Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sleepy Saturday

Today was a beautiful, lazy summer day. There weren't many park visitors until the afternoon. The sun was shinning and it was a great day to go swimming. When the visitors did finally arrive, everyone wanted to get straight to the water. There was just not time for chit-chat today. I kept an eye on things, but I occupied myself finding critters. I think they needed more attention today than the visitors. I had to escort a very large Oak Snake off of the walkway to the spring. He must have been reading my blog and heard that there were lots of tasty toads on the walkway. He was too jumpy for me to pick him up, so I used a stick to urge him along until he was off the the walkway. I left him alone to slither off into the grass. Oak Snakes are non-venomous but they will try to trick you. If threatened, they might coil up and try to look intimidating or even rattle the tip of their tail in the leaves to make you think that it is a rattler. They are good snakes to have around though, they will definitely keep the mouse population in check.
As I put up the flags this morning, I saw a katydid laying some eggs on the back of our Troy Springs sign. Its odd placement for eggs. Most insects will lay their eggs close to a food source so that when the young hatch, they can begin to eat right away. Maybe this katydid knows something that I don't. I also spotted a spider having breakfast near the restrooms. This Banana Spider or Golden Orb Weaver was hanging from the ceiling and feasting on a bug. After the snake was gone from the walkway, the lizards emerged again. I caught a private moment between two Green Anoles. One of the lizards looks brown, but that was just its attempt to camouflage itself against the wood. The Brown Anoles which are also common in Florida are usually a little bigger and have more elaborate patterns on their backs. The Green Anoles are native to Florida and the Browns have been introduced. Both are very common now. Finally, while on patrol through the parking lot, I saw a beautiful little Butterfly Pea. The purple flower even had a butterfly on it which promptly flew away when I got close with my camera.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fabulous Friday

I had a truly enjoyable day off! I was still enjoying outdoor Florida, but I was not in my park. I went scalloping with my boyfriend and some of our friends. We went to a beautiful and quiet cove where we were able to walk out into the water and look for scallops. The place is called Hagan's Cove and its near Steinhatchee, FL on the gulf side. We came well prepared with lots of sunscreen and a raft that we pulled along with us. The raft allowed us to bring a cooler with cold drinks and snacks. The raft also gave us a place to leave snorkels or fins or nets or other things that we wanted with us but couldn't carry all of the time. We had to walk out about a mile off shore before we were finding scallops, but the water was nice and shallow so we could touch the bottom the whole time. I really enjoyed seeing all of the different critters, it is a completely different ecosystem than I see at the park. We saw fiddler crabs in droves on the shore, we saw quite a few horseshoe crabs and of course, lots of different fish. We spent several hours in the water and ended up with 36 scallops between the four of us. It wasn't much, but my boyfriend and I were thrilled because we topped our catch of last year which was just seven scallops. After a long day in the water, we were anxious to get home and get the salt rinsed off. We cleaned the scallops right away. All those scallops didn't look like much once they were cleaned. We ended up with about 3/4 cup of meat. I cooked a meal of angel hair pasta, mixed veggies, and scallops in olive oil, garlic, and lemon. It was tasty, but next time we might stop to buy some more scallops on the way home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

5,000 Words

Today was a welcomed day off. I needed a break. I am really looking forward to tomorrow, we have a fun activity planned. Hopefully, I will have some great photos to share with you tomorrow. I will leave you guessing... Until then, here are some recycled photos. They were taken within the last month but they had not yet made it to the blog. Pictures say a thousand words. I'll let them do the talking today.
Please feel free to post questions in the comments section. I would like to use my days off to discuss anything that you all have on your minds about being a park ranger, Troy Springs, Florida ecosystems, plants or wildlife, photography, etc.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

I dreaded going to work today after the last two days that I had this week. I had too much to do today and thought that I would never get it done. Today really came together though and I couldn't have done it without the support system that I have. I called my boss first thing this morning after I finished the paperwork. Already knowing the answer, I asked her if there were any extra vehicles laying around her park. They really don't have any to spare, but she was willing to give up her truck for the day so that I could run all of my errands. Before I headed that way, I asked my co-worker to come to Adams Tract with me to have a second go at taking the mower blades off. Armed with a better wrench and his strength and determination, the blades came off of the mower in no time flat. Unfortunately, the blades were not in good enough shape to just sharpen as I had thought after a first glance, but I was planning on buying new ones today as well. I drove my truck to the mechanic and my boss picked me up and gave me her truck. I was already half-way to where I needed to buy the mower blades so that trip seemed nice and short. I bought blades for the Adams Tract mower as well as the Troy mower and headed back to the park. When I arrived, I talked with two groups of visitors who were very pleasant to be around. It was nice to take a break from the hectic running around that I was doing.
After lunch, my co-worker and I headed to Adams Tract to install the new blades and check that job off of the list. It feels great when things just fall into place! When we got back to Troy, we tackled the blades on our mower without a hitch... well, he changed the blades and I handing things to him. I was still a little nervous to be hands-on with the equipment after the week that I had. Once the mowers were taken care of, I called the dealership where the John Deere Gator was being repaired and was thrilled to hear that they had just finished it up and were preparing the ticket. I hooked up the trailer and headed up there. They were ready for me when I got there. I paid them (the total was even lower than expected), loaded the Gator, and headed back to the park. It was such a good feeling to DRIVE the Gator back into its parking spot and see it where it belongs.
I was still in such amazement that the day had gone so smoothly that I volunteered to carefully tiptoe my way over rocks and slippery clay to recover a dirty diaper that someone had discarded on the side of the spring. I'm glad I did because it was the only time all day that I could stop and enjoy the nature around me... after the diaper was gone. On the walk back up to the office, I saw a beautiful vine that I haven't noticed before. It had the most tiny, delicate yellow flowers and seed pods or fruit that looked like grapes or large peas. My evening relief was walking with me and she spotted the butterfly in the next photo. It was so gracious to stay still while I snuck a photo through the leaves. It is a Red Admiral. Next, my eyes carried me over to a teeny-tiny orb weaving spider, I am not certain of the specific type. I had initially thought that it was a Garden Orb-Weaver, but I can't be sure. The stabilimentum or the squiggly part in the web is not the right pattern to be a Garden Orb-Weaver, but I don't know if the little guy just doesn't have it down yet or if its a different type all together. I will have to consult my spider book when I return to work. Thankfully, that won't be for another couple of days!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tough Tuesday

I wish it were Wednesday. I wish my day off was tomorrow. This week started out mildly not fun and is continuing down hill from there. I will try to keep my negativity to a minimum, but today was the worst day that I have had in a good long time. I'm not sure that I am ready to re-hash it all, so lets start with something that I enjoy. Frogs!!!
We have had a visitor move onto our front porch at home. He has been there at least a week. We will let him stay because he promises to be bug control when we have the porch light on. Our new tenant is a Gray Treefrog (I finally found my field guide!!!). The first photo was taken from inside last night. We can see his silhouette through the frosted glass window when the outside porch light is on. I went outside and got a photo as well. When I saw him hiding during the day, he was a pale gray color. At night, he looked almost green. These frogs do have some chameleon abilities and will change color slightly to fit the conditions.
OK, I guess its time to debrief on the rotten day I had. I got to work this morning determined to have a better day than yesterday. I got the paperwork taken care of right away and then got to work. I got out the leaf blower and spoke nicely to it and tried starting it. It still didn't happen. That is when I admitted that something was wrong. I removed the spark plug and it was pretty gummed up. I cleaned it up, but decided just to replace it. I cleaned the gunk out of the muffler screen while I was at it too. I needed to clear the walkway though so I got out our little back-up blower. On the walk to the walkway, I realized that I was VERY close to the hawk in the photo. It almost seemed to pose for me while I snapped a few photos. The settings on my camera were off though and I had to lighten the photos on the computer so unfortunately, the color is off a little. I blew off the walkway, but it took much longer with the little blower. There were more cigarette butts than frogs on the walkway today, summer has arrived. The little blower isn't strong enough to move the frogs, so they did not need to be relocated today, I just worked around them. When I finished, I had a few fishermen and a couple of divers in the park so I talked to all of them for a little while.
I headed back to the office and got the Gator loaded onto the trailer to take it to be repaired. I couldn't drive it onto the trailer because it is broken and I couldn't push it by myself. I had to get creative... I did it though! I stopped at the local auto parts store to pick up a new spark plug for the blower and then headed out of town. I had to drive about 30 miles to get to the John Deere dealership. On the way, it seemed like my truck was sluggish. I just blamed it on the fact that I haven't had to pull anything heavy in a while and that was why it felt different to me. After I dropped off the Gator and started to drive away, I realized that my first instinct was right. The check engine light came on and I was not able to drive above 45 mph the whole way back. It was even kind of scary when I had to go up hills, I wasn't sure the truck would make it. I was able to get back to the park though and when I go slow in the park, the truck seems fine. I will look into getting it repaired tomorrow.
I put the new spark plug on the blower and it still wouldn't start. At that point in the day, I figured that I just shouldn't push my luck. I put the blower away. I tied up loose ends at the park and headed to Adams Tract to get the blades off of the mower. I got it jacked up, but the bolts were too tight. I couldn't get them to budge. I will go back with reinforcements tomorrow. I am trying to tell myself that tomorrow will be better, but I don't want to get my hopes up. I have a park full of broken equipment and too much on my list to have only one day of work left this week. Tomorrow, I need to figure out how to get my truck fixed, drive to a town 25 miles away to get mower blades for two mowers, replace the mower blades on two mowers, drive 30 miles in a different direction to pick up the Gator if it is fixed. I don't think it is going to happen. Stay tuned... the saga continues tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mopey Monday

Today was one of those days when I was sure it would be a good day... and it wasn't. It wasn't exactly a bad day, but everytime I had a plan, it was squashed. I will try for a do-over tomorrow. When I got to the office, I found that the John Deere Gator that we use to haul garbage, etc was not parked in its usual spot. I started it up and it was running fine. When I put it in gear though, it wouldn't move. I figured that it had dropped its drive belt or something. I was going to take care of some other things and come back to it if I had time later in the morning.
I was really looking forward to blowing off the walkway this morning. My phone is also an MP3 player and when I am using loud equipment, I wear headphones that block the noise of the equipment and allow me to hear my music. It is very therapeutic when I am doing mindless noisy work, I can get lost in my own little world. I just have to keep an eye out for visitors so that I can turn off the noisemaker and talk to them or at least make sure I am not dancing or doing something embarrassing. About a month ago, the cord of my headphones got caught on something as I was walking and it broke. I just got a replacement set and I was anxious to do some leaf blowing. On my way, I saw a giant spider that I had to get a photo of. I believe that it is a Huntsman Spider. It looks big and scary, but it didn't mind having a camera in its face and Huntsman Spiders are not a danger to humans. Some people may see the pattern on its body and think that this is a Brown Recluse. The eye arrangement is wrong for a Recluse and this spider has spikes on its legs, unlike a Brown Recluse.
When I got down to the spring dock to start leaf blowing, I had to take a minute to enjoy the peaceful morning. I saw a turtle sunning itsself on the bank. The disturbance in the surface of the water was another turtle going under water to avoid me. There were also some little minnows swimming in the now, very shallow water on the rocks. I enjoyed watching their shadows on the rock which made them look much bigger than they were. Once I finally got down to starting the leaf blower... it wouldn't. Our leaf blower is very particular about the starting procedure. If you are off the slightest bit, you will flood the engine and it won't start for an hour or more. Well, I was off. The leaf blower usually likes me best and there has only been one other time that I couldn't start it. That alone should have indicated the day that I would have. With leaf blowing out of the question, I got started on Monday paperwork.
When I was done with paperwork, I set to work on the Gator. I lifted the bed to get to the engine and all the pieces-parts. I found that the belt was in place and everything else looked like it was working properly. After a quick look through the owner's manual, I decided to open up the clutch and blow the dust out of it. That is where I found the problem, there was a broken piece inside. I called and got one estimate for repair. I needed some time to let that shock hit me. I went about the rest of my normal Monday procedures and decided that I would think about the Gator later.
When I got back from Ichetucknee, I was driving down our service road and saw a Gopher Tortoise. These are amazing creatures who are really the good samaratins of the Florida upland ecosystem. The Gopher Tortoise digs a burrow which it lives in. These tortoises do not swim in water like the river turtles. They usually live in hot, dry areas. The burrows allow them to regulate their body temperature, the deeper they go, the cooler it gets. The burrow also provides them with shelter in case of fire. They usually live in areas where fire is natural. I call them good samaratins because there are hundreds of species of living things that also utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows for some of the same reasons. I don't know about you, but I don't think I would invite rattlesnakes, mole crickets, or any of the others to hang out in the burrow that I had worked hard to dig. They are a species of special concern in Florida, meaning that their population is declining but they are not yet threatened or endangered. Because of their species of special concern status, it is illegal to keep them as pets or catch them for any reason. They are declining in numbers for several reasons. People like to eat them, they travel quite a bit to get to different food sources and are often hit on roads, also they are prone to a highly contagious upper respiratory infection which is deadly to them. It is important, if you come across a Gopher Tortoise to leave it alone. So often, people will try to 'help' a turtle that they see in a place that seems unfit for the turtle. Unfortunately, some people will take them to water, where they don't want to be or try to take them to a state park. Moving a Gopher Tortoise may spread the respiratory illness or introduce a healthy turtle to it. The best thing to do to help nature is to let it be natural, leave it alone.
When I got back to the office, I planned to get another estimate on the Gator repair and then head to Adams Tract to take the blades off of the lawn mower to get them sharpened. Guess again! I ended up responding to e-mails and waiting over an hour for a call back with an estimate. I never did get the call, I called back myself. All of that left me with not enough time to get to Adams Tract and take care of what I needed to. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully I will be able to tackle everything on my list.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


