Skip to content

Unique 24-hour Carden Challenge is going to the birds (3 photos)

'After my first challenge, I was so addicted, I found I couldn’t stop birding,' says long-time participant of event that helps support the globally rare Carden Alvar

Cheep Thrills, Ravin’ Ravens, Coucou-kachings, and Let’s Wing It! are the names of some of the teams competing in a challenge taking place this weekend. Can you guess what kind of challenge?

You guessed it – it’s the annual Carden Challenge, where teams explore the outdoors to count as many species as they can within 24 hours. This year’s event takes place May 28-29.

The goal of the event, hosted by the Couchiching Conservancy, is to raise funds to support the stewardship of the protected Carden Alvar, a globally rare landscape that is home to hundreds of birds and other species.

Similar to last year’s event, this year’s Challenge allows teams to participate in the Carden Alvar area or within an eight-kilometre radius of their homes, in keeping with COVID-19 restrictions.

I recently had the opportunity to join a competitor with the “Pedaling and Paddling for Nature” team, Dorthea Hangaard, along with Joelle Burnie, a member of The Pink Flamingos, for a practice paddle along the Black River.

Like the name suggests, Hangaard’s team searches for species by travelling by bicycle and kayak. This will be the tenth year that Hangaard, conserved lands manager with the Conservancy, has competed in the Carden Challenge by pedal and paddle.

“My first Carden Challenge was ten years ago, just weeks after I started working for the Conservancy,” said Hangaard. “It’s exciting. After my first challenge, I was so addicted, I found I couldn’t stop birding. Every year since, I’ve been on the pedaling and paddling team.”

Our practice paddle down the Black River turned out to be a real eye-opener, or rather an ear-opener, for the uninitiated (me).

The ability of Hangaard and Burnie to identify birds by sound was absolutely amazing and their excitement at seeing or hearing a less common species was fun to witness. I began to understand why a 24-hour challenge might become so addictive.

Burnie, who is fairly new to birding, already seems like an accomplished birder. In between paddling strokes, she was either looking through her binoculars or grabbing her camera to catch another species in action.

“Being able to identify a species on your own, even if it’s a common one, is the best feeling in the world,” said Burnie. “Not to mention being able to impress your friends from time to time.”

They certainly impressed me. Along our short river route, Hangaard and Burnie estimated they identified about 40 different species of birds.

Many birders use a system of mnemonics – a pattern of sounds or words – to help identify different species. One of the distinctive ones we heard was “Here I am, over here, look at me,” the call of a Red-eyed Vireo.

When the sound of a Northen Waterthrush was heard, Hangaard was very excited by the prospect of catching a glimpse of this bird, one she had never seen before, evidence that the excitement of birding doesn’t diminish, even for an experienced birder.

While the Black River is one of her favourite places to paddle, Hangaard plans to explore the eight-kilometre area surrounding her home, including Lake St. John and Mud Lake, during this year’s Carden Challenge.

“Living near the Black River, and so many other bodies of water, is fantastic,” said Hangaard. “We don’t have to travel half-way across the country or even get on the highway to enjoy a wilderness getaway.”

The Carden Alvar is one of the many special areas close to Orillia where we can enjoy nature. Your support helps to protect this unique habitat, home to hundreds of species of birds and other creatures.

To learn more about the Carden Challenge; take part; or support one of the teams participating, visit the Couchiching Conservancy website. It’s worth it, even to be entertained by the list of creative, if somewhat flighty, team names. You can also keep track of the teams’ sightings by following along on Instagram @couchconserv.