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Posts Tagged ‘simcoe county’

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Thornton, Ontario, Canada

Earlier this spring I decided to build a bird photography reflection pool at my backyard bird feeder setups. It was a fantastic idea, especially since Ontario has been under Covid-19 restrictions with a stay at home order in place for a lengthy period of time. I typically spend about 2 hours of each day in my photography blind that is positioned roughly 8-10 feet from my setup. The entire setup is also positioned approximately 30 feet from a cluster of Eastern White Cedar trees that provides the out of focus backdrop for these images.

A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Thornton, Ontario, Canada

In order to photograph birds with clear reflections a day with virtually no wind is a necessity. On days where the breeze is blowing a bit too much it is often best to compose scenes with all but a strip of water along the bottom edge. Nonetheless a reflection pool setup is a fantastic way to photograph birds beside watery habitat and since we are creating the setup we can pick and choose the props for the cleanest look possible. I find that small moss covered branches, small stones, dried leaves or pine cones make wonderful props.

My Backyard Reflection Pool Setup

How did I construct my reflection pool? I built it out of scrap materials I had left over from home renovation projects. To build your own reflection pool set up I recommend using a 4X8 foot sheet of 5/8 plywood. Do not skimp and build a smaller one as the 8 foot length is required to capture the full reflection of larger birds such as Blue Jays and Grackles. If you only have small birds visiting your garden you could possibly get away with building a slightly smaller pool. Do note that my setup is elevated on sawhorse brackets to raise the pool up to the height of my camera position in my blind. This ensures that I am photographing the birds at the same level as the water, which maximizes the reflection as well. The reflection pool is also tilted so that there is a deep end and a shallow end. The shallow end is where the props are placed. Down each long side of the pool I have screwed a 1X6 board, which deters birds from accessing the pool from the sides as they are quite a bit higher than the surface of the water. At the deep end I have screwed a 1X3 piece of wood and at the shallow end I have screwed a 1X3 piece of wood flat against the plywood to create a one inch lip at the shallow end to help contain the water. Once the pool was screwed together I used black silicone to seal all the joints and then I painted the interior dark brown. Painting the interior a dark colour will help with the reflections as well. Some folks like to line their reflection pools with pond liner, which I think is mostly an added expense as a the plywood construction with silicone joints retains the water just fine.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

To attract birds to the reflection pool I place shelled peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds, and homemade bark butter in stratgeic locations. The black oil sunflower seeds and bark butter are often placed in behind stones, while the shelled peanuts are placed directly in the water. The shelled peanuts will sink, therefore, placing them in the water in front of the props encourages birds such as Blue Jays and Common Grackles to pick the peanuts from the water.

Below are a few additional images created over the last several weeks at the reflection pool setup.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), at pond edge
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Thornton, Ontario, Canada

And if you are lucky enough to have small rodents such as chipmunks and squirrels you will likely have opportunities to photograph them as well.

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

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American Toad
Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60 sec
Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket

On Sunday April 9th, two days after receiving a late season snowfall, the temperatures rose to just above the 20 degree Celsius mark in south-central Ontario. Perfect conditions for a night time excursion to the neighborhood frog pond. As I drove through the night to reach the pond I did so with the car window rolled down and as I neared the pond’s location I could already hear the deafening chorus of hundreds of Spring Peppers. Typically at this point in the season it is only the Spring Peepers, Chorus Frogs, and Wood Frogs that are chorusing. Other species will generally emerge a few weeks later. On this night I did note many Green Frogs, and American Toads had also emerged but had not yet begun to chorus. I spent about two hours wading through the shallow waters of the pond searching out the crooners and also keeping a close eye on a newcomers to the pond – Beavers. Late last fall it appears that beavers have moved into the pond creating a dam to retain a deeper depth to the pond which should benefit the frog’s offspring in their metamorphosis to adulthood without the risk of the pond drying out. When searching for these frogs it is often best to search the grasses and shrubbery at the pond’s periphery, as this is where they will be discovered most often. On this first excursion I was pleasantly surprised to locate a juvenile Bullfrog as well.

Here are a few images that were created on this first excursion into this year’s spring chorus.

Please remember to click on each photo to view the larger, sharper version.

Have you have ever thought about trying your hand at photographing frogs and toads at night during the spring chorus. If so, send me an email to schedule a private in-the-field session to learn how I photograph them under the cover of darkness.