July is National Parks and Recreation Month! In celebration, park entrance fees were waived at all of Florida's State Parks today. It was also a beautiful, sunny day with no clouds in sight. It was a BUSY day at the park! It actually felt like a summer weekend. It was really nice. The photo of the parking lot was taken around 9:00am. It was nearly full! It filled up the rest of the way by 11:00. We had a couple of dive classes today with medium sized groups, as well as a few other small diver groups. We also had a small group of fishermen and LOTS of swimmers. The larger dive groups were led by instructors that come to Troy regularly, so they didn't need much attention. I also did not have to worry about checking to make sure that people paid. I spent the whole day just talking to people. I also found some small projects to get into during down time.
Its funny being at a park with so many visitors who come back regularly. I kind of get to know some people and they in turn get to know me. I have always thought that it was a good thing. Today it was a little weird. Last summer, my hair was long, past my shoulders. This summer it is short, off my neck and wonderfully cool! I didn't think much of it when a dive instructor last weekend told me that he liked my new haircut. Today however, a visitor told me "that haircut may feel cooler, but it doesn't help your looks." I couldn't believe it! All I could do was smile and laugh. When I told him that someone else told me they liked it he said "well he isn't a redneck like me, I like long hair." I welcome comments and suggestions about the park, but my hair!?!?! That is just silly. I ended that conversation when I saw a beautiful butterfly that I have never been able to photograph before. It is one of two very similar butterflies called Anglewings. One anglewing is a Comma, another is a Question Mark. I am guessing that this butterfly is a Question Mark based on the range shown in my field guide, Commas are usually found further North. To be sure, I would have to be able to see the underside of the wing where a small but distinct white comma or question mark would be found. I have always admired these butterflies but they always fly away before I get a good shot. I finally caught it! I guess it was a good thing that I had to stand there and endure the ridiculous conversation about my hair, I was still long enough for a butterfly to settle down.
One little project that I took care of while I wanted to be available to visitors, but not be overbearing was to trim back vines that were growing over the railing on the walkway to the spring. It was kind of funny how many people said 'good job with that' or 'hey, that looks nice.' Its great working around people who are in a good mood. It was a small, quick project, but I think I must have walked away from it four times before I was done to answer questions or show visitors something. I also found a few critters while I was trimming. One was a Two-striped Walking Stick, also called a Muskmare. They are more commonly found attached to a mate, but this one was single. It was well burried in the leafy plants above the railing. The other critter was also well hidden in the leaves. A little moth was roosting under a leaf. I guess he didn't hear that the rain stopped and he could come out. I also found a beautiful little purple flower on a vine. It is called a Leather Flower. It was being devoured by ants and things, but it was still so pretty.
When my relief got to the park around 2:00pm, I headed over to Adams Tract to help out the volunteer that lives and works there. He was having some trouble with his RV and needed an extra set of eyes. I helped him and talked about the park for a while. I also took a minute to enjoy the view of the river and get a photo of a big spider! This is a Banana Spider, also called a Golden Orb Weaver. Its web is actually a gold color, its really beautiful. This spider is a female and the little fella behind her is male. The female gets much bigger than the male and she is the one that builds the web. These spiders will keep the same web for a long time (until some poor park visitor or employee gets a web in their face) and just patch it when needed. The tiny little male is a freeloader. He lives on her web and eats the food that she catches. They are even sometimes sneaky about mating and will wait until the female is busy eating. This must have been a very attractive spider (I thought so) because she had 7 or 8 males on her web. Poor thing.