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Welcome to the Macoun Field Club!

Until May 8th, this is still The Macoun Club’s 75th year! It was established in May 1948 as a joint venture of the National Museum of Canada (Museum of Nature) and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club; since 2010 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.

Winter 2023-24 schedule

Indoor meetings alternate with field trips on Saturdays. Sometimes we hold two age-defined meetings in a morning, and sometimes a single, 2-hour meeting. At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, there is parking nearby, but not at the building.  See just below for more information on location and parking there. Some meetings are held at the St Laurent Academy.

Field trips will take place on the alternate Saturdays, typically from 10 a.m. until 3 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.

Schedule of events

April 20: Field trip to the Study Area

April 27: Indoor meeting

May 4: Field trip

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: Except for special occasions, 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

 

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

Where we are now in the Covid-19 pandemic

Covid-19 was on the upswing in Ottawa until early January 2024, still infecting people personally known to the leaders. At that point, the viral signal in Ottawa wastewater had gone up more than ten-fold since mid-July, and was considered high. By March, however, the signal had fallen to last summer’s low levels.

We do not have to wear masks indoors to protect others, but some of us will be doing so because of personal vulnerabilities. Outdoors, we do not consider masks necessary at all.

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?

April 13, 2024: Mike’s visit to Costa Rica

Photo of Macoun Club group at tables

Mike Leveille (in the back corner) and Macouners

Mike Leveille has visited Costa Rica in Central America more than once, most recently this spring, and has created a series of short videos through which he shares his interests and experiences. He began with a video featuring a tour guide, who provided an overview of this tropical country, and then a one of a riverboat ride in search of Crocodiles (they found one, hauled out on a mudbank). Other videos focused on some of the country’s export crops that might interest Canadians: the production of coffee, pineapple, and chocolate (he passed around samples). Finally he showed a video focusing on the volcanic aspect of Costa Rica’s geology. It is a small country but has a half-dozen volcanoes. None were active during Mike’s visits, but he did visit some hot mud volcanoes that bubbled and plopped.

 

 

April 13, 2024: OFNC Awards Night

Photo of Macoun Club member showcasing his ant project

Young Corbin explaining his ant project to former leader Ernie Brodo

Every year the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club hosts a social event at which Macoun Club plays a prominent role. Macoun members have the opportunity to create and present displays on some natural subject of their own choosing. This year Corbin took the opportunity to explain to the adults circulating the room the natural history of local ants in the genus Lasius.

The formal part of the evening traditionally begins with a speech by the Macoun Club president. This year Miranda had the idea of a joint address by herself as president, Mozz as vice-president, and Corbin as enthusiastic general member. This proved very effective.

The evening finished with a nature quiz hosted by Macoun Club volunteer Mike Leveille: he challenged the adult naturalists with samples of tree bark (what species?) and beetle galleries (again, what species?), bird and mammal skulls, and mineral specimens.

February 24, 2024: Why do campfire embers glow?

Three weeks ago, Rob had led an exploration into the nature of fire. Hours afterward, he realized that he himself didn’t know why exactly things like flame glow. Things like campfire embers and stars, too. This turned out to be a very tough problem in physics.

Why should a campfire ember – a lump of carbon — emit light and heat, which are both forms of electromagnetic radiation? Even when it has cooled enough to look grey to our eyes, but is still hot, we can still sense its infrared radiation with our skin. In fact, anything with a temperature – anything above absolute zero – emits electromagnetic radiation.

Rob proposed a thought experiment in which Macouners can prove that even they glow with electromagnetic radiation.  Suppose, he said, that you go into a windowless room and close the door. Fumbling in the dark, you open a box and reach into it. Then the rattlesnake you keep inside will very accurately bite you, because it is a cold-blooded pit viper and can sense where your hand is from your warm-blooded infrared – electromagnetic — glow.

Rob demonstrated the underlying reason for what is called “black-body radiation,” which approximates the glow of soot particles in flames and the shining of stars, by moving a random object about in a tray of water, generating ripples. Within all substances, he said, the electromagnetic fields of charged particles (like electrons and ions) are disturbed by any kind of acceleration, and the disturbance within the field moves outward as an electromagnetic wave.

February 10, 2024:  But where does it go on the Tree of Life?

Photo of Macoun Club members grouping animal models on the Tree of Life

Would you know where they go?

Have you ever held a spider or a scorpion, a shark or a dinosaur? For most of us these creatures appear as two-dimensional images on a digital screen. Today we got to handle small plastic models of hundreds of different creatures, and feel how their bodies are put together.

Mike Levielle has acquired vast numbers of realistic models over the years, yet Macouners seemed to recognize everything he could throw at them. Then the question was, where do they go on the Tree of Life? What goes with what, and did its group branch off early or late in the course of evolutionary time?

After an hour or so, everything had found its right place.

 

 

 

February 3, 2024:

Photo of Macoun Club members visiting their Study Tree, a Paper Birch for the first time in months.

Max and Calum get to see their Study Tree for the first time in months!

