Rare 400-acre opportunity + a rare sighting

In Birds, Carden Alvar, Nature Reserves & Easements, Species at Risk by couchiching

It was June 5, 2022 and I was testing my car along Alvar Road, listening for birds that I could add to my square for the Breeding Bird Atlas project. A distance along the road, I heard a Hermit Thrush singing very near the road. The Hermit Thrush song may be my favourite song. To have one singing so clearly and so closely made me stop the car to take a recording using the Merlin app.

As I sat enthralled by the song, I noticed that Merlin was telling me about some other birds that were also singing, a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Towhee, and a Red-headed Woodpecker! The first two are to be expected but the Woodpecker is a rare species in this area, and Merlin is sometimes wrong. So I pulled my focus away from the Hermit Thrush and began listening for the Woodpecker. And yes, I could hear one! Now I wanted to find it!

Not wanting to trespass, I moved in to the edge of the road allowance and searched for the bird. There it was, some distance further into the property. I managed to take a few photos with a camera that was stretched to its limits, and then the bird moved even further into the property. There was no doubt, however, that this was a Red-headed Woodpecker. And it was on a property that the Couchiching Conservancy was interested in obtaining.

“This is some of the most pristine alvar that I’ve seen.”

A little later this summer, the owner of the property gave us permision to explore the property so off I went with Toby Rowland (Conservancy staff Biologist). The property doesn’t look like much from the road because the ATV enthusiasts have chewed up the land in their enjoyment of mud. Once you get beyond the destruction, though, things look better, a lot better.

Photo: B. Devine & A. Aggarwal

This is some of the most pristine alvar that I’ve seen. It appears that there has been no cattle grazing on the land at all as there is very little of the typical non-native species that are normally associated with grazing, in particular the many clovers – red, white, bird’s-foot, etc.

We found an abundance of both White Flat-topped Goldenrod and Prairie Smoke, both of which are listed as being extremely localized to alvar habitats. In total we found 18 species of alvar plants on the property.

The Conservancy now has a chance to purchase this property which will be a terrific addition to the Conservancy’s list of protected properties. It will provide easy access to the difficult to reach Wolf Run property, and shares features with the adjacent North Bear property. I’m looking forward to the day when, instead of taking the bottom out of my car along Wolf Run Lane, I can visit the Wolf Run grykes by walking the trail in on this property.

Story by Ginny Moore, Carden Grassland Bird Monitor