Carden Alvar

Ontario

Less than two hours from Toronto rests Carden Alvar - a bird watcher’s paradise and one of the world’s most globally rare alvar habitats. Despite its shallow and exposed bedrock environment, late spring in Carden Alvar gives birth to a colourful variety of resilient wildflowers, each uniquely adapted to the alvar landscape. Today, more than half of all remaining alvars in the world are located in Ontario.

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Land

We only have the land once in its natural state and every time we take away from it we lose a part of who we are.”
- Carmen Leibel (NCC Regional Vice President)
map of the Carden Alvar region

Carden Alvar, Ontario

44° 39’ 12" N

79° 1’ 16" W

The Region

Carden Alvar is a pillar of importance in the push to protect the remaining alvar communities in Canada. Located in an area known as ‘The Land Between’, Carden Alvar shelters much of the 112 square kilometres of rare alvars left across the Great Lakes Basin, many of which have been drastically affected by human development and expansion. While alvars are the rarest of habitats that exist in Carden Alvar, shrubland, forest, wetland, freshwater and riparian zones also make up a large portion of this unique natural area.

8,000
Acres Forever Protected

Alvar

With an abundance of limestone bedrock that has thin or no soil coverage, Carden Alvar has sparse amounts of grassland vegetation. Trees are rare for this type of landscape, but some resilient plants and animals do thrive on it.

-4°C / 26°C

On average, Carden Alvar’s high and low temperatures in January range from -3.6 °C to 13.1°C. In July, the average high is 25.7°C, with lows of around 15.5°C.

1,040 mm

Precipitation per year in the Carden Alvar area is around 1,040 mm.

250 m

Carden Alvar is 250 metres above sea level.

Life

Endangered species definitely do have a fighting chance and the best way we can do that is by protecting habitat as best we can.”
- Rick Anaka (NCC GIS Analyst)

Wildlife

With a diverse range of habitats throughout Carden Alvar, this natural area is the perfect dwelling for a variety of wildlife. There are over 238 bird species and 142 types of butterfly and dragonfly found across this land.

Eastern Loggerhead Shrike

Eastern Loggerhead Shrike

  • Though delicate and beautifully patterned, there’s more to the eastern loggerhead shrike than meets the eye. Nicknamed the “butcher bird”, they use a rather gruesome technique to kill their prey. Because they lack proper talons, they impale their victims on hawthorn shrubs and barbed wire fences, then tear into them with their strong, hooked beaks.

  • 20-23 cm The eastern loggerhead shrike can reach 20–23 centimetres in length, and weigh between 35–50 grams.

  • They eat insects, amphibians, small reptiles, small mammals, and other birds.

  • They are one of the first birds to return to Canada each spring, migrating north in April from the southern United States where they overwinter.

  • Shrikes are a classic example of an “area-sensitive species”. The greatest threat they face is habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily due to agricultural land use.

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Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

  • The eastern meadowlark is a member of the blackbird family and is commonly found in grasslands and prairies. The male eastern meadowlark is quite the ladies man. Wooing females with his enchanting song, he’ll often keep two, or even three mates at a time. Singing is also a way the eastern meadowlark establishes territory.

  • 8+ yrs The oldest wild eastern meadowlark on record lived for 8 years and 8 months.

  • Their diet consists of mostly insects like crickets or grasshoppers, but they’ll also eat seeds and wild fruits in the winter.

  • With plant stems, grass, and strips of bark, females weave a small round nest on the ground which looks like a cup, often having a bit of a roof over it.

  • Eastern meadowlark populations are declining as a result of habitat loss and degradation.

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Black Bear

Black Bear

  • Black bears are Canada’s smallest and most recognizable bear. They are solitary wanderers, impressive tree climbers, and avid swimmers. When winter hits, they sleep away the cold weather blues, hibernating in their dens, going months without eating or drinking.

  • 200-600 lbs Black bears grow between 1.5-1.8 metres long and weigh anywhere from 200-600 pounds.

  • 20 yrs The average lifespan for black bears is about 20 years.

  • Black bears are foragers, eating grasses, roots, berries, and insects, but if given the opportunity, they won’t pass up a fish or mammal meal.

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Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

  • Dragonflies, including the horned clubtail, which is rare in Ontario, are some of the fastest flying insects in the world. While they are predators themselves, feeding on a variety of other insects, they also serve as prey for birds, spiders and fish.

