Saturday, June 27, 2009

Its Raining Turtles!

I was greeted by this lovely lady first thing this morning. She is a river turtle (I believe she is a Suwannee River Cooter, but there are several similar turtles) and she is a long way from the river. She was not too far from my office this morning because she was laying her eggs. I tried not to disturb her too much because she has been hard at work for a long time.
To get from the river to a nice spot with soft sand and full sun, she climbed a very steep hill, about 130 feet in length. Then, by what her tracks show, she meandered around the area for a while looking for just the right spot. The grey sand on the left shows her tracks pretty well. You can see the short swipes from her feet and the smooth, flat area where her shell dragged along. Her spot was in total, probably about 300 feet from the river... and did I mention the enormous hill? It is a Florida MOUNTAIN! After finding her spot she dug two or three small holes, one deep and one or two more shallow. She laid one un-fertilized egg in the shallow hole and several fertilized eggs in the deeper hole. Hopefully any predators that come around looking for a meal will be satisfied with the un-fertilized egg and move along.
I find this turtle amazing. She has traveled a long way and she has obviously faced much more adversity in her life than just the big hill. Her shell is mis-shapen on one side, but solid, which makes me think that she has been hit by a boat, narrowly escaped an alligator, or maybe even was hit by a car on one of her previous egg-laying excursions. She also had mosquitoes feasting on her face. I wanted so badly to brush them off for her, but that definately would have been more disruptive to her than the mosquitoes. Instead, I wished her luck and we both went about our business.
I took care of my paperwork in a hurry so that I could try to beat the afternoon heat and get some outside work done.
I found that the water level at the spring was finally low enough to see the dock again!!! We are getting closer and closer to opening the spring again for swimmers and divers. I hope hope hope that we can open for the 4th of July. I scrubbed the dock, cleaned the signs, and was more than happy to scrub the steps that lead from the dock to the water. I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my shorts to stand in the water on the steps and scrub the mud away. It was so refreshing to be in the cool cool water after scrubbing in the hot hot sun! I can't wait to have the spring back!
While I was scrubbing the dock, I had two other turtle encounters. I spotted a baby turtle, no bigger than an apple, sunning itself on a log. Sorry, he was too quick for me and my camera. Then, something caught my eye on the high bank next to the spring. A turtle tumbled, end over end, down the hill and PLUNK, into the water. I guess another mother was off laying eggs and found the quick way to the water! Who knew that an empty park would be so exciting today? (There may have been a few flying frogs on the walkway this morning too.)
Enjoy the before and after shots below. Also note the tannic, tea colored water. This is a BIG improvement from the mud puddle that it has been. Just wait until you get to see it clear!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Today is another off day. I had a few work related calls, but nothing too stressful. I went over to the park once. When I left the house, I grabbed my sunglasses because it was so bright out. When I left the office again just minutes later, it looked like it could have been 8pm. The sky was dark and I could hear thunder in the distance. I was hoping to see something photo-worthy while I was out, but instead, I went home to avoid the rain. So today, I hope you all like left-overs. I have two photos to share, but they were taken earlier this week. I mentioned on Sunday that I had stopped to photograph a flower when I saw the owl. Here is the flower shot. The next image is the same type of flower before the bloom opened. This flower is a Swamp mallow in the Hibiscus family. I look forward to seeing these beautiful flowers each summer. I have so many photos of them!

