Saturday, July 18, 2009

There is a fungus among us!

Today was yet another rainy day. I feared that I would be all alone in the park again on a summer Saturday. Thankfully, I was wrong. There were some hard-core park visitors who knew what they wanted and didn't let a little rain stop them. I greeted everyone and made sure that everyone paid and I made regular trips to the spring, river, and picnic area. Most people did not want to chat today, and I can't say that I minded. The mosquitoes have made an overwhelming resurgence and even in the rain, they swarm around everyone. So today, I mastered the art of taking pictures (which for me takes two hands) while holding an umbrella and swatting mosquitoes. Try to picture that! Along with the mosquitoes, all of this rain has brought mushrooms! I am not a fan of eating mushrooms, but I am always amazed at them when I see them growing. They come in so many different shapes and sizes and colors. Some will sprout and stay for days and others only hours.
I had a good time taking pictures today but it seemed like everytime I thought that I had photographed all of the fungi, I would see more. Its fun sometimes, to have a theme in mind when I start my day. More often, a theme will arise throughout the day and I will be on the lookout for a certain type of plant, animal, or bug. I really notice a lot more outside when I have a goal in mind or I am looking for something in particular.
I hope that you enjoy all of my fungus pics, I apologize to anyone on dial-up... there is a lot to load today! I won't try to identify all of the mushrooms. Fungi don't make it easy on us. They don't have leaves or petals that we can count. Some can be identified by color or shape, but there are many look alikes and sometimes their growing conditions will modify their shape. I will tell you what I can though. The first eight photos are probably the shape that comes to mind when you think of a mushroom. The next one is unique and unfortunately, I don't have any information on it. I believe that it is a fungus of some sort because I saw several sprout throughout the day and there aren't many plants that grow that quickly. It also had the soft, pliable texture of a mushroom. I tried briefly and unsuccessfully to find information online. For now it is a mystery fungus, lets call it a red spike mushroom until I have more info. Photos 10 and 11 are another mushroom that I saw for the first time today. It is a Lactarius indigo. I was drawn to its pale blue color on its cap, but when I flipped it over, I was amazed! There was more blue and when I touched it, it left a blue liquid on my hand. When I looked it up online, I was surprised to find that it is edible! The stories online indicated that these mushrooms are fun to cook with because of the color.(****NOTE: Do NOT eat mushrooms that you find in the wild without a trained expert on hand! As I mentioned before, there are a lot of look alikes in the mushroom world and a mushroom that looks like one you have eaten before, just might kill you!****) Photos 12 and 13 are called bracket or shelf fungus. They stick out from dead trees and logs like a little shelf. These fungi will help with the decomposition of the log their are on. One of the bracket fungi (photo 13) and the last photo are examples of lichen. Lichen are not single living things, but two things living together. It is a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between a fungus and some algae. The fungus provides a place to sit and some shelter to the algae and the algae photosynthesizes and shares food with the fungus. They also, make beautiful things for us to see!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Horsin' Around

Today was a day off, but I did go and ride at another park today. We did not have our full group of four, but two of us did make it out on to the trail. The summer has turned out to be very busy for all of us and we have been having trouble getting the whole group together. It was another beautiful morning though. There was some fog and for some reason fog and open pasture are wonderful things to me. I took some photos before I rode, but I brought my camera with me for the ride hoping to be able to share with you the beautiful scenery that I see on our rides. I found that cameras and horses don't go together very well. I wore my camera in its case on my belt, but as I we trotted along, the camera bounced on the very hard pommel of the saddle. Also, the 5 or 6 photos that I did take while we rode were blurry... because I was on a moving horse, of course. I think I will pass on the camera next time. Or better yet, maybe I will teach myself to do a mobile upload and stick to only carrying my phone while I ride.
Lesson learned, but enjoy what I got before I beat up my camera with a saddle. I arrived first this morning and started filling feed buckets. When the next ranger arrived, he called the horses up from the pasture. I snuck a quick pic of my trusty steed, Amigo while he was munching on his breakfast. While I waited for the horses to finish, I took some more photos. I don't think that I captured it well enough, but the area around the barn is gorgeous in the morning! There was dew on every single blade of grass that was reflecting the light of the sun. The fog in the air sort of softened the trees and fences and just made the whole area look like a dream. Trying to photograph the dew, I found a fluffy and very tiny caterpillar. I have seen this type of caterpillar before but I didn't know what it was. It looks so fuzzy and soft. When I got home I did some research on the net and I believe that this is the caterpillar of a Flannel Moth. I am SO GLAD that I have never touched one of these little cute and cuddly looking things. If it is in fact a Flannel Moth caterpillar, then it has one heck of a sting! If you google the Flannel Moth, you will find the horror stories that I read. I will be sure to never cuddle a Flannel Moth! Enjoy the photo though!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Park Hopping

