Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

2011: Take a walk on the wild side at MVFN’s Spring Gathering

 Press Release April 24, 2011

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places

Take a walk on the wild side with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) at MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2011 which will take place on Thursday, May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. All are invited to enjoy a delicious banquet and keynote presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places” by internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident Dr. Paul Keddy.

Dr. Keddy is well qualified to speak about the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. He will speak on behalf of a natural world he is very passionate about: “Wild places are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for us. I will give you a tour of some of our wild places in Lanark County, and introduce a few of the special, wild species that live there. Driving along the highway, it is easy to forget that a forest or wetland over the next hill may have wild species that are every bit as amazing as those found in Africa or South America. The wilder parts of our county still harbour important wildlife species. Since these species don’t speak English, and don’t come to meetings, and don’t vote, it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf. I will have to be their representative.”

“The most important thing we can do for these species is to protect their homes, or speaking more precisely, their habitats. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Among the remarkable species of Lanark County, a few of my personal favorites are the gray ratsnake, Blanding’s turtle, black-throated blue warbler, fishers, and gray tree frog. And let’s not forget the plants—some of these special plants include hackberry, walking fern, ginseng and Ram’s-head Lady-slipper. None of these will survive for future generations without the wild places in which they live. Although I will be emphasizing the importance of wild places for wild species, we should remember that it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why.”

When Dr. Keddy was younger he spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. He is probably best known locally for his book Earth, Water Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Now in its second printing as a revised edition, this book is an easy-to-digest, delightful and informative sail through the surprising natural history and recent geological history of this area. “In my lifetime many of the places I once loved have been turned into subdivisions or carelessly logged. Species that I used to see are missing, or there are only a few individuals remaining where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. For example, people have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township. Today species including chorus frogs, musk turtles, and Blanding’s turtles and even eels are in decline. Even populations of bull frogs and snapping turtles, which were once abundant along the Mississippi are far less common. Our challenge is to identify the causes of the declines and reverse them. The key in nearly all cases is to maintain the habitat that the species need.”

“It is not all bad news though. The county now has a scientifically justifiable and officially recognized list of significant wetlands and natural areas. The latter are called Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSIs). I will show where these areas are in Lanark County and talk about a few of the biggest, including the Innisville Wetland Complex at the west end of Mississippi Lake and the Lanark Highlands Spillway Forest in the north part of the county. Some species are also recovering from past harm inflicted on them. Ospreys and bald eagles, for example, are now more common, since we took the step of banning DDT. Fishers and wolves, which are important wild predators, are recovering from near extermination. Areas like the Burnt Lands Alvar and the Purdon Orchid Bog are now officially protected.”

Several years ago Dr. Keddy returned to live in Lanark County but continues to do restoration related work for wild places elsewhere. In this talk though, he does not want to talk about alligators in the Everglades, or salmon in San Francisco. These sorts of species get lots of attention from residents of Florida and California. He wants to talk about our own wild species, the ones in our own county in particular, and the Ottawa Valley in general. These wild species are ambassadors for the wild habitats in which they live.

MVFN invites you to take a walk on the wild side and celebrate spring with others who care about wild places. Come to Spring Gathering 2011, Thursday May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall, 500 Almonte St. (just west of Highway 29), Almonte. A reception beginning at 6:00 pm will be followed by a banquet and Dr. Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” Tickets ($30) are available at Read’s Book Shop (130 Lansdowne Ave.) in Carleton Place, Nature Lover’s Bookshop (62 George St.) in Lanark and Mill Street Books  (52 Mill St.) in Almonte or by contacting MVFN’s Brenda Boyd (613-256-2706). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at (613) 257-3089.

NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance by Friday May 13.

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Presentation by Paul Keddy: “Where the Wild Things Are”

“Where the Wild Things Are”

 On Saturday March 5th, The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy (MMLTC) will welcome Dr. Paul Keddy, an internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident, to speak about some of the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. The MMLTC works with private landowners and in the community to help preserve spaces where wild things are found.

 “Wild places,” says Dr. Keddy, “are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for ourselves. I will describe our wild places of Lanark County, and also explain why they are important, and how scientists set priorities for protection. Not all wild places are the same, and it is important that over the next few decades we build a proper network of protected wild places. But we have to focus on the important places when we can.”

 “Of course, in one way, it is obvious that wild species need wild places. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Lanark County has some remarkable species. A few of my personal favorites are the Black Rat Snake, the Blanding’s Turtle, the Black-throated Blue Warbler, and the Gray Tree Frog. None of these will survive for the next generations without the wild places in which they live.”

 “But it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. Jesus, after all, spent 40 days in the wilderness of the Middle East. The Buddha spent years living in the forests of India. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why. Canoe trips, wilderness hikes, hunting camps, and summer cottages all give us some experience of wildness.”

