[Photographed with the Olympus E-M1 and E-M5 and telephoto, from a respectful distance.]
A park supervisor pointed me to these these Pacific chorus frogs — also known as Pacific tree frogs — as I was photographing turtles and damselflies at a local pond. She explained to me that this habitat had been re-landscaped for wildlife, and now thirty or so wild tree frogs thrived among the aquatic plants.
This seems to be the Year of the Chorus Frog for me. Not long ago, I came upon a chorale of chorus frogs, amplified through the tunnels of a drainage system. It sounded like thousands upon thousands of echoes, ri-bitting in sync with the sundown — a wall of sound produced by Pseudacris regilla. I looked for the source, somewhere in the shallows around the drainage opening, but even the most cautious approach forced an abrupt silence.
Claire Peaslee wrote this about frogs in Bay Nature Magazine earlier this year:
When hundreds or thousands of males occupy a pond, to compete for the company of somewhat fewer females, and night temperatures dip no lower than 51 degrees Fahrenheit, a burst of new rainfall will set off a pulse of tree frog calling and breeding. If you are listening (often haplessly if you live nearby), you are apt to hear a sudden drop to utter silence. Something has alarmed the singers. Then, soon enough, a single frog voice chimes, then several more, then quickly dozens to many hundreds or several thousand—and all at once the collective din swells to vibrate your diaphragm and rib cage as well as your ear bones.
Back at the pond, we didn’t see any frogs during our conversation, despite the landscaper’s keen eye. Before the sun set that evening, though, I wandered through the garden again and planted myself on a rock near the pond. I hoped that in being still and present, the beings of the bog would make themselves known.
After a few minutes, I noticed movement in my periphery. I turned and saw a creeping shadow which then curled its toepads across the top of a leaf.
It was a frog no bigger than a quarter, a Lilliputian with a mask, as stealth as the chorus had been conspicuous.
In short order, one tiny face after another popped into view. I don’t know if they actually emerged or if my eye was now simply tuned to their whisper of a presence. They peered from the leaves like sprites — amphibious sprites with copper discs for eyes.
They had the characteristic stripe which identifies Pacific chorus frogs. It runs from the nostril, across the eye. They also have toepads, and according to this reference, no other frogs in their range have these features. Despite how visible they are in these close up images, with the naked eye, they are so dwarfed by their habitat, they might as well be raindrops in a rainforest. In this setting, they could be easily be mistaken for blemishes on leaves. The magic of the telephoto magnifies their brilliance.
Since that day, I’ve returned several times to appreciate the peace that flows like a zephyr around frog life. They spend a hours sitting and waiting — sometimes for the sun to warm their cool, permeable skin, and sometimes for a damselfly to land on the edge of their leaf unawares. In both images below, the frog was stalking, but the damselfly noticed the movement and flew away. Frogs can leap the distances pictured here but are so swift, I’ve yet to capture them mid-jump.
I’ve always loved ponds because even the most cursory observations unveil a kingdom. In an hour I saw: frogs, turtles (both native and non-native), tadpoles, dragonflies, damselflies, California Towhees, Bushtits, Black Phoebes, House Finches, hummingbirds, bees, flies and Monarch butterflies. It is a world unto itself, and living proof that even the smallest patch of smart habitat restoration can give life to hundreds, even thousands.
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