Wednesday, April 10, 2019

'There Must Be 1,000 Frogs and Toads Out There'

Camouflage is the name of the game if you are going to congregate in huge numbers and get noisy

Yesterday afternoon, as I took a breath from dragging downed tree limbs off one of the dikes on a remote corner of the West Marsh, I couldn't help but find myself looking for the source of a chorus of amphibian love songs. The sun was bright, the mercury was climbing, and love was most certainly in the air.

A second perspective on the long frog I could identify visually
-- a solitary Northern Leopard Frog
I grew up pursuing "pond frogs" -- mainly bullfrogs and green frogs (with the occasional leopard thrown in to really amp up the excitement) -- with reckless abandon. Much like my oldest son now, I love them and always have. And while I'm certainly not an expert, particularly in identifying Ohio's frogs and toads by call, I have to admit that I've become pretty adept at picking their earth-tone form out of a watery cattail or bulrush lineup.

That's what made yesterday's experience so awe-inspiring. What started as a casual gaze into shallow water eventually evolved into a 45-minute dedicated sit with the camera. I recall thinking to myself, "it sounds like there must be 1,000 frogs and toads out there," just based on the peeps and croaks vying for very species-specific attention within my earshot. As I've experienced many times before, the sounds were seemingly coming from everywhere, but when I focused on a specific area to try to identify the musicians, I was hard-pressed to find even a single source.

Finally, I was able to make out the telltale, bulging-eyed silhouette of a solitary leopard frog who, like its counterparts, lay nearly motionless just twenty feet away. I stress nearly motionless because the only way I spotted it among last year's downed cattails and this year's emerging reed canary grass is that it couldn't help itself from flinching a time or two as tiny midges bumped clumsily over the warming water's surface. One flinch caught my attention and a second flinch (pictured above) was caught on camera.

The whole experience felt significant for a variety of reasons. (1) Hearing and seeing frogs and toads this time of year is a ritualistic symbol of the passage of time; it's spring once again. (2) Taking the time to slow down for just an hour or so paid dividends in getting to witness this frog just being a frog; I don't think he (or she?) had any idea of my presence. (3) True wildlife photography is tough. I certainly don't claim to be much beyond an amateur with a decent camera, but the effort it took to get a common photo of a common frog makes me appreciate that much more what the truly talented do "to get the shot." Wildlife doesn't commit to an agreed upon time or location for a photo shoot. The photographer has to work hard, be informed, be patient, and -- as the best one's will tell you -- get lucky.

(One final note: the 'there must be 1,000 frogs and toads' thought from yesterday proved to be prophetic in a way. I just checked our statistics for the blog, something I do in detail about once a month now, and we have just surpassed 1,000 email subscribers -- 1,028 to be exact. In just over two years of posting, we have attracted more than one thousand people who want to read about our adventures on a day-to-day basis. I am humbled and excited by that interest. It's my hope that we can keep building the curiosity and enthusiasm for these incredible corners of our earth. As a final postscript, if you are not a subscriber and/or if you want to invite a friend, simply enter a valid email address into the "Follow by Email" box on the right navigation bar and click "Submit" -- it's as simple as that!)