NCC Creative Conservation Challenge: Mud Inspired 2015

There’s no question that I had a ‘wild’ 2015. My experiences in nature encapsulated discovery, wilderness, adventure, learning, and community-building. Through these experiences, I learned an abundance of natural heritage and ecological information about the Carden Alvar and other areas in Ontario.

Close encounters in globally-rare environments have been ingrained into my memory thanks to countless days roaming the transitional southern boundary of the Canadian Shield in Central Ontario. I also became acquainted with several new species, some of which I heard, but never actually had the opportunity to see!

I believe my conservation efforts contributed to the greater health of the natural environment. In return nature was there for me in times of need, as well, especially when I had to say goodbye to a couple influential people in my life during summer 2015.

Part A: Look back on your year

What species did you learn about for the first time this year?
This summer I learned about several new species, most of which were, but not limited to, birds:

Blue-winged teal, Northern Harrier, Virginia rail, Whimbrel, Ovenbird, Gray catbird, Semipalmated plover and various sparrows. Fortunately I was living in an “Important Bird Area” known as the Carden Alvar just east of Orillia. Here, I repetitively experienced the sounds and sights of these, and many other birds which helped me to learn their unique attributes.

What is your most memorable close encounter with nature from 2015?

I have quite a few memorable encounters from 2015. However I would have to say the one that stands out most occurred at the Carden Alvar Provincial Park on June 25th. A coyote was predating on two adult Sandhill cranes. Quickly, the coyote caught sight of my group and headed off in the other direction. This occurred mid-morning and was just like a moment straight out of a national geographic documentary.

Balsam ragwort and Painted cup alvar wildflowers of Carden
Balsam ragwort and Painted cup alvar wildflowers of Carden

Blue sky, beautiful alvar landscape, slight breeze – pure silence – broken by the rattling call of the Sandhill cranes being chased by the beautiful coyote. Truly an unforgettable moment. Also equivalent in the ‘most memorable’ category were my first-ever moose and bald eagle sightings in Carden township! These sightings were greatly overwhelming.

What fact did you learn about the natural world in 2015 that most surprised you?

One of the most surprising facts I learned about the natural world was that adult beavers are very territorial. They will attack any beaver that enters their territory if they are not related. This is mostly due to the limited resources that a beaver may have access to in its given territory.  Overall I resonate with the beaver in that family is important. Haha.

beaver
Beaver

What three things did you do that helped the natural world in the last year?

Supported the Couchiching Conservancy land trust. This was my second year as a volunteer with the organization. I also had the privilege of working for the Couchiching Conservancy as a Conservation Assistant. Efforts of the conservancy and its volunteers help protect nature for current and future generations.

Saved turtles from becoming road kill. Specifically, I assisted one snapping turtle, one Blanding’s turtle, and 3 painted turtles off of the road throughout the summer. Fortunately, no significant damage was done to any of the animals.

Participated in a stewardship activity at Point Pelee National Park collecting Big Bluestem grass seeds for park-wide ecological restoration initiatives. Learning about the natural history of Point Pelee definitely put the rest of Southern Ontario into perspective regarding topics such as habitat protection, etc.
What natural areas did you explore for the first time?

Natural areas that I explored for the first time include: Carden Alvar Natural Area: Sedge Wren Marsh Walking Trail, and Prospect Marsh.
What species did you learn to identify, by sight or sound?

I had the opportunity to practice identifying several species of birds while living in Carden, Ontario in 2015. Some neat birds by sound include: Wilson’s snipe, White-throated sparrow, Grasshopper sparrow, Field sparrow, Eastern meadowlark, Common nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, and Indigo bunting. By sight, I learned to identify species such as: Broad-winged hawk, Northern harrier, Red-eyed vireo and Brown thrasher.

Part B: Your 2015 year in nature — Collage

2015review-2

 

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Carden Field Journal: Wildlife and The Carden Challenge!

Week two was action-packed and full of exhilarating wildlife sightings! Highlights of the week included watching nesting birds with their young, attending the 10th annual Carden Challenge, and coming across several painted turtles.