Because this blog is not about me, but my experiences as a park ranger, I won't bore you all with the details of sleeping late, catching up on DVR'd TV, and laundry. Instead, I would rather share with you the reasons that I started this blog and to give you a little bit of background.
I have been a Park Ranger with Florida State Parks for almost 4 years. I have been interested in photography for 14 years. I love being a park ranger because I can use so many of the skills that I have acquired throughout my life. I can be a teacher and a handyman and a gardener/landscaper and an inventor and a mechanic and and a writer and best of all, I can enjoy the outdoors while I do all of that. It has taken me a few years to realize all that I can do in my job and I am definitely still learning and growing, but I feel like I have more to give. I love using my photos in my job to document, to educate, and to share things that only I saw. I have also enjoyed using my photos as gifts in the form of note cards, magnets, or as framed art. I began to wonder, what else can I do? It may be the quiet, loneliness of the park since the flooding, or it may be the pressure of the depressed economy keeping my mind on money and the future, but whatever the deep-down reason may be, I have decided to start this blog. When the idea came to me, I thought it would be a great way to get my photos out to the world. Maybe someone will discover me. Maybe someone will ask me to write one of the children's books that are bouncing around in my head. Maybe I will use a year of blog to prove to someone that my words and my photos are of interest to people. Maybe I can publish a coffee table book. As the blogging idea developed in my mind, I realized that many people are curious about my job. I get questions from park visitors and others that lead me to believe that the job of the park ranger may be one of the great mysteries of the universe. To illustrate my point, here are some of my favorite comments and questions: "Doesn't the park just sort of run itself?" "Are you gonna arrest me?" "You have my dream job!" "Ya saved any picnic baskets from cartoon bears today?" "My son likes nature, how to you get to be a ranger?" So the blog serves multiple purposes. I can share my photos with the world, and hopefully educate a few people as well.
I have really been amazed by the interest and support that I have received for this project from family, friends, and most impressively, total strangers. I hope that all of the viewers of this web page will help to shape it into what they want from it while I achieve my personal goals at the same time. I hope that you will comment and tell me what you like or what you want to know. I welcome any and all questions (just keep them PG-13). I hope that you will all enjoy this project as much as I do.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ride Off Into the Sunrise

Its my day off. I didn't have to go to work but I was still up with the sun and on work time this morning, it just didn't feel like work. Every Thursday (if I'm free) I go to another State Park, San Felasco and ride a Cracker Horse. These horses are linked to Florida's history in that they were the horses used by the Spanish cattle ranchers, the Crackers (so named for the "crack" of their whips) who were early settlers of Florida. I have ridden horses all of my life, but these little ponies are like no other. They have their own special gate, called the coon rack. They are very spirited and spook at the silliest things. You always have to be on guard for a wild reaction to something seemingly invisible. They are moody and can be frustrating, but they are FUN! They can weave through the trees in the forest without ever rubbing their rider's feet against the tree. They can be so graceful... sometimes. The horse that I ride is called Amigo. He is the most laid back of the herd and definately a follower. He is usually happy to slowly trod along at the back of the pack while the others are prancing ahead of us. He does NOT like to get left behind though. If we are walking along on the trail, he is happy as can be to walk 1000 feet behind the other horses. If they turn a corner though, and are out of sight, he will panic and trot on to catch up.
Today was a bit of a rough day, still good though. Two riders in our usual group of four couldn't ride today. They were working on a prescribed burn. The other two of us were still going to ride. One pony decided to have a bit of a temper tantrum and her rider put her on time out for some work in the round pen. I tried to ride Amigo a bit on the trail, but he cried and cried for his friends and we didn't get very far. We headed back and met up with the other horse and rider. When all of us started out on the trail, the horses proved to us that today was not the day to ride. We ended up giving the horses baths, a good spray-down with fly spray and sent them to the pasture. We'll try again next week.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oh Well

In addition to Troy Springs State Park, I also oversee a river camp on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. DEP in cooperation with Suwannee River Water Management District and many other city, county, and private entities have partnered to create a user-friendly way to explore the wilderness of the Suwannee River. River camps which are only accessible to the public by boat are conveniently located approximately one day's paddle from each other. Each camp has 5 screened platforms complete with a ceiling fan and a water faucet right outside. There are restrooms with showers at each camp as well. One of my responsibilities is to maintain the well and the chlorination system. I have been having trouble keeping the chlorine levels where we want them so I had to call in the experts. I was able to get my questions answered and the problem solved. I really learned alot from that visit. After the water guys left, I took a walk around the camp and spotted two quail in the tall grass. They are quick little things! I didn't get a great picture, but I wanted to share the experience anyway. I love seeing the quails near my house.
Today was a good day! The water level of the spring has been going down a little faster every day. Today, I could see the floor of the spring dock again! I was glad to get the well problem solved at the river camp. I trained a new employee who will close the park for me 3 nights a week for the next month or two. The icing on the cake is that its Wednesday. Wednesday is my Friday. I am off Thursday and Friday, my weekend has begun!
I will blog something on my days off. It wouldn't truly be "365" days through the eyes of a ranger if I skipped 2 days a week. What do you want to see on my days off? Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


My whole morning was spent in the office today. I did my morning paperwork and then met with a new employee. Near the end of the meeting, the power went out in the park. I reported the power outage after the meeting. I had more computer work to do, but I was forced to ignore it and go play outside. No power means no computer work, I didn't mind one bit.

