Partial Solar Eclipse Day at the High Park Nature Centre

By Andrew Yee, Astronomer & Nature Centre Volunteer

On August 21 a partial solar eclipse of various degree happened in North America, except the lucky places along a 110 km wide path that ran diagonally from northwest to southeast U.S. where a total eclipse was visible.

The day was sunny in the Greater Toronto Area although with haze and occasional high altitude cirrus clouds. It was hot and humid too. I took my camera and a 30+ years old telescopic “lens” to High Park Nature Centre to photograph the partial eclipse. It isn’t actually a lens but a reflector like a compact reflecting telescope. However, its optical quality isn’t built to great precision so the image quality is inferior to a modern lens of the same focal length. 



I also brought a welder’s glass shade no.14 and certified eclipse glasses so Nature Centre staff and park visitors could use them to view the eclipse. 



Here’s a time-lapse movie of the partial eclipse from my set of photos. There are 13 images in the sequence, with each frame taken 15 minutes apart during the eclipse.  The Sun had two clusters of sunspots on that day.  They are identified with their official designations at the beginning of the movie. 



Irena Wilk was also at the Nature Centre to photograph the eclipse using a spare solar eclipse filter that I had.  This is a mosaic of her images.



Irena brought a colander to use as a multiple pinholes projector while she wasn’t grabbing eclipse photos. 



We set up on a lawn behind the Nature Centre. Kids in different summer camp groups were ready to view the partial eclipse with the pinhole projector that they made with their group leaders. Once the eclipse began a few park visitors joined us. Visitor Jackie took her young daughter and son to the park with their cereal box pinhole projectors. Everyone had a great time viewing the eclipse using different methods.

Eclipse Viewing Party (Nadine Nesbitt)


Kids found it particularly interesting using the colander pinhole projector.  Even trees became giant pinhole projectors.  Gaps among the leaves acted as natural pinholes to project multiple images of a crescent Sun on the path next to OURspace. 



I was wrong about no noticeable change in brightness of the surrounding. While it remained very bright throughout the eclipse, the quality of light became softened and muted. I knew about the muted lighting from a total and an annular solar eclipse that I had seen before. But I didn’t think that we would see the effect even at maximum eclipse this time when the Moon covered 70.8% the area of the solar disk. And it was a surprise that the softer lighting became noticeable when the Moon blocked perhaps less than 40% the solar disk area. The muted lighting was like on a late afternoon with a layer of cirrus cloud, or an effect similar to placing a piece of diffusion sheet over a light to soften the glow in a photography or TV studio.

The pair of photos from Irena shows the muted lighting. She took both images with the same exposure time. There is no processing to either image. 



The reduced lighting had a significant impact on solar energy generation. See the interesting map <> of what happened to solar energy production when the shadow of the Moon crossed the U.S. In Ontario the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) reported a 67% drop in solar energy generation at maximum eclipse <>.

Another interesting observation was the cooling during the deeper part of the eclipse. Irena and other visitors felt that too, so it wasn’t my imagination. At about the time we noted the muted lighting, radiant heat from the ground gradually disappeared and it was refreshing to have the relief. At maximum eclipse it distinctly felt cooler. A private weather station just north of High Park might have recorded the apparent slight drop in temperature around maximum eclipse. Here is some data courtesy the High Park Village Weather Station <>: 1:11pm (eclipse began) 26.5C, 2:09pm (55.8% solar disk area eclipsed) 26.7C, 2:19pm (65.4% eclipse) 26.5C, 2:29pm (70.6% eclipse) 26.2C, 2:50pm (60.0% eclipse) 26.4C, 3:10pm(36.5% eclipse) 27.4C, 3:50pm (after eclipse) 32.5C.

I thought it would take an even deeper partial eclipse with more of the solar disk being obscured before we could perceive the cooling.  Perhaps this might not be as surprising an observation when we look at weather satellite images of the eclipse.  As the shadow of the Moon skirted by the Great Lakes region (the red dot on the images marks Toronto), much less sunlight reached the surface so there was more radiant heat released from the ground than its absorption from incoming solar radiation.



