It’s around 5:30 pm on Friday and the teams are starting to gather at the cabin. Tents are being pitched, cars parked and tally sheets distributed. It’s nearly time for the Carden Challenge to start.
Birders are already checking out the local bird situation, ready to check off Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole and Warbling Vireo as soon as the clock strikes six. If we are lucky, the weather is good – warm but not hot, no rain and not much wind.
But we aren’t always so lucky. Some years it is bitterly cold. One year we had frost overnight and the folks sleeping in tents suffered. Another year, the Saturday was so hot that the birds hunkered down in whatever cool spots they could find, invisible and silent. We’ve had rain and high winds. And we’ve had those rare perfect weekends where the weather cooperates entirely.
No matter what the weather brings, the Challenge is always a fun time. It is the most friendly competition I have ever been in. Whenever teams meet at the side of the road, we help each other, sometimes with locations for species that have been missed, sometimes with identifications and sometimes with encouragement. Did you know that a Red-headed Woodpecker can be found here? Anybody know where we can find a Pied-billed Grebe? Are the Sandhill Cranes at their usual place?
“The Challenge is always a fun time. It is the most friendly competition I have ever been in.”
As we scour the circle, hoping to check off the greatest number of species, we appreciate the area where we find ourselves. It’s not often that one can find so many bird species that are considered to be At Risk. We are distracted by wildflowers in bloom and cedar rail fences, by cattle grazing on the landscape and the new foal on the corner.
The Alvar is a magical place that isn’t always appreciated at first glance. It’s not until you explore and examine and listen that you begin to fully appreciate its many wonders. It is a rare habitat that is worth saving.
And that is what makes the Carden Challenge so very special. Not only do we spend 24 hours looking for the greatest number of species, we have spent weeks in advance asking friends and family for pledges. We gather money which will be used by The Couchiching Conservancy to continue its crucial work in Carden, work such as installing fences to protect streams or protecting habitat for Species At Risk.
When the clock strikes 6 pm on Saturday, the teams gather for a wrap-up dinner, to exchange highlights and funny stories and to receive awards. But the biggest reward occurs when the announcement is made of the total funds raised by all the teams.
Oh, and by the way, if you happen to be looking for a team to sponsor, feel free to check out The Chachalacas, which just happens to be the team I’m on!
Ginny Moore is a volunteer with The Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting habitat for hundreds for bird species.