Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Tales in the Snow on MVFN’s Winter Nature Walk 2007

Press Release
Mississppi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

By Joel Byrne

 Tales in the Snow on MVFN’s Winter Nature Walk

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Joel Byrne is one of MVFN’s knowledgeable nature guides. Dr. Jim Bendell, another of MVFN’s nature guides, is a retired Biology Professor and co- author of an award-winning book “Blue Grouse: Their Biology and Natural History”

On a recent ideal Sunday afternoon, in late February (25th) an enthusiastic group, some twenty strong, from the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, assembled on the shore of Clayton Lake for MVFN’s 2007 Winter Walk. The group included two cross country skiers and Java the dog. But before setting out from the lovely lake-view home of Mary and Howard Robinson we had to check the safety of the ice. Paul Eggington, our climate change go-to-guy, directed our ice augering, and we soon drilled holes and measured 35 cm thick of the good black ice. Strong ice!

With Howard guiding, and Dr. Jim Bendell, respectfully nicknamed, “Professor Partridge”, because of his abiding passion for the grouse tribe, and yours truly, both acting as nature interpreters, we got under way. The first curious structures to get our attention were some low mounds made of reeds and grasses. Muskrat “push-ups” right in the middle of one of their favourite foods, cattails. These piles of vegetation, it was explained, were not the muskrats’ nests but feeding stations or platforms on the ice. Muskrats burrow into the bank placing their nests above the waterline.

As we crossed the expanse of snow-covered ice looking for tracks and scanning the shoreline we noticed that all the white cedars had been browsed up as high as a white-tailed deer can reach. Then we were into the trees. Deer hoof and dewclaw imprints, and toe drag marks were everywhere. Also using this dense cedar cover were red squirrels and snowshoe hares whose tracks were plentiful.

Where the trail passed through meadows and open hardwoods the tracks proliferated. Along with the above-mentioned tracks, tell-tale signs of white-footed mice and meadow voles dotted the surface and disappeared into tiny holes. Hot on their heels were the prints of ermine and long-tailed weasels, red foxes, coyotes, and the snow-filled tracks of a larger weasel, perhaps a fisher. Of course we had to stop at these tracks and graphically describe the fisher’s porcupine-killing technique. Then bark chewing of the’porky’ was spotted.

Coyote scat, conveniently deposited on the trail, was examined but wisely not handled. A faded red fox ‘valentine’ scat sprinkled with pheromone-laden urine had mating season written all over it.

But this trip wasn’t only about animals in winter, as intriguing as they are. The forests and the very tree species that make them up were not given short shrift. The importance of “cavity” trees for nesting and denning,”mast” trees for food production, “pioneer” species like the aspens and birches in forest establishment and succession were discussed as we passed through open hardwoods, mixed forests, and dense cedar stands.

Large and small we examined them all: huge, open-grown maples called ‘wolf’ trees, and sticks set into the ice as tip-ups. Some of nature’s bounty we ate: edible but bland basswood buds, and remnants of wild grapes. Some we sniffed, like the sulfur-yellow, spicy buds of bitternut hickory.

But the best “sighting” of all we saved for the last— a freshly-made roughed grouse trail, replete with jolting landing and frenzied take-off. “Professor Partridge” pounced on this evidence, and as he told the story laid out there in the snow, he beamed. As the shadows lengthened we headed back, passing a clump of white birches heavy with catkins. Spring was nigh. Then we spotted the Robinson’s ridge-top home.

Mary and Howard welcomed us in to as fine a “little late lunch” as I’ve ever seen: platters and tureens and slow cookers brimming with delicacies. What congenial hosts! What a field trip! For information on upcoming nature walks and other MVFN events visit or contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or

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Stromatolites Unknown

Submited by Sheila Edwards
December 20th 2005

Stromatolites Unknown

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During September’s MVFN meeting, Jim Bendell mentioned the stromatolites near Champlain Bridge. Chris Hume and I were intrigued, so after getting an idea of where they were, off we went. Not really knowing what to look for all we saw were concentric circles, slightly mounded, split by fissures, with odd little tuffs of grass. Not nearly as entrancing as watching a Great Blue Heron or having frogs leaping away while paddling, or spotting a salamander in the glare of a flashlight. The day was nice, the surroundings calm, we didn’t get lost, the picnic went well – just not as earth shattering as it could have been.

Back to the drawing board. What were we looking at? Why were they so important? There are some things one can appreciate without much knowledge, like the butterfly greenhouses at Carleton, or seeing a Great Grey Owl; not so the stromatolites. These odd mounds turned out to be heavily eroded, extremely old fossils; in fact, the oldest type of fossil known.

They are not the tiny fossils found on the shores of Lake Ontario, but a whole connected area of fossils. They were created by communities of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and other microbes, when this area was covered by warm salt water. The calcite produced by the cyanobacteria and the normal sedimentation of minerals becomes trapped within the sticky cyanobacteria, which then settle and start to harden each night.

Over time, a solid mound is formed, with a new cyanobacteria colony growing on top. Mounds form on top of mounds, which eventually fossilize. Glaciations and other erosion mechanisms resulted in our stromatolites becoming relatively flat. Looking at the stromatolites one sees concentric circles, indicative of the cycle of colony growth and sedimentation. The pattern of the rocks is reflective of the tides and currents.

There are other, smaller, examples of stromatolites along the Carp River near Fitzroy, along the Ottawa River near Dunrobin Shores, and along the Jock River. Today living stromatolites can be seen off the west coast of Australia and in the Bahamas.