In fact the NASA earth-observing satellite Terra detected such a drop in surface temperature during the eclipse.  The surface temperature map, courtesy NASA, for August 19 shows only a small variation across western U.S.  But on eclipse day surface temperatures in central U.S. are clearly cooler during the eclipse.



Here is a different perspective of the eclipse. The very interesting time-lapse video <> is the view from the GOES-16 weather satellite that hovers above the Equator 35786 km away. This is the latest weather satellite that is undergoing testing and verification on orbit. GOES-16 is scheduled to go into operation later this year to give us better resolution images of weather systems, and in situation of violent weather the satellite is capable of capturing an image every minute to track the storm development.

The next solar eclipse that will be visible in Ontario is at sunrise on June 10, 2021. Most of the province will see a partial solar eclipse. The exception is a narrow swath that extends from northwestern Ontario northeastward to James Bay and eastern Hudson Bay. Areas in this swath will see an annular eclipse which is a special kind of solar eclipse.

What is an annular solar eclipse? The Moon goes around the Earth in an oval orbit, like most objects in the Solar System. In an oval, or elliptical, orbit there is a point where the Moon comes closest and furthest to the Earth. If the Moon passes in between the Earth and the Sun to cause a solar eclipse at the portion of the orbit that is furthest from Earth, the apparent size of the lunar disk is too small to cover the entire disk of the Sun. At mid-eclipse a ring of light surrounds the dark lunar disk and this is the annular solar eclipse.

The June 2021 eclipse is in progress at sunrise. From the Greater Toronto Area maximum eclipse happens when the U-shaped crescent Sun sits on the east-northeastern horizon at about 5:40am EDT. At this time the Moon covers 80.3% the solar disk area, and this is more blockage than the partial eclipse last week. As the Sun rises higher above the horizon, the Moon continues its march to exit the solar disk. The partial eclipse will end an hour after sunrise.

Photos by Andrew Yee, Irena Wilk and Nadine Nesbitt


Solar Eclipse 2017!


On Monday August 21 all of Canada will experience a partial solar eclipse of various degrees as shown in the map below (full resolution of the map is available here). The further south a location, the greater extent of the partial eclipse.

In Greater Toronto Area partial eclipse will start at 1:10pm EDT. Maximum partial eclipse will be at 2:32pm EDT, when the Moon blocks 70.8% the area of the disk of the Sun (the technical term is eclipse obscuration). There will be no noticeable brightness change of the surrounding, it will be as bright as on any other afternoon at the same hour with the same weather condition. The entire partial eclipse will end at 3:49pm EDT.

TSE2017_stereographic [Converted]

Map source:

SAFETY WARNING: Do not look at the partially eclipsed Sun through stacked sunglasses, multiple layers of exposed film negative, darkened bottle and smoked glass, photographic polarizing and neutral-density filters, and other similar items that appear to reduce the brightness of the Sun. None of these items adequately cuts out the invisible infrared radiation which can permanently damage your eyes. It is still not safe to use any of these items to view the partially eclipsed Sun if there are clouds in the sky.

The only safe equipment to use to view the eclipsed Sun directly is shade no. 14 welder’s glass and certified solar viewing glasses. Shade no. 14 welder’s glass is hard to find. Few welding equipment companies stock the glass because it is used in high temperature arc welding and the glass is too dark for other kind of welding work. For special solar viewing glasses, on the market there are uncertified glasses that do not meet the safety specifications.

An interesting way to view the partial solar eclipse is to make a pinhole projection camera. Remember the pinhole is used to project an image of the partially eclipsed Sun on a surface. NASA has a special eclipse website with extensive resources on how to safely view the eclipse and make a pinhole camera.

An even simpler way to have a pinhole projection camera is to use a hat with many small holes or a colander. Even a tree becomes a giant multiple pinhole projection camera. Gaps among the leaves act like pinholes and project many images of the partially eclipsed Sun.

