Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Quiet Saturday

I guess the weather kept people away today. Apparently, the impending doom of thunderstorms was visible to everyone but me. It was gray and cloudy this morning, but that passed quickly and it was really pretty sunny most of the day. When my evening relief came in, they told me that it was pouring rain in Branford (just 6 miles down the road)... it was still sunny at Troy. The weather radio started squawking and informed us that there were severe thunderstorms just south of us. As I look out the window now, it is starting to get darker. We might actually see some rain before the day is out. The past few weekends when the park was slow and I decided to get involved with a project, the crowds showed up and left me with a lot of work and a half-finished project. Today, I thought I was being smart and I just waited and waited for the point when there were more than 5 cars in the parking lot... it never happened. I ended up just walking around, talking to the same few visitors, and chasing bugs. Yep, chasing bugs. There were butterflies every where and I am beginning to think that I am a game for them. I tried in vain to photograph the same solitary Red-spotted Purple butterfly for several minutes on several different occasions. It kept just flittering and fluttering around the office area and landing in the sun on the ground. Every time I approached it with my camera, it would fly off again. It sat on the low roof over the office porch once and I tried, with my camera over my head to take a picture and missed. I finally gave up and was on my way to my truck when it landed on my HAND! I fumbled with my camera with my left hand to try to get it out and turned on, but I am very right-handed and the butterfly finally flew off before I was able to get it together. I tried again to chase it a little, but still no luck. I imagine that the butterfly had a great time watching me struggle and chase after it.
The first visitors in the park this morning had some wildlife troubles of their own. I was picking up litter in the picnic area when they pulled in. I greeted them and they headed down the walkway to the springs. They weren't gone long when I noticed one of them running back up the walkway. I thought maybe she had forgotten something in the car, but when she got to the top, she told me that they saw a snake. I walked back with her and told her that most likely the snake was harmless. When we reached her companions, I saw that the little Oak Snake was barely peeking out of the planter above the walkway. I told them that they would be safe and stood near the snake while they walked around. I'm really not sure if the people were more relieved that I saved them from the snake or if the snake was more relieved that I saved him from the people but the truth of the matter is that I just stood there while everyone went about their business. It gave me a laugh though.
During all of the walking around that I did this morning, I did manage to get some good bug shots. I was surprised at how many dragonflies I was able to photograph today. They are usually too quick unless I catch them when they are dead or dieing. I missed way more butterflies today than I actually caught. The sun was bright and hot and they were moving quickly. The only butterfly that I was able to photograph today was a lovely little Tropical Checkered-Skipper. It was too busy feeding on a flower to be bothered by me. I also saw a very fat caterpillar that was likely looking for a place to pupate. I haven't seen one like it before and a quick search online didn't help much. For now, it is a mystery caterpillar.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today is my second day off this week. Because I wasn't at work and volunteers make that possible, I thought a good topic for today would be volunteerism. I also read today that the Florida Park Service reached a new record for volunteer hours served last fiscal year. 6,000+ volunteers gave more than 1.2 million hours of their time to Florida's 160+ State Parks. Its is really great to see that when the economy is troubled, people are showing so much support for the things that they care about. I have seen so many examples recently of people standing up and stepping in to make sure that the state parks have the means to preserve and keep available these special places.
There are many opportunities within Florida's State Park system to volunteer and some that you may not know about. If you have ever wanted to work in a Florida State Park, you can! You help out every time that you respect the park that you are in or if you pick up a piece of litter that someone else dropped. If you want to do a little more, just ask the park staff at your favorite state park or put in an application online. You can volunteer as much or as little as you like, every day or even once a month or once a year. Sometimes the parks need extra help for special events, or you might have a special skill that could come in handy for a project. If you know a lot about a certain park-related topic, you could give a park program or help with a wildlife count. If you don't know anything at all about the park and you want to learn more, make yourself available to help out and you will learn a lot, quickly! If you have skills in plumbing, painting, carpentry, electrical work, or fixing things in general, you will definitely be welcomed as a volunteer at a state park! In addition to volunteering your days at a local park, another opportunity is to camp at the park in exchange for volunteer work. Many of Florida's State Parks and other parks around the nation have camp sites set aside just for volunteers. They camp, usually in RV's and usually for a few weeks or a few months, at the site and work in the park. Often, these camping volunteers are hosts at a campground. They can answer questions from other campers, make sure that the campground is clean, and help out the park rangers. In parks without campgrounds, camping volunteers provide additional site security and help out with daily park duties. Still another way to volunteer is to join a Citizen Support Organization, or a CSO. CSO's are volunteer organizations that support the parks. Usually, they serve as fundraisers for projects within the park. Often, CSO members donate their time to work in the park or to hold special events. There is a state wide CSO called Friends of Florida State Parks as well as many CSO's or 'Friends' groups for individual parks in the Florida State Park System. Troy Springs has a CSO that also supports Peacock Springs State Park called the North Florida Springs Alliance. At Troy, the CSO raises funds with a soda machine and with T-shirt sales. The CSO has put in dive benches for SCUBA divers and sponsors an event every spring at Troy. They also do a lot at Peacock Springs like maintaining underwater diving passages and setting up an interpretive trail over the cave system.
If you don't live in Florida, its very likely that your county, city, or state parks also have a volunteer program. It never hurts to ask and it might end up being a lot of fun. The photos on the blog today were taken this past spring at our district Volunteer Appreciation Day. The celebration was held at one of our state parks, Dudley Farm. This is a living history, working farm that has preserved the livelihood of a real family that lived on this land for three generations. Park Rangers and volunteers at this park have jobs very different from mine. Their uniform is that of an 1800's farm worker. Their jobs are maintaining the farm and educating visitors about the farm and the cultural history that it represents. It is an awesome park to visit, it really takes you back in time and makes you feel part of the farm life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Buckeye Butterfly

