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Archive for March, 2012

The Breeding Pool


On Sunday afternoon I decided to change my routine at the frog ponds behind my home and take my four year old daughter out to investigate the ponds during daylight hours. The night-time temperatures are dipping just below the freezing mark and the frogs have stopped chorusing until the warmer weather arrives again. Above you will see a photo of the main pond in the abandoned cattle pasture behind my home. I love being able to look out over these empty fields everyday and watch the wild grasses waving in the summer breeze. This pond sure ain’t much to look at, but at night it comes alive with song. This is the pond where I photograph my Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper images and it is roughly two feet deep in the middle. The field where these ponds are located is cut and baled once per year, usually late summer, by a local farmer. In this field there are three significant ponds that are used each year by the resident frog and toad populations as breeding pools. These ponds are known as vernal ponds. Vernal ponds are often favored by many frog and toad species as there tends to be fewer predators due to the fact that vernal ponds dry-out towards the end of summer, however, there are still some predators (water beatles, turtles and snakes) that will feast on the eggs, tadpoles or frogs themselves. As it would turn out while I was wading through the pond while carrying my daughter we came upon a large Snapping Turtle, the same turtle I encounter year-after-year, that was busy eating Wood Frog eggs. This large turtle was already sporting a lovely new coat of algae on its shell. I walked my daughter back to the pond’s edge and walked back out for a couple of quick photos with my 12-24mm lens with a polarizing filter attached.

Snapping Turtle and Wood Frog eggs

 

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Male Spring Peeper calling at night

I have received numerous kind words about my collection of frog photos and several folks have been inquiring with me about how I go about photographing them at night. Night is often the best time to photograph frogs and toads when they are chorusing and the best way to photograph them is by pulling on a pair of chest waders and get in the water with them. I personally find Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers to be the most difficult to photograph as they are tiny and quite wary of danger. My usual attire for pond walking are chest waders, heavy fleece sweater with pockets, toque, head-lamp and a small clip-on flashlight. Chest waders are better than hip waders as most often I find myself sitting down in the shallow ponds to get as low an angle as possible to photograph the frogs at their level. A fleece sweater to keep warm on cool nights with pockets to keep spare flashlight batteries, camera batteries and flash batteries. A toque for my bald head so that the head-lamp fits more comfortably and a small clip-on flashlight that is attached to my flash bracket. My camera set-up is simply a 105 macro lens  on my Nikon D200 with a Nikon Sb400 Speedlight attached to a flash bracket to hold the flash out above the lens. Once I am all set-up with my camera gear and clothing I head out into the field behind my home and enter the ponds. Most often I find I am using sound to locate the calling frogs. When one is located I will slowly move into a kneeling position and turn on the small clip-on flashlight that is attached to my flash bracket. This clip-on flashlight is what I use to provide light to focus on the frogs. The Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers tend to stop calling when you approach, but if you sit absolutely still they will begin to sing again. Good things come to those who wait. Once they commence singing again you will soon hear that their songs have a steady rhythm to them, allowing you to time when to press the shutter to capture the vocal sac at its largest size. Often while in the kneeling position I will crouch forward putting my arms into the pond to hold the camera set-up right at the water’s surface for a very low angled perspective. This alone will most often yield a more pleasing photograph than if you shoot down on the frogs from a higher angle. As the grasses in the ponds grow up out of the water it becomes increasingly more difficult to capture images with pleasing backgrounds and many times I have tracked a Spring Peeper in the ponds only to find that it is completely hidden, out of sight, inside a clump of grass making photography of it near impossible…onto the next frog. I have been lucky this year as the temperatures warmed up very quickly, even set an all-time record, +25 Celsius, for this region in March ever. The rapid increase in temperatures brought numerous species of frogs and toads out of hibernation, a month early, allowing me to photograph the them with little distractions from unwanted grasses beginning to grow up and out of the water. The two images in this post are of the same frog. As you will see in the image below this little fella was right up against some old and new grasses making a poster-like background impossible, so I decided to make some very tight, close-ups to help render the background more out of focus. Let me know which is your favorite and why.

Male Spring Peeper calling at night

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Chorus Frog, male, in position to start calling

I have spent the last two nights out in the ponds photographing the Chorus Frogs, Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers. The Spring Peepers emerged about two days ago and began singing. So far, this year is turning out to be one of the best, if not the loudest chorus I have ever heard in my 15 years of living here. While sitting in the ponds, surrounded by a large number of Chorus Frogs, I can honestly say that the sound is utterly deafening this year. I love it! And the best part is these little fellas are quite literally singing all day and all night long. Each night after I have finished photographing the frogs it is so nice to crawl into bed, leaving the bedroom window open, and be serenaded to sleep by these wonderful sounds of spring. Here are a few recent captures from the last two nights. Note, I have never been able to photograph Chorus Frogs in the day as they are too weary and go silent when I get within 50 feet or so of the ponds. At night it is a different story, especially if it is an overcast night. For some reason overcast nights are always more productive. With temperatures predicted to break records, for this time of the year, over the next few days I would not be at all surprised to see the American Toads emerging very soon as well.

