Frog Jam!

When a car stops in Yellowstone, other people will inevitably slow down to see what’s going on. Such was the case one sunny morning in Yellowstone’s Mary Bay.

We had stopped this morning to give me an opportunity to go for a walk in a small pond of water in order to look for a very small, very specific amphibian.

A few weeks earlier, while Jill and I were readying for our trip, our friend Judy Lehmberg was teasing us with all that we were missing in the park, including the short window to photograph boreal chorus frogs while calling for mates.

Now, as some of you might know, I love frogs. I’m fascinated by them. Always have been.

The more Judy taught me about these tiny frogs, the more I wanted to document them and share their story. Dammit Jill, we need to hurry to Yellowstone!

You see, chorus frogs mate in the ponds created from melting snow and mating season lasts, essentially, for however long the ponds last.

Courtesy of the rough winter Yellowstone enjoyed and the late June cold snap that Jill particularly loved camping in, our late arrival to the park didn’t mean that the window for photographing the calling chorus frogs had closed. We were in the game.

I was instructed by Judy to buy a pair of water shoes (thanks for that wonderful selection of one pair, Target Rapid City) and to mentally prepare for messy work.

How messy?

While the ponds are ice cold from the melting snow, they’re also formed with other liquid the snow might be concealing. Like bison dung.

Yup. I was wading in ice cold bison feces. The things I do for nature photography.

Whatever. I manned up and started looking for the frogs.

Here’s the thing though: When Judy said these frogs were small, I didn’t realize she meant small. Like size of my thumb small. Like camouflaged and shy, fast-as-lightening tiny as my thumb small.

Great.

So for an hour, I searched until I finally had some luck.

A frog!

Boreal Chorus Frog

I started shooting when I heard a truck stop. Ranger Eric.

Apparently he had been staring for a while and finally decided to ask if I was doing what he thought I was doing.

I don’t think he could stop laughing at the sight, but loved that I was searching for frogs all the same. About time someone finally stopped for something other than a bear, he said.

Eric did warn me though. A few weeks earlier, he noticed someone sitting in a lawn chair in the same pond of melted bison dung. It was Judy and her husband Verne, of course.

What can I say, we’re a group of friends who know how to have a good time.

Ranger Eric commented that a massive line of cars was stopping to see what they were looking at, given the size of the cameras, and suggested that if I kept up my frog search into normal day time hours, I might encounter the same problem of people pestering me, wondering what I was seeing.

Good point. Better wrap this up before I had to start making so much noise telling people I was only looking at frogs (well, not only, but you get where I’m going with this) that my subject gets scared away.

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But shortly after Ranger Eric moved on, a car stopped.

Then another.

Then another.

It was a regular old frog jam!

I kept gesturing that there was nothing to see, to move on, but people kept smiling and pointing at me.

I shout-whisperer it was frogs I was photographing. No excitement here!

Still, more cars stopped. More people pointed. More people smiled.

The car immediately in front of me didn’t speak english, but kept trying to get my attention – and I kept smiling, laughing and tried to communicate frog as if I were playing charades.

It wasn’t working.

Then something occurred to me.

When I was younger, my mom always commented that wouldn’t it be funny if we were all watching a bear on one side of the road, when there was another one right behind us.

I slowly turned around.

Thankfully, a bear it wasn’t, but there was a rather large coyote, with a massive yellow-bellied marmot in its mouth, no more than ten feet behind me, looking equally as bewildered as the people on the roadside as to what in the world I was doing.

It would have been a great shot, if only I had something better than a macro lens on my camera.

Slowly I backed up to the road – the family I was playing charades with was giving me the big thumbs up – and fast-walked to our car to change lenses and see if Jill was enjoying this moment of humour at my expense.

Jill wasn’t. She was reading and equally oblivious. We both frantically got our cameras ready and snapped this one pathetic shot of the coyote in retreat.

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Are you kidding me?! Ice cold bison dung for hours and I miss this as a result?

Well, bitter and sporting a bruised ego, I waded back into that ice cold, melted bison dung and karma rewarded me.

I saw more frogs. But more importantly, I also captured them mating.

How cool is this?

Boreal Chorus Frog

What awesome little creatures.

Boreal Chorus Frog

Who needs a full frame shot of a coyote with a mammoth marmot in its mouth reflected in a pond that looks fine to the eyes, if not to the nose and skin? I’ve got this photo.

Boreal Chorus Frog

– D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com

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