We entered lockdown sometime around St Patrick’s day, the weekend of 17th March. My partner’s job intensified because of the changes and had her at the desk at home for 10 to 12 hours a day. Whereas before she’d at least have a daily commute of a couple of hours to get her blood moving, now there was no exercise at all. After a week I began to have concerns that we were in lockdown for the long haul and that a self care routine would have to be put in place. 

I’m not one to leave matters until they’re too late if they’re within my personal control. And our personal health is very much within my control. So I upped my game with the salads, started making all our food from scratch (even the ketchup, which is suprisingly easy!) so I could control what was in it, and then moved onto exercise routine planning. 

I suggested my partner come to the running track with me a few times a week but her ankle still hurt from an accident she had whilst wading a river in Costa Rica back in the winter so instead I asked, “How about a daily walk to High Park?”. She agreed, and 2 weeks after quarantine started, on 28th March, we went for our first walk.

The park is a 20 minute walk away; we did a circuit of it and came back. That worked out to be 5 or 6 miles and took about 90 minutes. There’d obviously have to be some other exercise added to make this as effective daily routine, such as yoga, but it was a good start. 

We would leave the house early so my partner could be back home and at her desk by 9am. At first we just walked, then we started pausing here and there to watch the birds. I’d run through the park hundreds of times over the past few years yet had rarely seen any birds, but now we were moving slower we began noticing them.

We’d gotten some decent binoculars to take with us to Costa Rica so we began carrying them and getting joy from seeing the birds up close. I didn’t take a camera at this point though. I hadn’t touched my old camera for several years and had fallen out of the habit of using it. Perhaps I would never have dusted it off had the Downy Woodpecker not come and sat on my knee that morning late in April as we rested on a bench. And then a Northern Cardinal landed on a branch very nearby and looked stunning in the early sun. It sat there with it’s bright red coat glinting and I thought, that would make a grand photo, perhaps I should bring my camera tomorrow. 

My camera is an old Nikon with a heavy 70-300mm lens. The lens isn’t great but it was cheap so I don’t care if it breaks – which makes it a perfect travel camera for a backpacker like me – and it’s good enough to get fun snaps. So that night I dug out some SD cards, charged the battery and hoped it would work after such a long lay off, and prepared to take it out the next morning. 

It was now a month since we started to walk in the park. My first photos, below, show the oncoming of spring. It was April 25th and I snapped photos as we walked. They helped us ID the birds later when we were home, and it was fun for me to take them.  

Now, 3 months later, I’m seeing that as I learn more about the birds and animals I feel more in tune with what we might call the real world, which has been some comfort during these times when the crust upon which our civilisation sits has seemed alarmingly thin. Our daily walks have also allowed us me to start to notice the seasons changing far more intimately than I ever did before.

In early May the Northern Cardinals were on the fringes of every tract of forest, and the Red Squirrels had their young. At one point late May we saw Cedar Waxwings every day too, then they left. Now, in hotter times, the ponds are full of waders, frogs and Muscrat whereas the forests are so thick with foliage we know them as places where we listen for birds rather than look for them. As trees flower or fruit, birds appear more, or less, often in different areas of the park. In May and early June there was no sign of Raccoons at all but then they appeared in mid June, slumped high in trees, as if they’d just left the hot city buffet for their cooler summer residences. And so on. 

I thought it might make for a nice record of the passing times – and of our increased awareness of our environment – if I construct a regular article showing what we encountered as we walked. This first article is somewhat light on photos as I only took my camera out for 2 or 3 days at the end of April. There’s much more to share as we move into May and onwards. 

I know that the photos can’t compare to much you see online – perhaps because I’ve got a $800 camera setup as opposed to a $25,000 pro set up, I’ve no time to spend waiting for a perfect moment, and I’m not baiting traps for the birds to get them in the place I want them (we have a strict ‘no feeding the animals’ rule on our walks). And, I don’t want to spend hours on Photoshop stitching photos together, creating scenes that never happened in real life, a practice that is depressingly common in nature photography, and has been since the 1990’s at least.

So, despite my photos’ amateur qualities, they do illustrate what you might actually see yourself if you walk through High Park in Toronto, or perhaps the variety you may see in your local park if you live elsewhere in Ontario and north-eastern USA. I hope you get enjoyment from looking at them and reading some of the fun facts I’ve learnt about the animals and birds, and that you’ll perhaps be encouraged to take daily walks as we do, to see what lives around you and at the same time get a little exercise.

Male Wood duck. Wood Ducks pair up in January, and most birds arriving at breeding grounds in the spring are already paired. The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year.
The Male Northern Cardinal fiercely defends its breeding territory from other males. When a male sees its reflection in glass surfaces, it will frequently spend hours fighting the imaginary intruder.
Red squirrels have a firm grasp on food storage. Using tree cavities, underbrush piles, or dens as their own pantries, they can ensure that the food they’ve gathered for the winter will be kept safely and out of the way of trespassers. Before storing mushrooms that they’ve foraged, red squirrels have been known to lay them out to dry on tree branches.
 The tail of a red squirrel is primarily used for balance as the animal jumps from tree to tree in wooded areas. It also help to intimidate other squirrels.
Male Red Winged Blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, spending more than a quarter of daylight hours in territory defense. They chases other males out of the territory and attack nest predators, sometimes going after much larger animals, including horses and people.
The Upper Duck Pond.
House Sparrows in flocks have a pecking order much the way chickens do. You can begin to decipher the standings by looking at the black throats of the males. Males with larger patches of black tend to be older and dominant over males with less black. By wearing this information on their feathers, sparrows can avoid some fights and thereby save energy.
Black Squirrels are uncommon in North America, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. We’re lucky enough to see them daily in High Park.
Springtime in High Park.
When my partner ID’d this bird as a Robin I was adamant it wasn’t. My confusion was because I come from England, and our Robins are a third of the size of the American Robin! We see Robins every day now and I never tire of their bright song and colour. To see their orange breasts reflecting the early sun is a glorious experience.

The next article will see the cherry blossoms appearing in early May, along with many other birds including Baltimore Orioles, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Flickers, Woodpeckers, and Red Tailed Hawks.