Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Art of Being Green Festival 2008

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists participated in the Art of Being Green Festival  in the village of Lanark, July 12-13.

Information for MVFN volunteers are available to help staff our booth was sent out on the MVFN email network soon (contact person for those interested is MVFN’s Public Relations Chair Pauline Donaldson).

aobg booth 2008 004 (1024x768)



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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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Town of Mississippi Mills to consider lawn and garden pesticide regulation at next Planning & Economic Development Meeting

The Town of Mississippi Mills is set to consider a by-law to regulate the unecessary (cosmetic) use of lawn and garden pesticides. The issue is on the agenda at the next Planning & Economic Development Committee Meeting, Thursday, March 6, 2008. This meeting will start at 6 pm in Council Chambers at the Municipal Offices at 3131 Old Perth Road, RR2, Almonte, Ontario. The meeting is open to the public.

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Board of Directors supports the municipal regulation of lawn and garden pesticides. The BOD recognizes that such by-laws make no attempt to restrict the use of chemicals for agricultural purposes, but rather are intended to reduce the unnecessary or ‘cosmetic’ use of pesticides on lawns and gardens. Health Canada itself, the federal body governing the registration of pesticides, recommends reduction in the use of pesticides on lawns and gardens and the use of alternative products to safeguard the health of humans, in particular children, who are especially sensitive to adverse effects from pesticides. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and other groups also recognize the benefit to the environment from the elimination of the unnecessary use of pesticides.

Pesticides even when used following directions closely can easily have unintended targets such as to beneficial insects and song birds. They may cause damage to biodiversity, reducing wildflowers and weeds which play an essential role in a healthy ecosystem i.e. as a source of nectar for pollinating insects, for monarch butterflies etc. Aquatic organisms may also be damaged when pesticide products in active form reach water courses and ponds.

If you are interested in hearing Town of Mississippi Mills Council discuss the municipal regulation of cosmetic use pesticides we encourage you to attend this meeting. Those in other jurisdictions who may seek support for such by-laws in the future may also be interested in the nature of discussions at this meeting.

As meetings of council are subject to change, please check for any last minute changes on the town’s website at or by calling the Town of Mississippi Mills at 613-256-2064.

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Snowshoe trekkers explore winter forest and enjoy campfire at beaver dam on MVFN’s Annual Winter Walk

Press Story
Monday, Feb. 18, 2008
Submitted by Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
by Cliff Bennett

Snowshoe trekkers explore winter forest and enjoy campfire at beaver dam on MVFN’s Annual Winter Walk

Snowshoes were the order of the day as over a dozen members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) ventured into the deep snow to participate in the club’s annual winter nature outing, on Sunday, Feb. 17. Led by MVFN naturalist Joel Byrne, the group explored a Lanark County forest property on County Road 16 near Poland, known to the club as the Gunn Creek Trail.
A snowshoe track through the property was established the day before, making Sunday’s trek through the virgin winter’s deep snows much easier. The trail meandered through a red pine plantation, hardwood knolls and a hemlock grove before lowering onto the frozen Little Clyde River to eventually conclude at a designated campfire spot at the end of an old beaver dam.
Along the way, Joel Byrne explained how different types of trees handle their winter sleep, harboring hibernating insects and egg clusters, providing available food for winter birds such as chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Noticeable was an absence of small animal tracks, especially of squirrels. There didn’t seem to be evidence of a very healthy seed and cone crop this year.
A few small vole tracks and one set of weasel prints were found in the forest by the trekkers along with some white tail deer trails. Even along the river shore, there were few animal tracks although a wonderful set of coyote tracks meandered along the far side leading towards an exploration of the beaver dam.
At the beaver dam, an exciting discovery was a river otter slide leading into a hole in the dam where the water poured through into an opening of rushing rapids. Otters use this avenue to collect small fish and crustaceans for their winter sustenance. Although no tracks were found, there was recent evidence of beaver activity as witnessed by a large maple tree half chewed through.
The nature group concluded their expedition around a campfire where many participants cooked such delicacies as sausage, toasted cheese sandwiches and even a pizza. Before leaving for the outside world, the forest echoed with a round of applause for Joel Byrne for leading the group and imparting his ample naturalist expertise.

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Birds of Prey Up Close with Cliff Bennett


For thousands of years across all cultures, birds of prey (also known as raptors) have captured our hearts and minds as they have variously awed, excited and inspired us. Our area is home to over 30 species of birds of prey but these hawks and owls, eagles, falcons, kestrels, osprey and vultures, while indeed most interesting, can be difficult to identify.

Hawks swoop by so quickly that it seems impossible to recognize which they might be and the nocturnal habits of owls make it challenging to see them closely enough to make a positive identification.

On Sunday, March 2, Nature Lover’s Bookshop will be providing an opportunity for you to see many different birds of prey up close to better understand the identifying characteristics and habits. Specimens on hand will include various owls and hawks.

Moreover, it will be retired educator, international birder and local bird columnist Cliff Bennett leading the Birds of Prey Identification Workshop. Cliff’s passion for birds and his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge is well known by all who have had an opportunity to join him in many birding outings he leads on the regular trail or canoe trips, collecting data for one of the ‘squares’ for the Breeding Bird Atlas, or during the annual Christmas Highlands Bird Count. Cliff is also a founding member of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and currently Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. We could not ask for a better guide to the fascinating world of birds of prey.

Observing the raptors’ distinct characteristics up close will not only help with future identification but with Cliff’s guidance will lead to a better understanding of the habits and lives of each and the role it plays in our ecosystem.
The workshop will take place between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. The Nature Lover’s Bookshop is located at 62 George St in Lanark Village. Children are welcome as always. Further info (613) 259-5654

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