Saturday, August 1, 2009

Drippy Day

When I went to work this morning, it was still very drippy outside. The air was heavy with humidity and leftover raindrops were sliding off the tree leaves. The ground was still wet from the rain last night and there were heavy raindrops sitting on every leafy surface. I knew it was going to be a busy day when I got to the front gate about 15 minutes early and there was already a car waiting to come in. My work day ended right after 3 buses carrying 100 football players pulled out of the parking lot.
The first people in were divers. They managed to beat the crowd and had a nice quiet dive while there were still turtles in the spring. I had enough time to get the paperwork done and take a walk around the park. I also added honor envelopes to the entrance station and applied some graphite to the lock at the iron ranger (the metal pipe where people put their payment). The lock was getting hard to close, but the graphite made it just like new. I took the majority of my photos today on the walkway throughout the morning. The drips stayed on the plants until the afternoon heat and crowds took effect. The first photo was one of the many spiderwebs that stood out because of the water sitting on it, reflecting the sunlight. Next is just water on a blade of grass, followed by another Leather Flower and some good friends, Frog and Toad. The frog is a Leopard Frog and the other... is a toad. Even after finding my field guide, I have decided not to try to guess what kind of toad. They are too hard to identify and can be extremely variable in appearance. The photo after Frog and Toad is a beetle hiding from the rain under a leaf. It was happily feeding on the leaf. I took several photos of this beetle to make sure that I had it in focus. It wasn't until I got home and viewed my photos on the computer that I saw that the best photo, the one that was perfectly in focus, well composed and softly lit crisply showed that beetle pooping. It really was the best photo, but I had already made the decision earlier in the day to not show photos of poop on this web page. The photo of the beetle that I posted is second-best, but there is no poop involved.
So you may wonder why I had already thought about poop and this web page earlier in the day. Well, its because someone was finger painting on the restroom wall and I had to clean it up when I added toilet paper to the restrooms. It crossed my mind to photograph what I was doing to help demonstrate some of the dirty jobs in the park, but I chose to leave poop photos out. I did take one photo on the way to get cleaning supplies for the mess. I found an Oak Snake in the storage closet. I was going to encourage the snake to leave when I noticed that there were mouse droppings (yes, more poop) on the ground. I decided to let the snake continue what it was doing... I probably won't have mice in the storage closet tomorrow.
A part of my day that did NOT involve poop was when I set up the new project in the activity room. I used one that I used a couple of years ago. We use buttons and pipe cleaners to make spiders. Spiders and webs are very visible in the park lately so its a relevant topic. Its also a project that kids can get creative with. No one's spider looks the same. The photo shows one spider that I made (the one with googly eyes!) and a couple that were left behind last time this project was out.
Near the end of my shift, the darker clouds were starting to roll in and a few buses rolled in as well. A group of 100 football players filed down to the spring for a cool dip between practices and there was even a belly flop contest. Between the large crowd and the menacing clouds, the majority of the people that had been in the park left. Just about the time that the buses left and I was pulling away to head home, the afternoon rain finally started.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Enjoy the View

