Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Another excellent paddle with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists from Pakenham to Blakeney

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

August 4, 2006

by Sheila Edwards

Another excellent paddle with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists from Pakenham to Blakeney

The heat and humidity had temporarily broken July 23rd, just in time for a paddle along the Mississippi River. The three kayaks and three canoes put in behind the Community Center in Pakenham, heading upstream to the Blakeney waterfalls.

The Mississippi is particularly beautiful along this stretch; its tree-lined shores are generally 50 to 100 m apart and are edged with blooming aquatic plants. Those living along its shores are blessed with a quiet river; we encountered only one motorboat during the trip. Once we left the noisy highway behind, we felt as though we were paddling in a remote provincial park.

The range of birds seen was good for a mid-morning paddle; at least 22 different species. Of the darker varieties, we saw numerous red-winged blackbirds, grackles, European starlings, turkey vultures, ravens, crows and a cormorant. Near the Blakeney waterfalls, a red-tailed hawk soared over our heads. Someone even spotted a hummingbird, not a species generally seen while paddling.

After the first leg of our journey upriver, we lunched under an ancient willow across from the foot of the rushing Blakeney waterfalls. Zak, a canine member of our group, burnt off some energy swimming after sticks. A friend of the club had given us permission to use their dock. Thanks, it was great!

Many of us were puzzled by a tall flowering stalk with a beautiful cluster of pink blossoms that we were unable to find in the reference books we carried with us. After further investigation back on land, the plant was identified as Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus. Such a shame that it is an escaped exotic which is actively spreading!

The return trip downriver was fairly challenging as the wind had picked up. It was a relief to get side-tracked and explore Indian Creek, as it was sheltered and calm. During the summer the creek is fairly shallow and becomes un-navigable fairly quickly, but with the trees almost meeting overhead, and interesting shoreline, it was a nice addition to the trip. A few of us plan to explore Indian Creek more extensively in kayaks the next time out.

A detailed description of the route we traveled, “Pakenham 1”, can be found on the website of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists at here.

For those interested in participating in future paddles, the club has two more canoe trips planned for this season. On Sunday, August 13 we will be paddling the Tay River from Glen Tay to Perth. On Sunday August 27 we will be exploring Canonto Lake. If interested, and for more information contact Cliff Bennett at 613- 256-5013 or e-mail .

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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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