Clear skies and happy eclipse observing!

Andrew Yee, Astronomer


Tales from OURSpace

What follows is a collection of short stories highlighting a handful of memorable experiences encountered by some of the many visitors in OURSpace.

OURSpace is the High Park Nature Centre’s outdoor classroom and restoration space. While OURSpace’s site was once an underutilized area full of invasive species, our efforts focus on restoring it back to its original black oak savannah ecosystem. Through these short stories, you will learn more about how OURSpace acts as an innovative teaching and restoration site that engages community members and park visitors with urban nature.

The lone cowbird

Digging and turning, digging and turning. OURSpace garden pod preparation at its best. This hard work reveals more than nutrient-rich soil to plant hundreds of native black oak savannah seedlings; grubs and worms discover the light of day whether they like it or not!

Spying the action from a distance, a lone female cowbird flies over to take advantage of the bug buffet. Hopping within feet of our shovels, she cocks her head toward us, hinting at the feast within our reach. She calls in thanks as we throw the grubs to her. The next day she returns for more all-you-can-eat.

Photo by Andrew Yee
“Yummy yummy yummy, I got grubs in my tummy.”


Invasion of the inchworm aka a solitary wasp’s dream

We zigzag our way through OURSpace, through hundreds of silken threads carrying miniscule fluorescent-green inchworms. It’s a fall cankerworm infestation – millions of tiny but voracious larvae, defoliating dozens of trees, covering the canopy, our bodies, and the nesting chambers of our solitary bee box.

The invasion fills the potter wasp with glee. Preying on and stashing away the mini caterpillars for its progeny. Once its babies hatch, their appetites will be satisfied in turn!

Photo by Jon Hayes
“Swing, swing, swing, what more will spring bring?”


Chipmunk searches for a home

The stones making up the hibernaculum in OURSpace feel smooth and hot as we pile them higher and higher, revealing crevices within. These openings are small, but big enough for a garter snake to slither out after its hibernation 3 meters deep. However, it’s not a snake we see emerging, rather a chipmunk!

We stand back, hiding out of sight, until again from the crevice, the curious chipmunk pokes his head. Luckily for it, snake skin will be the only trace of snake left this spring in the hibernation chambers beneath!

Photo by Sarah Halonen
“Chip chip chip, beneath the snake layer I slip.”


 The monarch and the butterfly weed

Suddenly, there’s movement below the slender leaf of a butterfly weed plant – 1 of 200 seedlings planted this spring in OURSpace. Out of a teeny tiny egg hatches a teeny tiny black-, white-, and yellow-striped caterpillar; the result of a tireless Monarch butterfly’s careful and selective egg-laying abilities after days spent gliding over our garden pods.

The more the striped beauty eats, the larger it grows. Eating its way from one butterfly weed seedling to another and another, the monarch caterpillar prepares for its metamorphosis. But only after shedding its skin 5 times!

Photo by Sarah Halonen
“Munch munch munch, delicious butterfly weed for lunch!”


Mourning dove love

A pair of mourning doves’ whistling wings announce their arrival beneath OURSpace’s newly situated bird feeder station. Finding shelter among the blooming smooth rose and new jersey tea shrubs, a romance begins. Laying out its wing, like one opens a door for another, the male bids adieu, hoping the female will follow.

Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like lamentations. They know that parting is such sweet sorrow.

Photo by Kristina Banatova
“Coo coo coo coo, I love you, too!”

Written by: Sarah Halonen – Outdoor Classroom Coordinator

Tick Aware in Toronto


Here at the Nature Centre, we believe that being outdoors is vitally important to human health. We love exploring and stewarding natural spaces in High Park and know that many of you share in our love of being outdoors in green spaces across the city. These green spaces are home to wild birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Living among these wild creatures is one of the benefits of having such rich biodiversity in Toronto, however, it can be really scary when some of the animals we share the city with pose a risk to our wellbeing.

