Welcome to the Macoun Field Club!
The Macoun Club has started up again, after 6 months without any Club activities. We do not expect to resume indoor meetings this autumn, but have launched a program of field trips in natural areas. The schedule will be reduced from what it was in pre-COVID times, but will still be fairly regular.
During the spring and summer shutdown, Macoun Club leaders occasionally joined up with single families on a series of private, unofficial outings. All were confident that the children would be safe with respect to COVID-19 because these get-togethers were outdoors. The underlying principle 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.
The leaders used the summertime opportunity to develop the COVID-appropriate protocol that is now coming into use on larger, official Macoun Club trips. One key, they found, is to practice constant awareness of an extended personal space until it becomes second nature, and to anticipate “chokepoints.” For example, instead of picking up a frog or snake, which draws people together, the animal is to be left on the ground for safely spaced viewing. If, in their excitement, this is forgotten, knots of people have to be broken up promptly, keeping close contacts brief and passing.
But not everyone has to maintain the 2-metre distance that is the standard in Canada; in Ontario “social bubbles” of up to 10 people are acceptable. We have experimented with coloured arm bands to easily signal who may be close to each other, and tried out other innovations.
We do not envision indoor meetings as long as COVID-19 is circulating in the community, but field trips will take place on alternate Saturdays and typically run about 5 or 6 hours. We go to wild places in Ottawa’s western Greenbelt (Stony Swamp) and Lanark County (the Pakenham Hills).
By early summer, the natural world was increasingly seen as the safe place to be; COVID-19 is transmitted “in closed spaces, in crowded places, where contact is close and continuous.” By summer’s end, 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. On Study Area trails, strangers are giving each other space as they pass by. The organization Outdoor Play Canada has posted an excellent how-to guide for going out safely; the Macoun Club has endorsed it.
Families can still 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[at] ofnc.ca. The Macoun Club is sponsored and supported by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC); there are no fees.
Schedule of Activities
The Macoun Club program will consist of field trips only, two per month for younger members, one per month for teenagers/high-school students. (It should be good!)
Oct. 3: Field trip for older members. Call Rob at 623-8123 for information
Oct. 10: Thanksgiving long weekend: no plans
Oct. 17: Field trip for . . . one group or the other — not decided yet
What are we doing this year?
It’ll be field trips only, as far as we can see.
September 26, 2020: “This is my paradise”
This must have been Indian summer, following a frosty week, with temperatures of 25º and 26º C. Asters and late Goldenrods were blooming in open places, and Herb Robert in the forest. A passing Monarch glided back and forth just overhead several times, then beat its wings and went up over the forest canopy, heading south. Rambling off-trail, we found crowds of brown puffballs and clusters of small, pink globes — Wolf’s Milk Slime — on rotting logs.
Everyone was finding Garter Snakes, several of them being young-of-the-year, just five inches (13 cm) long. We graduated from catching everything in sight to following these animals as they went about their business. The last one surprised Alma by disappearing down a tiny hole right in front of her.
We heard Spring Peepers and Eastern Gray Tree Frogs calling from within the forest, and around the “Woodland Pond” (Pond IX) netted and released Leopard and Wood Frogs. Under a chunk of rotting wood, we found an Eastern Newt. Mostly, under logs, we found large numbers of invasive earthworms (Aporrectodea turgida), which destroys humus and duff. The forest floor had been stripped of leaf litter by another species, Lumbricus terrestris.
In our Study Tree Woods, new members Aliya and Alma each chose a mature Sugar Maple for their own. Alma’s has a den cavity high up, originally made by a Pileated Woodpecker but apparently used by other animals. Zahra checked her Silver Maple and found a Gypsy Moth egg mass on the trunk, and a growth of Bearded Tooth fungus inside the central cavity (her father had to lift her and her little brother up to see).
As the afternoon grew very warm, we abandoned our more ambitious plans and loafed about the woodland fringe of Pond IX, counting frogs or dozing in the sunshine, as suited each one of us. Alma voiced her feelings: “This is my paradise.”
But even in paradise . . . there were mosquitoes, enough to be a nuisance at times. Rob, who captured several to identify at home, reports at least three species: Aedes vexans (this includes the many really tiny individuals), Aedes trivitattus, and one that got away but raised an itchy bump on his normally immune skin.
September 19, 2020: And a perfect day at Pakenham
Today was for the older members (teenagers, high-school students), and we walked straight in to a favourite Pakenham beaver pond where we have camped before. Our group was joined — rejoined — by well-remembered former Macouner Julia Ellis, who needed some specimens for her Aquatic Ecosystem course.
While grubbing around under water Julia bumped into a melon-sized, jelly-like globe, which, she was told, was a freshwater bryozoan colony. The tiny animals are filter feeders, and their individual homes lightly pattern the surface. The colony will produce overwintering cysts, and disintegrate as the ponds start to freeze.
At lunchtime we solved the problem of social distancing at our meal-time campfire: we multiplied them, so that each family group had its own. Some families achieved distancing by taking turns at cooking.
Asters and goldenrods enlivened the trailsides, and the woods were still richly dotted with late-summer mushrooms. Garrett found himself a Painted Turtle, and Rob, a mixed flock of small birds, part of the great autumn migration. Jeremy fell asleep in the sunshine, and awoke refreshed. And Julia filled out her course requirements on a Macoun Club trip.
September 12, 2020: A perfect day to get back into the field
Under blue skies, a restless breeze, and hints of colour in the landscape, eight excited children, half of them completely new to the Macoun Field Club, headed out on a field trip to the Club’s nature-study area. It soon developed that their common interests were focused on snakes and water. Roaming across the big maple woods, we encountered 15 Garter Snakes and laid hands on 11 of them. Two were just babies, recently “born,” the new girl Alma informed us, from eggs that had hatched inside the mother snake.
We halted for lunch on a broad rock ledge overlooking a marsh, and from the watery edge the children retrieved the skeletal remains of a large Snapping Turtle. Putting the two halves of the carapace back together, Rob measured its former length as 14 inches (35.5 cm) — a big turtle, when you realize that the tail and head would each have been about 8 inches long, for a total length of about 30 inches (75 cm).
The group poked around the main stream that drains ponds from the Sarsaparilla Trail (Pond I) all the way down. They walked its edges in search of Leopard and Green Frogs at its midpoint (“the culvert”, between Ponds III and IV), waded into the marshes of Pond VI, and splashed over the watery terraces below the last beaver pond, Pond VII. Although Water Snakes were reported, none were seen for confirmation by the adults in charge, who hung back on dry land.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Macoun Club members and Macoun Club leaders sometimes got together on their own from March through August. Here’s what they did.