Welcome to the July installment of “IBA in Provincial Parks,” presented by Ontario IBA Coordinator Amanda Bichel of Bird Studies Canada.
This month, we’ll talk about Carden Alvar, a great example of harmony between Ontario parks and the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area program.
Carden Alvar is a very special story, weaving together its rare habitat and species, and the management efforts made to protect them.
Alvar, a type of grassland habitat, is only found in a few places in Ontario (and around the world).
Photo: David Hawke
Alvar is characterized by fine soils and scarce vegetation, on limestone bedrock, and poor drainage. All of this makes for a hostile environment that supports unique sets of species, many of which are identified as rare at the provincial and/or national level.
Rare and uncommon species.
Carden Alvar is home to more than 230 species of birds, 450 plants and 140 species of butterflies and dragonflies. And, as we have already mentioned, many are specifically adapted to this area.
Carden Alvar is also home to Ontario’s largest breeding population of the eastern subspecies of the loggerhead shrike, a nationally endangered bird.
As I have a slight predilection for birds, other nationally threatened birds that nest in the area are the short-eared owl, lesser bittern, red-headed woodpecker, yellow rail, bobolink, eastern lark and grasshopper sparrow.
A passionate community
Carden Alvar was recently converted into a provincial park.
Initially, protection of Carden Alvar focused on a community of individuals concerned about the decline of grassland habitat and species. This group began acquiring lands for natural stewardship and eventually the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Ontario Parks became the trustees of these lands. .
Photo: Jean Iron
Later, with the support of Couchiching Conservancy and local landowners, more land was purchased and in 2014, part of the IBA officially became a provincial park (the 37,177 ha IBA encompasses the 1,971 ha park).
Wildlife Preservation Canada currently runs the IBA Shrike Recovery Program (a breeding and release program), and the NCC has helped protect more than 3,200 ha. The Guardians of the IBA, the Couchiching Conservancy, have been instrumental in bringing to light the importance of this IBA.
Prairie Smoke, alvar plant specialist
In fact, the Couchiching Conservancy was one of the first groups to run an IBA in Canada, long before an official Caregiver Program existed. They have worked with dozens of landowners, completed habitat improvement projects with numerous partners, and welcomed birders and naturalists to the area to increase awareness and appreciation.
Photo: David Hawke
Their new year-long event series called Passport to Nature allows people to explore and learn about the wonders of our natural world (register early for events – they fill up quickly!).
Photo: David Hawke
Thanks to the unlimited partnerships fostered by the IBA and the protection provided by the provincial park designation, this extraordinary habitat is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Visiting the Cardén Alvar Provincial Park
Once again, alvars are an extremely sensitive habitat, despite their botanical resilience, so park visitors should take special care.
Photo: Wasyl Bakowsky
Public access is available via two hiking trails along the boundary fences. Parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.
If you decide to visit on your own, stay on the marked trails. Additionally, groups will still be able to request guided events within CAPP through the Couchiching Conservancy.
Bird Studies Canada thanks the Ontario Trillium Foundation for generously supporting the Ontario IBA Program. To stay up to date with these monthly blogs, sign up for the Ontario OTHER Bulletin.