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Welcome to the Macoun Field Club!

The Macoun Club was established in 1948 as a joint venture of the National Museum of Canada (Museum of Nature) and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club; since 2006 it has continued under the sole sponsorship of the OFNC. This group is for children and teenagers aged 8 to 18. Activities normally take place on Saturdays during the school year.

Autumn 2022 schedule

Indoor meetings will be every second Saturday, ages 8-11 from 10 a.m. until 11; ages 12 and up, from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. (with flexibility for families with complications). Note that we expect to be wearing masks indoors. There is parking nearby, but not at the building.  See just below for more information on location and parking.

Field trips take place on the alternate Saturdays, typically from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., all ages together. Details of exact times and locations are revealed only to families that contact Rob on the Thursday or Friday before the trip.

Dec. 3, 2022: No field trip (Rob needs a rest)

Dec. 10, 2022: Indoor meeting (younger first, 10 to 11 a.m. for a mini-field-trip with Rob; then older, 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.)

Dec. 17, 2022: Field trip (contact Rob to register for the trip)

Dec. 24 – 31: Christmas holidays — no activities

Jan. 8, 2023: Indoor meeting

For further information, contact Rob for details (and to register for trips).  You can reach him at 623-8123 or e-mail him at macoun@ofnc.ca. Exact hours and locations of field trips are provided only when registering for them.

LOCATION, AND PARKING FOR MEETINGS: We meet in Building 138, the “OFNC – Interpretive Centre,” as it appears at a Google Maps pin, the building at the very end of the lane running east to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden from Prince of Wales Drive, the lane across the road from a big parking lot for the Agricultural Museum. There is no parking for parents at Building 138, or under the trees along the lane; if you want to stay while your child is in the meeting, park in the areas designated between the baseball diamond and the first building you come to, no. 136.

For families that remember how it was before, this year Agriculture Canada will ticket cars parked under the trees along the lane to Building 138, as it is considered an emergency-access route.

See what we’ve done on recent field trips

What we’ve been doing during the pandemic period

Between March 7, 2020 and June 18th, 2022, we ran field trips only. In the autumn of 2022, we will are reestablishing the pattern of meeting indoors one Saturday and outdoors the next.

Since the early summer of 2020, the natural world has been recognized as the safe place to be; COVID-19 is transmitted “in closed spaces, in crowded places, where contact is close and continuous.” Spending time outdoors was recognized by Dr. Anthony Fauci, de facto spokesman for America’s response, as an important means of controlling the pandemic itself, along with physical distancing. The organization Outdoor Play Canada has posted an excellent how-to guide for going out safely; the Macoun Club has endorsed it.

Quote on "spending time outdoors" from Anthony Fauci

Photo of cattail fluff blowing away in the wind, illustrative of airborne dispersal of covid-containing respiratory droplets

In the outdoors, dispersal reduces the concentration of troublesome particles, be they cattail fluff or respiratory droplets

The underlying principle of outdoor safety is that, with the essentially infinite dilution of outdoor air, the chances of acquiring a sufficient viral load from a carrier during passing contact are “infinitesimally small,” to quote BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry. (Indoors, by contrast, respiratory droplets and aerosols accumulate in the air and become concentrated.)

To make indoors acceptably safe, ventilation is calculated to be as effective as wearing masks, and in warm weather, at least, the building we meet in has many windows that will be open. Still, while Covid-19 is still circulating in the early autumn of 2022, we want parents and children to practice constant awareness of an extended personal space until it becomes second nature, and to be prepared to wear our masks indoors.

Families can enquire about the Macoun Club 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[at] ofnc.ca. The Macoun Club is sponsored and supported by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC); there are no fees.

 

 

 

What have we been doing this year?

November 26, 2022: What do you want this city to be?

Photo of Macoun Club group at a presentation by Mike Leveille

Mike challenged our members to have their say

Rob had a surprise for the younger members: a fresh heart

Ottawa educator Mike Leveillé brought an interesting proposal to the Macoun Club’s older group: how could we make Ottawa-Gatineau more the kind of place a nature-oriented populace would want to live in? A conservation initiative is being launched that aims to see nature in the region protected under an umbrella Biodiversity Reserve. There is enough undisturbed, biodiverse nature here, he said — the Mer Bleu Bog, Stony Swamp, and Gatineau Park — to make this a worthwhile endeavour. “We wish to build upon the best practices the world over,” he said, and “make cities healthier and more sustainable.”

