Thursday, December 31, 2009

Busy Day Off

Today was meant to be a day off, but I spent a few hours dealing with work stuff.  That is the only drawback of being a resident ranger and it isn't that bad.  It was warm today.  It was a very welcome break from the cold that we have been experiencing, but its only temporary.  I was still glad to be outside in a t-shirt and be comfortable if only for a day or two.
This afternoon, I was supposed to meet with someone who was going to inspect the wells at the park.  I went over to the park to meet him at the arranged time and then found out that he canceled because of the forecasted rain.  I called him and rescheduled the inspection.  While I was there, I walked down to the spring to see how much the water had risen.  Another full square of concrete was covered with water since yesterday.

On my way back up the walkway, I saw that the lonely little Dewberry flower bud that I had photographed on Sunday had taken advantage of this warm day and bloomed.  It was so beautiful that I stayed for several shots of it to be sure that I got a good photo.

I was still at the park when I got a text message and found out that my closing park attendant would not be able to make it to work today.  I arranged for coverage and then headed home.  I wasn't there long when I got a call from the volunteers at Adams Tract.  They were having trouble with their well and had a couple of other concerns about the facility.  They also had a lot of garbage from some big groups that had camped this week.  I headed over there and was able to determine what the well problem was and it is an easy fix.  The problem doesn't interrupt the use of the water so it will wait until Saturday when I am back at work.  Another issue that they pointed out was very low water pressure in two of the restroom sinks.  I crawled under the restroom to check for leaks or other obvious issues and didn't see any.  I will investigate further on Saturday.  The volunteer loaded all of the garbage into my truck while I was looking at the well, so I was ready to head home again.  On my way out, the sun was beginning to think about setting.  The lighting was different than how I usually see it earlier in the day.  The sunlight on the dried out grasses caught my eye.

While I was out of the truck, snapping pictures of the grasses, I also spotted this little Holly.  It was covered in vibrant green new growth.  Best wishes for a vibrant New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Last Day of Work This Year!

It was cold again this morning, but fortunately, it was not as cold as yesterday.  After my drive around the park, I stopped at the barn to turn off the dripping faucets.  There were three deer there when I arrived and they weren't very willing to give up their grazing spot just because I showed up.  They were so close to the truck that I rolled my window down to take a photo.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to turn off the flash.  It really reflected off of their eyes in a creepy way.  It also startled them so they began to move nervously.  I turned off the flash and tried to take a couple more shots, but they were moving too much by then and I ended up with photos of deer with four eyes.  I edited this photo a bit with some software that brightened it up and fixed the bright white eyes that appeared from the flash, but they still look a little funny.  I decided that I had bothered them enough and headed on to take care of the faucets.  When I left that area, they went into the woods and ended up right in my way again on the service road.  I bet they thought that I was chasing them.
I did the paperwork right away when I got to the office and then headed out for my walk.  The sky was gorgeous this morning.  I love the little puffs of clouds.  They still let some sunshine through.
The water has now covered the first full square of concrete on the walkway by the spring dock.  Its creeping, creeping its way on up.

