Turtle Adventures in the Big Smoke (Happy World Turtle Day)
Fresh off the presses in time for World Turtle Day…
I remember when I was five or six, my parents took me on my first camping trip, travelling to Osoyoos in BC’s Okanagan Valley. We had campfires and played charades and swam. I also got to see my first wild animal: a turtle.
Like any kid, I was awe-struck by this strange looking creature that I had seen depicted in books and cartoons. I never actually imagined it could be found in real life. Yet here it was.
But after that one defining childhood encounter, I never saw a turtle again. Until a few weeks ago.
I can’t say that I’ve always had a fascination with turtles, but I do find them neat. And when looking for new subjects to photograph in Toronto (because, let’s be honest, I’m never going to find a mink), I discovered turtles are somewhat common in the city.
After spending far too many days walking along Queen St. in the late evening, armed with all of our camera gear, in the hopes of encountering a turtle in High Park – and failing – I was beginning to think Toronto turtles were an evil myth.
But while running a mentorship program for students at a Toronto school, a student teacher and I somehow got onto the subject of turtles and that’s when I learned the key to finding the wily amphibians: Evergreen Brickworks.
An old, you guessed it, brick factory that I had run by more times than I can count is, in fact, a turtle haven.
While most visit the retrofitted industrial space for crafts, weekend food markets and workshops run by the site’s owner, non-profit Evergreen Canada, we visited for the rehabilitated marshes and the turtles they house.
We found a midland painted turtle at the third pond on our first trip.
And then we found a second.
And then we found a frog. (Not a turtle, but we also do love our frogs.)
And then it was on. A new (urban) adventure was born.
This incredible oasis is home to the common snapping turtle – listed in Ontario as a species of special concern – and though we only spotted one briefly…
…we’ve had great luck with midland painted turtles of all shapes and sizes.
Increasingly, the midland painted turtles are being threatened by the non-native red-eared slider, a turtle common to Florida and pet stores near you.
As people grow bored of their turtles (who gets bored of turtles?!), they set them free in local marshes and in many places in Toronto, including at the Brickworks, they start to take over, pushing the midland painted turtle out of their home.
And throw in cold winters like the one we just had and this sight becomes far too common.
But for the most part, the Brickworks is just a wonderful hidden gem within Toronto for people to spend time in nature and do so within walking distance of transit. Throw in tremendous turtles – and fabulous frogs – and you have yourself a perfect Saturday.
The only real problem for us now is that we’ve had so many wonderful turtle encounters, we have thousands of turtle photographs to sort, edit and upload.
Similar to #FirstWorldProblems, we’ve got #TurtleProblems. I know, it’s a hard life.
Happy World Turtle Day!
Tags: brickworks, evergreen canada, frogs, nature, painted turtle, photography, simon jackson, toronto, turtles, urban wildlife