One of his questions was: “How do we bring farming in to our urban spaces?” And one of our group answered: “Bring back chickens! ”

For our younger group, Rob brought in something few of them had seen before — a real heart. It had been given to him by a local hunter who had shot a White-tailed Deer. Maybe we’ll dissect it on some field trip to see what the inside looks like, but today we could only poke our fingers into the openings to the main chambers, the ventricles, which pump blood. It was surprising how thick the muscular walls were, compared with the illustrations one always sees.

November 19, 2022: The snow reveals all

Photo of Macoun Club member seated beside impression in the snow where a White-tailed Deer slept

A Deer slept here!

We entered our Nature Study Area through a third access point (parking lot P6, rather than Osprey or Forestview Crescents) and explored the woods along the southern and western edges of the great cedar swamp that is the core of the “Stony Swamp” natural area. A number of big trees had blown over in the powerful windstorm last May, constraining our movements over the landscape, but offering insight into the subterranean world of soil and rock.

Photo of Macoun Club member holding fragment of deer jawbone left by a coyote

A fragment of bone — what is it? The teeth told the tale

Just enough snow had fallen to thoroughly cover this fall’s still-springy leaf litter, and we got a lot of practice identifying unclear animal tracks. The feet of Deer and Coyotes are about the same size, and they walk with about the same space between footsteps, but, as Rob pointed out, Deer drag their toes through the snow and Coyotes don’t. Both animals curl up and sleep on the snow, but deer beds are round on one side and straight on the other, where their long legs are folded up. Macouners soon remembered how to distinguish Fisher and Porcupine tracks, too — and we were able to find one of the two Porcupines that had left tracks. It was in the very top of a very tall cedar tree.

Before lunch, we found a Winter Moth so quiet we wondered if it might be dead, but while we were eating the temperature rose just above freezing and another one of these moths flew by.

Coyotes, of course, prey on White-tailed Deer and Max found a fragment of a deer’s jaw, all chewed up by these predators, and recognizable to us by its teeth.

 

November 12, 2022: How are chainsaws and velcro alike?

Photo of Macoun Club members gathered together to see something surprising

Even Rob rushed over to see what was moving on the supposedly inanimate stick

Rob took his chainsaw to the meeting today, and plunked it down on the table. How would he make this relevant to the young naturalists of the Macoun Club? He did say that chainsaws have enabled the rapid deforestation of large parts of the world. Before their invention in the 1940s, trees had to be cut down by men swinging axes or pulling crosscut saws back and forth, but the role of the machine was not. He also tossed his old, worn-out rain-jacket onto the table, and the question became, what did they have in common?

Photo of White-egg Bird's Nest Fungi (Crucibulum laeve)

A looper among the Bird’s Nest Fungi

After 35 years of use, the only parts of the rain-jacket that still work are the velcro cuffs of the sleeves, and even our young  Macoun members knew that they had been inspired by something in nature (burdock). But the chainsaw? Mechanical saws had been invented by the 1940s, but with teeth copied from hand-saws, and they jammed with sawdust. It took a thoughtful logger to have a look at the teeth of Sawyer Beetle larvae, and they turned out to be C-shaped, not V-shaped. Applied to chainsaws, beetle-style teeth work.

Impressive as a chainsaw is, even when it isn’t running, what really grabbed the kids’ attention was something moving among the splash cups of Bird’s Nest Fungi that Rob had also brought in. What looked  like a minute twig was slowly waving about, reaching out, and then hauling its tail-end up to the front — an inchworm, or looper (a moth-caterpillar camouflaged, and behaviourally primed, to look like a dead twig). Not even the minute splash cups could match that.

November 5, 2022: Record warmth brings out the snakes and frogs

Photo of overwintering Bald-face Hornet queen found under log

Overwintering Bald-face Hornet queen found under log

Our Study Area is a big place, and by entering from the eastern side, opposite our usual entrance (Forestview Crescent vs. Osprey Cres.) we were able to be out four hours without coming near anyplace we’ve been before this fall.

Photo of 17 Deer Ticks collected off clothing in the field

Deer Ticks collected off our clothing

Right away we began rolling logs in hopes of finding salamanders again, but on this side of the Study Area none came to light. Instead, we kept finding darkly pigmented, immature earthworms in the genus Lumbricus, and slugs (the grey Arion sylvaticus and the orange-slimed A. subfuscus). This, too, was different from the western side. Under one log, we uncovered a large, black-and-white wasp (a Bald-face Hornet, Dolichovespula maculata), curled up in a over-wintering cell she had packed round with sawdust.

Photo of Macoun Club members all trying to hold a Garter Snake

Garter Snakes are always the center of attention

We approached “Pond V” but it was surrounded by a wide, wet belt of tall cattails, and we couldn’t even see it without retreating to higher ground. Along the way, we walked through brushy vegetation — and began to find Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) walking over our clothing. Rather than just brush them off, Rob collected them in a vial, accumulating 17 specimens. (At home, he determined that 4 of the 17 were males.)  This was altogether too much like last year’s field trip, almost on the same date (Nov. 7, 2021) when we found 18 ticks, and not very far away, either.