I was pleased with the view from the cabin porch because the sky reflected so nicely in the water.  I didn't stay long to enjoy it though, it was cold!
When I got to the river and was looking out on all of the debris that is gathering at the buoy line, a little bird caught my eye.  It was so close to me and fluttering quickly between branches.  It was such an impressive color!  I wasn't able to get a great shot of it, but with some editing, I was able to see it well enough to identify it.  It was still tough to identify though.  I knew that it wasn't a Bluebird because they have an orangey-brown color on their chests.  I didn't know of any other birds with this amazing color though.  I poured through my bird book for a long time and finally settled on a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  I was still not convinced though because I pictures that I saw were more of a slate gray color.  I e-mailed the photo to our park biologist though and she confirmed it!  That adds one more bird to my slowly growing list of birds that I can identify.  I have realized that I am noticing several birds that I learned during the Christmas Bird Count around the park.  I'm glad that I can keep them all fresh in my mind by seeing them again.
My co-workers and I spent the day trying to keep ourselves busy.  We are quickly running through our big projects and with very few visitors, there isn't a lot to do.  One project we worked on today was trimming around the walkway to the spring.  Small saplings are growing near the railing of the walkway and we have to remove them every so often.  If we let them grow into big trees, their roots would likely damage the structure of the walkway.  We also trimmed back vines and plants that were growing over the railing to keep the area comfortably passable for people.  We found quite a bit of garbage that people had hidden well behind the vegetation.
We did have a few visitors today, more than yesterday.  Two groups came by to get their passports stamped.  The Florida State Parks sell a passport book that has a page for each park.  It gives basic information about the park, has an area for your own notes, and a spot for a stamp.  Each park has their own stamp.  Visitors can take their book to each park to be stamped as a way of documenting their visit.  There are over 160 state parks in Florida, so it is a big feat to collect all of the stamps, but if you do there is a prize.  One of the groups that had me stamp their book was so close to being done!  They had nine parks to go that were all in this area.  They expect to finish up in the next few days.  If you visit Florida State Parks and want your own passport, ask for it at any of the parks or click this link to order one.
I headed home a little early to start my weekend and I'm not going back to work again until next YEAR!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Iced Over

It was a very cold morning in North Central Florida.  We made it down below 30 degrees last night and there was ice everywhere.  I have seen frost behind the barn many times, but haven't seem it throughout the park very often.  It disappeared quickly though, and I tried to snap as many pictures as I could.  I would have gotten more, but my batteries were wearing down in my camera.  I could only keep it on for a photo or two at a time.  I still managed to take too many pictures though.  I'll have plenty to show you on my days off.
When I left the house this morning, there was ice on my windshield.  I started the truck, took some photos, and ate my bagel while the truck warmed up and melted the ice. 

Before long, I was ready to go.  I made my drive through the park and headed to the office.  I went for my walk as soon as I got to work so that I could catch some frost photos.  I headed for the spring dock first to see if it had become submerged over night.  I stopped to turn off the faucets near the restroom on the way and found this lovely little ice sculpture that had formed from the dripping faucet.  The black tube in the background is a hose, not a snake.  No worries.

It happened.  There was a thin sheet of water over the whole floor of the dock.  We are now at the point where cleaning will be necessary when the water goes down.  I really hope it goes away quickly.

As my walk continued, I met up with our volunteer and another co-worker.  We all walked together to the cabin and then down to the river.  I took the usual photos along the way as well as the majority of my frost-covered-plants photos.  I was amazed that there was frost on the tops of the bouys and even the river dock was slick.  The small crystals of ice on the railing of the dock sparkled in the sun.  The cool tree across the river is barely showing any of its tentacle legs because the water is so high.
When we had soaked in all of the sights this morning and we were sufficiently numb from the cold, we all retreated to the office.  My co-workers got started on their own indoor projects and I started on the paperwork.  I did the usual daily paperwork and answered some e-mails.  I scheduled a day for the dead trees to finally come down at Adams Tract and sent out an e-mail invitation to other parks associated with mine to have a 'tree trimming party' the next day.  We will get a big group together to make quick work of chopping up the wood from the three trees and turning it all into firewood for the camp.  I decided to do some maintenance on our chainsaws to prepare for the fun.  I took them both apart and used the air compressor to blow all of the oily tree shavings out of them.  I cleaned their filters and put them back together again.  I also took them to a nearby store to have their blades sharpened.  After I left the store, I headed over to Adams Tract.  I visited with the volunteers and took a walk around the camp with a volunteer and her dog.  We took a look at how high the water was there.  There are a lot of rocks and steps that I know are there but I couldn't see today.

