How to become way too self-conscious

I am going to disappoint legions of people doing a websearch on that topic, hoping to develop their neurotic tendencies better, because this is going to apply only to a specific subset of people, but then again so does everything I post here.

I had mentioned earlier both my weird-ass schedule and the fact that the backyard pond was hosting several hatchings of tadpoles, and one of my regrets is that, on two separate occasions, I was unable to photograph the eggs I found deposited therein, especially as they neared hatching, because of free time. However, as at least one group of tadpoles nears emergence from the pond, I was able to get a few useful pics.

It all began a few days ago, as I was misting the Japanese maple out front for the benefit of the praying mantis living there and noticed a teeny juvenile treefrog hopping across the phlox leaves below; I didn’t have the camera handy, but it prompted me to go out a little later on at night and look around with the headlamp. Spotting another on a weed in the backyard, I fired up the macro rig and came back out to chase photos. Knowing where to find the one, I left it alone for the time being and went slowly over to the pond to see what was happening there.

Now, I walk carefully, but the yard is littered with leaves and pine needles in that area because it’s nigh impossible to keep them cleared away for very long (and if I don’t have time to shoot cool things, you think I have time to rake?,) and things can camouflage easily against such a backdrop. Almost right at my feet, centimeters away from the pond edge itself, I found a tadpole sitting forlornly on the ground, mostly visible in its reflective dampness rather than its coloration. As I went in closer, however, I could see that it was more developed than it initially appeared, having emerged from the pond as a legged juvenile, just sporting a still-lengthy tail.

unidentified newly-emerged tadpole, or juvenile frog or something
I ask that you excuse the images that seem a little washed out; some of the photos were taken with the flash manually set a stop low, since the power setting sits underneath the flash where I don’t see it readily and I stupidly forgot to check it, so the images have been bumped up a bit in editing.

The leaf should be providing a good idea of scale, but just to be more accurate, this one measured roughly 20mm in overall length. However, we’ll have some more visual scale displays coming up soon.

After shooting this guy while sprawled on the ground, I put out my hand to get up, glanced to the side, and found another perched on a small weed, far closer to my hand than I really liked. [Confession time: After unloading the memory card and finding that I’d underexposed the shots, I went back out to chase the same subjects with the proper settings – and yes, I was occasionally glancing at the LCD screen on the back of the camera, though I don’t do this routinely, and the images looked fine therein, especially at night when the screen glows relatively brighter to dark-sensitive eyes. You just can’t trust the LCD to tell you much at all.] Suddenly realizing that, with the huge number of tadpoles visible in the pond itself, there could be emerging froglets everywhere, I became extremely self-conscious of where I was stepping and how hard it would be to spot everybody. Walking around, end even shifting position while belly-down and macroing, became a very cautious affair.

unidentified juvenile frog perched on very small leaf
With proper exposure now, the iridescence of the skin becomes much more noticeable, but from even a short distance they can appear fairly dark, and of course while in the water they appear, from the surface at least, to be nearly black. Based on size, and the fact that I’ve mainly seen Copes grey treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) in the area this year, I’m going to tentatively identify these as such, but that’s with a low level of confidence; we also have resident green frogs (Lithobates clamitans) and quite possibly some varieties of chorus frogs, and none of them bear much in the way of identifying characteristics at this size.

unidentified juvenile frog posing on small weed
However, looking at the toe pads, I’m pretty confident there are at least some variety of treefrog and not the green frogs, which I also suspect would be bigger upon emergence from the water. This one showed awareness of my presence by being slightly antsy and changing position a little, but I’m quite sure all of them knew I was there, and primarily relied on the (fairly effective) camouflage method of ‘holding perfectly still.’ At their size, believe me, they’re supremely easy to miss, and it’s only because I’m looking for such things, nearly every waking moment, that I can find them so often. As I’ve said before, it also helps to be aware of what ‘doesn’t fit,’ the break in expected colors, patterns, or shapes that tells you, “Hey, that’s not just a bit of yard debris.” And for the second shooting session, I added the extension tube to the Mamiya 80mm macro lens for even higher magnification, because we all need a frogpole portrait.

unidentified juvenile frog in closeup
That little mouth is very cute, a cartoonish single line that seems to express resignation or ambivalence. While, if the frog possessed any analog of human emotions, it was most likely feeling anxiety over my presence, but this is hard to define in any useful way, as we’ll find out shortly – because I was a) hidden mostly by the glare of the lights I was using to spot and frame these, and b) not displaying the traits of the typical predators, this potential anxiety might have been less than we imagine. On this second session, the one I’d spotted initially had disappeared, but I soon found it half a meter away on the questing tendrils of Virginia creeper extending towards the pond; it was heading out into the Big Wide World, but of course doing so into an area that would make it even harder to spot while not actually getting out from underfoot. I can’t deal with this kind of stress.

You remember, of course, that these were the second find, and I returned (in the initial shooting session) to photograph the first one I’d spotted, perched on some leaves near the edge of the old garden. While roughly the same size, this one was much duller putty grey in color and showed no signs of a tail anymore. Same species? Ya got me, pilgrim.

unidentified juvenile treefrog on small tree leaf
But at least you can see the beginnings of markings on the head, though the telltale white patch that sits under the eye on the grey treefrogs isn’t visible – yet? If I thought I could keep it fed and happy, I’d consider enclosing one in a terrarium as it grew into adulthood, just so I could photograph the entire development while being sure that I was seeing the same specimen, but I try to avoid captivity of that nature, so for now we’ll just have wild guesses as I find examples that may or may not be related to ones I’ve seen before.