 When he was younger, Dr. Keddy spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. “In my lifetime,” he says, “many of the places I once loved have been turned into subdivisions or carelessly logged. Species that I used to see are missing, or there are only a few where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. People have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township.

 Although he has returned to live in Lanark County, Dr. Keddy still works on wild places elsewhere. He has recently worked on projects involving restoration of the Everglades, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and even San Francisco Bay. He will be drawing upon some of these examples to provide further insight into Lanark County.

 Although he has an international reputation as a scientist and writer, Paul is probably best known to us for writing Earth, Water Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Now in its second printing as a revised edition, this book is an easy-to-digest, delightful and informative sail through the surprising natural and recent geological history of this area. The book will be available for purchase at his talk.

 By the end of the talk, we should know where our wild places are, and what we should do to keep them intact. Since the Land Trust exists to take gifts of wild places to protect them for future generations, how better to spend an afternoon than hearing about wild places and meeting other people who care too.

 Dr. Keddy will be speaking at MMLTC’s annual meeting which will be held Saturday, March 5, from 2-4 pm at the United Church Hall, 115 Clarence Street, in Lanark village.

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Turtle Time in Lanark County!

by Dr. Paul Keddy, ecologist and author of many articles and books on wetlands and wildlife including Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County.

Turtle

June is here. The nesting turtles are back! March is for maple syrup, in April the ice melts away, 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!

Most of the time turtles are rather secretive – hibernating nearly half the year on the bottom of lakes and ponds. 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.

Baby Turtle

Hatchling- photo Chris Hume

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 turtle, map turtle, Blanding’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.

Turtle Crossing
Nesting time is a dangerous time:

So, for nearly 50 weeks 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 the size of a half-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.

Turtle Crossing
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 complete idiot to hit one with a car.
– 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.

 

 

 

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MVFN Lecture by Dr. Paul Keddy- Earth, Water, Fire: Lanark County’s Natural Heritage

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

October 6, 2008

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

Ecologist Paul Keddy to share his passion for Lanark County’s natural heritage and special places

MVFN’s lecture series From the Ground, Up: Celebrating the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ First 20 Years continues Thursday, October 16th. The lecture Earth, Water, Fire: Lanark County’s Natural Heritage by Canadian ecologist Paul Keddy, should open hearts and minds to the inherent natural beauty of Lanark County.

Dr. Paul Keddy has been a Professor of Biology at the University of Guelph, University of Ottawa and Southeastern Louisiana University. He is author of several prize-winning books on ecology and a recipient of a National Wetlands Award for Science Research. Although his career studying wetlands, forests and other upland communities has taken him around Ontario and far away to the swamps of Louisiana, his love and appreciation for the local Lanark natural environment has been ever present. So much so that in 1999 he wrote Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County, one of the most comprehensive books on the ecology of our area – a must-read for newcomers and a plea to protect natural spaces. Paul Keddy continues to champion local natural conservation efforts and occasionally lead nature walks.

In some ways, Lanark County can be thought of as a model in miniature for all of Eastern Ontario. Regions once flooded by the Champlain Sea share features with areas east to Montreal. Landforms and forests of the northwestern parts are reminiscent of Algonquin Park, and some areas of rich agricultural land are not unlike southern Ontario. In other ways, Lanark County is unique. The number of breeding birds is higher here than almost anywhere else in Ontario. The Frontenac Axis rivals the Niagara Escarpment in its beauty and biological significance. It is gratifying and exciting to learn more about the special and often fragile places here – areas where the loggerhead shrike may nest, the Purdon Orchid Fen, Pakenham Mountain, and Wolf Grove, to name a few. As we explore Lanark, we will see which of its features are typical of the Ottawa Valley, and which are unique.

The lecture by Paul Keddy takes place at 7:30 PM, October 16th at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. Free for MVFN members and $5 for guests. All are welcome. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089 or see MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca .

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2008 Champion for Nature Paul Keddy

Lanark County ecologist Paul Keddy has studied the ecology of wetlands and other habitats across Eastern Canada and Louisiana. A retired Biology Professor, Paul is a highly cited researcher, being among the 2007 recipients of the National Wetland Stewardship Award from the Environmental Law Institute. His first book, Competition, was winner of the Canadian Botanical Association George Lawson Medal.

Paul Keddy is also passionate about the natural world in Lanark County. So much so that in 1999 he authored Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. The book is an account of the natural history and special places of Lanark County, including a look back 10,000 years ago to a region covered in solid ice, to the Champlain Sea giving way to magnificent hardwood forests, cleared in the 1800’s.

The story of Paul’s contributions with the book did not end with its publication and the wealth of information it provides to residents and visitors to our area. Dr. Keddy generously provided MVFN with publishing rights to his book, and funds raised from book sales have supported many of MVFN’s projects. There is truly something addictive about our fabulous area which hangs on to its natural beauty, because of Champions For Nature like Paul Keddy!

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