In compensation, the warm weather (we registered a high of 25º C; even the official 23º was a record for this date) brought out Garter Snakes, and, in other places, frogs: Wood Frog and Spring Peepers on land, and Green Frogs in shallow waters.

 

 

Oct. 29, 2022: Skulls and other bones

Photo of Macoun Club members examining our bone and skull collection

The older members figured the skeleton in hand was that of a Great Grey Owl

Five years ago naturalist Jim Montgomery donated his childhood collection of skulls and other bones. He began collecting in June, 1963.

During the closure of the Resource Centre, where we might have kept an eye on it, mice shredded the catalogue into nest material. But Rob had made a copy when we acquired the collection, and replaced it. Today we got all the bones out and cleaned everything up.

The skulls are beautifully prepared, and the numbers on them allowed us to link them up with their names. It was also a rare opportunity for kids to get a feel for animals ranging in size from shrews to bears. Difference in teeth became obvious, and differences in weight between mammals and birds were dramatic.

We mean to make use of this resource material in the meetings ahead.

 

Oct. 22, 2022: Introduction to the “Study” in Study Area

Photo of Macoun Club member using an amphbian-identification chart from the Toronto Zoo

Trying to sort out the salamanders we found last week

Since the 1950s, the Macoun Club has had a series of nature-study areas, but the only one that has lasted is the one we went to last week. When the Club first began to explore there in 1970, the area was literally out in the country, with indefinite boundaries. Urban development now sandwiches it between Bells Corners and Bridlewood (Kanata).

Down through the decades, Macouners have dreamed up all kinds of study projects, done the fieldwork, and reported their findings in the Club’s publication, The Little Bear. (This publication was suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic, but plans for its resumption are afoot.)

Ten years ago, everything we have ever published was assembled in a single volume, “The 42-year Little Bear Book on the Macoun Club Study Area,” and Rob passed this weighty volume around the table for examination, and perhaps inspiration.

 

October 15, 2022: Salamanders, beginning to end

Photo of yellow spotted salamander found under log

Yellow-spotted Salamander: acorn gives scale

Photo of Macoun Club members clambering around in a forest blown over sideways

A forest on its side? Our Study Tree Woods 5 months after the May 21st windstorm

We had hardly started into the Study Area woods from the Bridlewood side when Macouners began finding salamanders under logs. There was a small Blue-spotted Salamander, and a big one with a pronounced curvature of the spine. Then, a salamander with yellow spots. Over 50 years we have found hundreds and hundreds of salamanders of different kinds, but only once before, in 2017, did we come across a Yellow-spotted Salamander. This was in a location too distant to be the same individual.

Other under-log finds were mainly small millipedes (family Julidae) and earthworms. Out on the open ground (thickly covered with fallen leaves) we found two Garter Snakes.

We made for our Study Tree Woods and ate lunch there, exploring both above ground and in the spaces exposed to view by uprooted trees that were flung aside by the windstorm of May 21st.

Quite abruptly the blue skies changed to grey, and not long after lunchtime it began to rain. On our long walk out, we found more salamanders — another Blue-spotted, and the day’s only Red Eft.

 

Oct. 1, 2022: How we found our way in the woods

Photo of Macoun Club members checking under a rotting log

Everyone was looking under logs and stones

Putting what we discussed last week to use, we started on the old sugar-bush trails across the road from Rob’s house. It had been a late start, so we had lunch almost right away, seated on the ground or on handy logs. Rob’s meal was frequently interrupted by a stream of visitors bringing beetles and caterpillars and millipedes for him to inspect — a Spring Peeper leapt from the hand that held it and narrowly missed his cup of apple cider.

After eating we continued uphill — and kept the sun more or less behind us. We left the trails, which were leaf-covered and pretty hard to see anyway, and proceeded through a grove dominated by Red Pines, then dropped down a steep slope into the dry basin of a vernal pond. The vegetation covering its bottom smelled strongly of mint. We found snail shells and tiny pea clams.

Climbing out of the green-bottomed basin, we now walked toward the westering sun. Everywhere we were looking under rotting logs and mossy rocks, but it was a long time before we found a salamander. Within minutes we found a second one, both of them Blue-spotted.

Partway down another slope, we turned left, now keeping the late-afternoon sun to our right as we twisted and turned through the thicker parts of the forest. We came out on trails we had not seen in the morning, and they took us to a road — the road that Rob lives along.

