All You Need is an Hour on the Alvar

It was October 1st, 2016, with one whole hour to spare before heading back to the campground just west of Carden, Ontario. I wondered where I should head out for a hike.  Given the vastness of the near-by Carden Alvar landscape in terms of natural and recreational resources, I thought I would make a decision on-the-fly as to where to explore.

After driving over the narrows at Lake Dalrymple I had a brisk thought that I would set out on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) Prairie Smoke Alvar property, which is stewarded by the Couchiching Conservancy, NCC and the Carden Field Naturalists. With autumn having recently arrived I was alert for evidence of the changing seasons.

Before setting foot in the parking lot, I was greeted by a sign that read “Black bear with 3 cubs spotted in field on Saturday”. A spontaneous adventure awaited indeed! It’s always a good idea to be prepared for wildlife encounters on Carden Alvar (and all applicable) hikes, so the early warning sign to respect this American black bear (Ursus americanus) family was greatly appreciated. Fortunately I included my bear bell in my day pack, in an effort to make myself known to these large mammals. Doing so eliminates the probability of startling wildlife such as Black bears when in close proximity, so I fastened it onto my person for the following hour. Right off the bat, several signs of scat (bear droppings), provided evidence of bears foraging for food in preparation for their winter hibernation. This was a sure indication that fall was off to a good start.

Wandering down the Prairie Smoke Access Trail, I kept the idea of black bear presence in the back of my mind, as I always do when hiking in similar habitats. I continued up the trail transitioning from grassland to woodland and into pavement alvar communities where I was able to observe several signs of an active natural area. An array of large fungi, some as large as basketballs, could be viewed attached to mature maple trees. Below these natural works of art, glacial erratics, or larger rock boulders transported and deposited during the last deglaciation, were found throughout the forest floor.  Emerging from the woodland into the open alvar pavements, I noticed a few small scattered patches of Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) in bloom. These small blue wildflowers served as a small reminder of this past summer on the Carden Alvar. After experiencing the marvels of my walk in to the property, I started to think about heading out – my hour was nearly up!

As I reached my turn around point, I headed back towards the parking lot, viewing the trail in an entirely different perspective. As I transitioned through the unique habitats again, I caught a glimpse a small black creature scurrying across the trail, approximately 500 metres ahead, near the beginning of the first woodland. This animal, located in the field ahead, was accompanied by other individuals which I could hear coming from the adjacent woodland. With no zoom lens on my camera, I quickly turned to my binoculars to assess the sighting. It was the sight of a Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) – not the highly anticipated American black bear cub that I was expecting. Full of adrenaline, I chuckled, and continued onwards to mark the end of my adventure.

Whether you have a day trip planned, or have an hour to spare while passing through the Couchiching region, consider spending some quality time exploring the many properties of the Couchiching Conservancy. You never know what you may see!


Also published in the Orillia Packet & Times:  An hour on the alvar