I picked up the garbage from the camp and their leaf blower because it has been giving them problems.  When I headed back to Troy, one of my coworkers got started on servicing the blower and our volunteer put the chainsaws away.  I finished up some more paperwork, checked my e-mail, and headed home to brace myself for another freezing night.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Quiet Days

It was another cold and blustery day at the park, and it was the Monday after the Christmas holiday, and the spring is browned out.  Needless to say, the park was dead.  I spoke to one group of visitors today.  They were the only ones who came to the park.  It was nice that I was able to devote so much time to them, but it would also be nice to have more than one car enter the park in a day.  My day started out in the usual fashion, I made a drive through the park.  I found a group of six deer in the parking lot!  It was too dark for good photos, so I didn't "catch" them.  I did stay to watch them for a little while, but they were a little unnerved by my presence so I moved on.  I put up the flags, opened the gate, and settled in to the office.  I did all of the usual end-of-the-week paperwork and answered some e-mails.  I updated the rainfall amount and the water level on our forms.  I also started preparing forms for this week and had to date some forms with 2010!  Its still a shock to me that we are so close to a year that I have always associated with futuristic, flying car type ideas.
While I was working on these forms, I had the whole year's daily water level readings in front of me.  We have had a wet year, so I decided to do some math.  The spring has been browned out, or flooded to the point of closing 26% of the year.  Not all years are this bad.  I looked back at the last three years, the time that I have been at Troy, and found that 21% of my time here has been browned out.  My first year gave me a false sense of security when we had low water levels all year.  You would think that I would be used to the floods by now, but it still bothers me.  I hate having to tell people on the phone the bad news and I hate even more to send people away to find other springs that are clear.  At least that group of three visitors enjoyed the park today.
After my paperwork was done, I went for a walk around the park and opened up the cabin.  It was so cold and windy that I didn't stay anywhere for very long.  Here is what I saw:
The water is almost on the dock.  I think it might be there by tomorrow.
When I returned to the office after my walk, I headed out to run my Monday errands.  Ichetucknee was just as quiet as Troy.  The only cars in the giant parking lot were employee cars.  Now you all know, the best day to visit a park if you want it all to yourself is the Monday after Christmas.  When I got back to Troy, I stopped at home to pick up some lunch and headed to the office.  I put away some office supplies that I had picked up from Ichetucknee, and responded to another e-mail.  Later in the afternoon, I encountered the only visitors and helped our volunteer break down the old gas box.  Another coworker and I stacked all of the bricks that lined the bottom of the box into the wheel barrow to be relocated.
We are expecting a low of 24 degrees tonight, so we had to drip faucets again tonight.  I meant to take care of the barn faucets on my way home, but I was on auto-pilot and went straight to the house.  I decided that I would take the dog for a walk to the barn instead of driving back.  Because we were on an official park task, I put Dozer's uniform on him.  I made it for him when he was a puppy.  It is just a joke, he has no official business in the park, but it is the same patch that is on my uniform and coat.  He did check the water for us though, everything was to his liking.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More Water

My first day back at work after the holiday was quiet, wet, and cold.  It definitely feels like winter outside.  I put up the flags and opened the gate as usual this morning.  I took a drive through the park and ended up at the office pretty quickly.  I headed out for a walk, first thing.  I walked down to the spring and found a confused flower on the way.  This Dewberry plant is responsible for the vines that grow over the edge of the walkway.  It is closely related to the Blackberry and makes similar, edible fruit.  It usually blooms in the spring, but with the back and forth weather that we have had lately, I can understand why its a little confused.

When I got to the spring dock, I was a little surprised.  The water is still rising, pretty steadily.  The water can only come up another few inches before it will be covering the floor of the dock.  The rock in front of the spring dock is completely submerged now.  I rolled the garbage can that we keep on the dock up to the restrooms.  I don't want it floating away overnight.  I took the opportunity to empty the can and clean it out with the hose before I parked it for the foreseeable future behind the restrooms.

I headed over to the river area next.  I took the usual photos there.

While I was standing on the river dock, something white caught my eye upriver.  A large, plastic barrel made its way down the river.  You just never know what you'll see floating by in a flood.  I heard some crunching while I was standing there waiting for the barrel to come into full view.  I looked around to find its source and I saw a little squirrel that had found a nice hiding spot in some roots.  It was out of the rain and had a nice snack to munch on.  Can you find it?

I made my way back up the hill to the cabin next.  I admired our new trail as I walked.  It is holding up well in the rain.  We have only had light rain though, so it hasn't had a true test yet.  The squirrels have been investigating it.  I can see some little dig holes in the surface.  At the cabin, I unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and made sure that everything was tidy.  I then headed outside for another usual photo.

With my walk complete, I settled in at the office where I spent the majority of my day.  I took care of the daily paperwork and updated some reports.  I spent time working on a database that tracks the wildlife that I have photographed in the park.  My only breaks from the office were when people came in to the park.  I saw a few fishermen, a few families out seeing the sights, and a couple of would-be divers.  It was a very quiet day.  I left soon after my evening relief arrived and had a nice drive home.  I spotted an owl when it flew from one tree to another.  I was able to get a photo of it from my truck by just rolling down the window.  The picture turned out pretty dark, but a little cropping and lightening with some photo software gives a decent view of this Barred Owl trying to hide behind its wing.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day Off

Today was a regularly scheduled work day, but the park was covered and I didn't expect any crowds now that the spring is closed.  I decided to take the day off and continue my holiday weekend a little further.  I spent the day at home, enjoying Christmas gifts.  I did take a stroll through the yard with my camera though.  I found some beautiful things, but I really had to look.  In the past ten days or so, we have had temperatures above 80 and below 30.  The grass has stopped growing, brown leaves cover the ground.  Its very dead outside.  To find flowers still blooming and mushrooms still sprouting is a true example of survival of the fittest.  Some of the flowers can survive the difficult variation in temperature extremes and continue to flourish.  They will continue to create other hardy plants that will endure temperature fluctuation.  Nature is good at adapting to change.

As I walked, I was drawn to places where there was bright color in contrast with the dead, brown leaves.  I have a function on my camera that lets you select a color and transform everything else to black and white.  I played around with this feature a little to highlight some of the colors that I found.  The first two are kind of a before and after with a normal photo and a highlighted photo.  The last one, I really only liked when it was highlighted.  The little flowers got lost in the original image.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Happy Holidays everyone!  Today is my regularly scheduled day off, but I talked my co-worker into staying home with his family today.  I got up and opened the park this morning.  It was very quiet and wet and drippy.  We had almost a quarter inch of rain last night.  I drove through the park, put up the flags, opened the gate, and headed to the office.  I quickly did the paperwork and headed out for a walk.  I opened up the cabin, snapped a few photos and headed back home again.  It started to rain as soon as I pulled up to the house... perfect timing.
The river is still rising.  You can really see a big difference from the last time I took these pictures, which was Monday.  Compare these pictures with the start of the water rising to really see a big difference.  We were at about 8.50 feet above sea level when this all started.  On Monday we were around 12.75, and today, we are a full foot above that at 13.80.  You might be able to just make out the big rock in front of the spring dock in the first photo, all the way to the left.  Only the very top of that rock is still above water.  That was the rock I was standing on when I did the Secchi Disk readings.
I watched a whole tree float down the river. Its always amazing to see the things that float by during a flood. When the river rises, it does a good job of flushing garbage and debris out of the flood plains. We have seen refrigerators, docks, boats, coolers, footballs, trees with birds catching a ride...
The leaves and debris on the surface of the spring aren't moving any more. The spring is at a standstill. It is no longer pushing much, if any water back out to the river. Usually, if you stand at the mouth of the spring run, where the spring meets the river, you can see water coming in to the spring on the upriver side and see water flowing out to the river on the downriver side of the mouth. Water is only flowing in towards the spring now. Its loosing the battle. Its possible that the spring will begin siphoning soon, which means that it will actually reverse flow and water will flow into the aquifer instead of out. Its hard to tell when that happens with this big spring, but I have seen it happen dramatically with smaller springs. It looks just like a bathtub drain when the water spirals down.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

I woke up early this morning (my dog decided that really) to play a Christmas Elf.  I started baking cookies, making fudge, and mixing up a few other tasty treats.  By late afternoon, I was finally ready to head over to the park to deliver some gifts and treats to my coworkers.  When I got home again, it was time to wrap presents.  There was no time for photos today.  I meant to take photos of the desserts that I made, but it just didn't happen.  Enjoy some leftovers from Monday.