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Morning Bucks with Wildlife Photographer Carl Pawlowski
Photographing urban wildlife in Toronto, Ontario
Photos and Words by Mitch Bowmile
The crunch of leaves under our boots begins to drown out the sounds of the cars as we press on deeper into the forest. Carl is looking for signs of life. We’re here to photograph coyotes, but we’ll take whatever the forest gives us.
The sun is just beginning to rise above the horizon now, but with the tree cover above us, we hardly notice. In the exposed meadows a fog begins to form as light from the sun meets the cool ground. It’s eerily beautiful.
No signs of wildlife yet.
We begin to ascend a hill and walk onto a ridge illuminated by the golden glow of the sun. The yellows, reds and oranges of the fall leaves stand out in the morning light.
There’s movement on a ridge north of us. We turn to look and a beautiful doe catches our gaze. Highlighted by the sunlight making its way through the leaves above her, she runs out of sight.
Carl stops, drops to one knee and begins to examine the ground.
“This is a scrape,” he tells me, “There’s a buck somewhere in here.”
We press on through the forest looking for more signs of a buck. Scrapes on the trees and broken branches are some of the cues we’re looking for. The most powerful one of all, however, proves to be the smell.
“Do you smell that?” Carl askes me.
“Yeah. It’s sort of like the smell of moccasins,” I respond.
“That’s a deer,” Carl tells me.
We’ve done a loop and the sound of the road is starting to become louder. We’ve all but abandoned our search for coyotes, now switching our focus on tracking the buck. We head across the road to see if we can find him there.
Back in the forest there are more signs of the buck on this side. The trail we’re following is littered with rubs on the ground and fresh scrapes on the trees, evidence that we’re getting closer.
We’re ascending a ridge line and Carl stops. He points. Three does run into view. One of them is highly inquisitive. She stops and stares at us through the trees. Slowly she inches closer. Carl and I both take this opportunity to grab a few shots. The morning sun shines on her causing her to stand out from the forest.
Now disinterested in us, she takes off with two other does. There’s a good chance our buck is right behind them.
We head to the thicket where we saw the does come from, hopeful that there might be a buck camouflaged in there amongst the trees. It’s not long until we spot him.
Carl drops to his knees quietly and begins to take photos. I do the same.
The buck spots us but doesn’t mind that we’re there. He moves through the trees, stopping every once in a while to look at us.
With a lunge forward he graciously begins to run in the direction of the does, kicking up fall leaves, the moisture from his breath lit up in the sun.
Carl Pawlowski is a wildlife and outdoor photographer. You can check out his work here.
Check out and support the Toronto Wildlife Centre, an organization working to care for urban wildlife in the city:
Check out the City of Toronto’s tips for ethical urban wildlife photography: