What are meetings and field trips like?
Here’s what we’ve been doing recently
Feb. 25, 2017: American Eels in the Ottawa
Historical records show the American Eel was once the dominant fish species in the Ottawa River, but almost none are left. What happened? It wasn’t over-fishing, even though eels had been a major resource taken by native people in Ontario. It wasn’t pollution. It wasn’t habitat loss, either. The trouble – and our speaker Nick Lapointe explained that it isn’t too late to remedy it – is a series of barriers to the twice-in-a-lifetime migration of eels. In a pattern opposite to that of salmon, young eels migrate up the Ottawa, and mature eels migrate down in order to complete their life cycle. Four all but impassable hydro-electric dams bar upstream travel, and their turbines constitute a generally lethal route downstream. The second of the four is right in downtown Ottawa.
Nick is working for (the Canadian Wildlife Federation) has been working with the dams’ owners. The Ottawa Hydro dam will soon accommodate eels traveling in both directions. The owners of the others want proof that the dams are the central problem in the eel’s population crash, and even that eels still travel up and down the Ottawa River. Nick is involved in the natural history research necessary to demonstrate these most basic facts.
Feb. 4, 2017: Making tracks, and seeing them, at Pakenham
With snowshoes for all of us, except the smallest children who could run over the top of a treacherous crust, we were able to get well off trail for lunch. We made our cooking fires in a new spot where we could eat out of the wind and in occasional sunshine. And when we started up again, we were free to go in any direction we pleased. All along the way we were crossing the tracks of the animals that occupy these woods. Those of Deer were deeply sunken into the snow, while Coyotes had trotted around on top, like our lightest kids. Two Fishers had run all through the woods; we saw their tracks often, sometimes together. A Snowshoe Hare had almost floated on top of even the powdery snow, while a Red Fox had drifted about almost as lightly. We could see where Red Squirrels had dashed from tree to tree, and a Porcupine had waddled back and forth between its den and a favourite feeding tree (a big Hemlock, reduced, after successive years of attack, to a skeletal state). We saw Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse tracks, too
Jan. 28, 2017: Wildlife along the James Bay Road in winter
If you wanted to see Woodland Caribou in the wild, how could you do it? They have been pushed so back into the far reaches of Canada that in most places you’d have to fly into some northern community. But there are one or two places where you can also drive into the north. It’s a long drive, but Mary Beth Pongrac set out from Ottawa in mid-December to drive the James Bay Road, a 2400-km round trip. She saw Willow Ptarmigan, Ravens and Snowshoe Hares, and the tracks of foxes, and experienced the deep, intense silence of the north. The Caribou, however, weren’t wintering near the road this year.
Jan. 21, 2017: Searching for winter mammals
There were animal tracks all over the place at the Study Area, especially deer and raccoon, but apart from a few squirrels, we really had to search to see anything with fur on it. We succeeded by entering the habitat most favoured by porcupines. These animals feed on evergreen foliage, and drop green twigs to the snow below. Seven times a search of the thickly branched, crowded treetops overhead revealed a solitary porcupine, high up. Our search brought us out to Pond VI and a beaver lodge. Farther up the shore freshly the beaver himself had come out of a hole in the ice and cut several cedar trees for fresh food. Read more . . .
Jan. 14, 2017: Earth’s atmosphere
Why do puffy clouds have flat bottoms? This was just one of the many questions Rob posed as we explored different aspects of earth’s atmosphere. Earth’s breathable atmosphere is the only habitat we really, truly live in, but owing to the normal invisibility of air, we forget about it. Read more . . .
Dec. 10, 2016: Skulls and bones
Macouners are notorious scavengers of skulls and bones, but well chosen, cleaned, and prepared specimens can be things of fascination and beauty. OFNC member Jim Montgomery has donated his own childhood collection, and came in to tell its story. What sets Jim’s collection apart is the catalogue he kept of each new specimen, which allows one to pick up a Raccoon skull, no. 33, for instance, and learn that it was “found eaten (hide inside out, no meat or innards) in ravine behind Sunnybrook Hospital on April 6, 1965. Read more . . .