Paul at the
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  this year.

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 balmy -13c. 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 Collett 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.

Page Update April 29, 2021 - The Muskoka Wildlife Centre shut down in 2013. Many of the animals found at home at Speaking of Wildlife.

Gray Wolves

Akayla (Gray Wolf)
Montana (Gray Wolf)

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.

Mountain Lion

Kokanee (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 Kokanee. 

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.

Lynx and Bobcat

Rufus (Bobcat)
Yeti (Canada Lynx)

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 face.

Saw-whet Owl

Luna (Saw-whet Owl)

You may have seen Luna the Saw-whet Owl before. She's one of the animal stars on the Telus commercials. She's a real pro putting up with three days of green screen shots that have been transposed into more than one Telus commercial.

They brought Luna out to us. Dale is one of her favourites. He posed her on a number of branches but she was then taken quickly inside because of the cold.

I was not able to capture it in still shots, but she has most incredible eyes with slow blinking eyelids. She appears both intelligent and sleepy at the same time.

Luna was on the charity cruise in 2010 and stole Brenda's heart. It's such a small delicate bird it almost appears to be a toy. I commented that with it's size and colouration, it is likely rarely seen. Ray piped up that he seems them frequently on his walks in Grimsby.

Grey Fox

Cinder (Grey Fox)

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 Grey 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 out 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.