Chorus Frog calling

Chorus Frog calling

Spring Peeper calling

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Chorus Frog

Over the past week in south-central Ontario we have been experiencing some rather warm weather, with temperatures hovering around the +15 degrees Celsius mark. We have also had large numbers of Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles and Killdeer arrive. With this warm weather I have been eagerly listening to the sounds from the abandoned cattle pasture behind my home. In this pasture there are several temporary ponds that frogs and toads use as breeding pools. On Tuesday, March 13th I heard the first Chorus Frog singing out in the ponds – the earliest I have ever heard them begin to chorus in my 15 years of living here. Last night I ventured out into the ponds with my chest waders and head-lamp to begin another season of frog photography. It was a lovely night, although the water was rather chilly (I really need to get a pair of insulated waders), but nonetheless enjoyable, especially since I was also being serenaded by the resident coyotes that were very vocal in another nearby field. While tracking the chorus frogs, which is usually done by following their vocalizations, I also discovered a lone, male Leopard Frog. Leopard Frogs don’t usually emerge for at least a couple of weeks after the first of the Chorus Frogs appear. Perhaps the relatively light winter we have just gone through, with very little snowfall and rather warm temperatures, has been very easy on the local frog population and now we are headed for a highly productive spring chorus. Nothing says spring more than the choruses of frogs and toads. Here are two of my favorites from last night’s excursion into the ponds.

Leopard Frog

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Mallard drake at Humber Bay Park

With a ton of work to do (submissions and new eBook to write) I decided to ignore the weather forecast for today and take some time off to create some fresh waterfowl images at one of my favorite locations, Humber Bay Park on Lake Ontario in Toronto, during the spring migration. The forecast was for snow flurries, sunny periods and windy conditions. Since the weather forecasts are usually wrong anyway, I figured I would make the one hour drive down to Toronto and try my luck. Today the weatherman got it right! I encountered a real mixed bag of weather from brief, but very heavy snow flurry activity followed by clear skies that quickly turned back into snow squalls. I did not find a great assortment of waterfowl today, just some Mallards and a lot of Gadwalls. More Gadwalls than I have ever seen at Humber Bay before, so I spent the day photographing Gadwalls in the various weather elements we were experiencing today. And I never pass up the opportunity to photograph the Ring-billed Gulls at close range while here either. A long time ago, I heard a good bit of advice – take advantage of the common wildlife around your home, because there are other places in this world where they are not so common. For the Ring-billed Gull portrait I applied a touch of Nik Software’s ‘detail extractor’ filter found in Color Efex Pro 4 to bring out some of the detail in the whites of the bird.

When I arrived home at the end of the day, I was greeted by the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds and the first Robin of the year was sitting on my front lawn. Looks like spring is here :)

Gadwalls  and falling snow

Gadwall drake preening

Gadwall drake

Ring-billed Gull

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Aux Sables River in Chutes Provincial Park

Chutes Provincial Park is a small, but very photogenic park to visit, it is located in the town of Massey, Ontario along the Trans-Canada Highway. The Aux Sables River flows through this park. Along the way, there are several sets of rapids and a few small cascades along the river’s course. This river setting is best photographed in over-cast light. As I drove to Lake Superior Provincial Park last September I was passing through the town of Massey on an over-cast, drizzly day so I made a stop in hopes of walking along the Twin Bridges Trail to photograph various locations along the river. After making a few images of the main cascade I ventured further along the trail, but the over-cast conditions cleared and the lighting became rather harsh so I packed up and continued onward to Lake Superior. Here are a couple of fresh images of Chutes Provincial Park’s main attraction and I also applied Topaz Labs’ B&W Effects using my custom preset “Waterfall Setting” that I created for an artistic rendition of the waterfall. A Nikon 12-24mm lens and Nikon polarizing filter was used in the making of these images.

Aux Sables River in Chutes Provincial Park

Custom “Waterfall Setting” preset in Topaz Labs BW Effects

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Katherine Cove at sunset

I have been going through some of my image files from the past summer and fall trying to get caught up on some much needed processing. Today, I was going through some photos from the four day excursion to Ontario’s Lake Superior Provincial Park. This Provincial Park, with its rugged coastline, has some of the best scenery in the province and is one of the many locations that can be found in my e-book ‘A Photographer’s Guide to the Ontario Landscape’. During my trip last September, stormy weather and strong winds dominated much of my time there, but it also allowed me to produce some of my favorite images to date.

Katherine Cove at dusk with storm clouds developing

Lake Superior shoreline

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Innisfil Creek, winter details

Above is a recently optimized photo from a couple of weeks ago. The Innisfil Creek is a small stream that flows through farmland and woodlots near my home in south central Ontario. I love to shoot winter details such as these. Often interesting patterns can be found in the ice formations along small streams and rivers at this time of year. I find over-cast conditions usually produce the best results, although some sunlit scenes can work well also, as you can see in the image below. What is different about these images is the way I have chosen to process the image files. After making the basic adjustments that I normally do in Adobe Camera Raw, I bring the image file into Adobe Photoshop CS5 and go straight for my favorite, recently upgraded, plugin from Nik Software – Color Efex Pro 4. My two favorite filters that are found within Color Efex Pro 4 are ‘Tonal Contrast’ and ‘Detail Extractor’. Both images in this post were tweaked with just a light handed use of each filter. If you haven’t tried this amazing plugin I urge you to download the trial version and give it a go. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results and will want to make it a regular part of your workflow for optimizing your image files. Download the trial version here and use the code ‘BAA’ to save yourself 15% if you decide to purchase a copy.

Holland River in winter

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