Welcome to the Macoun Field Club!
We’re about to start a new Macoun Club year, which will run from Sept. 7th until late in June. Families can enquire about having their children join at any time. Either phone Rob Lee at (613) 623-8123 (note that “Macoun” rhymes with “crown,” not “croon”), or e-mail him at Macoun@ofnc.ca. The Macoun Club is sponsored and supported by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC); there are no fees.
Indoor meetings take place at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden building beside the Experimental Farm’s arboretum (Building no. 138). Meetings start at 10 a.m. and wrap up between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Field trips take place on alternate Saturdays and typically run about 5 hours (sometimes with the option to attend only the part before or after noon). We go to wild places in Ottawa’s western Greenbelt (Stony Swamp) and Lanark County (the Pakenham Hills).
Schedule of Activities
Sept. 14: Field trip (call Diane at 226-3306 anytime Thursday to register)
Sept. 21: Members’ photo day — bring in a selection of your summer nature photos (and at the end, Election of Officers)
Sept. 28: Field trip (call Diane at 226-3306 anytime Thursday to register, or e-mail if she has signed you up for it)
October 5: Mapping nature and developing skills, with Jen Line — and camping-trip planning
Oct. 12: No meeting, but a special camping trip for high-school students is in the works
What are meetings and field trips like?
Here’s what we’ve just done . . .
Sept. 7, 2019: Start of a new Macoun Club year
Observations ran overtime, and leaders talked too long about the things they’re interested (the dire effects of DDT on birds 50 years ago, the way birds have planted a whole backyard full of wildflowers, and how to tell a falcon from a hawk in flight). But these first-hand accounts served to give the many new members a good idea of what to expect from those around them.
There was talk of what we might do in our Study Area’s 50thyear, coming up.
And Rob directed attention to the giant topographic wall map of the Ottawa region, with its hills to the north and flatlands to the south, ancient fault lines (the southern boundary of Gatineau Park), and evidences of the last Ice Age (the cultivated sand plains north of the Park, in an otherwise rocky territory).
We also found where our Nature Study Area is (just behind the head of the boy in blue).
. . . and a selection of what we did last year
June 1, 2019: The forest had greened up!
On our last visit, four weeks ago, the Study-Tree Woods were still bare and brown; now everything had leafed out. Willem and Anna’s Sugar Maple, which had blown over last fall on the day of the Ottawa tornados, had put out a full set of leaves (and flowered!). Even Christmas Fern, which is green all winter, had put out new fronds – with fertile tips. Mosquitoes had become adults and were biting, but not enough to bother us.
We found a Blue-spotted Salamander under a log, and a thumbnail-size Tree Frog, bright green, on an Ironwood sapling. And a tiny fawn, curled up at the foot of a maple tree, enthralled us. Rather than run, it trusted to its camouflage.
Some parts of the forest, where ash trees were numerous, are obstructed by the fallen trunks. We gave the ash log previously pressed into service as a teeter-totter another test: this time it held over 1000 pounds of Macoun Club members without obvious strain.
(To reinforce the message that you have to look after yourself: we found three more ticks in our Study Tree Woods, two of them having already inserted their mouthparts into the skin of one leader and one member.)
May 25, 2019: Weirdness in the Reptiles of the Triassic
Paleontologist Robbie Stewart knows us as only a former Macoun member can. He launched right into this year’s topic and explored the question of why such weird creatures came into existence, thrived, and went extinct. There were reptiles with long, snaky necks, gliding and flying reptiles, and sail-backed reptiles. The world has not seen their like again.
Robbie began with the Permian extinction, known as “the great dying,” because 95% of life on earth died out. The cause appears to have been geological, with widespread volcanism setting fire to immense beds of coal, triggering extreme CO2 levels in the air and acidification of the oceans.
Only about 5% survived, leaving gaping holes in ecosystems around the world. The few survivors adapted in different ways to vacant niches all over the place. Without much competition or predation, body plans that would be vulnerable in more normal times flourished.
What was there to eat,? Two groups of animals had had the capacity to come back from the brink of extinction because of their high reproductive rates: insects, and fish. So adaptations for snapping up insects and catching fish abounded.
But as the millions, and tens of millions of years went by, food webs diversified, new predators evolved, and competition intensified. Body plans were forced into the most competitive, predator-resistant forms, and the weirdest ones in their turn were driven to extinction.
May 4, 2019: Fun in the outdoors (no mosquitoes yet!)
Our Study Trees weren’t quite ready to leaf out, but we found snakes and frogs on the forest floor, and mosquito wrigglers (Aedes provocans) just half-grown in the pond next door. Rubber boots were pressed into service as containers for holding tadpoles.
Our woods are full of dead White Ash trees, killed by the Emerald Ash Borer infestation, now into its 8th year, and some have already fallen over. One specimen, lying crosswise over another, invited an investigation of its inherent mechanical strength: as a teeter-totter, it held six happy children. Ash wood is known for being light, tough, and strong. It was used in making canvas-covered biplanes!
One unhappy note: two of us acquired the season’s first ticks in these woods (collected while still crawling over our clothing).
January 26, 2019: The international trade in endangered wildlife
We’ve all heard news stories about elephant poaching, and how rhinoceroses are being driven to extinction solely because of a popular demand for rhino horn as “medicine.” Just last week the media reported that a man who was caught smuggling live falcon eggs through Britain to the Middle East (for falconry) has been sentenced to three years in prison. Today Sheldon Jordan told us that dealing with this man’s plunder of Gyrfalcon nests in northern Quebec nearly 20 years ago was his first case.
December 1, 2018: Early winter is barely hanging on
Winter is proceeding in fits and starts, and although the snow that fell two weeks ago hasn’t quite melted away, it is getting thin. We saw several flying insects and spiders on or over the snow.
Having penetrated far enough into the Pakenham Hills to feel we were in a really wild place, we left the familiar trails and disappeared into the snowy forest and set about making a central lunch fire. It was more difficult than we expected because even the best firewood was damp after so many damp days – snow clinging to the branches had melted and soaked in. How would Macoun members respond? They spread out and made their own fires, and cooked or warmed our meals.
Afterward, we walked over to Gerry’s cabin; while the many adults (parents and leaders) engaged Gerry in conversation about wildlife, the kids explored the streambanks. Looking up, he explained that a passing eagle was just checking for animal carcasses toward the end of hunting season, and the beginning of fur trapping. Seven of eight hunters had got their deer; he offered us a spare set of first-year antlers.
Oct. 13, 2018: Can Chimney Swifts do without chimneys?
Our speaker, Melanie Farquhar, came in with lots of questions for us, all relating to Chimney Swifts. There must have been a time, only a few hundred years ago, when there were not yet any chimneys, but this species has so completely switched over that natural roosting and nesting behaviour is rarely observed. Now their population has fallen 99% since the 1970s, and people wonder if the disappearance of masonry chimneys is to blame. Would they use artificial chimneys that we build for them? Melanie’s field research examined this issue, and she said that the birds use such structures in Texas, but not here at the northern edge of the Swift’s range.
Swifts are aerial insectivores, and other flying insect-eaters have declined, too. Chimney Swifts winter in South America, and it may be that habitat loss in the upper Amazon Basin is a factor, too.
Sept. 29, 2018: Did you worry about your Study Tree?
We returned to our study area, focusing attention on our Study Tree Woods. Powerful gusts of wind had torn a gash through the forest, knocking over a dozen big Sugar Maples in a row. It was disorienting at first, because the trees are our landmarks. As far as Rob could tell, no current member’s Study Tree was uprooted, and only one that was chosen back in 1992 (the “Sway-based Maple”) was badly damaged — it lost half its crown. These are among our oldest trees, about 150 years.Atanycolus).
Sept. 8, 2018: What makes a collection valuable?
Rob brought out a box of bones and said it had been donated with no more identification than “Tortue sp.” (some kind of turtle). Only one member was interested in having the bits and pieces until Rob revealed that the note also included the location, right down to latitude and longitude, as well as the names of lakes and rivers where the specimens were found. Equally important, this label gave the name of the collector and the date. Rob said that with these three pieces of data — place, date, and collector’s name — this specimen would be acceptable in any museum of natural history. Now another boy wanted it. As for the species, that will have to be worked out by comparison with other specimens in a reference collection. We had a Snapping Turtle skeleton right at hand, and ruled that one out, at least.