Monthly Archives: February 2012

Attention buoys and gills…

In my continuing quest to discover nature in and around the city, I am constantly surprised by what I find.  Let me bring you back to October of last year…

I had recently become a member of the Toronto Field Naturalists and received their first newsletter. It contained, among other delicious tidbits of local nature matters, a list of outings or walks,  put on by the TFN. One in particular caught my eye: Salmon Run on Highland Creek.
That’s right, these guys:

Surely these wild Coho salmon, pictured braving thrashing currents, jagged rocks, and opportunistic grizzlies, can’t be the same ones they’re talking about in the TFN newsletter.
I mean, Highland Creek is in Scarborough, which doesn’t exactly say “wilderness” to me.
More like “gunshot wound”. But I digress.

About 70 people showed up! ©K.McLellan2011

I suited up for a chilly and damp mid-October day and set off by public transit to the far reaches of Scarberia. A subway ride, two buses, and an hour and half later, I met up with the TFN group just as they were leaving the meeting point.
It was a huge turnout, this event apparently having been quite popular the previous fall. We headed down the paved walking/cycling trail along the creek as the leaders explained what was going on.

Highland Creek empties into Lake Ontario at the southern end. ©K.McLellan2011

This glacial ravine was carved out during the last Ice Age. ©K.McLellan2011

The coho salmon was introduced to Ontario in the late 1800’s, and were stocked in large amounts in the 1960’s to establish a permanent population. It is a very popular sport fish; it spends its time in the deep cold waters of Lake Ontario, only returning to creeks and streams to spawn in the fall. It is illegal to fish in spawning tributaries during the season.

We moved downstream along the creek, and I could see the salmon had their work cut out for them. This was no leisurely swim in gentle waters.


Many didn’t make the trip. We counted several dead salmon as we walked.

"GO ON WITHOUT ME!!!" One fish, seen above the rock, went to the big river in the sky, while another, just left of the rock, lives another day. ©K.McLellan2011

We walked about 1.5 hours before heading back. I spotted about 5 or 6 live salmon in total. I admit I had expected to see them leaping out of the water like desperate maniacs in huge numbers. I found out later that 1) it was nearing the end of the run, and 2) since it hadn’t rained much in the previous weeks, water levels were low, forcing the salmon to wait it out in deeper pools along the way.

Just a flash of the dorsal area and he's gone ©K.McLellan2011

An overcast day combined with fish that blend into the creek bottom...can you spot the two salmon? ©K.McLellan2011

Okay, maybe not quite as dramatic without the grizzlies. ©K.McLellan2011

Although it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d hoped, it was still quite a novelty to see a salmon run so close to Toronto. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year by going a few weeks earlier, and hoping for rain.

But the TFN walk was more than just salmon. I learned quite a few interesting things on this outing from various members:

  • I now know what rosehips look like, and can spot a wild rose-bush.
  • The lovely wetland plant known as Horsetail (Equisetum) is a living fossil, meaning it’s the only living genus of the entire class Equisetopsida, which has been around over 100 million years.

    Horsetail ©K.McLellan

  • Yellow birch twigs taste of wintergreen when chewed. Don’t ask.
  • There are deer in Scarborough. We saw one flee as we approached, and later on I also spotted some deer tracks. This blows my mind.

    Deer tracks along Highland Creek ©K.McLellan2011

I am really floored at how much there was to discover in a part of the Greater Toronto Area that I’d written off as completely developed, totally urbanized and slightly dangerous. It is quite comforting to know that there is more nature than meets the eye here in Toronto.
That being said, I didn’t notice if the fleeing deer was carrying a gun.


Howling for Blood

That’s right, I’m back!! After a long, unintended hiatus I have returned with a backlog of nerdery just waiting to be hatched and released. Little nature humour, there.


My lovely partner and I had a date the other night. Upon my super-excited, non-whiny request, we saw this movie:

Here’s a little synopsis: A bunch of guys working on the Alaskan pipeline are stranded in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of pissed-off, man-eating wolves in constant pursuit. That’s about it, really.

I have to admit, it was very entertaining, as well as horrifically gory,  and extremely intense.  Just my kind of flick.
However…I had a serious problem with this movie’s intention to further villainize wolves.

The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), also known as the timber wolf, is common enough in Ontario. Their range covers 90% of the province, leaving out only the southern developed area. The other species of wolf present in Ontario is the smaller Eastern Wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), whose range is much more limited. It is found mostly in Algonquin Park and the surrounding area.

Gray wolves

Eastern wolves tend to have a reddish fur, and are smaller and leaner

While the Gray wolf has maintained healthy numbers across the province, Eastern wolves are listed as Special Concern on the Species At Risk list in Ontario. That means that Eastern wolves are protected in Algonquin Park and the surrounding area by a hunting ban, while it’s open season on Gray wolves year round. Shooting a Gray wolf on your own property requires no special permit. A hunting license allows you to bag as many wolves as you want; you only have to report your kills if you sell the pelt commercially. Wow.

the wolves in the movie were made larger and scarier than real wolves

Which brings me back to the movie. The main character was a guy who was hired specifically to shoot the “man-eating wolves” that apparently hunted the workers on the regular. Zuh???

Well well well. Let’s do some research, shall we?? I’m sure you recall my terrifying bear attack post.

After much research, my findings are quite shocking. In North American in the last 100 years, there have been approximately 9 fatal wolf attacks.


Let me break it down for you:
5 out of 9 were in the U.S (and 2 of those were wolves kept as pets that ate someone’s kid.)
Out of the 4 Canadian attacks, two were in 1922 in Manitoba and Ontario, respectively.

The other two fatal Canadian attacks were Patricia Wyman in Haliburton in 1996, and Kenton Joel Carnegie in Saskatchewan in 2005. And the latter one is still up in the air as to whether it was actually wolves, or a black bear (click on the link for more info, I found the whole thing quite fascinating)

But looking at the only fatal wolf attack in Ontario since 1922, Patricia Wyman’s death was an unusual circumstance. She had been employed at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve only a few days, when she entered the 15 acre wolf enclosure by herself. She was surrounded by the pack and killed, though not eaten. It appeared to be a case of defending territory against an unfamiliar intruder rather than man-eating wolves out for blood.

I can only conclude that as long you don’t have a wolf on a chain in your backyard within reach of your toddler, go inside a man-made wolf enclosure, or live in the bush in the early 1920s, the odds of being “hunted” by a pack of wolves is pretty damn low. Even this Alaskan newspaper thinks so.

Wolves didn’t even register on my fear index while camping in Algonquin; in fact, I had hoped to hear some howling, but didn’t.
Besides, who had time to think about wolves with all those man-eating bears around??