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CARDEN ALVAR

Spring: ****  Summer: ****  Fall: ***  Winter: ***

        Independent Directions to this Site: Carden Alvar is just over 4 hours WSW of Ottawa and 125 km northeast of Toronto, Ontario. Take Highway 417 27 km west from Ottawa to Highway 7 (exit 145). Follow Highway 7 for 305 km to the junction of Highway 46. Remember that Highway 7 is mostly 2 lane and can be very slow going. Turn right or NNW onto 46 and drive 26 km to County Road 48. Turn right or northeast on it and go 8 km to Kirkfield and County Road 6. Turn left or north onto it and proceed 5.6 km to its junction with McNamee Road. Turn right onto McNamee (CR 6 continues to the left) and in 0.1 km turn left onto Wylie Road. This is the heart of the birding area. Note: There is a large sign on the left as you turn onto McNamee describing this Important Bird Area (IBA).
Map of Carden Alvar Area
Map of Carden Alvar Area
        Site Description and Birding Information: The Carden Alvar (or Plain) lies about 20 km to the northeast of Lake Simcoe and about 5 km north of Kirkfield. The area has been listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it is one of the last spots in Canada where Loggerhead Shrike is easily found and because it has healthy numbers of grasslands species which are declining elsewhere. It is also one of the few sites where Yellow Rail can be heard from a roadway.
         Wylie Road's 9.4 kilometres pass through the heart of the alvar. All the usual grassland species are present in early summer, including Bobolink, Eastern Bluebird, Vesper & Grasshopper Sparrow, Sedge Wren and Upland Sandpiper. A pair of Loggerhead Shrike nests about a half kilometre north of the house on the left. Sedge Wrens can be found in the marsh 2.8 km north of the beginning of Wylie Road. This same marsh has Yellow Rails most years, sometimes breeding. Stop near the bridge in the middle of the marsh to listen for their calls. Their "tick, tick, tick, tick, tick" (like two small rocks being tapped together repeatedly) carries well through the marsh (up to a quarter mile or more); so if they are calling, you will almost certainly hear them. At least six were heard "ticking" away in May 2003. Virginia Rail and American Bittern are also breeders. The remainder of Wylie Road passes scrubby areas where Golden-winged Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Field & Clay-colored Sparrow can be found. Prairie Warbler can be seen 4.3 km north of the marsh bridge on the west side of the road. In winter, watch for Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Bunting and Common Redpoll in this area; and be careful driving the narrow icy roads. Northern Shrike has also been seen nearby. Be aware of possible overlap in early spring. A good article on shrike identification exists on the OFO site.
         Another good area can be reached by going about 3km ENE from Wylie and McNamee Roads to Horncastle Road. This 2 km rough road has more suitable grassland habitat, best birded on foot. Loggerhead Shrike are possible here too. Red-headed Woodpecker can be found along the stretch of McNamee east of its junction with Horncastle.
         The Cameron Ranch alvar (see note below) is another area of similar habitat, which should have Loggerhead Shrike. Reach it by heading right or west on County Road 6 from the west end of McNamee Road. Drive about 6 km to a large alvar on the right.
         Rarer birds reported from Carden Alvar include the above-mentioned Yellow Rail, Brewer's Blackbird, and, in the past, Henslow's Sparrow. In June of 2010, a Chuck-Will's-Widow was heard singing on territory on Doyle Road, about 1 km east of Karwatha Lakes Road 35 (a.k.a. Victoria Road).
Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike
         An excellent resource for this area is the article, Birding Guide to Carden Alvar, by Ron Pittaway, first published in the Newsletter of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, Volume 18, Number 1, February 2000. It was also featured in the American Birding Association's May 2000 issue of Winging It. This excellent article was then reprinted in October 2000 as an 18 page booklet by the Corporation of the County of Victoria ($3.95). An updated version of this article is now available on the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) website at Birding Guide to Carden Alvar
         THANKS TO ALL WHO HELPED: The Nature Conservancy, thanks to your generousity has been able to purchase the Cameron Ranch with its 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of precious alvar community. This valuable section of the alvar will now be preserved as a nature reserve. The area has been subject to increasing pressure, especially from quarrying operations; hence the protection of this fragile area was a must. Thank you again for helping in this worthwhile endeavor.
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Copyright 2000 - 2010     Larry E. Neily
Last update:  June 21, 2010