Another fun part of my job is when my duties take me to other parks. From time to time I get to visit different parks for meetings, trainings, or to lend a hand. Its nice to be able to see new places and to get to know other parks so that I can answer visitor questions better. I had the opportunity today to be on an interview panel for a position at a nearby park. It was beneficial for the park and for myself. I provided an extra set of eyes and ears as well as another point of view to the selection process and it gave me additional experience. I am interested in progressing to an Assistant Park Manager position. I have been to a couple of interviews, but being on the opposite side of the interview table today was insightful. I will also take many ideas about the hiring process from today with me throughout my career.
Because I was in interviews all day today, I don't have much to talk about. I did take some time to take a quick walk through the park to get some photos and I will let them do the story telling for today. The lighting was perfect to catch the beautiful blue of Manatee Springs and there were plenty of mullet in the spring run. I always enjoy the wooden boardwalk at this park which travels alongside the spring run to the river. This park is also on the Suwannee River, many miles downriver from Troy Springs. The river is much wider here than it is at Troy. There are several other springs as well as rivers that contribute to the waters of the Suwannee between the two parks. The first four photos are of the spring run and the walkway alongside it. The fifth photo is the river, and the last is the beautiful spring itself.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Half Day

Because I was rained out yesterday, I headed over to work this morning with my swimsuit on to get the buoy line fixed. I had originally planned to take today off because I will be helping another park interview applicants for a new ranger on my regularly scheduled day off. I couldn't leave this project undone for the weekend though, so I had a morning swim. The project went smoothly, but it did take a little longer than expected and I got many more bug bites than I expected. I picked up some garbage on the opposite side of the spring and was immediately attacked by fire ants. I thought a swim across the spring would get rid of them, but by the time I got out, there was one chomping down in my arm pit! Really?! It couldn't be tasty there! When I got home to get cleaned up I found another huge welt on my leg. That must have been a mosquito or biting fly of some sort though because it was much bigger than an ant bite. My profession has taught me a lot about insects and especially what each of them can do to my skin.
The buoy line was an easy fix though. It was not cut as we had suspected, it was a weak point in the line that eventually rusted apart. I know for sure that it was not cut because the cable was frayed and when I tried to cut out a bad section, it was VERY difficult, even with bolt cutters. I had enough slack at one end to pull the cable through the buoys and clamp it together. I also added a few clamps to keep the buoys in place along the cable. Most of them already had clamps but we ran out the last time we replaced the line. I completed the job... only a year or two late. I would have taken better photos, but I was trying hard to not slip in the squishy, slick clay on the side of the spring. The clay is another side effect of flooding. The banks get wet and that clay stays slick for MONTHS afterwards. Clay is also very attractive to kids (and sometimes women interested in face masks... no joke). Picking up clay mud pies from the railing and sidewalks is not really all that fun. My co-worker and I have joked about putting up "No mud pies beyond this point" signs, but that might just give more people the idea.
After my morning mud treatment, I went home and then headed to Ichetucknee to help celebrate a co-workers birthday. She was given some beautiful roses. I couldn't resist taking a photo. We also had some very tasty lasagna and an amazing cherry/pineapple crisp. With a full belly I went home to enjoy my day off.
Earlier this week I took too many critter pictures to post in one day, so I will share some more now. This is a red-sided flat millipede. It sounds like I just made that up, doesn't it? So many bugs get really boring names, maybe it is because they are less desirable to the majority of the population. Butterflies get beautiful names like fritilary, monarch, zebrawing. Other creepy-crawlers get names like red-sided flat millipede. Well, sorry for the dumb name, Mr. Millipede, here is your moment to shine. I see these millipedes almost daily. They are also frequent visitors of the walkway and sometimes have been known to fly with a little help from the leaf blower. I do not ever pick them up to relocate them like I do with the frogs. They have the ability to spray cyanide to defend themselves from predators. It would not harm me, but I would rather not take any chances. They eat mostly detritus (decaying organic material like leaves and sticks) but can also eat small insects. They are beautiful in their own way. Do you know how to tell a millipede from a centipede? It isn't the total number of legs as many people assume. Centipedes have one pair of legs for every segment of their body while millipedes have two or more pairs per segment.
The final picture is a great contrast to the grasshopper pictured earlier this week. This one is so tiny! It is not a Lubber like the other so it will only grow to normal grasshopper standards, but its cute! A little later in the summer, on sunny days, the walkway will be bombarded by grasshoppers of all shapes and sizes. Its fun to walk through and watch them ricochet around the high walls of the walkway to escape people feet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time Flies

