Carden Field Journal: Intro to field work

Monday, May 11th, 2015 marked the start of my 16 week adventure in the wilderness of Carden, Ontario.

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I will be working as a field/ conservation assistant, for my 5th UW co-op term, with the Couchiching Conservancy, an Environmental NGO – Land Trust. The organization aims to protect 12,000+ acres of natural land for the future in the Couchiching-Severn region, near Orillia, Ontario.

I will be posting a weekly personal journal article documenting highlights from my experiences, including a few photos showcasing what subjects I am able to capture. My goal is to have a set of notes and visuals, synopsizing my experiences this summer, in one of my favourite places.

Following the completion of administrative tasks, I was able to venture into the field with one of my supervisors, David Hawke, Stewardship Program Manager, to the Butler Reserve in Severn, Ontario for a garlic mustard pull. Volunteers also joined us. Afterwards, we hiked the glacially-influenced landscape, where wild columbine, tent caterpillars, and various dragonflies were present. I learned that moose desire striped maple, giving it the nickname moose maple.

On Thursday I worked in Carden where I met another one of my supervisors, Ron Reid, Carden Coordinator. I learned about the projects I’ll be involved with which pertain to Species at Risk.

Other cool sightings included seeing a porcupine in a tree for the first time, a mother noisy killdeer with its 5 chicks, American kestrel and indian paintbrush and prairie smoke alvar wildflowers in bloom. A great first week, with many long, eventful, and exciting days to come!

Future journal articles are primarily going to consist of sightings, and activities that happened in the field. If interested, I hope you enjoy following my adventures this summer!

The Role of Recreational Fishing in Environmental Conservation

With the spring season upon us, the excitement to venture outdoors has struck many nature enthusiasts in full force.

Of the countless ways Canadians choose to enjoy the outdoors, recreational fishing serves a dual functionality. It is a great way to get outside and promote environmental conservation as well as achieve good health and wellness at the same time.

While at first, recreational fishing may appear contradictory to environmental conservation, I believe it has the potential to be an impactful ecological tool when conducted responsibly.

The question can be asked: How is fishing, which has the potential to harm the animals, and impact their populations, beneficial to the aquatic environment?

Let’s examine the situation from the perspective of defending native fish habitats.

Inland waters such as Upper and Lower Lake Dalrymple, in Carden Township, Ontario, have experienced the introduction of invasive/ non-native fish species in the late 1900s. This lake will be examined as a case study. These non-native species of fish include northern pike and black crappie.


Both of which pose direct threats to the reproductive success of native fish species in Dalrymple such as muskellunge and walleye. Spawning periods of non-native and native fish overlap and the invasive pike often outcompete the muskies for their breeding grounds. The black crappie prey on young walleye shortly after they have hatched, lowering their survival rate.

Not coincidentally, on August 6th, 2014, I caught and released my first muskie! That’s another story on its own!

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has recognized this problem, and addressed it by altering the fishing season for northern pike and black crappie. Beginning in 2010, an open year-round fishing season was introduced at Lake Dalrymple (Fisheries Management Zone [FMZ] 17) in an effort to alleviate some pressure on the native fishery. This brings increased fishing opportunities to local anglers. Ice fishing becomes involved and more attention is drawn to the lakes in FMZ 17 on an annual basis.

Realistically, there are several options to perhaps consider with respect to the issue of non-native species in Lake Dalrymple and how fishing can play a positive role in overall lake health. I will outline some suggestions that I think are important to consider:

Target the invasive [fish] pike and crappie, removing them from the ecosystem;

Go fishing to indulge in the outdoors, to help yourself and others better appreciate nature; and;

Fish for native species with the intent to release them, strengthening their populations

Although some may view fishing as a negative impact to ecosystems, I believe it is important to outline the various positive environmental and human health benefits from the activity.

Overall, recreational fishing is a tradition that provides outdoor enthusiasts an escape from urban life. Other hobbies and interests can easily be discovered through recreational fishing. Personally, it has served as a gateway to my nature photography, which in return attempts to promote conservation awareness. I have dropped my fishing rod several times in order to capture magnificent scenery and unique wildlife sightings with my camera.