Throughout the week my co-workers and I saw several nesting birds. Some nests contained eggs, while others were home to already-hatched chicks! We had flushed an Eastern meadowlark from its nest on Windmill Ranch in Carden to find 4 healthy looking eggs in the grass-based nest. This was a unique find that will be reported to the Royal Ontario Museum. Next, Eastern phoebes had hatched and were being safely guarded by their mother. Upon two visits, I was able to see the chicks as the female was off foraging. Lastly, a favourite bird of mine, the Great blue heron, was seen feeding at least 3 young on its nest near the north shore of Lake Dalrymple. I was able to snap a photo with my cell phone through a viewing scope. My week was made by having the opportunity to capture these birds from 100s of meters away.

The Couchiching Conservancy fundraiser, the Carden Challenge, took place over the span of 24 hours starting on Friday, May 22nd, 2015. Teams assembled to compete in different categories, to see who could come across the highest number of species within a set buffer zone on the Carden Plain. I got partnered with 3 experts from Bird Studies Canada, so I was fortunate to learn the songs, calls, and physical characteristics of tens of new birds I had never seen or known. To the Bittern End was our team name, which near the end of the competition, served to be appropriate.

In total, our team found 111 birds. Of special note, we saw a Merlin, a Whip-poor-will, and a Blue-winged teal. I learned the sounds of birds such as the American bittern (Glug, glug), and the Least bittern (heh, heh, heh). As our team name suggested, we left taking the chance to observe the Least bitterns to the very end of the challenge… half an hour before the end at Prospect Marsh. We were very certain we heard one, but couldn’t say for sure… leaving it out of our count. We were excited to receive second place in the competitive category, and were awarded the Teeter-Ass Trophy for best sportsmanship. Overall, the Challenge was an amazing learning experience which raised over $15,000 through pledges for the Couchiching Conservancy.

Despite their abundance in South-Central Ontario, I am still excited to find painted turtles. On Alvar road, I saw 8 painted turtles during one car ride. They were basking on dead, fallen trees in a swamp landscape. This made for a great photo-op. These turtles were very shy as one-by-one, they’d fall into the water as I crept closer with my camera.

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

Another day I helped remove (so heavy…) another Painted turtle, which wasn’t shy, from Victoria road. There are many chances to see turtles which never fail to amaze me. Enjoy my other photos from week 2:

Carden Nature Festival 2014: “Plain” and Simply Inspiring

I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Carden Nature Festival which fell on the weekend of June 7th & 8th, 2014 at the Carden Community Centre on the shores of Lake Dalrymple. Touching a special place in my heart due to its location, this event proved to be a success with respect to spreading conservation awareness and coming together as a community in an effort to sustain the natural lands of the township of Carden and the Carden Plain.

The event was an opportunity for a wide range of environmental professionals, knowledgeable locals and passionate nature enthusiasts to gather and simply appreciate nature at a local level. Through educational seminars participants like myself got to visit select properties owned and managed by the Couchiching Conservancy.

During the festival I got to explore North Bear Alvar, Little Bluestem Alvar and Prairie Smoke Alvar. All of the sites showed many signs of wildlife including bear, moose, fox, coyote, rabbits, amphibians, insects and birds! Click here to view my entire album of photos from the weekend.

One of the highlights of my experience at the Carden Nature Festival was having the opportunity to travel a segment of Wylie Road monitoring eastern bluebird boxes. Herb Furniss, leader of the Carden Bluebirds program, took me and 3 other festival attendees (including our marshall) to roadside locations near and along the road in search of eastern bluebird chicks. Herb tracks and documents nesting activity in over 75 nesting boxes in the area. Based on previously recorded data he knew where the best opportunities for observing active boxes would be. In total, we got to see 3 active bluebird boxes and 1 active tree swallow box, all containing newly hatchedand/or fledging young.

Practical, hands on work with wildlife such as with the Carden eastern bluebirds project can help community members and beyond to appreciate the value of nature. Being able to hold the fledglings in the palm of your hand allows for a more intimate understanding of what is at risk. To put it simply, real-life experiences of getting your hands dirty have great potential of making a difference in ecosystems that may be potentially threatened by human activity. Thanks, Herb for this fantastic experience.

So, if you’re located in the Greater Toronto Area, Carden, Ontario is a short 90 minute trek by car; take the time to understand why the Carden Plain is so significant and worth protecting! Learn more at CouchichingConserv.ca.

– Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography: Nature Harmlessly Captured.

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