Wildlife Viewing and Photography in Ontario's Sunset Country

Tips for getting those winning captures
Gerry Cariou
By Gerry Cariou

Gerry Cariou is the Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country.

Last Updated: October 29, 2018

Observing Wildlife in it's Natural Habitat

With the Boreal forest as the dominant landscape feature, along with 70,000 freshwater lakes, Ontario's Sunset Country is a great place to see and view wildlife. If you've visited here before, it's highly likely you've seen some wildlife. For those who take wildlife viewing more seriously, and want to experience the animals and bird species of the Northern Boreal forest, then Sunset Country is definitely a good place to visit. Remember that some of the best opportunities you'll have to see wildlife will be inadvertent, a surprise and the actual "viewing time" may be quite fleeting.

But there are ways to see more wildlife more often so I decided to write this article to provide a few suggestions - call them tips if you'd like - to improve your wildlife viewing experience. I am no expert but I do live here and, as an amateur nature photographer, I have learned a few things simply through trial and error. The following suggestions are intended to help whether you just hope to see wildlife on your trip or you actively seek the animals out. Here are a few pointers:

  • Respect wildlife and your personal safety at all times. If viewing them is going to be hazardous to their or your safety, back off and try again another time.
  • In summer, dusk and dawn are generally when animals are most active, as opposed to the middle of the day when it is hottest. This is the best time to see wildlife in most cases.
  • Inadvertent sightings are common, so have your camera ready. Remember though, in Ontario, you are not allowed to drive and use a hand-held device (it's okay for passengers) but don't stop in the middle of the highway to take a picture. Safely pull off out of harm's way and then hope the animal is still visible. 
  • If you're photographing birds, then a tripod and camera are necessary for best results.
  • Use manual focus over auto-focus on your camera (if available) - auto settings are okay but using manual settings produce the best images, but often, the animal is in sight for a brief period making time of the essence so auto-settings are faster with still good results.
  • If you are seeking animals and you'll be in the bush for awhile, protect yourself from bugs, deet-based repellant is a must and a head net is not a bad idea, especially in May and June into July.
  • When first trying to locate wildlife look for movement along tree lines, on lakeshores etc.. It is your best indicator. If you're serious bring a pair of binoculars they are very useful. 
  • Look for contrasts in shapes and colour, anything that looks out of place could be an animal standing still. 
  • Minimize movements, by staying still an animal may perceive you as less of a threat and stick around longer. 
  • Use your ears and your eyes. This is useful for viewing and photographing birds mostly.
  • Take extra care with predatory animals such as lynx, timber wolves and bears, they are generally the king of the immediate area so never approach too closely. 
  • Bald eagles are everywhere in Sunset Country, as are loons. These bird species, along with whitetail deer, fox and black bears are the animals you will encounter most often. You'll have a decent chance at getting good images of these animals.
  • If using an SLR camera, a telephoto lens is best. You can get good images from a much further distance.

So a lot of these points are obvious, and again, remember first and foremost that seeing wildlife is a privilege and you should regard it as that. Respect the animals space at all times. The worst I have seen on-line are videos of people in motor boats running close alongside a cow moose and her calf while they were swimming. This is not only stupid it was extremely dangerous for the cow and her calf, who could have panicked and drowned. Again, if you use common sense and discretion you should be okay. 

The images accompanying this article were ones I took in my travels across Sunset Country, I hope you enjoy them!

Some wildlife viewing opportunities just "happen" - like these two bull moose together I saw while driving Hwy 17 in a snowstorm on a trip to Thunder Bay!

“No matter how few possessions you own or how little money you have, loving wildlife and nature will make you rich beyond measure.” ― Paul Oxton

You will see whitetail deer right in our towns and in the forest - took this image on my iPhone while sitting in my lawn chair 10 feet away!

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson

This bald eagle stayed on this branch for over 5 minutes!

Visit Sunset Country for Wildlife Viewing

Our region of Ontario is a great place to see the wildlife of the Boreal forest. If you want more information then you can:

When the wildlife doesn't cooperate, a sunset will provide consolation! Every day is a good day in Sunset Country!