We share Leaside with some wild neighbours

The geese came over to visit me

I was driving home one night through the Brentcliffe / Eglinton industrial area when a gray wolf ran across the road and into the ravine on the other side without breaking stride.

This is my Leaside, I thought, full of wildlife coming from the close-by remarkable ecosystem of the Don River.  Over the years I have spotted wild animals and birds you don’t expect to see in a large city .

I am an artist and for 10 years my studio was on Commercial Rd. next to the Home Depot. At that time the Leaside Busisness Park’s original industrial buildings were being torn down to make way for the current retail developments.

From the windows of my workspace I became aware of the migration patterns of the Canada geese in spring and fall.    Each season they find some small turf patches to land on as part of their flight path.  I do not know how long they have been stopping by as part-time Leaside residents.  They are smart birds and likely are following the route of the green Don Ravine.

I started photographing the geese as a way of making sketches.  As well, I talked to them.

It was for me an honour one afternoon when a pair of parent birds walked their adolescent geese across Commercial Rd. to meet with me.

I had clearly established voice recognition with this family.

I cannot forget the proximity and intent look from the closest parent, perhaps two to three feet away, entirely trusting and aware.

Was I reading too much from this encounter?  I don’t think so. These notoriously protective creatures that can be aggressive with their territory when their young are concerned made clear to me that we co-exist well in our very urban neighbourhood.

After years of photographing and then painting these birds, and reading the books of the naturalist, Ernest Thompson Seton (nearby E. T. Seton Park’s namesake), I began to truly comprehend that these generous birds share their back-forty with us.

Seton chronicled the flora and fauna of the Don River basin and the surrounding lands west of the valley.  A prolific writer and illustrator (Wild Animals I Have Known) Seton’s storytelling characterized the animals’ lives and habitats in the early part of the 20th century.

For me the geese are lovely subjects to paint:  perfect lines, intricate colour and fine curving feathers.  Part of Seton’s legacy, they have now become a major body of my own work, Survey the Valley.

Seton was most concerned with the effect Toronto’s growing population was having on the life-sustaining Don River.

Perhaps he worried too much. The avian population of Leaside is legion.

Red-tailed hawks are breeding in our ravines and green spaces.  The hawk population has migrated to urban surroundings and our neighbourhood partly as a result of the heat generated along highways (for example, the Don Valley Parkway).

It’s a short step to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where these raptors are breeding.

Look up and you may see them circling in the air-currents above our homes.

I have had a number of intimate encounters with these birds too,

easily recognized by their red tail feathers.

There has also been an increase in the owl and falcon population as well as red fox and white-tailed deer.

The colour and beauty brought by the astonishing number of wild species moving with caution, precision and stealth amongst us, is for me, truly a gift.

I walk and ride my bike more.  I drive less.

I watch for their footprints in the snow in wintertime.

They show me how to move with a more neutral footprint.

And I am grateful, as are some others, that we share our neighbourhood with so many creatures that most of us may not recognize as part of the population of Leaside.

And I am grateful too that interest in birds has been growing, so much so that Toronto Botanical Gardens has asked me to teach a bird painting workshop for six weeks in October and November.

Our Leaside may be changing rapidly, but many great things remain.