I am off today and spent the day running errands. I'm sure that you don't want to see photos of my grocery experiences, so here are some photos from the past for your viewing pleasure. All of the photos on today's blog are of the Buckeye Butterfly, in different stages of life. You may recognize this butterfly if you sent a postcard at some point during 2006. They were pictured on the 24 cent stamp. Caterpillars need particular host plants to feed on and butterflies need a variety of flowers to drink nectar from. Buckeye Butterflies are able to find plentiful food sources in all stages of their development within the park and especially, near my house. I see them often and have collected several photos of each stage of their life cycle.
The caterpillar photo was taken this week. I think that the majority of the Buckeye Butterflies that I have seen this week have been faded and tattered. They must be laying eggs right now and the eggs are beginning to hatch. The few caterpillars that I saw this week have been small like this one. They have a lot of eating to do before they find a nice place to hang upside down and shed their skin to expose their chrysalis (second photo). They remain in their pupa state in the chrysalis for a little over a week before they emerge as a winged butterfly. The chrysalis photo and the second adult butterfly photo were taken last August. The first and third butterflies, I spotted this week.
Many people refer to the pupa stage of the butterflies life as a cocoon. The word cocoon is usually referring to the silk casing spun by an insect such as a moth during its pupa stage. You'll sound smart if you refer to the pupa stage of a butterflies life as a chrysalis instead of the moth's cocoon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday Wrap-Up

Today was a day of finished projects, the best kind! I was able to tie up several loose ends so that I could head into my days off with no worries. I made sure that I did not get too over heated today as well because it was another painfully hot day.
After opening the park, my co-worker and I set to work on the gutter repair at the barn that I had started yesterday. We made sure to catch the coolest part of the day (which was still HOT) and made quick work of the gutter repair. We even had a supervisor. The first photo shows a dragonfly resting at the top of a lightning rod on the barn roof. When I returned to the office to get the paperwork done, I listened to a phone message and found out that some archaeologists were coming in to dive the Madison wreckage. I finished up the paperwork and headed out into the park. I found another dragonfly. It was laying on the walkway, dead. It was disappointing to find it dead, but it gave me a great opportunity to photograph it. As I moved it around for different angles, I noticed how its seemingly clear wings could glow with an amber hue when the sunlight was right. It was really beautiful. I checked in two divers, one of which dives here often. Soon after the first divers were in the water, the archaeologists arrived. They were with the Division of Historical Resources and I enjoyed talking with them about the interpretation of the wreckage in the park. They saw that I had a poster that was made by their organization and asked if I wanted more to hand out to visitors. Hooray, I love coming across new resources for our visitors! I walked them through the visitor center and showed them the photos and documentation that we have on file. They dove the wreckage and took another photo survey. They said that it was in good shape and all was well. I also asked them about another wreckage that is on the river near Adams Tract. They weren't aware of it and I needed to go to Adams Tract, so I took them over there.
At Adams Tract, we did some adventuring to get through the woods and down the steep river bank and we walked along the edge of the river a bit. They made note of the GPS coordinates of the site and told me that they would come back to check it out. I gave them a quick tour of the river camp and said good-bye. I set to work on the tasks that brought me there.
The volunteer that stays on site at the river camp had told me that part of the septic system was making some loud noises. I checked it out and it was very loud. I looked into it a bit and cleared a mouse nest out of it, but I saw that it was a problem from inside a motor. It is a job for professionals. My next job was to install a new part on the chlorinator at the well. I have been waiting for this part since June, so I was glad to get it in place. It wasn't keeping the chlorinator from working, but it was keeping it from working as efficiently as it could, so it was a good feeling to have it done. While I was there, I tried to take a photo a one butterfly and instead, was able to capture a different one. That seems to be happening a lot lately. I like the photo of this little Skipper because you can see its proboscis (the long straw-like mouth part) uncurled and in the flower.
When I got back to Troy, I stopped at home to get some more water and spotted a very large bird in my yard. It was a vulture! A Turkey Vulture to be exact. We have two types of vultures here, the Black Vulture has a black head and its feathers are all black, except for the tips under its wings. The Turkey Vulture is even uglier than the Black Vulture because its head is obviously featherless and bright red. It has much more white under its wings than the Black Vulture which makes it easy to tell the difference from the ground when they are flying over. Before I disturbed it by driving down my driveway, it was on the ground in the woods. I wonder what dead thing it was feasting on.
Back at the park, I moved the hose to drain the last of the rain barrels, another project completed! I spotted some very pretty wildflowers growing near the last barrel. I believe that they are a type of Giant Ironweed. I think that they are beautiful. I checked in with my co-worker and our evening relief and then headed home, ready to start my weekend!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