As you have likely seen in the media, ticks are one such creature that can present a hazard. Ticks are very slow arachnids (cousins of spiders and other 8-legged invertebrates). They cannot fly or jump. Ticks climb up to the tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for a creature to brush up against it. The tick then climbs aboard to feed on its host over several days. While feeding, a tick can pass diseases on to their host. One of those diseases could be Lyme disease but it is very important to note that not all ticks transmit disease.

Three species of ticks have been reported in Toronto. Blacklegged tick (a.k.a. deer tick) is the species that can transmit Lyme disease. American dog ticks are more common than blacklegged ticks. Brown dog ticks are more rare and generally live indoors.  American dog ticks and brown dog ticks do not transmit Lyme, but can carry other disease-causing bacteria. For identification and habitat info, click here.C:\Users\Staff\Desktop\ticks.jpg

Image: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Based on Toronto Public Health’s tick surveillance program, blacklegged ticks have not been reported in High Park. However, blacklegged tick populations are becoming established in Toronto and ticks infected with Lyme disease-causing bacteria have recently been found in a few locations in Toronto (e.g. Algonquin Island on the Toronto Islands and parts of Rouge Park).

Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.  

Here are some suggestions for “tick smart” outdoor adventures:

  • Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs. This will make it harder for ticks to find your skin and give you a greater chance at finding the ticks before they begin to feed. The chances of getting Lyme disease increase after the tick has been attached for 24 hours, so finding them quickly is best.

  • Wear light-coloured clothes to make spotting ticks easier.

  • Use insect repellant containing DEET, Icaridin or essential oils on your skin and clothing.

  • Stay on established trails. Not only will you prevent trampling and erosion, you will also reduce the amount of foliage you brush up against and decrease the chance that a tick will climb aboard.

  • Picnic on mown lawns instead of wild areas or put a plastic ground sheet down to reduce the chance of picking up ticks.

  • Before leaving a green space or natural area, remove your outerwear and do a preliminary tick check.

  • Upon returning home, do a “full body” check for ticks. Adults can use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Children should have the help of a parent or guardian when doing a tick check. Be sure to check the places where ticks are known to latch on:

    • Under the arms

    • In and around the ears

    • Inside the belly button

    • Back of the knees

    • In and around the hair and hairline

    • Between the legs

    • Around the waist

  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks. Comb hair well with a fine toothed comb.

  • Check your furry friends after walks for ticks. Brushing a dog’s fur and feeling for ticks with your fingers will help you detect them quicker. Ticks found on dogs should be brought to a veterinarian for identification and to be sent for testing. Medication is available for dogs that prevents tick bites.  

If you do find any type of tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible with fine-tipped tweezers using the instructions here.  Do not squeeze or burn the tick off – doing so could cause the tick to inject Lyme disease-causing bacteria into your body (if the tick carries the bacteria). Place the removed tick in a jar and bring it to one of the Toronto Public Health offices listed here for identification and testing. Submitting the tick to Toronto Public Health helps in tracking tick populations and their movement within Toronto.

Toronto Public Health has an excellent fact sheet about Lyme disease and ticks that can be downloaded here

Despite ticks becoming established in our city and the fear that this can bring, we encourage everyone to continue to get outside and connect with the natural spaces that we are so fortunate to have! Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.


Happiness in Hibernation

by Guest Blogger Gar Concannon

Spring is officially here!  Recently I wrote about the dietary habits of wildlife in winter in High Park and hopefully you managed to find some time for some animal spotting in High Park since then.

If not, rest assured as spring is upon us and we are starting to feel the early season warmth.  The Cherry Blossoms of High Park will be out in no time and the snow and slush will be a distant memory.  Before all that though, High Park’s animal life will be stirring and making appearances that will certainly brighten up your walks.

