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An Alvar Adventure with the Green Snakes on the Plain

Cycling team Green Snakes on the Plain receive the Biodiversity Trophy from celebrity birder Jeremy Bensette.

On your mark, get set… go! The light was as green as our name and we were off to observe as many species of wildlife as possible on the Carden limestone plain. Surrounded by alvars, wetlands, woodlands, and the array of wildlife they support, you can’t help but marvel at the wonders of nature before your eyes. I invite you to ride along with team Green Snakes on the Plain as I reflect on an annual tradition, fourteen years strong, known as the Couchiching Conservancy’s Carden Challenge.

The pace was set, the tour began, and the countdown was on until the sun began to set as we rolled down Wylie road. Exuberance was radiating from everyone as we started to check off grassland species off our checklist, including: Bobolink, eastern meadowlark, Wilson’s snipe, eastern bluebird and upland sandpiper (among others).

It was almost an instant reassurance that our gracious donors would be proud of the observations being made so early in the evening. But the excitement continued to build as dusk encroached. Then suddenly… boom!

“The aerial dive/ rebound flight of the common nighthawk ignited the atmosphere with a sound like no other.”

The aerial dive/ rebound flight of the common nighthawk ignited the atmosphere with a sound like no other. Not only did we have the pleasure of hearing and seeing this behavior, but it happened several times, within close proximity to our team! Other creatures began to join in the orchestra like the eastern whip-poor-wills, eastern coyotes and American toads. Fortunately for the Green Snakes on the Plain, there was no barrier between us and the raw wilderness being observed all around.

The alvars of Carden seemed to come to a special kind of life and there was definitely more to what met the eye… literally! Dawn hit us and the birding by ear opportunities began as we searched for wood warblers and other must-finds along the country roadsides. One of our biggest highlights was observing a Canada warbler by ear as well as sight. I was able to capture the beauty of this Species of Special Concern (in Ontario), perched in a dead tree, in a photograph.

A few hours past waking up at 4:30a.m., the mosquitos were (mostly) done feasting on us, and it reached our turn for a morning nutrition break.

Through patience and perseverance, the remainder of the day brought many rewarding sightings. Blanding’s turtle, eastern milksnake, porcupine, and gray comma (butterfly) made appearances, contributing to our species checklist.

“A few hours past waking up at 4:30a.m., the mosquitos were (mostly) done feasting on us…”

We also saw our namesake species, the smooth green snake! It was 10cm in length. Of course, the identification of observed species would not be possible if it weren’t for the knowledge and skill that each member of our roster brought to the field. However, the team agreed that our MVP was indeed Susan Blayney, naturalist and pollinator ambassador of Kawartha Lakes. Susan’s mentorship was an invaluable asset to our success as a team and her passion for the natural environment was contagious.

For another year the Carden Challenge finished up with dinner and awards on the shores of Lake Dalrymple… and most importantly, with healthy servings of pie. But the evening just kept getting better. With much delight, we slithered into first place in the biodiversity category with 193 points for 156 species of wildlife counted! Our fundraising efforts amounted to $2,149 — thanks to our amazing supporters. Full of pride, we accepted our trophy and reflected on the absolutely incredible time we, the Green Snakes on the Plain, had participating in the 2018 Couchiching Conservancy Carden Challenge.

This year’s Carden Challenge raised over $22,000 for conservation thanks to 11 teams and 44 participants including the Green Snakes on the Plain. 

Cameron Curran is a volunteer with The Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust protecting nature for generations. To date, we have helped to protect over 12,000 acres of land.