The combination of three unusual weather-related factors determined the length and location of today’s field trip: a several-week old crust of ice over 18 cm of snow; a lack of fresh snow to bury the crust; and relatively high temperatures. We went to the Study Area where we don’t need (and can’t have) a lunch fire, and made only limited forays off-trail, for just over two hours. The trails themselves were so icy that few people were out, and those who were couldn’t walk side-by-side in the slippery troughs beaten into the hard-packed snow.

We ate lunch in our Study Tree Woods, and attempted little more than a survey of the nearest Study Trees. The ice storm that had crusted the snow had not been severe enough to break any branches, so all seemed well — except for Nathan’s Eastern White Cedar. It has become the favourite feeding tree of a new Porcupine, which lives under Philippe’s tipped-over Sugar Maple, and the Cedar is looking thin. There is a well-wallowed trail between the two.

Most mammals seem able to travel over the ice crust: only we and the Deer punch through it. Somehow the Grey Squirrels are able to penetrate it and retrieve buried acorns that they must find by memory — surely no acorn smell can come up through the ice.

The woods were empty of birds, but on our way out, we found a second Porcupine in its den — the little culvert under the east-west access road.

 

January 27, 2024: Fire!

Photo of Macoun Club members considering a lit candle

What exactly is a candle flame?

“What is fire?” Rob asked. From the partial answers the kids gave, he led a discussion that ranged from the fossil record of fires during the Silurian period to what happens when a candle is lit in the International Space Station. He even lit a candle so that we could examine the components of a flame, and think about exactly what is actually burning.

Where does the heat and light liberated by burning wax (or firewood) come from? Rob told the story of his grandmother who, on a baking hot day a hundred years ago, wished she could store up some of that heat for wintertime. “But we do!” her father (who was only a lawyer, but knew some important things anyway) declared: “The trees are storing up the light from the sun, and we let it out when we have a fire.” And wax, like crude oil and coal, is a hydrocarbon, filled with solar energy stored up hundreds of millions of years ago.

What about the sun? Rob asked today’s group. “It’s a big ball of fire” someone stated.  “Is It? How can it be burning, if there can’t be any oxidation?”

And on a practical level, why is it that campfires go out just before you’ve got your food cooked? (Challenging hint: gravity is a factor.)  Why does campfire smoke make your eyes smart so much? (Free radicals.) What’s a free radical? (Only the older kids, who have had high-school science classes, had some idea about this one.)

At the end, Rob adjourned the meeting by blowing out the candle. (One more question: “How is it that you can blow out a candle, when blowing on a dying campfire brings it back to life?”)

November 25, 2023: Wintry explorations

Photo of Macoun Club members gingerly peering through thin, clear ice

Macoun Club members looking through clear ice too thin to bear their weight

After a mile of walking down a “Use at your own Risk” road in Lanark County, we broke away into terrain so rugged that apparently no one goes cross-country there. We knew this from the dead, dry pine twigs and branches at eye level wherever we went. It was upland country, with pine and oak trees, interrupted by long beaver ponds occupying irregular troughs in the granite exposed in every ridge.

Photo of frog that leapt out onto ice and froze to a stop

The frog that leapt the wrong way

We did not walk on the ice of the ponds, which was less than an inch thick and filled with bubbles (because it formed during a snowstorm). But it was fun pushing the limits of safety over the shallows. The shelf of ice along a stream was clear, and we were excited to watch a frog was lethargically kicking its way into hiding.

At lunchtime, firewood was close at hand and plentiful; we had two fires.  Afterward, Rob drew attention to a wide band of milky quartz running through the pink granite – the kind of thing the original inhabitants of this land might have sought for toolmaking, seeing as the commonplace granite is utterly useless.

And after lunch, we probed deeper into the hills, and crossed to the far shore of some ponds by walking on the crests of the beaver dams. We were intrigued to discover that one pond, perched high above a valley, drained out by means of an underground channel that emerged, bubbling, partway down the hill.

Along the sunny side of a frozen marsh, a frog had nosed out where the ice touching the shore had melted. Seeing us bearing down on it, the frog leapt in alarm – and landed on the ice surface, rather than below, where it should have gone. There it managed another feeble kick and stopped, suddenly too chilled to move again.  It was just a metre away, but no one dared take a step toward it. Rob rescued it, by placing two stout sticks on the ice and extending himself across them.

Nov. 18, 2023: What our local rocks say about the history of the world

Photo of Macoun Club leader Rob Lee explaining continental drift with a globe

Rob Lee explaining continental drift

“Why are there continents?” were Rob’s opening words, as he placed his childhood globe on the table. He then passed around fist-sized specimens of continental rocks (granite, light-coloured, and light in weight) and black deep-sea-bottom rock (basalt, dense and heavy). Continents “float,” he said, and always have – and they slide about on a current of molten rock underneath — everyone had heard about continental drift.