Another day off and another one of my favorite trees. This poor tree is jutting out from a very steep river bank. To look at it, you would think that it is a branch that fell to the ground from a bigger tree and the leaves will die off any day. The scraggly little, crooked tree has had a larger tree fall on it, fishing hooks caught in it, children climbing in it, countless floods have left it completely submerged for weeks at a time, as well as being exposed to drought for long periods of time, yet it still lives on. It provides the only bit of shade for fishermen near the dock which is also a good fishing spot when the sun is hot and heavy. I love it because it provides a gorgeous focal point for down river views.
I also want to keep with my initial idea of sharing some information or answering questions on days off. Because I haven't gotten many suggestions, I will try to fill you in on topics that I think you might be wondering about. If you have any ideas for discussion or questions, please post them in the comments section. Don't be shy!
I obviously don't keep the whole park running by myself, it would kill me. I mention other people from time to time, but I don't want to invade their privacy so I don't talk about them specifically online. I would like to fill you in on the whole picture though. I am the only FTE or Full Time Employee at Troy, I am the only Park Ranger. There is also one OPS (Other Personnel Services) position assigned to Troy, a part time employee. We are the only two park employees. We have more help though. We have a handful of very dedicated volunteers who do just about everything that I do. They also put unique talents and skills at our disposal. Some volunteers live locally and come to the park to work a few days a week. Other volunteers are RVers. They exchange volunteer work for a stay in the park. We do not have a campground, but we have one volunteer host site for RVing volunteers. We also work with a program called Experience Works which is a national, charitable organization. The program provides low income seniors with training and employment. Experience Works pays an individual to come and work at the park. The person gets a job and training in all of the responsibilities at the park and we have some valuable help. Between the lot of us; myself, 1 OPS position, 2-6 volunteers, and up to 2 Experience Works employees we keep the park in top condition, make sure that visitors are happy and safe, and open and close the park. It takes more than that to keep the park running though. We also have support staff at a nearby park, Ichetucknee Springs. The Park Manager, the Assistant Park Manager, an Administrative Assistant, and a Park Biologist all work at Ichetucknee Springs, but they cover Troy Springs as well. I also have a separate Park Manager and Administrative Assistant that I work with regarding Adams Tract.
I hope that adds some light to the big picture that is my job.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cedar Of All Seasons

Because today is a day off, I don't have any new photos to show you. Instead, I will share with you an idea that my sister had. This is a very unique tree that seems to captivate people that come to Troy. I think it looks like it will walk away any day now. The tree is a Cedar. You may have cedar chips in your closet to protect from insects and to provide a nice aroma. The wood from young cedars is also sometimes used for fence posts because of its rot resistant wood. That quality is probably what lets this tree remain standing after years and years of flood and drought and rapidly changing water levels. I hope you enjoy this collage of the neat Cedar Tree.

I also want to note a correction to information that I had given you last week. I talked about the Gopher Tortoise being a species of special concern. Its status has been changed to Threatened, which is more severe. Here are the limitations according to that status:
Rule 68A-27.004: The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is hereby declared to be threatened, and shall be afforded the protective provisions specified in this paragraph. No person shall take, attempt to take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport any gopher tortoise or parts thereof or their eggs, or molest, damage, or destroy gopher tortoise burrows, except as authorized by Commission permit or when complying with Commission approved guidelines for specific actions which may impact gopher tortoises and their burrows. A gopher tortoise burrow is a tunnel with a cross-section that closely approximates the shape of a gopher tortoise. Permits will be issued based upon whether issuance would further management plan goals and objectives.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mosquito Food

Today kept with the trend of the week and zoomed right by. I am glad its my Friday, (I am off for the next two days) I am ready for some down time. I started the day with my normal drive through the park and then headed to Adams Tract to drop off the can of gas that I didn't have time for yesterday. My co-worker had beat me to the gate and the flags, that was nice.
When I got back to Troy, I spotted some turkeys just inside the park gate. There were at least two adult females and maybe a dozen chicks. Young turkeys are so ugly that they are cute. They stayed well hidden in the tall grass and brush so I didn't get a great photo of them. I also was being eaten alive by mosquitoes just standing there trying to take photos. I took care of the paperwork and my co-worker headed out on the mower to tackle a large area by the barn. I decided to do some leaf blowing when I finished the office work. The blower started right up, it seems to be over whatever its issue was last week. I dodged a few toads, and only sent one bug flying. I went ahead and cleared the parking lot too. I can't believe how many leaves are falling already. After all of the paved surfaces were clear, I took care of some wasp nests that were forming near the restrooms. I try not to disturb critters more than I have to, but these wasps are mean and the restrooms are a busy area. I do enjoy seeing their intricate structures though.
I headed back to the office because I was supposed to meet with our park biologist and a district biologist. When they arrived I walked around the park with them and helped visitors along the way. It really wasn't busy at the park today, but we did have steady visitation all day. The biologists delivered a secchi disk and showed me how to use it. It is a black and white disk on a string and it will help me measure the clarity of the water the next time the spring browns out from a flood. I will use this as another tool to help decide when it is safe to swim and dive. We also discussed a few other things about the park before they left.
I spotted a caterpillar at the restrooms that was a little out of place. It is a Yellow-necked Caterpillar. They are usually seen in groups devouring the leaves on trees, not all alone in front of the restroom door. When I looked up this caterpillar to learn a little more about it, I found out that it pupates underground all winter. The adult, a very bland, tan moth emerges from the ground in the spring time. The moth lays its eggs on a tasty tree and the caterpillars feed all summer after they hatch.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the office finishing an incident report, doing a report on a purchase that I made, and doing some research on the pressure tank system for the well at my house. When I headed home, I felt confident and informed about my pressure tank. I had determined that I do not have the type of tank with a bladder, making it even more simple. Throughout the next hours, my confidence dissipated and apparently my attractiveness to mosquitoes increased. After squeezing out the last few spritzes from the bug spray can and yet another trip to the hardware store, our water pressure has improved and is acceptable now, but I still don't think that things are working the way that they should. I may have to seek professional help.
I felt that the photos today were not that interesting or attractive so here is one more bonus photo of the Partridge Pea plant from yesterday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Busy Busy Bee

