Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Cliff Bennett and the new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario

The new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario,

Press release Feb 25, 2008

by Pauline Donaldson

NOTE: Link to Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2001-2005) website

The Appleton Square number 18VR10 was completed by MVFN

A large crowd was in attendance for “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” a lecture hosted by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) February 21st in Almonte. The lecture, 5th in MVFN’s “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” series, was presented by Cliff Bennett, local bird columnist and current Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature (ON).

Cliff Bennett with new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario

Cliff with the brand new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario following his MVFN lecture on the topic last Thursday. Photo by Pauline Donaldson

Our speaker was given a warm introduction by Brenda Boyd, MVFN’s ON Representative and Director for Membership. Still a classroom teacher at heart, Cliff began his presentation with a ‘test your knowledge’ surprise slide-show quiz to name the bird on the screen. Four ‘experts’ in the audience tied with 10/11 correct answers and one lucky expert was presented with a prize of a wooden blue bird box.

Great inspiration for the lecture was taken from the January launch of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001-2005. Cliff Bennett has been following birds for many years and was very pleased to be able to present some of the findings in the new Atlas to the audience. Cliff explained that there are many ways citizens help track bird species and abundance e.g. Christmas bird counts, Backyard Bird Counts, Marsh Monitoring, Loon Watch, etc. However, by far the most impressive recent example is the Ontario Breeding Bird Survey which tracks birds which breed in Ontario.

The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas includes > 75% of all birds breeding in Canada. The second edition of this survey summarizes 5 years of observations and was just released in a launch at the Canadian Museum of Nature in January 2008. The data was compiled and analyzed by professionals but the huge amount of data collected over the five years represents the combined effort of more than 3000 people logging some 153, 000 hours watching birds looking for evidence of breeding. The province was divided into about 14,000 ten km squares including the ‘Appleton’ square or square 18VR10 which MVFN was responsible for.

Cliff summed up some of the fascinating facts found in this Atlas which differed from the first Atlas of 20 years ago. Some birds such as house finches, blue-headed vireos, Canada geese, turkey vultures and wild turkeys expanded their ranges considerably. All raptors increased significantly except for great horned owl. The most widespread bird, found in 91% of the squares, was the white throated sparrow. In addition to the range of birds, the data also allows estimates of overall numbers in the province. For example some of the most abundant birds include Nashville warblers at 15 million and red eyed vireos at 9 million.

Generally more forest bird species increased in population than decreased. This probably reflects land taken out of agricultural use. For grassland birds there were more decreases than increases. There was a slight increase in wetland birds. There were more decreases than increases in shrub and early succession birds. Significant decreases however were noted for all aerial foragers. This includes species such as night hawks (seen in 545 fewer squares), chimney swifts, martins and whip-poor-wills.

In some cases where other parts of Ontario saw declines, we saw increases locally. As someone who is contacted daily with bird reports from the local area, Cliff has already noticed more changes since the atlas. For example blue birds locally may now be on the decline.

Adverse human attitude towards birds, explained Bennett, is a major factor in conservation challenges. Our avian friends are facing significant challenges not only from deforestation in the tropics, but in Ontario from habitat destruction during large subdivision development, damage from pesticides, hazards to bird navigation from tall buildings, wind mills and excessive lighting. Many large developers claim “It is only a little bird.” However, Bennett pointed out that we need a healthy bird population for balance in our natural world. We need to learn as much as we can about birds.

All are invited to the next lecture in the “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” series. This session will focus on turtles and will be presented by David Seburn of Seburn Ecological Services, on Thursday March 20th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall in Almonte. For more information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at


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Amazing Monarchs at MVFN

Jean Lauriault
Press Story
Amazing Monarchs at MVFN
January 24, 2008
by Sheila Edwards

A large crowd gathered January 17 for a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture on Monarchs presented by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature. As one of Canada’s foremost Monarch experts and member of a tri-national committee for conservation of these animals, Lauriault knows Monarchs well. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have a very interesting life cycle, as short as 20 days, or 9 months long. During a hot summer the cycle is quick and thus more generations are born. From June to August, adults lay eggs on milkweed. In 3 to 15 days they hatch and there are 5 instars or molts of the caterpillar (larvae) taking up to 14 days, before the pupa or chrysalis (not cocoon) stage is reached. The adults emerge within 7-15 days and will live as little as 14 days or as long as 8-9 months for the late-season adults emerging in August. These are the adults which go into sexual diapause and begin the amazing migration south, remaining sterile until starting their return trip.

Monarch migration has always fascinated scientists, children, and nature lovers alike, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the site of their winter home in Mexico was discovered. As they leave Canada, Monarchs in Ontario gather at ‘staging’ areas to cross Lake Erie and Ontario. Then, covering distances of up to 100 km per day at heights of up to 1 km, they head to locations in southern US and remote areas in Mexico. Little is known about the stopover locations used during their trip, but upon arrival as many as 50 million butterflies may congregate within trees in a single hectare. They do not eat all winter but survive on stored Lipids. In March as the area gets drier, they mate and head north, with many stopping in Texas to lay their eggs and die, leaving the next generation to complete the return journey. Those arriving in Canada are the children of those that left in August.

It is hard enough to conserve a species that stays put, but conserving Monarchs, Lauriault noted, poses a ‘super challenge”, requiring the efforts of three countries. Concerns in Mexico include protecting the remote wooded area favoured by the Monarch, from illegal logging. When return migration commences clouds of butterflies fly low over the land and thousands/millions may be killed by vehicles. Important also are the stopover areas in the US, many not yet identified, where a generation may be raised in the spring, and where non-migrating Monarchs may also live.

What can we do here in Canada to conserve Monarchs? The staging areas in southern Ontario need continued protection. Secondly, Milkweed, the sole food of the caterpillar, is classified as a weed since it is toxic to cattle; action needs to be taken to remove this classification. A very aggressive invasive species that has gotten a strong foothold in Ontario is dog-strangling vine (Pale Swallowwort), also in the milkweed family. Adults can mistakenly lay their eggs on it, but the hatched caterpillars cannot eat this plants leaves. Dog-strangling vine should be eradicated whenever possible. Finally as Lauriault pointed out, the adult butterflies feed on nectar of various wild flowers and thus roadside flora need to be protected from mowing and herbicide application. On an up note, provide habitat by planting a butterfly garden, and enjoy!

To wrap up our evening, we presented Jean Lauriault with a Monarch T-shirt. He then drew a name for a second Monarch shirt, won by Teresa Peluso. Both shirts were donated by Neil Carleton, a local educator who often uses Monarchs for teaching biology and conservation in his classroom.

The next lecture in our series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” on Thursday, Feb 21st will be “Ontario’s Birds” presented by Cliff Bennett, an MVFN founding member and Ontario East Director for Ontario Nature. For more information please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or email . MVFNs Annual Winter Walk will take place February 17th. Learn about Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals. For more information call Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or refer to for information on either of these upcoming events.


1. Further information on butterflies can be found in The Butterflies of Canada by Layberry, Hall and Lafontaine, parts of which can be found on-line at

2. More information on dog-strangling vine may be found at, and

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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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Cliff Bennett wins 2006 Wildlife Festival ‘individual’ award for excellence in environmental conservation

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
May 2, 2006

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

Cliff BennettCliff Bennett wins 2006 Wildlife Festival ‘individual’ award for excellence in environmental conservation

Most days, local naturalist and former Ramsay Township Councillor Cliff Bennett, is out of doors in a canoe or out on a hiking trail or curling rink. Last Wednesday night (April 19) however, he was thrilled to be in attendance as the 2006 Ottawa Wildlife Festival (OWF) Awards for Excellence in Environmental Conservation were handed out at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The OWF awards are given annually to those who have “taken action to promote and enhance the conservation of nature and whose efforts will be sustainable for the future”. Cliff, who lives on Clayton Road in Mississippi Mills, was the winner in the “individual” category for “sustained commitment to protection of the environment and for tirelessly working over many decades to help people enjoy, understand and respect the natural world”. Cliff and the winners in the other 2 categories were each presented with a ‘chickadee statue’ award carved by Rick St. John

One could place into two broad categories, Cliff’s many contributions to environmental conservation in the Lanark County area. First there are the many activities Cliff undertakes to nurture love and respect for the natural world, elements which are essential in a conservation-minded community. As expert canoeist, knowledgeable birder and naturalist, Cliff leads educational outings on our local waters and trails, imparting his love of nature to others. Many of these are conducted as part of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists outdoor program. On MVFN’s website he has described many routes he explores, so that others can find them too.

Award1Cliff has also written about birds for many years, and while being better known locally for his Lanark Era column “Speaking of Birds”, he is also active behind the scenes. He organized and led MVFN’s ambitious 5 year effort to gather data for a square in the new Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. He also organizes the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count, joins others such as the Baillie Birdathon fundraiser for Bird Studies Canada, and leads bird call and related workshops. As a retired teacher, Cliff has always been dedicated to children and, when cutbacks reduced environmental education in the schools in the 1990’s, he initiated MVFN’s highly praised Environmental Education Projects (EEPP) program. It secured funding through external grants and club events and continues to bring specialized nature programming to area school children. He and other long-standing members of MVFN are passionate about children’s education and extremely proud of the EEPP initiative.

A second important contribution Cliff makes to conservation is his inspiration and support of local voices for environmental issues. It is partly due to Cliffs’ efforts that Lanark County is home to two of the relatively small number of Ontario Environmental Advisory Committees (Lanark Highlands and Mississippi Mills) which advise Municipal Councilors. Cliff was also a founder of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy and helped achieve the establishment of the new Lanark County Municipal Trails Corporation.

Award2In accepting the award, Cliff graciously gave credit to the strength of MVFN in making many of his achievements possible. Cliff is a founding member of this non-profit naturalist group, and through his dedication, passion and humor he has inspired many to volunteer, both with the group and in the community. He has served as MVFN’s President and currently sits on three committees including the new Climate Change Awareness committee. Prior to this he worked for 3 years as MVFN’s representative on the Town of Mississippi Mills Community Official Plan Steering Committee to encourage inclusion of environmental considerations in the new Official Plan. The Plan is presently under review for approval by the province. In June of 2005 Cliff began perhaps his most challenging role as a Director on the Board of Ontario Nature, representing 18 Eastern Ontario naturalist clubs, “Friends of” groups and other organizations committed to the conservation of nature in Ontario. Our congratulations and sincere thanks go to Cliff!

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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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