Toronto's Urban Nature & Wildlife

by Thomas Boldt
October 11, 2017

Great Egret (Ardea alba) by Thomas Boldt ©

Great Egret (Ardea alba)
ISO 100  |  f/5.6  |  1/250s

When nature and wildlife photographers think about the ideal location for a shoot, most of us think of a remote location far away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment. Almost all of Canada falls into that category - and it's spectacularly beautiful - but we shouldn't forget that there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife photography right at home. Even the famous BBC series Planet Earth II chose to focus one of its six episodes on the changing role of the city as environment and how nature has begun to creep back in beside us.

The BBC spent their time with one of Toronto's more lovable and mischievous urban animal residents, the common raccoon, but there are far more species that have come to call the Greater Toronto Area home. Some used to be at home here and are just returning, while others have been skirting around the edges and waiting for the chance to move in.

American Mink (Neovison vison) by Thomas Boldt ©

American Mink (Neovison vison)
ISO 100  |  f/5.6  |  1/250s

The American Mink has a range that spreads across almost the entire North American continent, but they have only recently returned to Toronto. Over the last 20 or 30 years, there has been a concerted effort to clean up the natural ravine systems that form the watershed of the Don River, and the results have paid off throughout the local ecosystem.

Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Auritus) by Thomas Boldt ©

Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Auritus)
ISO 100  |  f/5.6  |  1/400s

That same effort has been extended to the waterfront itself thanks to projects like Tommy Thompson Park, which has become one of the largest sanctuaries for migrating birds in the area. It also plays host to huge colonies of nesting Double-Crested Cormorants, like this one (despite its lack of visible crests). Cormorants were almost gone from the city during the 1970s due to DDT use, but have since bounced back - although some feel the lack of predators has allowed their population to grow out of hand.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) by Thomas Boldt ©

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
ISO 100  |  f/7.1  |  1/250s

Even a waterfront marina bay can provide great shooting opportunities. This Horned Grebe spent a few minutes fishing at the Ashbridge's Bay Yacht Club before flying off. Fishing and hunting brings a number of bird species to Toronto's shores, thanks to the general improvement of local water quality and the rise in local fish stocks. Ecosystems are dependent on insects and small prey animals, like this Green Frog.

Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans) by Thomas Boldt ©

Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)
ISO 250  |  f/5.6  |  1/100s

Moving away from the waterfront, the Don Valley winds northwards through the center of Toronto. This is a bit of an inconvenience for city planners, but it's great for both the local wildlife populations and the human residents. While it's still fairly industrialized near the mouth of the river, the farther north you go the more natural it begins to feel. Thanks to the efforts of the Bring Back the Don foundation, the entire area has been revitalized and wildlife is taking notice.

The Don Valley Brickworks is another urban rehabilitation success story. It supplied most of the bricks used to build the city during the early 1900s, but after lying abandoned for decades it has since become a haven for wildlife. This snapping turtle briefly surfaced from one of the central pools, covered in moss and mud, before quietly swimming off.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) by Thomas Boldt ©

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
ISO 200  |  f/5.6  |  1/80s

Deer are also working their way back into the city, although they are not always quite as passive as this one, found north of Bloor Street in the heart of the Don Valley. This was during May, and it is in the process of shedding its winter coat.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) by Thomas Boldt ©

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Thomas Boldt ©

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
ISO 100  |  f/5.6  |  1/100s

There are even coyote moving closer into the center of the city using the beaches and ravine systems, and in some cases simply walking down the streets. I haven't had a good chance to photograph them as yet, but I once surprised a couple of them while we were all out for a nighttime stroll. This might be a bit too much of a good thing, because the impact they have on the local residents is definitely outweighing their potential role in an otherwise empty predator niche. Clashes between people and nature have always been a part of the story of humanity, but hopefully we will grow to accept the fact that we are both better off when we can co-exist safely.


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Thomas Boldt

Bio: My name is Thomas Boldt, and I'm a writer/designer/photographer based in Toronto, ON. I've been interested in the graphic arts ever since I first got my hands on a copy of Photoshop 5.5 in the early 2000s. That experience started me on the road to design and photography, but I never lost my love of the software side of the process, which is part of why I started writing software reviews for SoftwareHow. I've reviewed a number of photo editors lately, so be sure to check it out if you're in the market for a new workflow.


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