I took care of a lot of small projects today. This week is really flying by because I have been keeping so busy. In some ways, that is nice but lately my To Do list stays full and I keep running out of time. Nothing is too pressing, so at least I am not getting stressed.
I saw one of the owls again this morning. I think it might have been the one that likes me more... or maybe the other one is just getting used to me being around. I really wish that they would wear name tags... I do, its only fair. On my morning drive, I noticed that there was some garbage on the ground around the entrance. I also needed to add honor envelopes to the pay station. After I finished the paperwork, I went for a drive on the John Deere Gator with my handy dandy garbage picker-upper things. I dropped off the envelopes and went on garbage patrol around the entrance. The items that I found the most where the receipts from the honor envelopes that people have to display on their rear view mirror to show that they paid the entrance fee (thanks, but we don't need them back!) and keystone light cans. I picked up at least four cans, but I bet if I looked harder I could have found the whole six pack. The beer cans were outside of the park, but no doubt where left by park goers. Grrrr.
After my Gator ride, I loaded some tools and supplies in the truck and headed to Adams Tract. I had several odd jobs to take care of there. I started with the mailbox that was mysteriously found on the ground with a broken post. Fortunately the post was not buried very deep so the broken part was easily pulled out of the ground. I didn't have to go digging for it. I did, however, replace it with a bigger, stronger post so I still had to do some post hole digging. It was all sand though, I didn't hit any lime rock so it went quickly. I set the post and attached the mailbox. It was a pretty quick and easy project. Opposite the mailbox, near a farmer's fence there were several beautiful Partridge Peas in bloom. This is one of my favorite native plants and there aren't many at Troy. The little yellow flowers are so bright and they bloom for a long time. Partridge Peas are sensitive plants, meaning that their leaves move and react to different stimuli. It is not extremely obvious with the Partridge Peas, but their leaves do move faster than most plants in reaction to the sun or touch.
Next, at Adams Tract, I picked up bags of garbage to take back to the dumpster at Troy, I dropped off some oil and picked up an empty gas can. Then, I went to work on an electrical outlet that reportedly did not work. I checked it out when I got there and the 3 light switches around it worked, but the outlet did not. I foolishly assumed that the circuit breaker was fine because the light switches worked. I used the power cut off at that spot and removed the outlet. I replaced it with one I had on hand... it still didn't work. My next step was to check all of the wire connections in the boxes between the outlet and the cut off switch. I went to turn off the breaker and saw that there was one switch off. Frustrated with myself for not checking that first, I re-installed the original outlet and checked to see that it worked just fine. Apparently the light switches are on one breaker and the outlet is on another. Now I know.
I wrapped up that project and headed to town to fill up all of our gas cans. We go through several cans of gas every couple of weeks for mowers, blowers, chainsaws, etc. When I was at the gas station, I spotted a beautiful Sphinx Moth on the gas hose. I took some photos as soon as I saw it in case it flew away, but it stayed there the whole time I was there. I even used the hose it was sitting on! I wonder what was so appealing about a gas pump hose to this moth. I'm sure that it was nice and warm, but you would think that the fumes would make it less than ideal.
When I got back to Troy, I spotted a red-shouldered hawk. It let me take only one photo before it flew away. At the office, I put the tools away that I had used at Adams Tract. I also caught up on e-mails and phone messages. I even sat down and got a bite of lunch only a couple hours late. Next, I headed out to kill some plants!! What? Park Rangers don't kill plants! They were invasive exotic plants, invasive meaning that they spread quickly, unchecked and exotic meaning that it is not native to Florida. My targets today were some Mimosa sprouts that I have been eying for months. Mimosa has a pink fluffy flower when it blooms and many neighbors to the park use them as an ornamental tree in their yards. The roadsides are covered with them, reaching their ugly tentacles out of the forest to soak up all of the sun. They grow quickly and will choke out native plants for soil resources. Like many invasive species, if it is cut down or hacked up, it will grow back with greater force. Our method of removal is to treat each stem with an herbicide. It is an oily substance that is applied directly to the stem of the plant so that no other plants are affected. The plant will absorb the chemical and it will kill the whole plant so that it won't re-sprout. I took GPS coordinates at each spot that I treated and returned to the office to fill out paperwork on the number of plants treated, their location, and the amount and type of chemical that I used.
When I left the office, I intended to head to Adams Tract to drop off a can of gas. When I passed my house I realized that it was after 4:00. I decided just to go home and take the gas over tomorrow. I didn't stop there though. We have been having some water pressure issues at the house. I tried to adjust the settings on the well months ago, but found that the contact switch was badly corroded and the nut I had to turn had rusted to the post it was on. I had another switch in the shop that I picked up this morning so I thought it would be an easy project. Someday I will remember to plan around the fact that EVERY plumbing project requires at least one more trip to the hardware store. The section of pipe that the contact switch sat on had also rusted/corroded to the contact switch. I had to run to the local hardware store to get a new one. A few minutes and a few dollars later, I was on my way back home. I got the new switch in place, but the water pressure still is not what it should be. I'm concerned about the air bladder inside of the tank, but I need to do some more reading on the whole set-up.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Madness

It was a usual Monday with some ups and downs today. I had a ton of paperwork to do this morning. We had an exceptionally busy weekend which is always good, but it also generates paperwork. I had to type up incident reports for a couple of accidents that people had, I had to log annual pass sales and double check that all of our inventories were correct. I also got a very disappointing call from the district office about a complaint from a visitor. I don't think it would be appropriate to discuss any details here, but I wanted to mention it because it is a part of my job. It is my least favorite part of the job. We all strive to make sure that park visitors have an enjoyable experience at the park and unfortunately sometimes people have expectations that can't be met the way that they see fit. I hope that the situation can be resolved, but its frustrating because there isn't much that I can do. On the bright side, when I got to Ichetucknee, I found a comment card in my mailbox. A park visitor had sent very complimentary remarks, well timed.
I was running late after finishing the paperwork, but I decided to take some time to walk around the park. I went to the river first and got the only photo that I took all day. On my way to pick up 2 soda cans, 1 swim fin, and 1 crumpled Doritos bag I spotted this Barred Owl feather laying on the ground. The white parts of the feather were beautiful in the bright sunlight. I made my way around to the spring dock and found that the clasp on a gate on the side of the dock needed to be put back together. It will hold temporarily, but I will need to fully repair it soon. I took a minute to admire the spring and then heard people coming down the walkway. I waited until they arrived in case they had any questions... they had LOTS of questions. They were a lot of fun to talk to though. They were new to the area and I was happy to be able to answer many of their questions about the park as well as the surrounding area. I was glad that I was running late so that I ran into them.
When I got to Ichetucknee, I stayed a little longer than usual so that I could make photo copies of our brochure and some forms that I needed. I also found out while I was there that my truck is still not repaired. Apparently the problem was with the catalytic converter and not the transmission as I had guessed. When I got back to Troy, I found a couple driving on the park service road (the staff only service road). They were looking for me to stamp their passport, I'm glad that they found me. The passports are booklets that look like real passports with a page for each of Florida's State Parks. Visitors who get their book stamped at every park (170+) get a prize! It is a nice program, but some of the smaller parks like mine can be a challenge... it adds to the adventure, right?!
After stamping their book, I took a walk around the park because there were a few vehicles in the parking lot. I started at the river and a regular fisherman was there... fishing in the swim area. I knew that he knew the rules. I also understand that the fish are not cooperating right now and they have been spending more time in the swim area than in the river where they usually are and where the fishermen are allowed to fish. I let him know that he was busted and we chatted a bit. I checked another spot on the river where I sometimes see mullet and I saw that they were around. I suggested the spot to him. I hope he had better luck over there. I didn't see him again before I left. I went to the spring dock next and talked with some nice people there until it started to rain. I headed to the office and realized that it was already time for my evening relief to arrive. I hadn't even eaten lunch yet! I talked with her for a little while and then headed home for a very late lunch. On the way home I realized that I had only taken that one photo. It was a Monday...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fast Paced Day