Eastern Chipmunk

One of my favourite mammals to observe in High Park is the Eastern Chipmunk.  They are a member of the squirrel family.  You will spot these mostly on the wooded trails around High Park in spring.  The Eastern Chipmunk of High Park will spend most of their time in winter months in burrows.  To make a burrow, the chipmunk will dig a tunnel and will then fill the spaces with seeds, leaves and grass.  They will carry the seeds in pouches in their cheeks which shows the industrious nature of these creatures.  

Although they are not hibernators in the true meaning of the word, the Eastern Chipmunk will enter a torpid state called shallow hibernation that allows them to wake every few weeks to snack on their reserves that they spend the fall accumulating.  Chipmunks will start prepping for winter as early as July to prepare for the long winters.  In early spring, we will see a rise in their activity in High Park.  Chances are you will hear their chirping sound before you see them.  The snow will not slow them down either as they are known to dig up through a metre of snow If they are determined enough.


The largest member of the squirrel family to start making appearances around this time of year is the groundhog.  Legend has it that these fascinating creatures can also predict the weather and seasons!  We could really do with their help of late with this ever-changing weather!  The groundhog like the Eastern Chipmunk are fantastic architects navigating through burrows that they carve out with their impressively sharp claws.  During the warmer months, a groundhog’s incisors grow about 1.6mm each week to keep up with their eating schedule.  It is said that they can eat up to a pound of food per sitting.  This figure is even more impressive considering the total body weight of an adult groundhog is roughly 13lbs!

Groundhogs are very much like ourselves in the summer months.  They like to eat and to spend time sunning themselves.  What’s not to like about them?!  

The groundhog will go into true hibernation mode during the winter.  Their heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to 5 beats per minute.  Their respiration reduces from 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2 breaths per minute.  Their sustained feeding frenzy during the summer and fall months makes sense when we see how adaptive their bodies are during the winter hibernation period.

In February, male groundhogs will seek out a female partner and as spring progresses the mating season will continue.  During winter, they burrow in wooded areas but as the warmer weather approaches you will find them nesting in grassier areas. Although groundhog appearances in High Park are rare, keep an eye out for these wonderful rodents on your next trip, if it’s a warm sunny spring day, you might even see one sunbathing!  

The Eastern Chipmunk and groundhog’s ability to adapt and to survive the colder months never ceases to amaze.  Their instinctive ability to prepare for the changing seasons is just one facet of their extraordinary lives.


 Photo credits

Eastern Chipmunk - Gilles Gonthier

Groundhog - Matt MacGillivray


Three Baby Animals You Might See in High Park This Spring

By Guest Blogger Laura De Vuono

As April approaches, High Park is beginning to show some sure signs of spring. Although we are still due some uncertain weather before spring has fully sprung, this is a great time to explore the park and look for the first signs of the new season. One of the best things about spring in High Park is the arrival of baby animals. Most mammals in the park begin to have their young in late winter to early spring, so on your next visit be sure to keep a watchful eye out for signs of these little critters.

Eastern Grey Squirrel

The eastern grey squirrel is the most common animal found in High Park, and the baby animal you’re most likely to spot if you look hard enough. They have two breeding seasons—one in late winter (January and February) and one in midsummer (June and July)—and the winter babies begin to appear in the early spring. Young eastern grey squirrels can be seen exploring their surroundings outside of their nest by 8 weeks old, and by 12 weeks they are almost fully grown and independent.

Eastern Chipmunk

The eastern chipmunk is another common inhabitant of High Park—they can be heard chirping and chattering as they scurry about the park during the spring, summer, and fall. Unlike the eastern grey squirrel, most chipmunks only have one breeding season a year, from mid-April to mid-May. Young eastern chipmunks only weigh about 3 grams at birth, making them the tiniest babies on this list. They grow quickly, however, and reach their full adult size by early fall of their first year, and most begin to breed in their first spring. While exploring High Park this April, keep an eye out for young chipmunks foraging outside of their burrows for the first leaves and shoots of the season—they might be even more charming than their adult counterparts.


