Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Winter Wildland Walk — 2012

Winter Wildland Walk — 2012

by Chris Hume

 On February 5, 2012, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists explored nature in winter at the northern-most corner of Drummond/North Elmsley Township, Lanark County. A group of 15 insatiable naturalists set out at 10 am. The journey began on a snowmobile trail which met an old concession road that lead to an abandoned farmstead. Veering off this road (before reaching the farmstead – which was another ½ km away) into a marshy area, we walked across the ice over a provincially significant wetland, following a winter deer path.

photo by Neil Carleton

A couple of us were looking for animal tracks in the snow along the way and managed to take photos—some wild turkey tracks and muddy otter and porcupine tracks. At one point along the concession road we stopped to observe a porcupine high above us in a basswood tree. We could see where he had been snacking on a maple branch nearby (it was white where the bark was gnawed away). He had his prickly back to us and could very well have been snoozing in the late morning sun.

When we eventually made our way out onto a frozen beaver pond, we stopped to admire an Osprey nest—a large aggregation of sticks way up on the limb of a dead tree. Osprey are down south right now, but they will be coming back to the nest again this summer. Mature Osprey lay an average of three buff-coloured eggs—one every three to four days! We also learned that their feet have four talons and that the two side talons can reverse when the Osprey dives to catch its prey—feet first! It is the only raptor that plunges into the water.

We headed into the Hemlock Grove across the pond. Here we learned the difference among three evergreen conifers: Balsam Fir, Hemlock and White Spruce. The secret is first to put them in alphabetical order. The needles (leaves) on the first 2 are arranged in 2 dimensions—the needles protrude from either side of the twig. Balsam needles are longer than Hemlock needles. The 3rd species, Spruce, has needles arranged in 3 dimensions—the needles protrude all around the twig. We also learned about the Tamarack or Larch, which is a deciduous conifer—it has cones, but it loses its needles in the winter and new needles grow in the spring.

We continued to hike through the Grove, where the snow was firm and the going easy. Breaking out of the Grove, we came across a very large Beech tree almost two feet in diameter! It probably was verging on 200 years old and even had bear claw marks in its bark. Bears love to climb Beech trees—sitting high up in the branches—munching away on Beech nuts.

Photo by Chris Hume

Finally it was time to build our winter campfire and have lunch. The first step was to gather large branches and arrange them in multiple horizontal layers, building up from the snow. Then kindling was arranged carefully on top of this platform along with some bark and thin branches. Here we picked up some winter survival savvy—take time, prepare the campfire well, and use only one match to light it!

 Photo by Neil Carleton

We also learned how to make bannock and cook it over the open fire on a green branch with the bark peeled away. After refueling our bodies, we pulled the fire apart, doused the large logs in the snow and heaped snow on top of the smaller smoldering logs. (Our snowshoes come in handy as snow shovels!) When we left the clearing it hardly looked like we had been there at all!

On the hike back we heard a commotion in the air and stopped to watch three Ravens chasing a Bald Eagle! It never ceases to amaze me what can be discovered along the trail when I go on an MVFN winter wildland walk. Tucked in my pocket is a hickory nut—a special memento from a great winter adventure. Why don’t you join the outing next year?


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Annual Winter Nature Outing 2011

Annaul Winter Nature Outing

Saturday, February 12, 2011.

This year, we will explore the Lanark County Community Forest, Lavant Block, west of the hamlet of Lavant on County Road 16. This event is being hosted by the County of Lanark Community Forest Working Group. Several members of that group will be in attendance, including our County Forest Manager Brian Anderson. Here’s a chance for us to learn more about this property, explore its natural attributes and enjoy nature in winter. We plan to have a noon cook-out.

Car Pooling: East Lanark and area, meet at Union Hall for departure by 9:00 A.M. West Lanark, meet at Hopetown General Store for departure by 9:20 A.M.

Bring: Dress well, in layers, for existing weather; snowshoes or X/C skiis (there should be many snowmobile trails to walk on for part way); food to cook over the fire (Hint for cooking: something sealed in aluminum foil) ; binoculars; magnifying glass; extra socks and mitts; hot thermos, sun glasses;  nature notebook.

Please register before hand for this event by calling or emailing Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or

In case of bad weather or heavy snowfall, this event will be cancelled. If in doubt, please call Cliff before 8:30 A.M. on the day of the event.

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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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