Today flew by. It was over before I knew it. I got to work early and was hoping to be able to get the leaf blower started. The walkway was getting embarrassingly leafy and sandy. Success! I had pulled the cord several times and was about to give up. I gave it one last pull and a little puff and sputter happened. Another pull and it started up. I let it run for a few minutes and then headed to the walkway. Sunday divers start early so I wanted to get the walkway clear first thing. I start at the bottom of the walkway where the spring dock is and blow upwards so that any garbage on the walkway doesn't end up in the spring and so that I am facing the direction that people would come from if they arrived while I was working. I can't hear anything over the leaf blower, so I have to watch for visitors. My method usually works... but not today. Today I was surprised by someone who came up behind me from the spring. I had a group of divers arrive by boat and the instructor was checking in with me. The rest of the day turned out to be just as hectic as the morning. There were always two things that I needed to do at once. We ended up with more than 30 divers before noon. I was glad that I was able to get the whole walkway and parking lot blown off before the crowds arrived.
I was also able to get some litter picked up in the parking lot. Its a great task to work on when the park is busy because I can be in the parking lot to greet people and check divers as they arrive. Its much easier to keep track of everyone if I can catch them when they arrive. I even got the grills in the picnic area cleaned out while I was watching the parking lot fill up. At one point, I was at the spring dock visiting with people and answering questions, a few turtles showed themselves. I see the larger, river turtles in the spring often. These little turtles are musk turtles. They don't get very big and they are kind of shy so we don't see them as often. Today I had the treat to see two. They are the tiny blobs between the stairway railing. It was also around that time that I saw a boy calmly walked over to his aunt to show her that his whole side was covered in blood. It looked worse than it was. He had slipped and fell on a rock. I offered a first aid kit and once he was cleaned up, it was a very large scrape but fortunately nothing serious.
Later in the day, I was on the spring dock and saw a family fishing in an area of the spring. We don't allow fishing within the spring because it is a swim area. Sharp hooks and bare swimmer feet don't get along well. I walked over to the river trail to get to where they were and fortunately they were very nice people. They understood why they couldn't fish in the spring and I recommended a better spot to them. I was glad that I went to talk to them though because they had stories to tell me about the history of the property where the park is now. They worked for the previous owner and their information helped me to piece together some fragmented information that I already had. I walked out to the river after that and saw a beautiful flock of egrets flying past. They appeared to move in slow motion and I was able to get a few photos as they went by. I really lucked out when a motor boat went by and scared them back past me again. Take two!
I was busy all day, but it was never stressful. Everyone was nice to be around and no one minded following the rules. ...and the leaf blower worked!!! It was a good day.