Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Turtle time (again) in Lanark County

LOCAL NOTE INJURED TURTLES:  Outside of Peterborough the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre has the following advice: “If you live outside of Peterborough, call us at 705-741-5000. We work with over 30 Turtle First Response Centres across Ontario – these are private clinics, or rehabilitators that we have trained in emergency treatment for turtles; the availability of these varies so please call us to arrange. We will be able to direct you to the appropriate one, while transfer to our hospital is being organized.” 

In our local area contact the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near North Gower (258-9480) who works with OTCC and sends all of the serious injuries there. The benefit of going to RVWS first is that they can provide fluids and pain meds to the turtle before sending it to OTCC which can take a day or more.

 LOCAL NOTE AT RISK TURTLE NESTING:  If you are aware of a turtle nest at risk, please see the following note from Canadian Wildlife Federation Biologist, David Seburn.”It is turtle nesting season! We are collecting Snapping and Blanding’s Turtle eggs from roadside nests to incubate them and then release the hatchlings back into the wild. Roadside nests can’t be caged and without protection most of turtle nests get predated by Raccoons. If you see nesting Snappers or Blanding’s Turtles please email me the location and we will try and collect the eggs (davids at cwf-fcf.org). We are only permitted to collect nests from Ontario and are working in Ottawa, Lanark, and Leeds & Grenville Counties.”

NOTE: Re-printed below is an article on turtle nesting season written in 2009 by Dr. Paul Keddy and published in local print media on behalf of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. Dr. Keddy, is a local Lanark County resident,  scientist and author of many articles and books on wetlands and wildlife including Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County; Dr. Keddy’s website:  http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/  

June is here.  The nesting turtles are back! March is for maple syrup, in April it’s goodbye to the melting ice, in May the leaves come out, and in June it’s turtle time!

Every one of these annual events reminds us where we live; the previous statement could not be made in Paris or Los Angeles.  Of course, if you are a high rise building dweller who rarely ventures outside the big city, you may not appreciate my point.  Here in Lanark County, every June, many turtles crawl out of their ponds and streams and start crossing the highways looking for nesting sites.  Elsewhere tourists might pay a fortune, say, to travel to South Africa for lions, or British Columbia or Quebec for whales, but here the wildlife comes to visit us!

Map turtles. photo Pauline Donaldson

Map turtles. photo Pauline Donaldson

 

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Most of the time turtles are rather secretive – hibernating nearly half the year on the bottom of lakes and pond. Much of the rest of the year they swim around looking for dead things to eat and occasionally taking a break to warm up in the sun stretched out on a log.  Overall, turtles are harmless, and in fact do some good since they are efficient scavengers that clean up dead animals from our water supply.  All of our turtles – even the large snapping turtle – are opportunist feeders.  They eat whatever they can conveniently find, which is mainly insects and dead fish. Biologists have spent many years studying turtle diets –by counting the items in their stomachs – and have this well-documented.  Even large snapping turtles, which get blamed for eating ducks or game fish, rarely have any of these items in their stomachs. They too eat carrion. Yes, snapping turtles will snap at you — when on land — particularly if you let your dog frighten them, or if you poke them with a stick.  Many people would do the same.

Let me mention, too, that every part of the world has its own set of turtles. If you were lost, and someone gave you a list of local turtles, you could pin down almost exactly where you were. North America has just over 50 species in all. Some places, like the west coast, are impoverished, having just one species.  Other places, like Louisiana, are blessed with turtles – more than 30 species. Lanark County, has exactly, five.  In approximate order of size, beginning with the smallest, they are musk turtle (or stinkpot), painted turtlemap turtleBlanding’s turtle and snapping turtle. All but the painted turtle are now considered species at risk – that is, they are declining.  Two, the musk turtle and the Blanding’s turtle, are officially considered threatened species. The decline has two main causes, (1) death on roads and (2) destruction of wild places.

NESTING IS A DANGEROUS TIME!

