Muskoka Wildlife Photo Workshop
January 13, 2011
In the past I have
only taken photographs of landscapes and underwater scenes. When Brenda
and I went on the Muskoka
Wildlife Centre fund raising cruise in 2010, we saw the wonderful
pictures that Ray Barlow
had taken of the wildlife at the centre. I also discovered he runs
workshops at the centre so I signed up for a winter photo shoot
Of course it turned out to be the coldest day of the winter so far. It
was -23c when I pulled into the parking lot of the Centre, 10 minutes
south of Gravenhurst. When I left four hours later, it had climbed to a
However, there was no snow and except for having to deal with shadows,
a bright and sunny day for taking pictures.
Ray gave us a briefing in the centre before we went out. This is when I
discovered I was using a completely different technique for taking
pictures than those I'd been learning with Andrew
on his landscape workshops. Had I thought, I would have practiced some
of the changed settings before I went. As it was, I think I got them
close enough for the 560 pictures I took. Yes, I discovered you take a
great many more pictures of something that is constantly moving than a
nice subdued landscape. The dozen or so pictures here are the
distillation of those 560.
During Ray's briefing, I discovered we were not just walking around the
center taking pictures but actually getting into most of the pens with
the animals and that the Centre staff would be helping in herding them
so we could take great pictures. I did not know we were going to
get up and personnel with the animals. Very exciting.
Next, Dale Gienow, one of the co-directors of the Centre, gave us a
safety briefing on how we would entering and exiting the pens and how
he would be positioning us so that the animals had a 'safe zone' in
which they were close but comfortable. Something about the animals
getting a safe zone but us poor humans just on our own was a bit
concerning. As it turned out, we were able to get inside all of the
cages except for the mountain lion. For those shots we were able to get
inside the first fence so we could take pictures through the openings
in the links of the fence as opposed to through the fence. After
signing the customary waiver, we were off to take pictures. It would turn out to be
one of the most existing three hours I've spent taking pictures.
Most of the animals in these pictures are rescue animals from people
who attempted to raise them as pets. So when I say 'herd' they are not
trying to put them in unnatural exposure to people. The Centre respects
they are wild animals and need their safe zone.
Many thanks to Ray and the Muskoka Wildlife Center for a wonderful day.
I will be back.
April 29, 2021 - The Muskoka Wildlife Centre shut
down in 2013. Many of the animals found at home at Speaking
Our first stop was the Gray Wolves pen. This is where the darker
coloured male Akayla and lighter coloured female Montana live. We were
positioned at the front of the pen while Dale and his assistant Laura
kept guiding them towards us as they wandered to the back. Ray
pointed out how much higher their hips are and the additional muscle
mass in the heads for eating compared to domestic dogs. Also
notice the ice from their breaths on the wolf's face. Dale mentioned that
they took turns
in dominance roles.
(Cougar (or Mountain Lion))
Next stop, was
Kokanee the Cougar or Mountain Lion. The first thing they had to do was
get Kokanee into one of the double doored entry cages so that Laura
could safely enter the pen to deposit food for Kokanee to find. She
also made some trails in the slow that would guide Kokanee into
favourable photography shots. Seems these large cats are lazy and
prefer trails over simply walking through the snow. They also do
not have a great sense of smell and rely on sight. This meant that
Kokanee had to hunt for the food. Also,
the Cougar is the largest cat in it's family to purr.
Kokanee shares a pen with his best friend the black bear Kootenay.
Kootenay was in his den hibernating for the winter. The centre
staff had to build a pen inside the pen with his den so that Kokanee
wouldn't bother him while he slept. Also seems they had to neuter
Kootenay when he started to get a little too friendly with
While it looks like I'm in the pen, if you look at Kokanee's coat, you
can see the lines from the chain link fence. We were inside the outer
fence shooting through the holes of the inside inks. Dale and Laura were
never in the pen with Kokanee.
Rufus the Bobcat
and Yeti the Lynx share a pen and are best buddies. In order to
properly control the animals for pictures, only one animals was in the
enclosure at a time.
There are two dens in the pen but Dale says they normally sleep
outside. It takes very inclement weather for them to use the
dens. One of the pictures is Rufus in one of the dens. He decided the
photo op was over.
Rufus's case is sad but a testimony to the good work the Muskoka
Wildlife Center does. Besides what you will read in his bio below, he
has had testicular cancer and cancer of the eye. They successfully
treated the former but thought the latter would require him being put
down. Luckily the cancer was localized to the right eye and once
removed, he was cancer free. Rufus does have a pancreatic condition
which contributes to his 'Garfield' weight appearance.
The colours for Rufus vary. I need to work on these. He is closer to
the middle picture colour. I don't colourize my pictures but try to
render them as close to my visual memory of the shot as I can.
Yeti knew the routine. Reminded me of the animals in the Disney
film 'Madagascar' (and yes, I still watch animated movies). However, he
was more stubborn than Alex the Lion so I didn't expect any dancing.
The closest was when Yeti swatted at Dale's shovel when he tried to get
him to do something
besides sit there. Yeti was quite content to hold court, pose
and have his picture taken.
And yes, it looks like Yeti just finished breakfast and didn't wipe his
The Grey Fox was once the dominant species of Fox in Ontario. When the
English tried to introduce Fox hunting in North America, they
discovered the Grey Fox could climb trees which made for short hunts.
So they introduced the Red Fox from England to satisfy their sporting
needs. The Red Fix was more dominant and eventually drove the
Fox to near extinction. They are not biologically compatible so there
was no cross breeding.
Cinder is a recent addition to the Centre. She is still not use to the
routine and being on display. Mostly kept in a compound in the rear
view of the public. They brought her out for us to see.
Sad that we should not see it more in Ontario and sadder that we don't
know that the Red Fox is not native to North America.