The globe made it easy to see how Africa was once tucked into the side of the Americas in a supercontinent called Pangea, which Macouners had also heard about. But how had geologists figured out how other parts of the world had moved about, become welded together, split apart and gone drifting again? As magma cools and solidifies, iron particles within it become frozen in the north-south orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field. Here Rob brought out his pocket compass, and tipping it sideways, showed that the lines of the magnetic field, flat at the equator, point somewhat downward in Ottawa, as well as north. The rocks, he said, also preserve the latitude of the continent at the time of cooling, and if you can figure out when that happened, you can work out the overall picture.

Rob pointed to the Gatineau Hills on the room’s big wall map, explaining that when continents collided here more than a billion years ago, the crust had crumpled, raising great mountains. So much time has passed that they have eroded away, washed down to the sea. And the Ottawa Valley – that’s where the supercontinent started to split apart, sank, and stopped – the splitting continuing where it would make the Atlantic Ocean, a process continuing to the present day.

Nov. 11, 2023: From bedrock geology to mushrooms

Photo of Macoun Field Club members in a tangle of downed trees

Kids having too much fun to sit down for lunch

We entered our Study Area at its southeast corner and spread out when we got to the open expanse of sandstone that is filled with interesting features: a tiny quarry pit from early farming days, glacial chattermarks and polish from 20,000 years ago, and fossil ripple marks from the time, 500 million years ago when this was a beach. We also took note of the mainly parallel joints in the bedrock that we understand to be pressure cracks from the ongoing tectonic forces spreading the Atlantic Ocean apart (continental drift). The cracks are the only places where plants can gain a foothold.

But that open place was chilly in the wind, and we found a sheltered place in a hardwood forest, down below the dolomite escarpment – rocks that overlie the older sandstone. Our way was obstructed by fallen ash trees killed by Emerald Ash Borer and other species knocked over by the May 21, 2022 windstorm (the “derecho”).

Rob had a destination in mind – the western shores of the big beaver pond you would see if you visited the Sarsaparilla Trail on the east. He led along the margin of the big cedar swamp at the foot of the escarpment slope – favoured habitat of Yellow Birches and through the trackless intervening forests.

On the very shore of the pond, Macouners discovered a patch of big, gilled mushrooms (long past their prime) that were, astonishingly, heavily scented like the best maple syrup! They were called Candy Caps.

Nov. 4, 2023: The most dangerous time in a turtle’s life

Photo of herpetologist Dave Seburn showing images of turtles to the Macoun Field Club

Dave reviewed the different kinds of turtles that may be found in Ontario

You might think a turtle’s life is most at risk when it’s slowly crossing a road, even stopping to pull its head in when a massive and scary car passes by. But, as herpetologist Dave Seburn explained to us, the most dangerous time in a turtle’s life isn’t when it’s a turtle at all.

It’s when it is just one of a clutch of 10 or 20 freshly laid eggs that an adult has just buried in the ground. Turtle “nests” have to be in a particular kind of soil, so that the eggs will develop and hatch. Predators get to know these kinds of place, and when predators are numerous, turtles have little chance of surviving.

Although the mother turtle can fill in the hole and smooth out the surface so that a human can’t detect the nest, mammals with noses can smell them out. They’ll scratch open the nest, pull the eggs out, and eat every one.

Dave runs a program through the Canadian Wildlife Federation that aims to take the eggs out of this dangerous place, incubate them until they hatch, and return them to that place. This way, the second most dangerous time (when hatchlings are scrambling out of the earth and making their way to water) is also bypassed.

To do this, Dave and his coworkers (who include former member Mackenzie Burns) have to find turtles as they’re laying their eggs and wait for them to finish. Then they have to dig up the eggs without damaging them, make sure they don’t get turned sideways or upside-down, and record location information.

Maybe six weeks later, the eggs should hatch, and be strong enough to release a few days after that. And back they go to the wetland nearest to the original nests. In a good year, Dave’s group can save 1000 turtles.

Oct. 28, 2023: Visit to the Study Tree Woods

Photo looking up at crown of Red Oak just chosen by Macoun Club member Owen

Owen chose one of the biggest Red Oaks around

Photo of Spring Peeper on Macoun Club member's thumb

Kids were catching Spring Peepers in the maple woods

In the month and more since we visited our Study Trees (Sept. 16th) the forest had changed from green to patches of gold among the bare limbs. It was a now-rare warm day, and we found Garter Snakes and Spring Peepers, but under logs and rocks, though we still found Blue-spotted Salamanders, the ants and most other invertebrates had retreated underground for the winter. A burst of sunshine brought a brightly coloured Comma butterfly out, and we saw one red Meadowhawk dragonfly. Deer Ticks also woke up, and we caught three after crashing through some bushes and tall grass.

We revisited established Study Trees — a White Elm log and a Yellow Birch perched up on stilt-like roots. New members were inspired to choose their own Study Trees — Red Oaks, Sugar Maples, a Basswood, and Ironwoods — seven in all.

Oct. 21, 2023: Our 75th anniversary party!

Photo of cake commemorating the Macoun Field Club's 75th anniversary

Seventy-five years of Macoun Club, eaten up in an hour

Not since the 50th anniversary has there been such a gathering of Macoun Club people from past and present. Representatives from each of the past seven decades came together in the Museum of Nature to find old friends and make new ones, open the pages of our historical record, and hear what today’s kids have to say about the Club now.

Former Macoun Club chairman Dr. Ernie Brodo at the podium

Dr. Ernie Brodo spoke to the assembled guests

The Macoun Field Club began on May 8, 1948 with just three members, but within five years numbered 60, growing to three age groups of 30 each in the 1960s. The joint sponsorship of the Museum and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club survived more than 50 years, and the Macoun Club, as this gathering showed, has survived even the periods of prohibition imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo of Macoun Club's 75th anniversary gathering, in Museum of Nature theatre

Former members, current members, leaders past and present, and parents sat together in the audience

The current chairman, Rob Lee, presented a historical overview under a theatre screen of classic pictures of Club people and activities past and present, and laid out a selection of historical materials for inspection: tattered and yellowing registration forms, attendance books and reports on presentations, and Little Bear magazines as originally printed.

Former chairman Dr. Ernie Brodo spoke of the sixties and seventies, formative in so many ways, during which he launched the Nature Study Area we all visit now, and the current president of the OFNC, Jakob Mueller, drew connections between the tales of adventure we heard from former members and his own personal experience.

Oct. 14, 2023: What is wood, anyway?

Photo of Macoun Field Club meeting, hands up to answer Jen Line's question

In Macoun meetings, questions fly thick and fast

Wood — we all know it when we see it, whether in furniture, firewood, or the logs we roll over to find salamanders. But what is it, really?  Former member Jen Line set out to answer this question, proceeding from the cellular level to the annual rings we can see in a stump.

Some kinds of plants have what it takes to qualify as wood, and some don’t. Mosses certainly don’t — they lack the microscopic tubes that carry water and food up and down their stems. Trees have these tubes. As growth takes place at the cellular level, water-carrying tubes form toward the inner side of a dividing layer called the cambium, and food-carrying tubes on the outer side. The former (xylem) become the wood, the latter (phloem), the inner bark. This process repeats every year.

But that isn’t what makes the annual rings visible in a cross-section, whether a stump or a microscope slide. The microscopic view shows a mass of big water-carrying cells that formed in spring and early summer, when so much water was needed to balance the huge and unavoidable evaporative losses from the leaves, and toward the outside of that, a band of much smaller cells of the same type — denser and darker — from when much less water needed to be moved. This pattern, repeated every year, is what makes annual rings.

Sept. 30, 2023: Fossils at low water in Pakenham village

Photo of Ordovician fossil colonial coral, perhaps Lyopora hall, from Pakenham, Ontario

Fossil of a colonial coral, Lyopora halli

This field trip had three parts: we began with a return to the Ordovician period and its fossils, shifted to lunch by a nearly dried-up waterfall, and finished with a visit to a hunter’s cabin.

The fossils, often much larger than those found last week, were in limestone bedrock surfaces exposed above and below the bridge in Pakenham village. These rocks are older than the shales seen last week. There were corals, stromatolites, and crinoid stalk fragments.

Photo of crayfish gingerly held in fingertips

Kids learn how to handle reluctant creatures

In the water running by the fossil-beds, however, were living invertebrates — stonefly larvae and crayfish — that drew everyone’s attention away from the long, long-dead remains in the rocks.

Photo of retired CWS wildlife-habitat manager Gerry Lee addressing Macoun Club group

Goose hunter Gerry explaining goose ecology

We delayed eating lunch until we reached a hidden waterfall on Indian Creek, which no sign advertises and where no trail leads. Again there were crayfish in the pools.

Pushing on a little deeper into the woods, we came to Gerry Lee’s cabin where he was almost waiting for us, ready to acquaint us with the waterfowl survey he has to fill out after shooting a goose, and why it is done. (Greatly increased goose populations, fed on southern agricultural field waste, have gotten out of balance with the limited food resources of the arctic, where they raise their families.) While Gerry and his goose were interesting, kids nosed around and came running up with their own finds — bones from rabbit and deer.

Sept. 23, 2023: Finding the finest fossils . . . and losing them

Photo of Macoun Club people searching shale piles for fossils

Mike Leveille (centre) led the group in finding fossils

Photo of fossil trilobite (Triarthrus rougenis) partly replaced by pryites

Fossil trilobite (Triarthris rougensis) in shale, partly replaced by pyrites

In Ottawa east, truckloads of rubble have been dumped in an out-of-the-way spot, with no official recognition of the treasures they contain. But they caught they eye of Macoun Club leader Mike Leveille, who has a special interest in the fossils of the Ordovician. Really good specimens would catch anyone’s eye, because they sometimes gleam gold on black — fool’s gold, or iron pyrites — on black shale.

But, Mike cautioned, beware of such fossils with a yellowish stain spreading out from them across the shale. It is a sign of destructive oxidation of the iron. He jokingly calls it “pyrite disease.” After 450 million years of preservation, breaking it open to find the fossil inside initiates the reduction of your specimen to dust in just a few short months.

Photo of Eastern Newt crawling under log

Eastern Newt crawling back under cover

Sept. 16, 2023: Salamanders in our Study Area

For some of us, this was a first introduction to our Nature Study Area in Ottawa’s western greenbelt. For others it was a return to well remembered places and scenes.

 

 

 

 

Sept. 9, 2023: Beginning of a new Macoun Club year

Photo of leader Rob Lee addressing the kids of the Macoun Club in their meeting room

Rob Lee addressing the newly reassembled Macoun Club

Many new families brought their children to our start-up meeting. We shared observations of nature accumulated over the summer. Rob presented a slide show reviewing the previous year’s activities.

 

 

 

 

What did we do last year?

June 24, 2023:  End-of-year party!

Photo of Macoun Club members watching the Bill Mason film, Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes

We ran our traditional year-end film, Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes. Fans will recognize the scene.

We gathered for the last event of the 2022-23 school year, sharing observations as usual and watching our traditional outdoors film, Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes, by Bill Mason. We delight in its humour, surprises, and drama, and absorb its lessons in glacial geology and conservation.  This 20-minute film has been shown at the end of probably every year since it came out in 1968.

We handed out awards for strong participation in our program, and presented each member with a copy of The Little Bear, under a bright orange cover. This is Issue No. 75, appropriately marking the 75th anniversary of the Macoun Club. A major celebration is planned for next fall, on Oct. 21st.

Finally, we turned to the food families had brought, such as home-baked muffins, brownies and fresh fruit. There was time, at last, for the leaders to engage with the various parents who enable their kids to attend under all kinds of trying circumstances.

June 17, 2023: Not hot enough for us!

Photo of Macoun Club members searching a pond

The creek has gone down: what has been trapped in this pool?

We went to Pakenham. Just like May 27th, it was not hot enough to entice us into the water, though Indian Creek did draw us to its banks twice. On the way, we sent hundreds of toad tadpoles streaming away from us in a shrinking vernal pool in a sandpit; many had already transformed and were hopping around like small insects on the surrounding ground. We found the crushed remains of a Painted Turtle on the road into the woods, so when we came upon a Blandings Turtle, we moved it off to the side. A photograph of its shell pattern did not match any individual previously seen in the area.

We ate lunch by the waterfall on Indian Creek, and then searched the waters for crayfish. Rob introduced everyone to the peppery, tongue-numbing properties of Prickly Ash’s inner bark.

We visited Gerry’s cabin, too, and found more creatures in a calmer part of the creek. We enticed striped minnows called Dace into view with breadcrumbs, and Rob caught a long red-bellied leech in his hands. It never bit — just wanted to get back to the water.

June 10, 2023: Fishes of the ancient past and of the deep sea

Photo of Macoun Club members with Mike Leveille, viewing a video showing an angler fish specimen

Mike Leveille had filmed a preserved angler fish

Following up our fossil trip three weeks ago, Mike Leveille presented two videos he had put together. The first explored the early fish of the Devonian period. In the second, he had interviewed the curators of the London Museum of Natural History about their collections of deep-sea fish.

The greatest excitement, however, was elicited by a bucketful of hundreds of realistic animal models, every one of which our members were keen to name as fast as they could.

 

 

June 3, 2023: Return to our Study Area

Photo of male parasitic wasps trying to reach a female not yet emerged

Male parasitic wasps crowded around a female still in the tree

On the first cool day after a week of 30º to 35º weather, we gave up plans for wading in the ponds. Although birds were singing – Red-eyed Vireos and Pewees, but no Ovenbirds – our group focused on invertebrates.

We had hardly reached our Study Area when we happened on a swarm of ichneumons wasps clustered around a hole in a dead Sugar Maple. We surmised that there was some living thing inside that had drawn them but could not fathom what. (Expert comment subsequently suggested that a female had drawn a swarm of males — Megarhyssa atra, plus one M. greenei at the lower left.)

 

 

May 27, 2023: Who could stay in on such a beautiful spring day?

Photo of Macoun Club members in an new place

There is adventure even in an urban park

We had scheduled an indoor meeting, but the sun was shining and breeze blowing, and we just gave it up. Rob led the younger kids out through the Backyard Garden and across the expansive lawn below. He had books and maps and a plan for visiting special Arboretum trees, but Oskar asked if we could climb the steep hill beyond the flats, and Rob said yes. Before we could get there, the whole group swung away to gather by the water. Yellow Warblers and other birds were singing, and we found frogs and turtles.

 

 

 

 

May 13, 2023: Dipping into Ordovician muds

Photo of spiny trilobite found on Macoun Club trip: Billings Shale, Ordovician, from Ottawa, Ontario

Small trilobite fossil in Billings Shale (Ordovician)

Four-hundred and fifty million years ago, dying sea creatures – long, tapered nautiloids, graptolites, “inarticulate” brachiopods, and spiny trilobites – were settling onto the muddy sea floor. They got buried, turned to stone, and in our 21st century, got dug up for some construction project and were dumped as landfill near the Macoun Marsh in Ottawa. Today the Macoun Club pawed through the slabs of black, oily shale looking for the fossilized remains of those creatures, and we were well rewarded. Macoun Club leader Mike Leveille used a heavy hammer to break open the bigger boulders, but most of our finds were made just by turning over loose pieces. Mike explained what kinds of animals the fossils represented, and everyone went away happy.

May 6, 2023: Spring in our Study Area

We made for our Study Tree woods, and ate lunch on the trees that had blown over in last year’s wild windstorm.

April 22, 2023: Nature art for The Little Bear

The Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on the Macoun Club, and our annual magazine, The Little Bear, has been one of the casualties. Rob handed out copies of the last one produced, from 2019, for inspection, and then we discussed what we could do for a special issue. After all, this is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Macoun Club.

We couldn’t very well write articles on the spot, but we could draw natural-history subjects for the publication.

April 15, 2023: Maple taffy

Photo of Macoun Club member pushing the limits on a log over water

He must have known there’s no way back!

The Macoun group came out to Rob’s place just a week too late to take part in his sap-boiling operation. All the snow had melted and the vernal ponds were full. Instead, Rob led over his sugar-bush trails the long way round. We found Blue-spotted Salamanders under logs high up on the hill. We came down to a pond and had lunch. Max lost his bowl and had to swim after it – he came out shivering.

Meanwhile, Peggy had been boiling down syrup until it was quite thick, and Rob produced some coarse snow he’d saved for the occasion. We suspended the pot of thickened syrup over the fire and soon were spooning hot taffy onto bowls filled with snow. There was enough for everybody to have all they wanted.

March 25, 2023: What do you know about Black Rat Snakes?

Photo of Macoun Club meeting

I know the answer to that!

Are they venomous? How large can they get? Member Priya Morbia gave a presentation on these snakes, which do not occur in the Ottawa region. She had worked with the scientific team studying them while she was employed as a naturalist in Murphy’s Point Provincial Park last summer. For the older members, she added detailed advice on how to go about getting summer jobs in the parks system.

 

 

 

 

March 4, 2023:

Photo of Macoun Club member's drawing plan

A horse, methodically blocked-in, then drawn more fully

Photo of Macoun Club member holding up sketch of a Gar pike

Mike taught members to outline the subject before filling in the details

So many Macouners love to draw animals, and today we gave them a chance. Macoun Club leader Mike Leveille led a nature-art workshop. As can be seen in these drawings, he introduced some system into the kids’ free-form style. This included some techniques based on animal anatomy — he had assembled skeletons of deer, raccoon, and mudpuppy for the purpose.

The event was held at Mike’s school, the St-Laurent Academy, in Ottawa. Afterward, we could look again at the science displays in the corridors.

February 25, 2023: When tracks are poor, know the animal

Photo of toasting marshmallows over a wintertime fire on a Macoun Club field trip.

Toasting marshmallows over the coals

The overnight low was -27º C, so we made a return to Rob’s place, where we can have a lunch fire anywhere. We headed into his woods across the road from his house and gathered fuel from fallen treetops that were judged dry enough to serve as fuel. Max lit the fire, using only fine twigs as tinder, and then left the rest of us to feed his fire. Only Rob remembered to bring marshmallows.

Photo of Macoun Club member who has toasted a marshmallow to golden perfection

It takes care and patience to toast a marshmallow right

There’d been a few inches of fluffy snow the day before, so animal tracks were poorly formed. We couldn’t even see whether the footprints had two toes or four toes, so from the size and spacing they could have been either Coyote or Deer. But we have come to know that not only do Deer drag their feet, but they drag them in parallel lines; if the snow is deep enough, the sweep of the Coyotes’ feet leaves marks more like a single line. Both animals had been travelling through the deciduous uplands, but the concentration of tracks showed that the Deer had been spending time under the lowland conifers.

Visiting the big Basswood tree with a den entrance just over our heads, which we saw last time, we found the tracks of two Porcupines, one small and one large, running out in different directions. The trails led to trees in which they had been feeding, Cedar and Oak, but the trees were now empty.

Continuing our search, we passed hills and hollows with no tracks at all; then found fresh Porcupine tracks leading down into a culvert under a road. A Coyote had been down there, too, but in such a place a Porcupine is perfectly safe.

 

Feb. 11, 2023: Following fox and fisher

Photo of Macoun Club group following track in snow, of Fox and FIsher

Following overlapping Fisher and Fox tracks on our snowshoes

Macoun Club leader Rob Lee hosted the group at his home in Lanark County. After fitting everyone out with snowshoes (only two families had their own), he led into the hundreds of acres of wild forest across the road.

Right away we picked up the trail of a Red Fox. One of the children asked if we could follow it, and Rob figured it would lead us to as good a lunch place as he could have found himself, so off we went. Quite soon a second trail appeared, sometimes paralleling each other, and sometimes right on top of each other. The new footprints were larger and in a different pattern, grouped in a “one, two-three, four” series, as compared to the Fox’s line of single prints, “one, one, one.” This we recognized as the trail of a Fisher.

The two animals had been going in opposite directions, and about six hours apart; they never actually saw each other. Rob pointed out that the Fisher tracks were blurred by the last of last night’s snowfall, while those of the Fox were as fresh as daybreak this morning.

Photo of an array of snowshoes loaned out to Macoun Club families on a field trip

Some of the snowshoes loaned out to Macoun Club families

Presently our pursuit led us into a patch of woods where dead limbs of cedar, spruce and pine were at hand, and we built two lunch fires to accommodate the group. Sausages were roasted on sticks, vegetables baked, and tea boiled. We had forgotten the marshmallows.

After lunch, we changed direction, Rob leading straight to areas that were inhabited by Porcupines last year. One of the several dens was still occupied, in a big, fat Basswood. We examined the cedar and pine branches the Porcupine had cut down, and saw how the Deer had scoured the snow underneath for this fresh foliage dropped from high above.

Knowing the woods so well, Rob managed to bring the group back to his house two minutes before the first parent showed up to pick up their children.

 

February 4, 2023: Rocks, minerals and fossils

Photo of Macoun Club members learning about minerals from Mike Leveille

Mike Leveille shares his interest in minerals

At the invitation of teacher Mike Leveille, we made his school, St. Laurent Academy, our destination. After an introductory overview of how it is that we live on a rocky planet, he encouraged our members to search through his display cabinets for specimens that illustrate some of the characteristics of minerals that are used to identify them, such as colour and luster.

Mike had also said he would name our own specimens. Some members had therefore brought in their boxes of pebbles, crystals, and fossils. One girl, for instance, showed him her specimen of the familiar, purple crystals known as amethyst; Mike, examining it, exclaimed that she had something even more interesting. Tiny needles of dark red rutile had grown inside the quartz.

Some members had brought in their fossils, too, and this is Mike’s specialty, and he carefully spelled out the geological period in which most of our local, Ottawa-area fossils originated, the Ordovician — a time of shallow seas whose muddy bottoms were inhabited by trilobites.

Come spring, we’ll go back to his favourite fossil-hunting grounds and look for more.

Jan. 28, 2023: Lichens

Inspired by last week’s lichen-oriented field trip, Rob decided to give a talk on lichens — what they are, why they’re special, how to identify them.

Photo of Macoun Club members gathered around microscope

Rob doing a spot test with bleach: what will happen?

It was generally known in our group that lichens are composed of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship with algae. But it isn’t an equal partnership.  It’s more like the fungus treating their algae the way we treat livestock. Yes, we protect our animals from predators, give them a home (like a barn), and enable them to live abundantly in environments far from where they naturally occur. But eventually most domestic animals get eaten, and it’s this way with the algal partners, too, inside the lichen.

Most remarkable, to Rob’s way of thinking, is the capacity for the algae to turn on genes the fungi already have, but can’t activate on their own — the genes that enable the fungus to take a lichen form — a leafy structure, or a stalk with red caps on it. And similarly, to stimulate them to make “lichen substances” that no other living organisms produce.

Setting up a dissecting microscope, Rob placed under it the Macoun Club’s most recent acquisition from the Study Area, a specimen of a rather dark green, leafy lichen collected on last week’s field trip. Then he sliced into it with a safety-razor blade, dabbed a micro-drop of household bleach onto the white medulla inside — and under the eyes of the assembled Macouners, the spot instantly turned red. This indicated the lichen substance lecanoric acid, which is an identifying character for the species Flavopunctelia flavientor (Speckled Greenshield). The specimen will be entered as No. 2427 in the Macoun Club Lichen Collection.

Jan. 21, 2023: Lichens live in the water, too

We had it all arranged to meet up with a group from the OFNC after lunch; they would be coming into our Nature Study Area to look at lichens. The sun shone on us while we ate lunch, sitting on logs out of sight of trail users. Then it clouded over.

Photo of Macoun Club members exploring soggy ice in shallow pond

“will the ice break?”

We made for our special Study Tree Woods and began scouting for interesting lichen species that we could show off. Birds that had been thinking only of winter were suddenly proclaiming the approach of spring: a Chickadee was singing, a woodpecker drumming, and a White-breasted Nuthatch yammering with vigour. A big Hairy Woodpecker even took offense at a pair of Downies in what he considered his territory, and chivvied them from tree to tree.

When the 25 OFNC members, all adults, arrived, we brought them to a big Sugar Maple that was orangey from top to bottom with Sunburst Lichen, not the common one, but Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes. (It is differentiated from X. fallax by the pattern of the powdery lobe edges).

The highlight of the OFNC trip was to be the Flooded Jellyskin lichen (Leptogium rivulare) in the vernal floodplain adjacent to our Study Tree Woods, but we had already checked there and found that early-winter thaws and rains had filled the basin months ahead of time, and the Canada’s largest population of Flooded Jellyskin had been — inundated. None visible.

Photo of larva of Predaceous Water Beetle on Macoun Club member's finger

Larva of Predaceous Water Beetle on child’s finger

Knowing our Study Area as well as we do, we were able to lead the group to another, much smaller pond that floods more slowly, and there we showed off masses of this dark grey lichen, with its hundreds of tiny reddish brown dots.

Finally, on our way out of the woods, one of our young members wanted to see if the pond ice would support him, and when it did everyone else trooped out with him. The ice cracked, not alarmingly, and he kicked a hole in it and poked a stick down, finding that should it break, they’d be wet only to the knees. As the ice sagged under their weight, the leaf-stained water below welled up, drawing with it several very active aquatic insect larvae. Rob recognized them as the larvae of Predaceous Water Beetles  (Dytiscidae).

This adventure made us 20 minutes late getting our members back to their parents.

 

Jan.14, 2023: The value of note-keeping

Photo of Macoun Club group laying out rock and mineral specimens on a table

Laying out a donated rock-and-mineral collection

One of the most popular forms of note-keeping is a diary; one of the simplest is to number objects you have collected and keep a numbered list of them.

Rob began with the younger group (ages 8-11) and asked them to take all the rocks out of a heavy milk crate he had brought in. That was great fun, because you have no idea what will be next — dull stones with intriguing imprints in them; a dense and heavy piece of metallic ore; a transparent crystal. “What’s this? Is this a fossil? What’s this one?” And in the hour we had, we never got to the bottom of the crate.

The rocks were numbered, and we laid them out in sequential order; only then did Rob introduce the collection catalogue, painstakingly and erratically spelled names and notes made in a child’s hand — a child who is grown up to become Dr. William Godsoe, who lectures at Lincoln University in New Zealand. Now we could put names to specimens: Fossil No. 7 — “Crinoid, Odavician”, Ottawa; Mineral No. 2 — “Brass-yellow pyrite from small cliff at Bitabe, Que., June ’93; Rock No. 43 — Conglomerate from Livingston Cove, P.E.I, Aug. 2, ’94.

The rock collection was the starting point for the older group of members. Rob led from there to his bird notes (from when he was 12) to general nature journaling, and then linked specimens in the Macoun Club Lichen Collection to entries in the Study Area Nature Journal for 2005.

December 18, 2022: Snow-umbrellas and spiders

Photo of Macoun Club participant crawling under "snow umbrella"

Snow clung to every twig, turning Leatherwood shrubs into snow-umbrellas

Photo of spider hiding under twig bearing an "ice-lichen"

The approach of the camera caused this spider to contract into immobility; the Usnea-like “lichen” is actually a melted-ice structure

The day before the scheduled Saturday field trip, a 25-cm-thick blanket of heavy, wet snow fell in the Ottawa Valley; anticipating bad driving conditions and a big clean-up, the trip was postponed until Sunday. It settled over Rob’s forest, too, so much clinging to every twig that only half of it reached the ground at first and the sky was blotted out. By Sunday, a lot had been half-melted and shaken down, but plenty remained overhead for fun. We shook the snow down in “mini snowstorms” and carefully crawled into temporary snow caves.

We saw no tracks except our own, perhaps because the trees had shed most of their burden in clumps and lumps everywhere. But we saw no birds or mammals, either, in the forest. There were many saplings that had been bowed so low that their tips were anchored to the ground, and we went around freeing them. A delicate, long-legged spider took fright and spun out a silken escape thread, landing on Rob’s nose. He eased it down on another thread to a Leatherwood twig, where it would be safe. But his camera must have appeared huge and threatening, for the spider shrank into a tight little ball and stayed as still as could be.

December 10, 2022: Owl pellets: in one end . . . and out the same way

Photo of Macoun Club member beginning to dissect an owl pellet

Masked Macouner. Each pellet had been pre-packaged in mouse fur by the owl’s gizzard

Photo of Macoun Club member matching mouse bones to a diagram

Each bone dissected out of the pellet could be matched to an illustration

Rob introduced a hands-on workshop in which we opened up Barn Owl pellets (to see what they had been eating) by showing the group his notes from 1971, when he had dissected a fresh Barred Owl pellet he’d found where the predator had killed a Snowshoe Hare. Rob had carefully sketched, and measured in three dimensions, each bone fragment; only a few vertebrae were intact and identifiable. His notes recorded that the weight of the pellet (4/5 of an ounce, or 23 grams) was 3/4 fur and 1/4 bone.

Former member Morgan McAteer led the workshop, and explained that pellets are produced from the indigestible parts of the owl’s prey and coughed up before they get very far down the digestive tract. She had obtained about 20 Barn Owl pellets from a commercial source, each wrapped in tin foil, and handed out pairs of pointed sticks with which we tore apart the mouse-fur jackets and teased out tiny bones. Or was it mouse fur? Sometimes we found rat, vole, and Pocket Gopher bones instead, and once the skull, backbone, and articulated legs of a Starling. Morgan cautioned us to think about what we were finding, for an owl might have swallowed several small mammals in one meal; she handed out diagrams that helped us distinguish prey species as well as body parts.

The project was so popular that afterward, several members asked for extra pellets they could take home.

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! ” (Chickens are currently banned from most urban areas.)

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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