By considering the suggested options, ones choice of wetting a line through the sport of fishing can actually influence the ecosystem to achieve an equilibrium closer to its natural balance. The choice of allowing the invasive species completely take over the classical ecosystem, becoming a “novel” or new ecosystem, serves as a second option to the above suggestions. This system would be a Northern pike-dominated community. I don’t currently view this as necessary.

Using the example of the inland waters situation above, you can understand the benefits and drawbacks of fishing with respect to sustaining the ecological health of natural areas.  If considered, anglers might see more success on the water in the long-term.

This article is opinion of the writer and all facts have been learned through word of mouth and through some consultation from

Post-Storm Commotion in Carden : Eastern Screech Owls

Learning about species that I have never encountered in the past is one of the main factors that drives my desire to keep exploring!  The evening of Saturday, June 28th, 2014, around 10:30p.m. was no exception; I observed my first owls.

While sitting around a campfire with family and friends, strange moaning-like noises were travelling across to our site from an adjacent field lined by a patch of forest. Specifically, the noise sounded like 2 animals were engaging in a life-ending fight. This is not uncommon in the Carden area, and so I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

In the evenings I often hear wild animals such as coyotes, common loons, and amphibians.

However, this time, after the second or third occurrence of the bizarre sound coming from the bush/ field, it was decided (by family, friends and I) that I should go and investigate. Exciting! 

I slowly approached the area in which the distinct noises were originating from, keeping in mind not to startle or disturb whatever wildlife may be in the area. Within a couple of minutes, I determined that this animal was a bird, as silhouettes of small, but stout flying creatures periodically filled the fresh twilight sky.   

This was one of the first times I had ever engaged in night photography of an animal and so my method of capturing images was being created ‘on the fly’.  With the brief help of a flashlight I was able to pinpoint the exact spot the bird would sit before flying from tree to tree. This enabled me about a 10 second window to photograph; a fun challenge!

Once the bird was located, I used my 75mm-300mm telephoto lense, on manual focus to take fairly close-up photos of the mysterious avian creatures. After taking the first photo, I immediately knew I was seeing an owl for the first time in my life. The adrenaline from this moment was powerful.

 Having had no experience with owls and little knowledge about them, this encounter without question intrigued me. Upon capturing the first photo, I had no idea of what species I was dealing with. It wasn’t until capturing a few more photos that I began to think I was dealing with either a Northern saw-whet owl or an Eastern screech owl.

I was able determine that I was observing 1 adult owl, and 2 owlets based on feather development (fledging).

Basic identifying characteristics that I observed of these mystery owls included:

  • Sound: a ~3 second long whining noise (sounded painful)
  • Size: Appeared to be approxiamtely 15-20cm in height
  • Color: Adult: Brown/ beige/ white/ Grey — Young: Grey/ beige
  • Other: No apparent ear tufts

It was after I captured the photos and analyzed them on my computer that I realized what type of activity was occurring while I photographed the owls. The birds were perched within surrounding maple trees and would occasionally fly from branch to branch.

Additionally, I noticed that the owls were swooping/ flying down to the ground and then back up into the trees. I wasn’t sure why; if the young were just failing at making ‘the leap’ to another perch.

It was when the owlets returned from the ground to the tree  that I realized they had been preying on the abundant supply of northern leopard frogs in the field. Their method was to stalk the frogs from above, and then swoop down to capture them in their talons.

By using my Birds of Ontario book I was still undecided as to what specific species I was dealing with so I enlisted the help of others.

It was confirmed that this animal was an Eastern screech owl because of its 1) sound 2) size & physical characteristics 3) behaviour.

Being able to observe wildlife such as the Eastern screech owl was a special opportunity, and I was privileged to do so.

Go out and explore for yourself! On that note, I thought this was appropriate for this blog post: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” — Douglas Adams

“Miss[ing]” in the case of exploring the natural world, to me, is exhilarating.

— Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography | Nature Harmlessly Captured

* Thank you to Andrew MacDonald, Kathy Jones (Ontario Volunteer Coordinator at Bird Studies Canada), and Denis Lepage (Senior Scientist at Bird Studies Canada) for helping confirm this species to be Eastern screech owl. *

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

– Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography: Nature Harmlessly Captured.

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