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Day 2 (Friday, 8th May)

     Carden Plain

Click for Carden Plain map


When planning the trip, we wanted to break up the journey and also add some variation to the birding if possible. It was noticeable that some of the tour companies added this location to their itinerary, and so it was that we were here this morning. As opposed to yesterday's conifer vegetation and more northerly species, Carden is very different, with the main attraction for us the grassland habitat that makes up most of the alvar plains. This turned out to be the best of an excellent session of birding, although we did come across one or two good birds in the woodland, which was by and large driven through at a greater pace than the plains. The website:

http://www.ofo.ca/site/page/view/articles.cardenalvar

has an excellent guide and map with a suggested route around Carden, and we followed this almost to the letter.

Lift lock Lift lock Lift lock

So it was that we were at the impressive looking machinery of the loch lift just after first light, with the canal obviously running through this. After taking in the House Wrens and Tree Swallows on somebody's front lawn, the suggested car parking at the loch lift was closed - a great result since it usually charged the extortionate sum of $2. Back in the pocket I say! We decided to avoid the diner car park, and leave the car on a verge, then birded the area to the North and then down McGuire Beach Road. This offered some great basic North American birding, although the small flies around here were a bit of a nuisance, with a few bites also collected. Crossing the river bridge, birds around and on the water included our first Eastern Kingbirds, Bobolink, and Yellow Warblers - all of which would be seen again later in the day - and a group of Goosanders. We didn't need to go far up the small road to find Grey Catbird, Eastern Meadowlarks, and American Goldfinch.

American Robin Yellow Warbler Eastern Kingbird
American Robin American Yellow Warbler Eastern Kingbird
Song Sparrow Tree Swallow
Song Sparrow Tree Swallow
Northern Roughwinged Swallow Red-winged Blackbird House Wren
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Red-winged Blackbird House Wren

However, the part of the location we were looking forward to most was the 9+km Wylie Road, which bisects the grassland. The track is unmetalled, and generally in good condition, although there are some sections with potholes and a little mud. A non 4x4 could make this without a problem in the conditions we found. So it wasn't the state of the road that forced us to crawl along at a snail's pace, but just the expectation of seeing the birds. Perhaps the total number was less than the best grassland birding elsewhere, but it was a hugely enjoyable experience. Bobolinks in breeding plumage were high on the wanted list, and the only pair seen were ticked off early on. Eastern Bluebirds were also anticipated, and we thought that they may have been a little late, until a few pairs were picked up some way along the track. A single American Kestrel was a little distant, but the common Brown Thrashers were not so shy, with a pair in the road right in front of our idling vehicle. An Eastern Towhee was nearby. Along the first stretch, roding Wilson's Snipe were regular.

Carden Carden American Kestrel
Wylie Road Open grassland along Wylie Road American Kestrel
Killdeer Eastern Towhee Wilsons Snipe
Killdeer Eastern Towhee Wilson's Snipe

We thought we'd hit a bit of a snag when the western end of Alvar Road was closed, but this turned out to be a benefit, when a short diversion took us past some grassy fields, which held another pair of active Bobolinks, and an unexpected Woodchuck (aka Groundhog). The lake shore didn't look too interesting, so we bipassed this and parked up at Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve.  A short walk across a grassy field found the start of the mixed alvar habitat, and while we didn't find a great variety of species, those that were present paid back their money's worth. Top prize went to a quartet of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. We watched them for quarter of an hour or so, for some reason in high spirits, chasing each other, often literally in circles around the spot where we were rooted. Pinning them down was nigh impossible, as they not only flew their circular paths, but also up and down and along tree trunks. One eventually calmed itself down, and just happened to select a tree right in front of us for some light trunk tapping. A couple of Nashville Warblers were picked out of the similar greenery, and the point at which we turned back on this linear walk was at the site of an Osprey nest. More entertainment on the return, where a male Black-throated Green Warbler responded as well as any bird I have seen to some playback of its congeners song. We must have been a bit of a disappointment when he saw the source of his ardour!

Grassland Grassland Woodchuck
Carden Plain grassland Carden Plain grassland Woodchuck
Carden trail Carden Trail

Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve

Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve

Sapsucker Savannah Sparrow Osprey
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Savannah Sparrow Osprey

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