guild park toronto

Toronto park tells photographers not to come visit

A particular park in Toronto has had to tell photographers not to come visit after a situation involving overzealous "bird paparazzi" and a rare breed of owl.

Guild Park is known for its statues that look like Roman ruins and natural beauty, but some people seemed to forget that it's also a natural habitat that wildlife in the city depend on.

The park posted to their Facebook page on Nov. 19 saying, "The City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) department has a simple and strong message for anyone who takes photos by harassing wildlife and damaging sensitive environment. Don't come to Guild Park."

Protective barriers have even been installed at the park to protect environmentally sensitive areas and prevent harm to wildlife at the park.

"Dozens of 'bird paparazzi' descended on Guild Park over the past two weeks, bringing cameras, long lenses, flashes and tripods," the Facebook post reads.

They were staking out an eastern screech owl roosting in one of the park's trees, which someone had posted the exact location of on social media.

"Guild Park's unique Carolinian forest provides the nocturnal bird with a sheltered home within a public park, where it could breed, hunt and rest in seclusion," reads the post.

It continues to say that dozens of people have showed up at the park crowding into off-trail wooded areas with native plants ("many of them so rare that they are protected by legislation"), upsetting the owl's routine by crowding around the roost, and even shaking the tree and shouting at the owl to make it more visible. 

Professional wildlife photographers follow codes of conduct to make sure they're staying ethical and not negatively impacting wild areas. The park posted a link to an essay specifically on the ethics of photographing owls.

City bylaw officers have also been notified of the issue and can fine anyone trespassing on newly protected areas in Guild Park. If you see someone trespassing in these areas, you can help out the park and the screech owl by calling 311.

Friends of Guild Park president John P. Mason tells blogTO this is the worst this issue has ever been.

"This stake-out included using flash lighting, calling out to the bird, pushing on its roost tree and throwing branches and other items at the bird," Mason tells blogTO.

"Such behaviour fails to adhere to the various codes of conduct developed by wildlife photographers. It also violates the City's regulations covering public use of parkland and ESAs."

The Facebook page Guildwood Birding and Wildlife Facebook has also been shut down as it "brought unintended attention to Guild Park  as a place to enjoy seeing animals in the wild" according to Guild Park's Facebook post.

"Due to the bad behaviour of some photographers the Guildwood Birding and Wildlife will be closing down," local nature photographer Ann Brokelman, who was involved with the page, wrote on social media.

"People are harassing some of the wildlife, using flash and getting too close to wildlife. To everyone who loved this page, I am sorry but I can't allow it to continue."

Brokelman volunteered to assist in installing protection at Guild Park.

Mason believes that wildlife photography is a great hobby that lets people experience nature if done with awareness and care for natural spaces.

"The problem comes from people keen to take a trophy photo without any understanding of the stewardship responsibilities that come when people visit parks and natural areas," says Mason.

"Local nature photographers have been tracking birds and wildlife on-site for years. Since the devastation by the 2013 Ice Storm and Emerald Ash Borer infestation, Guild Park has staged a remarkable comeback as an important natural habitat," reads the Guild Park Facebook post.

"Thanks go to the City of Toronto officials and PFR's Guild Park staff for taking such prompt action to ensure Guild Park continues as a safe habitat for the city's wildlife and protected species."

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