Meanwhile, as I was stalking the first, another was spotted very close by, and provided a more dynamic pose.

unidentified juvenile treefrog perched vertically on leaf
That might be the first hint of the white patch under the eye – or it might simply be a trick of the light. But look at those little toes wrapping around the leaf edge.

So I mentioned both better scale and a refutation of the anxiety of my proximity, and thus I now present both in the same photo.

unidentified juvenile treefrog on finger for scale
While I had to capture the frog to achieve this shot, it remained here with no visible reluctance, and in fact, the first one pictured at top climbed onto my finger quickly as I gently nudged it to see if it was indeed a tadpole that had managed to strand itself on land somehow. Treefrogs seem, in my experience, to rely on their ability to leap away if things seem unkosher, and are often blasé about contact – though I’ve also found them eager to get off when I’ve scooped them up gently too. But dangerously stressed out about human contact? Not to most appearances that I’ve observed. They stress me out more just by being so hard to spot and possibly where I’m walking.

The following day in bright sunlight, I went back to the pond to see what could be found, and not only saw another emergent on the ground near the pond (with virtually no tail to be found,) I also spotted two clinging to the walls of the pond liner, like a youth who has learned to swim but remains right at the edge of the deep section of the pool. And while they might have been facing the aspect of dry land with some trepidation (again, who can say?) they certainly allowed me to loom in close with the camera to capture them for posterity.

unidentified juvenile frog/tadpole on the cusp of emerging entirely from the water
Oh, not close enough, you say? You know better than to be disparaging of me like that.

same juvenile frog/tadpole in closeup
I could have aligned these differently here I suppose, but I’m frequently at an odd angle in order to capture my subjects; in this case, I was aiming almost straight down along the near-vertical surface of the pond liner, while the frog literally sat on the line between wet and dry. Given that, it’s now easy to imagine that extended foot tentatively testing the dry area to see how skeery it is. Nonsense, of course, but I still enjoy introducing impressions from my pics.

unidentified frog clinging to pond liner
Meanwhile, the second one was in a trickier location, and this is as close as I could get. The pond was placed with the idea (almost laughable now) that I would create a waterfall torrent feeding into it, and so this was the upslope side, as well as being largely shielded by the lizard’s tail plants that are trying to hide the water surface completely. Curiously, many hours after this pic, this little guy was in the same position, though by the next day it was gone.

But while getting those, I swept the small net through the water, pulling up a score of tiny tadpoles, the most recent hatchings, and a pair of older models. This one is perhaps a tad larger than the ones you’ve been seeing in this post, but the tail was noticeably larger and more tadpolelike, so there’s speculation that it’s a different species, but who knows? It could just be a normal variation in size or development. The toes still look treefrogish (spellcheck still valiantly, though vainly, reminds me that I’m creating new words.)

unidentified developing tadpole, still aquatic
This one was still aquatic, but didn’t seem uncomfortable perching on my finger, even when the water surface was just a few centimeters below it and escape would have been effortless. It actually clung to my finger for an extra moment or two after I got this photo and submerged my hand to return it to the pond, so again, we don’t seem to be talking undue stress here.

Now, that was all a few days back. As I began this draft, it was early evening July 4, The Boogs’ birthday (they’re seven now,) and numerous kind but clueless people were celebrating their birthday by setting off fireworks, which kept Kaylee under the bed effectively (a condition initiated by the violent thunderstorm just a short while earlier.) I was getting the grill prepped, and glanced over at the deck railing to see a small shape on one support. Thinking it was a larger jumping spider, I leaned in close, only to find that it was another minuscule friend – or perhaps one of the ones I’d spotted earlier. Great. Now I have to be careful of everything I do on the deck now.

unidentified juvenile treefrog on railing uprightJust to let you know, it’s perched on the upright columns of the railing, which are 2x2s – so, 20mm or so in width. From the coloration, I suspect this is a different specimen than any I photographed earlier, but who knows how fast the color patterns develop? Not I. If anyone has a decent way of tagging teeny little frogs so I can tell them on sight as they grow up, let me know. I’m thinking a tiny little branding iron…

The grill sits under a cover, and I discovered (no pun intended) sometime previously that the treefrogs like sheltering underneath it at times, so I usually scope the whole thing over before I light it up. Now, after finding this fingernail-sized specimen up on the deck, I became even more paranoid and carefully checked out the entire thing with a flashlight – flushing out an adult Copes grey treefrog from a spot that definitely would have gotten a bit uncomfortable.

I may be crowding the text a little alongside this image, depending on your browser and monitor layout, but there’s a reason for this, one that might still be thwarted by, um, your browser or monitor layout. Because I moved the adult away from the grill and deposited it onto the cover I’d set aside, then did a couple of portraits of it as it sat there semi-patiently. Both of these images were shot at the exact same magnification, and are full-frame, not cropped at all. So what you see here is (likely) a direct scale comparison between the two specimens.

adult Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis for scale comparison
I have to point out that this wasn’t the largest example of grey treefrog that I’ve seen, and even so grey treefrogs are fairly small, smaller than common toads – maybe a hair smaller than a chicken nugget. But it’s not like I haven’t illustrated scale enough here anyway.

I’ll close with one more image of the one from the railing, as it repositioned itself while I was getting food ready a short distance away. I can’t resist the portraits – you know that by now. Bit better magnification this time around.

unidentified juvenile treefrog in action pose, looking for crime to fight