And then Rob asked, which way should we turn, to get back to our cars, parked in his laneway?

Sept. 24, 2022: How to find your way in the woods

Photo of Macoun Club meeting with leader Rob Lee giving a talk

Rob explained the method he has evolved for finding your way out of the woods

Have you ever been a little bit lost? Leader Rob Lee asked Macouners how you avoid this embarrassment, and even little kids knew to pay attention to landmarks such as an unusual mushroom or tree. Others said to take note of where the sun is, or, at night, the North Star. Rob added a helpful tip: when you leave a trail even for a minute, cast a glance behind you to see what it’ll look like when you try to find it again. (This is a good idea even on a regular trail, especially when one path merges with the one you’re following, because it’ll look like a fork when you come back.)

And if you do get lost? The authorities say you should stay where you are, because then you won’t wander for hours and be so hard to find. But Rob recounted his own method, which he had to use himself one drizzly day in the woods.

Generally, one is not very far from the trail or campsite or lakeshore you left. Knowing that people tend to walk in circles, he worked out how to walk in a straight line: mark an obvious tree by leaning sticks up against it all around and walk away. While it is still easy to see, lean sticks up against another tree on just one side. Before the first tree disappears, line the two trees up and mark a third. Keep marking trees in the same pattern as you go along, and you’ll be going in a straight line.

If you have a compass, you’ll have been going in a sensible direction and come out somewhere; if not, after a while you’ll turn around and go back to the first tree, and extend the straight line in the other direction. If that fails, you go back and mark out a new line at right angles to what you’ve already done, and then in the other direction.

At the very least, you will be confident that you haven’t have moved farther into the forest than you were when you realized you were lost. And at best, your first guess will bring you to something you know — because you stayed on a straight line. You will have found your own way out of the woods.

 

Sept. 17, 2022: Return to “Pakenham”

Photo of Macoun Club group having lunch on a rocky slope in the woods

Lunch on the dry rocks of the waterfall

It is good to get out in the Lanark County wilds before the various hunting seasons get under way (next week is the start of duck-hunting; the only real danger is in the first two weeks of November, when deer are hunted with high-powered rifles). And we had a lovely early autumn day to ourselves.

Photo of Macoun Club members crossing a creek on a fallen tree

Crossing the creek on a fallen tree

Late-season wildflowers were blooming along the trailside: Large-leafed and other Asters and goldenrods were prominent. Only one single blossom of Cardinal Flower was noted, instead of late-summer spikes and masses by the stream-side. Mushrooms were the class of organism that drew attention the most. We found fragrant, orange Chanterelles several times, pink-topped Russulas, yellow boletes, and Scarlet Waxy Caps.

Not one salamander could be found, even under our most reliable logs. Just a few tiny millipedes and inconspicuous spiders. Birds were few: Rob heard a Blue-headed Vireo singing, and two Chickadees announced themselves by calling their own name. We found a Chipmunk tail, freshly severed. Since this was the middle of the day, it had probably been bitten off by an aggressive fellow Chipmunk, rather than an owl; we saw one furious chase.

We ate lunch on the sloping rocks beside the Indian Creek waterfall, with the kids searching out crayfish in stranded pools, and crossing to the other side on a big pine that had blown down last May.

One member who had registered for the field trip couldn’t come — Covid-19 developed between Thursday and Friday.

Sept. 10, 2022: First full meeting in more than 2 years

Photo of Macoun Club members seated around the table

Part of our routine is getiting out the bird books for Observations

We made a tentative start to a normal pattern of indoor and outdoor activities, but returned to an even older pattern by having two successive hour-long meetings, divided by age. We wore masks to comply with the Covid-19 restrictions that apply to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden’s “Resource Centre,” coupled with as much ventilation as we could get, with all the windows open. Ventilation is the equivalent of masking, so we were doubly protected.

Photo of Macoun Club members seated at meeting table

Our fish expert wants to know why

New members were introduced to the concept of “Observations,” when any natural thing we have seen recently can be reported. Birds are a frequent subject, and to assist with a common understanding of what we’re talking about, we hand out copies of a field guide for use during the meeting. Whoever finds the species first calls out something like, “It’s on page 93, at the top.”

Rob brought in a large, ball-like object, visible on the table at right. “Is it a skull?” someone asked. “Or a mushroom?” It was a Giant Puffball, and Rob said he was going to take it back home and eat it.

We finished up each group’s meeting by going outside and seeing what could be found in the Fletcher Wildlife Garden all around the building. There were frogs and toads, birds at the feeder and birds in the trees, and squirrels.

For what we did last year (Sept. 2021 to June 2022), look under “Past activities” in the black menu bar above

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