There is a long, switchback sidewalk that snakes down the hill to the spring. We keep the sidewalk clear of leaves and sand normally. The water level has been so high that the water had crept up the walkway and brought silt and leaves and mud along with it. Now that the water is receding, there is a lot of debris to clear from the newly uncovered sidewalk.

While I worked I encountered a crowd of toads. Frogs and toads had found the warm shallow water on the sidewalk an ideal place to leave their eggs this spring. The eggs hatched, the tadpoles grew, and now there are toads EVERYWHERE! I enjoy seeing all of their different colors and patterns, but it was difficult to clean the sidewalk and dance around the little hoppers at my feet. I had to use the leaf blower carefully to avoid sending tiny toads flying off of their feet.
I'm glad there was no one in the park to witness all of this, because I'm sure I looked ridiculous.

After blowing off the whole walkway and some of the parking lot, the Florida sun caught up to me and I was ready for air conditioning. Fortunately, the power came back on and my office was cool. I finished up loose ends there and headed home. We'll see what tomorrow will bring.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Its a Monday

Mondays mean paperwork. I spend most of the morning in my office compiling the week's paperwork and putting everything in order. I also usually have e-mails and phone calls to respond to from business that arose over the weekend. I spend most of my morning trying to focus on the office and not on the happenings outside of my window.
I have to take my paperwork each week and at the end of every month to a larger park 15 miles away that manages Troy Springs. Today, I returned in time for lunch and then decided to start a little project. I cleaned the glass, filters, and changed the water of the fish tank in our visitor center. We have one young catfish at the moment, but the tank is a work in progress.
It was another quiet, uneventful day at the park. I spent more time than I would have liked in the office today. I made up for it when I closed the park this evening. I had some company when I closed the park and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the park. We spotted one of the young hawks, but the photos didn't turn out well... it was already getting dark. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset!
Good night park.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

For The Birds

Today is a big day! Today is the first day of summer, the first day of my blog, and Father's Day! Today should be a busy day at a Florida State Park with a first magnitude spring which pumps 90 million gallons of cool, clear water into the Suwannee River each day. Today should be a day full of swimming and picnicking and children showering their Dads with affection. However, a rainy season has left the river with more water than usual. The high river water means that the cool, clear spring is full of dark brown, tannic river water. The dark water is not safe to swim in and is more attractive to alligators than it usually is. The park is empty aside from the occasional visitor dropping in to check on the water level. Today, instead of talking to visitors and keeping an eye on a busy park, I answered e-mails and phone messages and caught up on half-finished projects. I swept spiderwebs away from doorways and picked up garbage that washed up on the river bank. It was a quiet day. Not at all what the first day of summer was like in years past.
Quiet isn't always a bad thing in a state park. Quiet means that the animals are around. Quiet means that I have time to enjoy the animals. So while I wasn't able to see families appreciating their fathers on this Father's Day, I was able to see some bird families... well, just the children... they have fathers somewhere, right?!
This juvenile Barred Owl has been a frequent visitor in the past few days. This morning I stopped to photograph a flower and I heard a shriek above me. I guess he was saying good morning. This owl has been just as interested in me as I have been in him. His sibling, however is much more stand-offish. I caught a glimpse of the other a little way down the road.

This nest full of little ones has been oddly located in the gas can storage chest. These babies are Carolina Wrens who are known for making nests in silly places. Just a few days ago they did not have feathers, they were just naked blobs with beaks... they are getting cuter by the day.

I watched this juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk for a long time. It was exchanging shrieks with another young hawk nearby. Maybe to tell the other that there was a strange human with a shiny badge and a flashing box staring at it.
While today wasn't what I would have expected of the first day of summer, it was a good day. Instead of sharing Father's Day with human families, I shared it with bird families... it was fun nonetheless.