Today really zipped by for me today and I don't know where all of the time went. I accomplished more than half of my To Do List for the day, but I ran out of time and sunny weather to finish. The day started out nicely, I heard one of the juvenile hawks near my house again. I think it may have watched me put up the flags too. On my drive through the park, I saw one of the owls again. It was much more patient with me today and I was able to get quite a few shots of it before it got uneasy and I left.
More rain last night had made a mess of the park. After I finished the paperwork, I blew off the spring walkway. The parking lot wasn't bad, so I didn't do all of it, but hit the spots that really needed it. Then I spent some time on the river entrance. The river access area is totally submerged during times of flood, so I begin to forget about all of the regular maintenance that it needs. We cleaned up the walkways after the flooding, but we hadn't yet started trimming the grass again. I finally got the opportunity to really try out our new weed eater. It did the job! It was really nice to be able start it and stop it easily. New equipment is so much fun! So, as you can see, I trimmed the edges of the walkway and made a really big mess, then I blew off that area as well as the cabin porch and walkway.
After my morning with the noisemakers, I greeted some park visitors, and returned phone calls and e-mails. Then I headed to Lake City (about a 30 mile drive) to run some errands for the park. I had to stop by the Department of Environmental Health to pick up water testing bottles to sample the well water at Adams Tract for its quarterly check up. I also had quite a few things on my list to pick up from Lowe's. I needed hardware for a few different projects including the buoy line repair that I mentioned yesterday and some light bulbs. I knew we were expecting afternoon thunderstorms, but I was really hoping that they would hold out until 4:00 or so... they didn't. I wasn't able to fix the buoy line today. I will try again tomorrow morning. I finished up paperwork on my purchase at Lowe's and set up the computer for my evening relief to do some data entry while its raining and headed home.
When I pulled into the driveway at home, my little hawk friend was perched on a branch very close to my passenger side door. I put the truck in park, scooted across the seat to the passenger side, rolled down the window, held up my camera... and watched the hawk fly away. Today fizzled, hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Marvelous Monday

I apologize for the late post. Evening thunderstorms have interrupted my computering. The power has gone out once and the internet connection has been spotty, which really makes the lengthy process of uploading photos difficult. I don't mind getting the rain at night if we can keep getting these sunny days though. We had more than 2 inches of rain last night, but today was really a beautiful day. There was a light fog this morning, so the lighting was amazing for picture taking and the birds were active. I have been hearing one of the young hawks behind my house every morning for the past week. This morning, it was above the driveway as I was leaving the house and I got a photo of him just before he flew away. On my morning drive through the park, I spotted one of the owls. I think that it was the more skittish of the two juvenile owls that I had seen before. I didn't see the other, I wonder if they are spending more time on their own now... they are growing up. I wasn't able to get a good shot of the owl, it didn't seem to like me watching it so I moved on.
The shot of the dirt road and the light through the trees is my commute every morning. I see this view every sunny morning on my little, 1/2 mile drive to work. Views like that make up for the garbage that I pick up and the restrooms that I clean.