So, for about 50 weeks out of each year, turtles are rather quiet, inoffensive neighbours, who pretty much keep to themselves.  In this way, they might set a good example for human neighbors, like the ones with the loud stereos and motorbikes … but I digress, I was asked to write about turtles.  My point is that, finally, after 50 weeks of peace, all hell breaks loose in mid June! All the females of reproductive age climb out of the water and begin the laborious task of hiking around to find a nesting site.  It is probably terrifying for them to leave the familiar water and venture onto land, but the nesting urge is too strong to resist. Once they find just the right location, they dig a hole, bury their eggs, and leave.  That is the end of motherly care.  The eggs are heated by the summer sun, and then, in September, baby turtles about half the size of walnut dig their way up to the surface and somehow find their way back to water.

This means that without fail, near the middle of each June, we are treated to a parade of female turtles, wandering around our roads and properties, trying to nest.  They have been doing this for about 200 million years, more or less.  Turtles existed before the dinosaurs, and they even survived whatever it was – an asteroid collision? – that eliminated the dinosaurs.  Despite their long history, turtles just have not had time to learn to adapt to two new things: cars and roads. That tiny brain has no idea that a road means danger. And so, increasingly, we are losing our turtles as the reproductive females (and often the eggs they contain) are killed on highways.

Biologists have calculated how important certain types of individuals are to their species survival, i.e. their “reproductive value”.  New baby turtles have low reproductive value because only a few ever survive –skunks, raccoons, crows, fish and even bullfrogs eat them.  This high mortality rate for babies is natural for turtles.  However the reproductive value of the adult female turtle is extremely high. Once she has made it to 20 years old she has the capacity to make up for the high mortality rate of the babies by laying from 10 to 30 eggs every year for decades.  The turtles being killed on our roads are usually the adult females — with the highest reproductive value. When a female is killed – it means the loss of hundreds of offspring she might have produced over future summers.  These loses cannot be replaced. As a result, turtles that were present in my childhood, like musk turtles and Blanding’s turtles, are now uncommon. Not only do turtles just cross roads, they are actually attracted to roads.  The warm sand and gravel along the road side makes a perfect nest site.  So turtles will come long distances to climb onto the shoulder and lay their eggs.  If drivers are careless, the highway becomes a ribbon of death.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

1. The first is to accept and even appreciate this annual event.  Just as the maple syrup flows in March, so do turtles flow across our roads in June.  We might even build an annual tourist event around the nesting week.  We could put up some highway crossing signs at critical locations, or better still, plan ahead and build small underpasses when roads are being reconstructed. And, of course, we have to protect critical nesting areas from subdivisions. More urgently there is the immediate issue of death on the roads.

2. Drive carefully.  Turtles are slow-movers, so it really does take a [completely irresponsible driver] . . .  to hit one with a car.

Turtle Parade

CAUTION PLEASE: Crossing the road!  In June, Lanark County turtles cross the roads to look for nesting sites.  The three species most often seen are the painted turtle (left), Blanding’s turtle (middle), and snapping turtle (right).  Please, drive carefully, and let them nest in peace. Images courtesy of Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-pond conservation program- Don’t tailgate (which your driver training instructor no doubt told you anyway), as you may run over a turtle that the car in front just missed.

Help them out. Stop, and carry the turtle the rest of the way across the road – in the direction she was headed, of course.  Yes, some will not appreciate your help, and might try to scratch or bite, so keep a pair of gardening gloves handy and perhaps a shovel to help lift. A big snapping turtle is heavy, so I would recommend extreme care – probably best to simply act like a shepherd.

– Alert other drivers.  Yes, you can stop your car and let other people know that a turtle is crossing the road. Not a good idea at 100 kilometers per hour, perhaps, but certainly feasible on many side roads.

Let them nest in peace.  If one arrives in your yard, keep the pets away, and let the children watch quietly from a respectful distance more than ten feet away. Think about the respect we give to pregnant women, and give the pregnant turtle the same courtesy.  If she does nest, you can put a piece of chicken wire (not mosquito netting – that will trap the baby turtles in the fall) over the nest.  Then, wait.  Given the right amount of sun and rain, baby turtles should emerge in September.

