The Carden Challenge: A treat for nature lovers
In the blink of an eye, you could miss one of Ontario’s natural heritage treasures, found along Kawartha Lakes Road 6, called the Carden Alvar. Deep in the heart of the Carden Alvar, a bustle can be heard in late May along the back roads. Could it be hundreds of wildlife species prospering? Or the Carden Challenge?
For the 15th year, the Couchiching Conservancy welcomed teams of recreational and competitive nature enthusiasts, including myself, to get a closer look at this hidden mosaic of wildlife habitats by participating in the Carden Challenge. Whether you’re brand new to this nature thing or have professional experience in the field, anybody who has a passion for protecting nature was invited to experience this adventure-packed event.
On May 24 and 25, 2019, nine teams had 24 hours to explore the roads surrounding the alvars of former Carden Township, in the city of Kawartha Lakes. We experienced the alvars and the incredible species that live here.
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An alvar is a globally rare habitat area consisting of shallow soils on limestone bedrock that is exposed to seasonal flooding and drought, creating harsh living conditions for plants and wildlife. But you wouldn’t know it while we were enjoying the Carden Challenge.
We heard a symphony of migratory bird songs and saw some wildlife spectacles, such as bobolinks defending their breeding territory. To top that off, stunning wildflower displays made for picture-perfect landscapes. These sightings never cease to amaze me and are worth the visit to the Carden Alvar.
Teams brought patience, enthusiasm, perseverance and raincoats along for the ride — the hail didn’t stop us! Between all of the teams, we recorded a tally of 180 species in 24 hours, raising a whopping $22,000 for the Couchiching Conservancy, an organization that leads land conservation at the local level. Special observations included chimney swift, barred owl, fox sparrow, yellow rail, white-footed mouse and red-bellied snake. But my personal favourite was the great horned owl nest found within a great blue heron rookery.
Despite having a competitive category, the challenge is very much relaxed. Opposing teams exchange tips, cool sightings and camaraderie. It’s a lot of fun and generatess an unparalleled atmosphere.
The Carden Challenge is a birding and biodiversity marathon hosted by the Couchiching Conservancy land trust that never seems to surprise. It’s yours to discover, and I hope to see you there next year!
The Nature Conservancy of Canada partners with the Couchiching Conservancy on the protection and stewardship of the Carden Alvar in Ontario. For more information on our work in this area, click here.