Photographer’s notebook: Following the croak of the Louisiana tree frog

     Spanish moss hangs from live oak trees at Fontainebleau State Park a few miles out of Mandeville Louisiana. (Anders Morholt/for NewsWorks)

    Spanish moss hangs from live oak trees at Fontainebleau State Park a few miles out of Mandeville Louisiana. (Anders Morholt/for NewsWorks)

    I left New Orleans via the Causeway, a 24-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain to explore the marsh lands of Fontainebleau State Park. After passing miles of seafood shacks and Dollar General stores on US 190 East, also known as Ronald Reagan Highway, I arrived at the park.

    I drove cautiously past the entrance booth, mesmerized by how the Spanish moss growing from the park’s populous live oak trees danced so eloquently with the propulsion of distant sailboats across the choppy lake. I relished the rolling down of the car windows and with my first breathe of the briny air arrived an enrapturing shock: a roaring symphony of croaking exploded all around me. Immediately, I vowed to photograph the throaty hypnotists.

    Fontainebleau State Park is located on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, a few miles outside the city of Mandeville, Louisiana. The 630-square mile lake is a coastal body of water that connects to the Gulf of Mexico and is one of the largest wetlands in the U.S. Visitors can swim in Lake Pontchartrain and roam the park’s 2,800-acres of beaches and nearly six miles of hiking trails along the bayou. During the right season, visitors can spot alligators in the swampy waters.

    The frogs of Fontainebleau sound like an orchestra of güiros which are hollow, wooden ribbed percussion instruments that can be held in a hand and played by running sticks along the ridges. Some güiros are carved to resemble frogs. On the beach, the croak is but a whispered lullaby, but to walk deep into the park’s nature trail is to be engulfed by the noise.

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    I moved from the beach to the stagnant streams of water where the güiro concerts seemed to be originating. As I approached, the music got louder. I took to my knees; my muscles ached from moving so slowly. When I felt all at once to be inside the crescendo, I spotted one. Or at least, a very loud brown speck. I held my breath and lifted my camera. The creature disappeared and the only song to be heard was from the streams in the distance.

    As the sun faded into the horizon, I settled for recording their song and vowed to investigate further. I described the sound to Fontainebleau’s interpretive ranger, Rita McMurray, over the phone.

    “The first time I heard them I thought there was a dog or a Chihuahua outside!” She said. “My boss said, ‘no, that’s a tree frog.’ When they’re fully grown they’re as long as an index finger.” The green, sometimes brown, tree frog, is the state amphibian of Louisiana.

    She added that the best place to photograph the frogs are on the glass of the Fontainebleau entrance booth where she’s typically stationed.

    I told her on my next visit, it will be the first place I stop.


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