High Park is also home to Toronto’s favourite masked mammal: the raccoon. Just as likely to make their den in a hollow tree as in a brick chimney in a residential neighbourhood, raccoons and their young are notoriously adaptable to life in a big city. Raccoons breed in late winter and early spring and their young are mostly born in May, although births have been recorded as early as March. Young raccoons stay with their mother until they are about a year old, and their distinctive facial markings begin to develop in their first few weeks of life. It is not uncommon to see young raccoons following their mother through the trails of High Park in search of their next meal.

Spring in High Park means rebirth and renewal. Although it may seem a long way away, the promise of new life—blossoms, blooms, and baby animals alike—is enough to keep the cold at bay for now as we dream of warmer days.


Winter Diet for the Animals of High Park

By Guest Blogger Gar Concannon

Red Fox

Photo by Peggy Cadigan

The recent snow melt and increase in temperatures of late have transformed High Park into an early spring landscape for all to enjoy.  As you are walking through the park exploring the paths and trails, it’s hard to imagine that animals have stayed in High Park all winter long, surviving through the cold temperatures and snowy conditions. Keep an eye out for signs of winter wildlife on your next journey through High Park.  

We know there are plenty of animals that stick around and call High Park their home during the winter, but what are they eating to survive the cold temperatures?  One of my personal favourite sounds on spring walks in High Park is the chirp of chipmunks as they forage for seeds left over from the previous summer months – a sound that may be heard sooner than anticipated!

I often wondered what happens to these little mammals during the bitter winter months and what are they eating to survive?

The Eastern Chipmunk hibernates during the winter months, but does not build up layers of fat. In the summer months, chipmunks will begin to collect and store large quantities of seeds. By October, each chipmunk has accumulated enough seeds to enable it to survive the winter months.  With the onset of winter in November, chipmunks will then disappear into their subterranean burrow.  Chipmunks are important in the dispersal of seeds because of their habit of storing them underground. Any seeds that are not consumed stand a better chance of germinating than those remaining on the soil surface. In this way, chipmunks assist in the spread of shrubs, trees, and other plants.  

They have been known to pop up from hibernation on milder days during March, occasionally burrowing through a meter of snow to do so.

Another animal that always fascinated me was the fox.  In Ireland where I grew up, these shy creatures were plentiful and would often be spotted at dawn when there was less chance of bumping into a human!  These animals are beautiful to observe in their natural habitats if you ever get a chance to do so.  High Park is no stranger to Red Fox activity and winter is a great time to see them with the sparse landscape making sightings more common.  The fox is well acclimatized to dealing with cold winter months.  The fox will wrap its long bushy tail around itself to keep their face and feet warm.

During winter, food is not as plentiful for foxes. They primarily eat meat during the winter months such as meadow voles, mice and squirrels.  When High Park is covered in snow, foxes rely on their senses to hunt for food.  A fox’s hearing is one of its strongest senses when it comes to winter food.  It is said that a fox can hear a watch ticking from 120 feet away!  This incredible advantage is important in tough winter landscapes.  

Foxes can locate rodents and other small animals underground by sound.  This is important when there can be up to a meter of snow between the fox and its prey.  If a fox’s hearing allows it to locate a small animal below ground, the fox stalks it and pounces from as far as 16 feet away, using its tail to steer while in mid-air.  The agility and speed (a fox can run up to nearly 50km per hour!) are significant advantages to surviving winter in High Park.  Keep an eye out for fox tracks in the snow in winter.  To distinguish a fox track from a dogs you can study the pattern.  Dog track marks will be random, whereas a fox track tends to have more purpose and direction as they hunt.

Although High Park might appear to be empty at this time of year, the park is in fact teeming with wildlife and activity.  As humans brave the winter elements, so too do our animal friends. They just have to work a little bit harder than us for their meals!

If you’re looking for a family adventure this winter, why not take advantage of one of the many guided Family Nature Walks in High Park. For more information on specific dates, please follow this link: