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Natural History at Ragged Chutes
~ an early autumn walk with Ted Mosquin ~

    On October 6, 2002, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Foundation hosted a nature walk at Ragged Chutes, on the Mississippi River, in Lanark County. Sixteen field naturalists met for the walk which was led by Ted Mosquin, a biologist and long-time resident of the Ottawa Valley. (A special note: This land is privately owned and permission was granted by the owners for this field trip. The trip was organized as a fund raiser for the Purdon Conservation Area by The Mississippi Valley Conservation Foundation.

    Our walk began with Ted's introduction to the history of the Ragged Chutes section of the Mississippi River. The chutes are a series of low but powerful waterfalls, and were one of the greatest natural obstacles to be negotiated when loggers drove timber downriver from the Madawaska Highlands region over a century ago. The surrounding forest is, for the most part, mature and has not been logged recently. The result is an old growth type habitat consisting of many species of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation, as well as decaying logs, nurse trees, and the various organisms that prosper in this environment.

    ~ Forest Wolf Spider (Lycosa gulosa) in the leaf litter at the trailhead. ~

    As we began the downhill trek towards the chutes, Ted stopped periodically to identify and discuss the flora and fauna along the way. He informed us that we had an added assignment on this hike, and that would be to watch for Flying Squirrels. Ted then proceeded to demonstrate one method of ascertaining whether a tree with a suitable nest hole might contain several of these small, nocturnal squirrels which often dwell in communal nests. The strategy was to employ the "Scratch and Churr" method, which involves scratching lightly on the bark of the tree with a branch while imitating the gleeful churring sounds of a Raccoon that believes it is about to strike a bonanza of Flying Squirrels. The squirrels, anticipating that they are about to become a meal at any moment, would depart from their nest and soar to the safety of a nearby tree. Our mission, should we be successful, was to attempt to identify the squirrels as either the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), or the smaller, grayer, Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans). The area in which Ragged Chutes lies, is believed to be within the northern-most range of the Southern species (Glaucomys volans). (Note: for more information on the Flying Squirrels in Canada, visit the Marc Legras' excellent Flying Squirrel page , or the CWF Flying Squirrel page. Also see range maps of both species of Flying squirrels on the Canadian Wildlife Federation website).

    With anticipation of witnessing such an event, we searched the high canopy of the forest for nest cavities made by Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus). In mature forests, these large woodpeckers gouge holes deep into the sides of large trees. The holes, varying in size from small to large, are made in search of food such as colonies of carpenter ants and other wood-boring invertebrates, but occasionally excavated to create cavernous nest holes. In turn, these tree cavities provide homes for a great many secondary tree-dwelling occupants, ranging from small birds and mammals such as Chickadees, Nuthatches, Squirrels, Bats, White-footed and Deer Mice, to larger species such as Owls. The Ragged Chutes area, with its abundance of mature trees, provides an important habitat for a rich and diverse array of such forest dwelling species and the larger vertebrate foodchain to which they belong. (NOTE: For more information on Pileated Woodpeckers, visit the CWF Pileated Woodpecker page).

    ~ Ted and members of our hike, discuss trees in a small stand of Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) and Largetooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata) ~

    Continued on Page Two.