The birds and I weren't the only ones out enjoying the day, I was finally able to get some good photos of Stubby, the fence lizard. She was very patient today (or maybe she hadn't warmed up enough yet).
After the park was open, I settled in for the Monday paperwork. I was done by 9:30 and already had a couple of divers. Its been a while since I have seen anyone in the park on a Monday morning. Its great! I went to Ichetucknee and dropped off my paperwork, printed some brochures for the park and said hello to everyone in the office. I picked up lunch in town on the way back and stopped at home to pick up my swimsuit. I wasn't going to miss swimming on a day like this and I really did have some work to do in the spring.
When I got back to the park, I saw that there were two more divers, a few families, and some free divers (breath holders) that were regulars before the flood. After greeting all of them and answering a few questions, I was anxious to get in the water. On my way back up the walkway I saw a Lubber crawling on the railing. Lubbers are another very fun thing about Florida, giant grasshoppers!! This one is not even full grown, you can see that its wings don't cover its abdomen yet.
I had a few more things to do before I could get wet though. With all the rain we have had, I had to empty the rain barrels. We installed rain barrels with the gutters at the cabin in an effort to slow the hillside erosion around the cabin. Now, I control where the rainwater falls. When I empty the barrels, I run a hose away from the hillside where there is a tree or a lot of grass. It takes a while for each barrel to drain so I usually hook up the hose and walk away to do something else. When I got home today and looked at my photos, I realized that I was only half-way done when I left. Oops, its on the list for tomorrow.
There was still a tree down on the trail that I had to take care of. It was not a very big tree, but it made a big mess when it fell. It took out quite a few saplings and everything was covered in grapevines and smylax (strong, mean and prickly) vines. I got the tree chopped up quickly, but once I started clearing up the smaller mess, the chain came off of the chainsaw. I started to work on it out on the trail, but I was too hot and impatient and the saw was really to hot to work on. I went back to the shop feeling defeated because the project was almost done, but I was too hot. In the air conditioned shop, I cleaned the saw with the air compressor and put the chain back in place. I tightened it all up and by then had cooled down enough to finish the job. It really didn't take much time at all to get the small tree mess cleared and the logs loaded onto the gator. The majority of the downed wood I left in the woods for ecological processes to happen, the logs that blocked the trail I took to the fire ring where boy scouts camp by the barn.
By then, I was hot and tired and more than ready for a swim. I had to check the buoy line. I noticed yesterday that it looked a little off. My volunteers told me that there was a rowdy group in the park on Saturday. When they were asked to leave, they broke the buoy line on the way out. Its rare to have things like that happen in the park, but it is a public place. I jumped in the water (the only way to get into cold spring water is quickly) and was happy to see that it was really much clearer than the last time I was swimming. I got a lot of clear photos of the Madison and even saw some fish and a turtle. I was also able to get a decent shot of the line where the clear spring water and the tannic river water meet. Its a pretty clear line from the surface to the bottom. You can see the shadow of the buoys on the bottom of the spring. When I looked at the buoys, I saw that it would be an easy fix. I still had plenty of leftover cable from re-cabling the buoys a couple years ago. The break is close to one side and I will be able to string it through, add a few clamps and it will be good as new. Easy in theory anyway. We'll see if the weather will cooperate with me to get it done.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sun Day

Today finally felt like a summer weekend. It started slow and worried me a little, but it ended up pleasantly busy. In the morning I had time to get the paperwork done, pick up a little garbage, take a quick walk around, and get the new project set up in the cabin before the first people came in. The first few groups of people in the park were divers. There were two diving instruction groups and father/daughter group. I have gotten to know many of the dive instructors that regularly use Troy and it is nice to see familiar faces again. Eventually, families started to roll in and the park began to fill up.
he divers require a little more attention. I have to check diver certification cards and make sure that everyone is diving safely, with a partner, and not carrying any forbidden devices. They are not permitted to take lights into the spring to keep people out of the cave system under water. There is a very narrow cave where the water flows out of the aquifer. It would require special equipment and training to properly dive the cave and we do not allow it. They are also not permitted to have scooters (devices that pull you through the water), or spearguns... it seems like some things would not even need to be mentioned, but you would be surprised. I also have to make sure that they have paid the $15 dive fee. Because of the higher fee, as compared to the $5 per vehicle fee for other park activities, I often have to sell annual passes or charge the fee to their bank card, which both require at least 2 walks to the office and back. Divers usually want to know about the water conditions, and any wildlife that they might see when diving. Divers who have never come to Troy Spring before usually have questions about the facilities and the layout of the spring below the water. I am not a diver myself, though I enjoy snorkeling. Working at a park popular for diving has taught me a lot about the sport and talking to divers has taught me a lot about my park below the water. We ended up having about 15 divers in all throughout the day. They were perfectly staggered though so that they weren't crowding each other out.
Sundays work out well because just as the bigger dive groups are heading out in the afternoon, the families of swimmers and the small dive groups start coming in. The afternoons are definately busier with people, but they require less individual attention from me. After the divers are taken care of, I just walk around the park and spend time in busy areas so that I am available for questions and I can keep an eye on everyone.
It was so nice to have a sunny day again at the park, there was a lot of wildlife around in addition to the people. I took so many good pictures today, that I am going to have to stockpile some of them for my days off. Here are some of the pretty views and critters that I enjoyed today.
The spider is a Garden Orb Weaver, also sometimes called a zipper spider for the pattern in its web. It is similar to and sometimes mistaken for the common Golden Orb Weaver or Banana Spider, but the color of the web will tell you the difference for sure as well as the web pattern. The fellow in blue tails below is a Five Lined Skink. They are one of my favorite Florida Lizards because of their beautiful colors.
The bottom photo is your daily update on the water level. It is still dropping and the clear water is pushing farther and farther than the photo I posted on Tuesday. I imagine my fishermen will start coming back in the next week or so.