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Reflections from Summer Staff

Rianna discovers a Blanding's Turtle

Though not from the area, both of us have strong ties to this region of Ontario as we have both grown up visiting the area and enjoying the many natural wonders it has to offer.  Our summer with the Couchiching Conservancy has given us both the chance to give back and contribute meaningfully to the conservation of these natural wonders for locals and visitors alike.

As the summer draws to a close (sorry to remind you!) so does our time as Stewardship Interns with the Couchiching Conservancy.  This summer has proven to be an invaluable experience for us professionally, academically and personally.  The knowledge that has been shared with us by local naturalists about specific plants and animals as well as ecosystems as a whole has forever changed the way we see natural areas.  At the beginning of the summer a forest looked like a jumbled mess of green plants but now individual species leap out at us and reveal a dramatic story of their place in a complex ecosystem.

In addition to expanding our biological knowledge we’ve also been given countless opportunities to interact with a variety of interesting and enthusiastic people.  Property owners, local naturalists and environmental professionals we have met along the way have contributed to our learning and offered us priceless insights and advice on how to further our environmental career goals.

In addition to complementing and expanding on our education, this summer has produced no shortage of personally interesting experiences.  We are given front row seats to the natural beauty of the region and privileged to sights not commonly seen. The Cameron Ranch property on the Carden plain is one such privilege.

Cameron Ranch is a massive alvar and world famous birding location that the general public can only skirt the perimeter of due to restricted access (because of the active cattle grazing program). Working with the Couchiching Conservancy has given us the chance to explore this property that usually is only open to the rare birds and plants that inhabit it.  Even on the hottest day, out on this alvar you can always take some pleasure in the fact that in the entire world there are only a handful of people on an alvar at that very moment!

It’s also easy to ignore the oppressive heat when you’re watching a rare Loggerhead Shrike flutter between the hawthorns or watching a group of talkative Sandhill Cranes strutting across the arid vista.

Sometimes even just accessing a property can remind us how unique this job is.  This is certainly the case for the Waterthrush Woods property which is located along the Head River.  Of all the summer jobs the two of us have had, this is the only one where we started your day off with a canoe trip!  It was an enriching experience to paddle languidly on the mirrored water, skillfully picking a line through the fallen logs and around the shallow rocks.  Sure the mosquitoes are a bit thick but the chance to sneak up on a Blanding’s turtle or a river otter more than compensates for the blood loss!

Professionally, working with the Couchiching Conservancy this summer has provided us with an environmental work experience which is difficult to gain and critical for future employment in the competitive world of eco-jobs.  Personally, this summer has given us a chance to give back to a region we care dearly about and reminded us of the importance of preserving natural spaces.

By Rianna van de Hoef and Nick Shurben