  • 5.6 cm This dragonfly species measures 5.6 centimetres in length.

  • 1yr Totaling approximately 1 year, the horned clubtail goes through three stages of life: egg, nymph, and lastly, the adult dragonfly.

  • They eat mosquitos, bees, flies, ants, and sometimes even butterflies.

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Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

  • The barn swallow practically lives in the sky, feeding and even bathing almost exclusively in flight. They snatch flies and other prey in midair, and will swoop extremely close to the surface of the water for a quick dip or drink.

  • 15-19 cm Barn swallows are approximately 15-19 centimetres long and weigh between 17-20 grams.

  • 8+ yrs The oldest barn swallow on record in Canada was 8 years and 1 month old.

  • The barn swallow eats beetles, bees, wasps, butterflies, and other flying insects.

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Osprey

Osprey

  • Ospreys are excellent fishermen and generally stay in open areas where they can soar and dive for prey. Male ospreys like to show off to their female counterparts with an aerial performance called a ‘sky-dance’, which really ruffles the females’ feathers.

  • 54-58 cm Ospreys are fairly large birds of prey, measuring 54–58 centimetres in length and weighing 3.8–4.5 pounds.

  • 15-20 yrs On average, they live between 15-20 years. The oldest osprey on record lived to the ripe old age of 25 years and 2 months.

  • The majority of the osprey’s diet consists of fish, but they have also been known to prey on birds, snakes, and squirrels.

  • In areas where they have disappeared, manmade platforms have been set up for osprey to build their nests. It’s an important way to help replenish the osprey population.

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Plant Life

Carden Alvar’s open alvar landscape is the perfect habitat for lichens, mosses, and fungi. Its grasslands, shrublands, forests and wetlands also support no fewer than 450 species of plant life.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed

  • 1-2 m Common milkweed can grow between 1-2 metres tall.

  • The seedpods of this harmless looking plant can be toxic when ingested.

  • Insects including the monarch butterfly and the milkweed beetle depend on this plant for survival.

  • The common milkweed’s flower nectar was once used as a sweetener by aboriginals.

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White Trillium

White Trillium

  • 15-30 cm Growth of the white trillium is extremely slow, taking seven to ten years for it to reach flowering size. Its full height ranges between 15-30 centimetres.

  • Ontario’s provincial flower, the white trillium is known to blanket forest floors in May

  • Habitat destruction, grazing wildlife and heavy gathering for commercial gardening purposes have raised concerns regarding the survival of this plant.

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Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

  • 40 cm Prairie smoke (a.k.a. Old Man’s Whiskers) can reach heights of 40 centimetres.

  • Prairie smoke was once used by aboriginals for medicinal purposes. The roots and seedpods were crushed to make everything from eyewash to tonics for stomach aches.

  • This distinct looking plant is one of the earliest bloomers on the alvar, blossoming by late spring.

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Bearberry

Bearberry

  • 5-30 cm Bearberry (a.k.a. Dwarf Shrub) grows between 5-30 centimetres high.

  • Bearberry fruit is a delicacy among bears. For humans, not so much. Large amounts of bearberry can cause nausea, fever, chills and other unpleasant aliments.

  • Historically, bearberry has been used for medicinal purposes, most specifically to help treat urinary tract complications.

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Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

  • 60 cm Indian paintbrush can grow to heights of 60 centimetres, however, in Ontario, due to harsh habitats, it often reaches shorter heights.

  • Indian paintbrush is attractive to pollinators such as hummingbirds.

  • In Ontario, at least 50% of the Indian paintbrush population is found on alvars. In the wild, Indian paintbrush usually germinates in the early fall.

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Preservation

There can be no purpose more inspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.”
- Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life

The Carden Alvar Protection Initiative

With the help of Toshiba and the Land Information System, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is able to identify threats, reverse dangers, and record crucial discoveries. ‘The Carden Alvar Protection Initiative’ is one of the many ways Carden Alvar is being protected.

Threat

Threat

Many of the threats that the Carden Alvar natural area and its inhabitants are facing are associated with residential development, invasion by non-native species, and the unsuitable use of recreational vehicles such as ATVs.

Action

Now that the NCC has protected more than 8,000 acres in the Carden Alvar natural area, further development in these particular areas will be prevented, dangerous invasive species will be carefully monitored and managed, and signage and fencing will be strategically placed in sensitive areas to ensure that recreational vehicles stay on permitted trails.

Action

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