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.


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