I still remember the first time I visited the Carden Alvar. I was with The Couchiching Conservancy’s Stewardship Program Manager, Dave Hawke. As we drove on highway 46 towards Kirkfield, Dave explained the landscape – a flat limestone Plain harbouring rare natural habitats known as alvars. With little or no soil, spring floods and summer droughts create harsh conditions. Many of the wildflowers, native grasses and invertebrate species found on alvars normally occur in the western provinces, and many are rare.
Although my first impression of the alvar was a bit lackluster (“Is this it? What’s the fuss about?”), after taking a closer look and learning more about this diverse area, I get it. It’s incredibly special and unlike anything I’ve seen or experienced before. Every time I visit, I’m amazed at the number of birds that I can identify, the vast expanses of grassland and big skies, and fields of flowers and ferns.
Each year hundreds of people head to the Carden alvar in droves. They are drawn by the landscape and species, but also by two special events hosted by The Couchiching Conservancy featuring the alvar and taking place in late May and early June – Carden Challenge and Carden Alvar Nature Festival.
This year there were 38 participants in the Carden Challenge, a 24 hour blitz where teams attempt to identify as many species as they can. The early date, cool conditions and high winds on Friday evening provided fewer species than usual. Even so, among the 143 bird species recorded, there were three new species in the 11th Challenge – Peregrine Falcon, three Red-necked Grebes off Avery Point in Lake Dalrymple, and a V-shaped flock of Whimbrel flying overhead. All together, the Carden Challenge raised well over $15,000 for conservation efforts on the Carden alvar.
The winners of the four categories this year were:
- Competitive Birding: The Couch Potatoes with 112 species
- Recreational Birding: The Wylie Cowhands with 122 species (seems like they should have been in the competitive category!)
- Biodiversity: The Basketcases with 180 points
- Best Team Spirit: To the Bittern End with 111 species (and this was their first year in the Challenge!)
Two weeks after the Challenge, we held the Carden Alvar Nature Festival, another great event with a beautiful sunny day was enjoyed by about 350 people. After each event returned to the Carden Recreation Centre, there was excitement while participants discussed what species they saw or heard, or something new that they had learned. The Festival is fortunate to have a number of knowledgeable leaders to guide people for a day of learning and exploring, and volunteers to assist to make sure everything runs smoothly.
For many people that attend the Festival, it’s an opportunity to not only connect with the natural world, it is also a chance to connect with people with similar interests. Nature lovers of all ages attend the Festival – from first timers to the seasoned naturalists. During the Fun Fest, which took place at the Centre, it was heartwarming to watch kids building bird houses, interacting with animals from Earth Rangers and running around trying to catch dragonflies and butterflies in their nets. The mood throughout the day was cheerful and upbeat as people took time to find their freedom in nature.
If you are interested in discovering the Carden Alvar for yourself, there are a number of resources on our website. Click here to see.
Written by Development Coordinator, Tanya Clark.