Only by seeing the stromatolites were we led to further study, and through further study we understood and thus appreciated what we saw. Some things one need only see to appreciate but the circular pattern of learning and seeing results in a richer experience; an increasing appreciation of nature.

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Conservation: Community Forests

Community Forests Comunity Forests
When the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources downloaded management of County forests to County governments last year (2001), the County of Lanark decided to appoint a team of three experts (The Management Team)  to set up a Business Plan to manage the lands. Part of the team’s mandate was to involve the public in consultations throughout the process. Recently, the management team, produced a draft of the plan and sent it out to various groups for comments. Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) was one of those groups.MVFN has been involved with the process since the beginning. They attended public meetings and responded to survey questionnaires. MVFN member and Chair of the MVFN Natural Resources Issues Committee Dr. Jim Bendell, participated  on the plan’s advisory committee. Recently, a small group of interested MVFN members met to pour over the Draft Plan and submit it’s comments on behalf of MVFN.

Key to the response to the Draft Plan was an appeal for inventory of all of the natural aspects of the community forested lands, recognizing that good management of these resources cannot proceed in an orderly way without knowing what is there. In a call for a broadening of the vision for our community lands, MVFN also appealed to the County for more public input into the final document before it goes to County Council on Nov. 13, for approval.

Recognizing that our community forested lands contain more values that just timber production, values such as tourism, recreation, social and spiritual attributes,  MVFN recommends that these lands always remain within the public domain on behalf of the people of Lanark County.

MVFN welcomed  the opportunity to participate in this important challenge and offers to  help to advance the cause in anyway it can. Overall, MVFN congratulates the Management Team of Jim McCready, David Oliver and Chair and chief facilitator Gord Harrison for championing this project. Through their efforts and the process, the public is now aware that these lands exist.

Stand on guard for Canada!
(an open letter from Jim Bendell)Our lands and waters provide the nature we love and need ~ trees, birds, frogs, soil and much more. Should we not be concerned about the health and care of the provider?Twenty percent of the County of Lanark is land and water that is in Crown Land or our public lands. We are rich in natural resources. The Ministry of Natural Resources looks after our Lanark area forests and decides on their use. Considering the demands on our resources, are we and the Ministry doing the best job of resource care and management?Recently, the Province downloaded our Community Forests to the care of Lanark County. These lands and waters consist of some 43 properties totalling 12,000 acres and were essentially Crown Lands. A big difference now is we are locally and directly in control of this resource. The Council of Lanark County has established a team of consultants to examine and recommend what should be done with our forests. They are: Gordon Harrison, Jim McCready and David Oliver.

The team has held two public meetings and organized a steering committee to represent the views of the people. The committee includes a logger, trapper, hunter and fisher, snowmobiler, teacher and others, including me, for the Naturalists.

The team seems open to all kinds of suggestions and to want a best outcome for people and the land. Our Issues and Natural Resources Issues Committee have met with them, discussed the issues, and planned to visit some of the properties. All our welcome.

Where do we stand?  There is much interest in the properties from a number of users who make compelling arguments. A general view is that the forests must make money and not be a cost to the tax payer. We agree with the use of our resources, of course, but want to be sure that they are used well. Our history is replete with squandered natural wealth.

Good land use depends on good planning. For good planning there must be adequate inventory and evaluation of features as they are and might become. For example, where do we have an adequate and representative forest of old  growth Sugar Maple and how is it protected?  What will it return in tourism, recreation and knowledge? What helps in our management of Sugar Maple? We fear an adequate inventory of our resources has not been done. Yes, the trees have been mapped in standard forestry fashion(FRI maps) but there is much more to the forest than trees! What about ordinary, rare and uncommon features such as ecosystems like bogs, rocks and minerals, glacial effects, plants and animals scarcely looked for?

A second fundamental of good planning is to provide protected areas of representative and adequate natural features, especially those that are rare and uncommon. There are many reasons for this need but paramount are: to see, enjoy, and understand how nature works without the impact of humans and to obtain a base line to measure our progress in managing resources beyond our preserves. Give nature a chance!

We are convinced if nature in our Community Forests is adequately inventoried and protected we will derive the greatest benefits of all kinds. We produced a position paper as such which follows. We gave this to the consultants and members of the steering committee and hope it influences the outcome of their work. At present, their response is favourable but what action is taken remains to be seen.

What do you think should be done with our Community Forests? Will you help in our efforts? What should be done by the MVFN?

Please contact our President, Sandy Atack, at 256-6912 if you wish to talk about this important issue. It’s your environment.

Jim Bendell, Chair, Natural Resources Committee, MVFN.

MVFN’s position on our Community Forests
(Summary Approved by the Board of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists)

1. The Community Forests of Lanark County, as with associated Crown Lands, contain many features that are unique and uncommon globally. Included are: rocks, minerals, fossils, glacial features, soils, waters and wetlands, plants, animals and human history.

2. The Community Forests and Crown Lands are public lands and the public determines their stewardship.

3. Natural features have immense values, including economic, cultural, spiritual, ecologic, educational, scientific and recreational.

4. The inventory of natural features on our public lands is
inadequate and therefore careful planning for their use is severely compromised. Immediate attention must be given to an adequate inventory of our Community Forests.

5. We must have protected areas that are adequate and representative of all natural values. Protected areas are essential to obtain the greatest benefits from natural values and from the best use of areas beyond ­ that are managed.

6. The MVFN will help as much as possible in the identification and care of natural values. We welcome questions and comments.

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