Wood Frog
Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60 sec
Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket

 

Spring Peeper
Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60 sec
Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket

 

Spring Peeper
Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60 sec
Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket

 

Bullfrog – juvenile
Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60 sec
Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket

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Those of you that have been following along here at the blog know that I have been photographing frogs and toads in vernal ponds found in an abandoned cattle pasture behind my home for a number of years. Vernal ponds are temporary pools of water that are critical habitat relied upon by frogs and toads as breeding sites every spring. Each and every spring chorusing frogs and toads would filled the air with song. Late last fall, the land which was zoned for agriculture was sold to an industrious farmer who promptly cleared every tree that lined the plots of land and then plowed the land. By plowing the land the farmer wiped out much of the frog and toad population in the immediate vicinity of my rural home.

As the temperatures began to warm this spring I would listen intently from my back deck listening for the songs of chorus frogs, which are always the first frogs to emerge from hibernation. A couple of weeks ago I heard the calls of one or two individuals. As the temperatures warmed further, the calls of the chorus frogs should have been incredibly loud, but not so. One or two individuals was all I ever heard. Last week the final nail in the coffin was delivered to this field as a farm drainage company arrived and tiled the field to drain the land, making it suitable for the planting of crops.

No longer will I hear or photograph the seven species of frogs that would breed in these ponds, or the snapping turtle that would come to gorge on the frog’s eggs. No longer will I see the chimney crayfish that would rise from beneath the ground on wet nights, or the bizarre insect larvae that depend on such habitats, and the fairy shrimps will no longer dance through their watery world.

This field had been laying fallow since 1975, but was always zoned for agriculture. I honestly feel that all agricultural lands that are left unattended to for such lengthy periods of time should undergo environmental assessments prior to turning the soil for agricultural purposes again.

Amphibians are the most threatened species on Earth, mostly due to habitat destruction, global warming, and the deadly chytrid fungus. We are responsible for each and every one of these that affect the world’s amphibian population.

Below you will see a selection of photos showing the tile drainage being buried. The field is so wet and soggy that a backhoe was need to pull the tile plow through the muck and frequently it looked as though the backhoe would flip into the soft muck of the field. In the first image below you will see the before and after versions of my favorite pond. The before image was photographed in the spring of 2012 and the after image was taken last night. In both images if you look on the left side you will see the abandoned barn. In the before image the barn is hidden slightly by the tree-line.

Please click on the images to see the larger, sharper versions.

Before and After Frog Pond

Before and After

Habitat Destruction_7167

Backhoe tipping into pond while pulling tile plow through

Habitat Destruction_7125

Tractor driving through pond with weeping tile spool

Habitat Destruction_7209

View of the pond from the road after tiling – the level has dropped significantly

Habitat Destruction_7134

Draining Away

Green Frog_9446

Goodbye

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Green Frog (male)

The two images of the male Green Frog (Rana clamitans) may very well be the last frogs I will photograph in the vernal ponds behind my home. As followers of this blog know my home backs onto an abandoned cattle pasture which has several low lying areas that fill with rain water and snow melt, thus creating vernal ponds. These ponds are temporary and dry out by the end of summer, but they do hold water long enough for numerous species of frogs and toads to reproduce. According to my dear, elderly neighbors that arrived in Canada, from Germany many, many years ago after the war, the field has been laying fallow since about 1975. This 40 acre plot of abandoned agricultural land is used by many ground nesting songbirds such as Bobolink, Meadowlark, Horned Lark and Upland Sandpipers. Deep in the ground Chimney Crayfish await the rains to emerge and breed in the vernal ponds. Hawks, Owls, Fox , and Coyote hunt the Meadow Voles that inhabit the field also. During the winter months I take my daughter skating on the frozen pond. Most importantly though are the vast numbers of frogs and toads that arrive at the vernal ponds each spring to reproduce – a sight and sound to behold. Having sat in the ponds among the frogs and toads during peak chorus, I can honestly state that they are louder than any RAMONES concert I ever attended 🙂 A truly remarkable experience, but…

Green Frog and Water Scorpion

It is with great sorrow that today I report on October the 18th this has been wiped out. The field was recently sold to a farmer that has cut down every tree that lined the field to open up more fields and has since tilled the soil for the planting of crops. This of course will mean more fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. I have always believed that this little corner of nature, located in Simcoe County, would one day be wiped out for either agriculture (it has always been zoned for agriculture) or housing developments, but I do wish I did not have to witness its destruction.With amphibian populations in serious decline around the globe, largely due to human impact, such loss of habitat, even on this small 40 acre plot of land, can yield a deadly blow to the local populations of frogs and toads.

I do hope that I am wrong, but I believe that in the fields behind my home, the Spring of 2013 will be the season without song. A sad, but all too familiar occurrence in the world that struck home on October 18, 2012. Below you will see the photos of how the field looks today.

In the photo above you are looking out over the field where each spring the largest vernal pond is to be found.

In the above photograph you are looking back toward my home, and again, across the field where additional ponds are found each spring. My home can be found immediately behind the trees on the right side of the image.

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