One of the joys of living here is the annual spectacle of the June turtles.  If you still think you must drive so fast that you ignore the crossing turtles, may I respectfully suggest you consider moving to downtown Phoenix or Las Vegas or Toronto, or one of our other larger urban centers, where you won’t have to be inconvenienced by other living creatures.  Learning to share the landscape with wild animals is part of what it means to live here. We might start with courtesy to turtles, and then extend it to frogs, birds, butterflies, bears and all the other animals that lived here long before our ancestors decided to settle in North America.

Not everyone can personally save a blue whale, or a black rhinoceros, but everyone can drive responsibly, and, like a good boy scout, help the occasional turtle across the road.

Paul Keddy

NOTE: For more information on identifying Lanark County turtles, please visit a local bookshop or consult the Toronto zoo’s adopt- a- pond website  www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/turtles.asp.

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Enjoy Field Naturalists’ Wet and Wild!

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 6, 2014

 Enjoy Field Naturalists’ Wet and Wild!

By Cathy Keddy

Watch Dr. Keddy’s MVFN “Wet and Wild” Presentation here on video

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) 2013-2014 public lecture series, Knowing and Caring Connect Us to Nature, continues February 20 with its 5th presentation, “Wet and Wild!” Anyone who possesses a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature will enjoy these lectures. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

Keddy photo a-f

Many wetland species, such as the ones in the photos above, are dependent upon annual flood pulses: (a) white ibis (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), (b) Mississippi gopher frog (M. Redmer), (c) dragonfly (C. Rubec), (d) tambaqui (M. Goulding), (e) furbish lousewort (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and (f ) Plymouth gentian (Paul Keddy).

At this upcoming meeting we will take a look on the wet side of Lanark County. Dr. Paul Keddy, a professor of ecology for over 30 years and author of Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County, will give a presentation on wetland communities—the places you have to wear big boots. He has studied wetlands, forests and other upland communities of the Ottawa Valley, the Maritimes, and the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Keddy has authored several prize-winning books on ecology and received a National Wetlands Award for Science Research. He has advised groups including The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Earthjustice.

All life contains water. From distant space, Earth appears as a mosaic of blue and green, blue for water, green for plants. This talk will be about the connections between green and blue—wetlands. The surrounding uplands interact with the low wetlands. For example, amphibians, such as tree frogs, over-winter in the forest, while nutrients and runoff from the forest enter the wetland.

Wetlands have always influenced us. Early civilizations first arose along the edges of rivers in the fertile soils of floodplains. Wetlands continue to produce many benefits for humans—along with fertile soils for agriculture, they provide food including fish and waterbirds. Additionally, wetlands have other vital roles that are less obvious. They produce oxygen, store carbon, and process nitrogen. Of course, wetlands have also been a cause of human suffering, such as providing habitat for mosquitoes that carry malaria. And, for thousands of years, human cities in low areas have flooded during periods of high water. Philosophers and theologians may enquire how it is that one system can be both life-giving and death-dealing.

This promises to be an entertaining night—fish that breathe air and eat fruit, mosses that drown trees, plants that eat insects, and frogs that climb trees. We will also be introduced to the world’s largest wetlands, wetlands that perch on hillsides, wetlands that burn, and of course, wetlands that flood. Our neighbourhood wetlands and what we can do to conserve them will also be featured. Wetlands are one of the most productive habitats on Earth, and they support many kinds of life.

Signed copies of Dr. Keddy’s book on Lanark County’s natural heritage will be available for purchase at the meeting.

Hear about wet and go wild, at MVFN’s next lecture, “Wet and Wild,” where Dr. Keddy will describe the wonders of wetlands on Thursday, February 20, 7:30pm at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

 

 

 

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Which Forest is Healthier?

Which forest is healthier? Lecture report by Christine Hume

Which forest is healthier? If you selected the first one pictured below you are on the right track. At the recent Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) talk “Coarse Meaty Debris: The Significance of Large Dead Animals in our Forests” given by Dr. Paul Keddy, we learned that a forest that has a healthy mixture of living trees, fallen decomposing trees, and dead standing trees is a healthy forest ecosystem. The talk focused on the deciduous forests of eastern North America.

forest with coarse woody debris Keddy (800x525)

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Many of the forests in this area were cut by the end of the last century, so most of the ancient old growth forests are long gone. Slowly our deciduous forests have come back; some of the key indicators to help judge the health of these forests were discussed. The presence of diagnostic species such as spring ephemerals (e.g. Trillium), Wood Warblers and Salamanders are good signs. Additional indicators include: more big trees, canopy composition, a diverse herbaceous layer, wildlife trees, woodpecker nesting trees, and coarse woody debris. The woody debris is a major source of biological diversity, allowing ferns, mosses and fungi to thrive.

It is important for landowners with forested property to understand the benefits of maintaining and managing biological diversity. We learned that it is beneficial to a wide range of plants, animals and insects to let a tree that falls in the woods—just lie there. A general rule of thumb is to leave 8 fallen trees per acre—the bigger the tree the better!

Dr. Keddy then noted that as he was preparing the talk and thinking about the benefits of “woody debris” – the phrase “meaty debris” came to mind. The talk next focused on the importance of “coarse meaty debris” (animal carcasses) and the contribution it makes to a healthy forest. Of particular interest to me, was the description of the simple study conducted by Dr. Keddy and his wife Cathy on their property. On a beaver pond they set up a man-made carcass—a pile of trim (meat and bone scraps) from their local butcher. Then they recorded detailed field notes and observations over a period of 3 – 10 days noting which birds and mammals came to feed on the “carcass”. We were very surprised to learn that the first bird that came to feed on the meaty debris was a tiny little chickadee. It was feeding on the fat of the carcass. Next in the carcass line-up was a couple of crows, then turkey vultures, then a large gathering of crows and ravens; several coyotes and so on. It was a powerful demonstration of the number of species that will feed on carcasses and may depend on the availability of ‘meaty debris’ for survival.

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The first bird to visit and feed on the ‘artificial’ carcass was a tiny chickadee. Photo Cathy Keddy

Another study that was conducted in Algonquin Park was presented— the ‘meaty debris’ in this instance included deer and moose carcasses. Species that eventually found the carcasses included: ravens, turkey vultures, fox, black bear, otter, and wolf. Black bears are known to be carrion feeders. There is a huge array of species that feed on carcasses. They are a centre of biodiversity. The bodies are cleaned up—animals may tear, grind, pick, gnaw and disperse pieces of the carcass. Anything remaining goes back into the soil. After a few weeks there is nothing left. Quite fascinating really!

It was also interesting to learn about the 68 species of burying beetles. The beetles bury small carcasses; lay their eggs in the carcass and their young then feed off of it. And then Dr. Keddy presented some examples of how humans can interfere with the circle of life – and keep it from running smoothly.

Given a total deer population for Ontario of 400,000, (estimated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), the range of deer i.e. covering about 40% of the area of the province, and a natural annual mortality rate of 10%, the natural deer carcass density would be approximately 1 carcass/10 km2. The annual removal of potential carcasses through hunting (60,000 – 70,000, estimated by OMNR) is high relative to the 40,000 animals that naturally become “meaty debris.” The removal of deer by hunting results in a steady drain of carcasses, nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium from our forests. This probably has a significant negative impact on all the species that feed on carcasses.

And going back 10,000 years Dr. Keddy briefly discussed “megafauna” and the big carcasses of that era, now missing, including: woolly mammoth; sabre-toothed cat; giant ground sloth and more. The cause of the demise of these giant creatures at the end of the last ice age is widely debated. We saw photos of hand-chiseled spearheads that were found along with the remains of some of these gigantic mammals. It is suspected that our human ancestors became a bit too skilled at hunting and likely were largely responsible for exterminating the megafauna.

This talk really made me think of the circle or web of life – and how interconnected and interdependent the trees, plants, mammals, insects are on each other.

How can we contribute to keeping our forests healthy?

Find out what is being done with road kill that is collected? Instead of it being incinerated or disposed of, can some be distributed in managed forests to support a healthier ecosystem? Can some be put where naturalists can observe and learn the effects of meaty debris?

Increase public awareness that dead trees and carcasses in the woods are an essential part of nature— a “good thing,” not something to be offended by— they will be cleaned up by nature itself.

Resources: To learn more about our forests and the Managed Forest Program, check the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website at http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/. If you are interested in volunteering and helping with forest management projects, refer to information provided by OMNR, the Ontario Forestry Association (http://www.oforest.ca/) and the Eastern Ontario Model Forest http://www.eomf.on.ca/ .  For more information about the research work of ecologist Dr. Paul Keddy, please visit his website at http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/

 

 

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Coarse Meaty Debris: Talk by Paul Keddy

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

January 3, 2013

Death’s Bounty in the Forest

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2012-2013 public lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, continues January 17 with the fourth presentation, “Coarse Meaty Debris: The Significance of Large Dead Animals in Our Forests.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

This lecture will be presented by Dr. Paul Keddy, a biologist and writer now living in the forests of Lanark County. A professor of ecology for 30 years, he has published over 100 scholarly papers. He achieved international designation as a Highly Cited Researcher, has received awards from several scientific societies, and locally, is an MVFN-designated Champion for Nature. He has published several books used in university courses, including Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation. His recent lectures have included Washington, Toronto, Madrid, and Lyon. This year he will start with a lecture in Almonte, on a topic that is new and timely, the role of death in winter forests.

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Within hours on a sunny morning in March, a pile of trim on a beaver pond in Lanark County (above) attracted a bald eagle (below), a coyote and 21 crows and ravens.

To prepare us for death’s bounty, Dr. Keddy will first give us a brief overview of forest restoration. There are, he says, a few simple steps which we can all take to begin to restore our native forests. He wrote about these steps in a scholarly paper back in 1996 (see www.drpaulkeddy.com) and said encouragingly, “It is entirely possible for us to restore large tracts of native forest this century, to repair the damage our species has caused. This will require, of course, time, since trees grow slowly. Hence, it is better to start sooner than later!”

This background leads naturally and ultimately to the topic of death in our forests. Large dead trees and large dead animals are vital to healthy forest ecosystems, and can be considered two indicators of restored forests. There is a natural rate of mortality and the forest floor would at one time have been strewn with both dead trees (slow to decay) and dead animals (fast to decay).

The importance of dead big trees is already rather well understood Dr. Keddy says. Scientists have known for years about the importance of dead trees, both standing and fallen. Standing dead trees, sometimes known as snags, provide important wildlife habitat. They provide holes and dens for wild species including woodpeckers, flying squirrels, tree frogs and porcupines. Some have called such trees ‘apartment buildings for nature.’ Fallen dead trees, known as ‘coarse woody debris,’ have received somewhat less attention. However, fallen dead wood is vital to forests. Fallen dead trees also provide habitat for animals, particularly reptiles and amphibians (e.g., salamanders, frogs). A piece of coarse woody debris will be teeming with more life than when it was standing alive and erect—a life after death experience! Hence, when large logs are removed from forests, many plant and animal species suffer.

But what about big, dead animals? This will be Dr. Keddy’s main focus as we know least about this aspect of forest ecology. Today this means mostly deer, but in the recent past moose, elk and caribou were also important. He adds, “But I want to make it clear from the start that this general principle applies way beyond Lanark County and beyond forests. Think of a dead elephant in South Africa, or a dead Bison in Alberta. These are not aberrations, or tragedies, but the basis of an enormous food web and a sign of a healthy ecosystem.” We can call dead animals ‘coarse meaty debris’ to emphasize similarities to coarse woody debris. They are large pieces of biological material that, left in place, will support a rich variety of other species. Their great value in energy and nutrients contributes to their far more rapid disappearance relative to dead trees. A tree may take decades to disappear, while a carcass can take only days.”

 

Carcasses arise out of death. It may be death from starvation in deep snow, death from old age and disease, or death from a large carnivore such as a wolf. If you visit a winter carcass, the first thing that stands out is the amount of activity around it. The snow is often beaten flat, with trails radiating out in all directions. The carcass is gone in a matter of days, with even the bones scattered in all directions.

Large birds of prey such as Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles may arrive first. Smaller scavengers such as Crows and Ravens feed among the eagles. Turkey Vultures also come early. Many mammals including fishers, minks, and other weasels come to enjoy.

What is more surprising, perhaps, is the number of smaller birds that are attracted to carcasses, such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. Keddy says, “Think of all the birds that visit a feeder to eat suet. A suet feeder is really a small carcass for wild birds. It replaces a food source they used to find whenever wolves or cougars killed a moose or deer.”

Even the bones are soon dispersed. Bones contain phosphorus, a vital nutrient for producing more bones in living animals. Many kinds of small mammals arrive to gnaw on the bones.

Winter carcasses are vital to the survival of many animals. Summer carcasses have their own story, since many kinds of summer birds and insects participate in the feast. There may, or may not, be time for Dr. Keddy to talk about burying beetles, but the topic of carcasses is a good place to begin a long cold winter. Perhaps Sam McGee already knew this story.

Discover which species visit a winter carcass feeding station in Keddy’s forest and what may feed on you if you succumb to the cold while snowshoeing. Tell us about animals you have seen feeding on winter carcasses. Let’s start the conversation about how we get more large carcasses back in our forests. Dr. Keddy’s lecture “Coarse Meaty Debris: The Significance of Large Dead Animals in Our Forests” will be held at 7:30 pm on Thurs. Jan. 17, 2013, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

 

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2011: Interesting Wild Mississippi Places and Faces, and their Champions

by Pauline Donaldson

Press story pdf with photos

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) held their Spring Gathering 2011 and AGM May 19th at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. The evening was a celebration of wild nature and a tribute to those who help champion it including keynote speaker Paul Keddy, and Mike McPhail (MVFN Champion for Nature for 2011). The over one hundred members of MVFN and the public in attendance were treated to a delicious banquet served by Civitan volunteers.

MVFN President Joyce Clinton presided over a short business meeting during which MVFN’s officers for the 2011-2012 year were elected. Returning to MVFN’s board of directors are Joyce Clinton, President; Janet McGinnis, Vice President; Mike McPhail, Past President; Janet Fytche, Secretary; Cathy Keddy, Program Chair; Brenda Boyd, Chair of Environmental Education; Bill Slade, Chair Environmental Issues; and Janet Snyder, Social Committee. Newly elected to the board of directors are Elisabeth DeSnaijer, MVFN Treasurer; Ken Allison, MVFN Chair Publicity; and Bob McCook, MVFN Director at Large.

Clinton reported on the year’s highlights, including a recent significant change to MVFN’s status. “I am pleased to announce that through the efforts of the board of directors and in particular Cathy Keddy and Howard Robinson, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is now officially a charitable organization. To help the board gain a clearer focus for the future, we held a visioning meeting in August last year. Our financial pulse is strong and healthy. Our treasurer Howard Robinson will be stepping down this year. I want to thank Howard for all his hard work over the last 3 years. Referring to other highlights with implications for children and youth Clinton stated, “The Environmental Education committee (Chaired by Brenda Boyd) has also begun the process of developing a plan for an MVFN Young Naturalists Program. The project is still in the pilot project stage, but it is a very exciting step for our group.”

Christine and Peggy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A special part of the evening was presentation of the 2011 MVFN Champion for Nature Award, given to individuals or groups who make outstanding contributions to the natural world in the Mississippi Valley. “This year we are awarding the MVFN Champion for Nature Award to Mike McPhail” said Clinton. “Mike was born and raised in Almonte . . . a geologist by training and has many passions in the field of nature. As MVFN’s vice president for three years, then president for three, Mike continues to serve on MVFN’s board.” Without a doubt, many MVFN projects would not have taken place without the driving force of Mike McPhail, a quintessential organizer, natural public speaker and leader, and a man with a passion and curiosity for our natural world. To mention a few such projects: Mike researched and organized MVFN’s first bioblitz which was held on the Bell property in Mississippi Mills in September 2009. This bioblitz quickly become a model for other clubs. Another project close to Mike’s heart is MVFN’s Habitat Creation which has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of blue-bird houses for our feathered friends as well as duck nesting platforms and other habitat projects still in the works.

Mike was unable to attend the evening due to illness, however the award was accepted on Mike’s behalf by his wife Peggy McPhail and daughter Christine (photo above).

Following the banquet and business meeting, the audience settled in for local ecologist Dr. Paul Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” “These [wild] species don’t come to meetings and don’t vote, so it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf.” Keddy’s virtual tour gave the audience an opportunity to reconsider a few of Lanark County’s special natural places, or to learn about them for the first time. In Lanark County we live in the great northern deciduous forest region which also includes some relatively rare (globally) areas of deciduous forest over marble. In the county, as farm land returns to forest, we are seeing good signs, such as the return of fishers, natural predators of porcupines. We share the northern deciduous forest with Ontario’s only lizard species (the five-lined skink), but few of us realize just how many salamanders we share it with. ‘Salamander Central’, the forest is teeming with these seldom seem amphibians. In addition to the return of favorite birds, spring in the deciduous forest means that spring ephemerals are about. These include often fragile and beautiful perennial woodland plants, such as wild columbine. These plants must quickly sprout from the forest floor, grow and flower while the sun can still reach them through the leafless trees. Attached to the seeds of ephemeral species such as Trillium, Hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches is a little oil-rich snack for ants. Attracted to this food, the ants spread the seeds, but colonization of new areas occurs only very slowly. When plants are lost from an area, re-colonization is very slow and not guaranteed, since, as Keddy pointed out, ants do not travel far and are not good at crossing highways. As soon as the leaves bud out on the trees the tree frogs arrive and summer begins again in the forest.

A second special place featured was the Innisville Wetland Complex, an area officially designated as an ANSI (Area of Natural or Scientific Interest) by the provincial government. It is a huge, significant wetland area and yet it is relatively unknown and unseen by visitors and locals alike. Why aren’t there interpretive signs and perhaps an access point to the Innisville Wetland Complex, and a boardwalk to allow people to safely enter and experience this important natural area?

A third local area discussed was the ‘Lanark Highlands Glacial Spillway Forest’, an area so named by Paul Keddy. This glacial spillway, near White Lake, is a remarkable area which was carved in the past by tremendous volumes of glacial meltwater which flowed past carrying and depositing loads of sand and gravel. Surprisingly, one corner of the spillway ‘valley’ actually overlaps part of Blueberry Mountain, but this is possible. As is often the case for unique areas such as this, a variety of interesting things are aggregated there. For example a rare southern tree species, the shagbark hickory has been found there, and in shady areas, walking fern (found in forests over marble) which spreads by producing new plants where the leaf tips touch the ground.

Keddy’s lecture was an excellent conclusion to MVFN’s 2010-2011 lecture series Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People. People connected with the presentation, the local natural areas featured and were educated and inspired. MVFN’s lecture program is on break now until September but the canoe and summer outing season is just getting started. The next MVFN summer walk takes place June 19th at the Purdon Fen and the next canoe outing is scheduled for July 10th. Please watch the MVFN member email network or consult mvfn.ca for further details on these outings.

 

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