Chickadee in winter

Chickadee, Black-Capped

I’m rather fond of chickadees; they’re as close as you get to things like Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus for any North Americans who haven’t heard the word used in an avian context!) in Canada and are thoroughly charming little things. A highlight of a winter walk in some of the woods around here is getting them to feed from your hand.

Whilst doing the categories for this post, I had to resist a pedantic cladistic urge to tick ‘reptiles’ too – after all, birds *are* dinosaurs – even inoffensive little chaps like this!



This rather splendid fellow is a resident of Toronto Zoo, although I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the species – it’s some sort of modest-sized crocodilian, possibly an American Alligator.

One has to be very careful when visiting zoos in Ontario: mainly due to a lack of serious regulation, a lot of them are apparently very sketchy in terms of animal welfare etc. Toronto Zoo is about the only one that I know about that you can visit hereabouts with a reasonably clear conscience – they take pretty good care of their residents.

I never get tired of visiting zoos and photography provides another reason to visit: they provide a good opportunity to practice getting images of animals, although visiting early in the day is wise (or nearer evening feeding time), if you want to catch much behaviour. Otherwise, you’re essentially shooting still-life…

Toronto from the CN Tower

CN Tower, Toronto, Tower, CN

A regrettable oversight by the builders of the CN Tower was their not using non-reflecting glass for the windows (!), which can make it harder to get shots from the viewing decks at night without at least one light-bulb reflection in shot. There are other possibilities, however: this shot was taken whilst descending in the lift; the red light comes from the tower’s own illumination.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Golden-Crowned, Kinglet, Golden, Crowned

This shot was taken at Ball’s Falls, near Hamilton; much as I would love to claim that I deliberately got the soon-to-be-lunch insect in the shot, that would be a complete lie, alas – I was only trying to get a decent shot of the bird (the blighters move very fast) and got lucky!

According to my bird-book, this is a Golden-Crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), which are very common, although you don’t see them as much as you might expect – they tend to spend a lot of their time up in the canopy.

Cicada exuvia

Cicada, exuviae

When I originally found this, I had to search online to find out what it was: it’s the exuvia of a cicada of some description.

The main thing that struck me about this thing was the enormous fore-legs, which are an adaptation for digging. You can also see some remaining dried earth stuck to it, from its life underground.

Incidentally, I was once taught to refer to the shed skin of an invertebrate like this as an ‘exuvium’; apparently, this is incorrect – ‘exuvia’ seems to be the correct term, with ‘exuviae’ being the plural, as far as I can tell(!).

Snapping Turtles

Snapping, Turtles, Turtle, Crawford, Lake

As I’ve alluded to elsewhere, one of the really cool things about Canada is that humanity hasn’t killed off all the big interesting animals here yet (unlike in the UK); as well as that, Canada has turtles!

In the UK, we don’t have any native turtles; occasionally, you get the odd feral Red-Eared Slider taking up residence when its original owners decided that they couldn’t cope with a full-sized adult. When I was young, the UK used to have quite a few tortoises about the place of assorted species, but they’re now very much rarer since the import of them was (quite rightly – it was barbaric) banned.

As a wildlife enthusiast, living in the same country as turtles is awesome! There are several species in Canada, but the biggest (and undoubtedly stroppiest) is the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina); I don’t ever seem to get tired of watching these things.

Looking at a Snapper almost feels like looking back through time – they look so primeval in some respects; they rather remind me of reconstructions of the age of ruling reptiles.

Looking back at me, I sometimes wonder what they’re thinking: most likely, it’ll be along the lines of “I hope that fat bloke falls in – there’s good eating on one of those”…!

My first raccoon

Raccoon, Procyon lotor

As most people know, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a very common animal all over North America; in the days before leaving the UK, I had even read an article (In BBC Wildlife magazine) explaining that not only were they very common, but the ones in the Toronto area were, on average, larger than the regular ones and had an extra offspring each season.

Essentially, I was half expecting Canada to be knee-deep in raccoons.

I was a trifle surprised then, after arriving, not to see hair nor hide of the things; not a hint of a masked face, nor tip of a stripy tail!

It took almost a year in country before I caught sight of my first raccoon; this image was taken at Crawford Lake conservation area and has been framed and cropped to try and exclude as much of the wreckage from the rubbish bag the raccoon had purloined as possible! on more recent visits, I’ve noticed that the rubbish bins at this location are now somewhat more securely closed…

The complete banker

In recent years, bankers have tended to acquire a level of desirability roughly equivalent to syphilis, certainly in the UK and other countries that took a beating from the recent financial crisis.

This may well not be an entirely new phenomenon, however: when walking around downtown Toronto, people tend not to look up; it’s worth breaking that habit when in the vicinity of the old Stock Exchange building, which is noted for its rather fine Art Deco façade. If one looks closely, one can see what appears to be a banker dipping his hand into the pocket of the hard-working chap labouring in front of him.

There is some discussion as to whether this element was an accident or a deliberate bit of subversion; I find it entertaining to imagine it was the latter.


Red-Winged Blackbirds

Red, Winged, Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
Red, Winged, Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

The male Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a ubiquitous sight in the GTA, especially near marshland; given how common they are, it’s hard not to get a bit blasé about these rather splendid creatures.

The main thing that struck me, the first time I saw them, was that a calling male does look rather as though he’s trying to make himself explode! This is a regular sight, especially during the times when their thoughts turn to making more Red-Winged Blackbirds – the males find a nice exposed spot and start calling (to describe it as ‘singing’ would, alas, be somewhat over generous) out over the surrounding neighbourhood.

The females, by contrast, are an awful lot less flashy than their consorts; their camouflage makes them rather less obtrusive than the males, especially when on their well-disguised nests in the reed-beds.

Recuperative visit to the Rock Gardens

My endlessly kind other half took me to the Rock Gardens run by the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, as part of a period of recuperation after getting a little closer to snuffing it than I usually like.

Being too weak and feeble at the time to carry much gear, all of the images on these pages were taken with one lens, which actually isn’t a bad thing to do once in while – it encourages you to think in slightly different terms as you have to move around more to get your shots.

As you can see, it was a lovely sunny day and did me no end of good to get out for a bit.