario. To mark the occasion, 75 projects are being hosted by the 140 plus conservation groups comprising the Ontario Nature Network.

The goal of the project is very simple, says Tracy Moore, Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. “It will be a fun opportunity that connects people with nature, but it also serves to gather some very important data and raise awareness of climate change and its potential effects on our beautiful Eastern Ontario landscape”. MVFN’s theme this year on “Change in Our Natural World” started with a seminar on national and global climate change issues. Subsequent talks focused on its potential impact in various areas. MVFN members initiated local monitoring activities which, like the water-temperature project, focus on impacts of climate change in our own backyards. It is known, for example, that water-temperatures in some fresh water lakes in Ontario are on the rise, and, as MVFN heard from John Casselman (OMNR) in March, small changes in fresh water temperatures can lead to rather dramatic shifts in fish populations.

The water temperature project will involve individuals as well as members of naturalist, fish and game clubs, and cottage and lake associations with a direct interest in the watershed, in monitoring waters of the Mississippi Watershed. The results, coming from all across the watershed, should complement other monitoring work already being done and contribute to a better understanding of the watershed as we prepare for climate change. Participants can contact their local lake association for suggestions on where to sample, or choose their favourite stretch of river or lake and sample temperatures with friends and family. Reporting forms for temperature readings, and guidelines for participating, including tips for home-made depth sampling devices (such as the one shown in the photo) and choosing the right thermometer, will be available from participating lake associations.

The information can also be picked up at the MVFN booth at The Art of Being Green Festival in Lanark Village July 15-16, or viewed at MVFN’s website at For questions, the public can contact project coordinator Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or by e-mail: .

All data collected will be provided to Mississippi Valley Conservation and MVFN will prepare an overview of the study findings for the public.

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The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair
April 10, 2006

The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN 

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Ask an astronomer when spring arrives and the answer will likely be that it arrives with astronomical precision between March 20th and March 22nd. Ask a field naturalist or gardener and their answer will likely depend upon where they live and the kind of winter it has been. They may rely on observations of local wildflowers or birds when considering whether spring has indeed arrived. For people in urban areas, especially those in Eastern Ontario near Ottawa, the flowering of tulips is one sure sign of spring, and a very welcome one.

In the Mississippi Mills area, for an update on 300 tulips planted last fall, and to hear how spring is progressing in nearby communities, just ask Helen Halpenny of the Almonte Horticultural Society. Halpenny and representatives from other Eastern Ontario horticultural societies including Carleton Place and Perth are participating in the “Albert’s Gardens” tulip study, part of a climate change awareness initiative of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN). The project is named for Albert, one Lanark County gardener who thought plants in his garden were getting earlier (possibly due to climate change) but had no recorded dates to confirm it. The project began last fall with eleven communities planting the same species of tulip (Red Emperor). Approximately 300 bulbs were provided to each community by the National Capital Commission, which has made Ottawa into North America’s tulip capital with events such as the tulip festival. Now this spring the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are tracking the growth of these plants on their web site ‘tulip indicator map’ at Dates of 20% emergence and 20% bloom are posted for each location and the idea is to compare them with those in the coming years. The map is updated as communities report in.

Albert’s Gardens communities can look to the north and south to see how spring is progressing in other communities and when their own plants might bring a splash of colour. “We try to keep the beds the same says Helen, so that the only major difference between sites is local climate.” Once the bulbs are up the crucial factor determining bloom date is April temperatures. Newly emerged bulb tips in Kingston have been soaking up the sun since March 22nd and all communities have now reported 20% emergence. To date no sites have reported blooms.

“The tulips do double duty” says Michael Macpherson, President of MVFN. “There is the fun side of Albert’s Gardens, documenting the arrival of spring after a long winter. But, there’s also a serious side. The climate is changing in eastern Ontario as it is globally and in the rest of Canada.” April temperatures have been increasing for the last 60 years and experts predict the trend will continue. We could see mean annual temperatures 1.5 C higher than now by 2020, 3.5 C higher by 2050 and 5.0 C higher by 2080. The tulips of Albert’s Gardens are one of the many indicators of local climate change that the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are watching. Bloom dates for local wildflowers will be looked at this spring, and on the August long weekend, lake temperatures will be monitored as MVFN takes part in its Ontario Nature 75th anniversary Open Doors project. “Most people are not really aware that climate is changing in our area and in eastern Ontario”, says Paul Egginton, co-ordinator of the climate change awareness project for MVFN since May 2005. “Nor are they aware that there are already impacts on river flow, ice cover and duration, and on lake temperatures and fish populations amongst others. We need to start considering these changes in our planning processes.”

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are a non-profit group dedicated to promoting the understanding, appreciation, preservation, and conservation of the natural environment, especially in the watershed of the Mississippi River in the Province of Ontario. To learn more about nature and MVFN visit

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