As I am typing this, the temperature is reported to be 93 degrees but the Real Feel Temp, with the effects of the humidity figured in, is 108! It was hot out today. Every once in a while there was a little bit of a breeze, but that just cooled me off enough to remind me how it was outside. After I opened the park and took care of paperwork, I don't know why, but I decided to try to work on a gutter that fell at the barn. I knew that it was a two person job, but it was bothering me and I wanted it taken care of before the problem got any worse. On the way to the barn, I saw another deer. She didn't mind me a bit and we were really pretty close to each other. She must be one of our regulars.
At the barn, I had to prop up about 20 feet of gutter in order to re-attach the end. Trying to reposition the gutter, hold it in place, and screw it in was just too much for one person. After a lot of up-the-ladder, down-the-ladder and shifting things around and dropping screws from the top of the ladder, I was too hot and my face was as red as a tomato and I gave up. I did make a good start on the project for tomorrow when my co-worker can work with me though.
I returned to the office to cool down for a while and do some office work. When I started feeling better, I headed out to walk the park. The park was really pretty busy, but most of the people were regulars, they didn't need me. As I checked in with everyone, I found out that a group of divers who had never been to the park before had been a little confused about payment and another group of regular divers had straightened them out and, well did my job for me. Its great to have such concerned park visitors. I checked certification cards and answered a few questions, but everyone was doing just fine. I made my way around the spring and chatted with some regular fishermen and headed back to talk to the group of divers just getting out of the water. I chatted with them for a while and also spent some time doing a little maintenance at the dock. Someone had written some letters on the railing that goes down into the water. Maybe it was their initials, or maybe they were writing Brad or, more appropriately, Brat... who knows but I hope that whoever it was learns that a better mark to leave on the park is to leave it in good condition. I was able to clean it up with a little scrubbing and some Simple Green, a cleaner that I like more and more every day. It is non-toxic, biodegradable, it smells good, works well, and its even my favorite color. Some divers today even told me that it works to de-fog a snorkel mask... we'll see about that. I scrubbed a few of the algae coated steps as well and also may have recruited a volunteer that is willing to help with in-the-water jobs and is knowledgeable about fish.
When I headed back up towards the office, I spotted a very pretty little toad on the walkway. It was hugging the corner for moisture and coolness, I'm sure. When I got to the office, I saw that our exterminator was there and had already set to work on his usual patrol of the buildings. I talked with him for a little while and began draining the rain barrels. Unfortunately, I found that some mosquitoes had managed to infiltrate the mosquito barrier on one of the barrels and there were young, hungry mosquitoes all over me when I lifted the lid to clean it! I ran to the office for another dose of bug spray and got back to work cleaning the lid. Draining the barrels takes some time though, so my evening relief was going to work on my project for me as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Climbed Up The Waterspout

One tiny little jumping spider did not want to be forgotten about after yesterday's spider day. This tiny one was on the gate when I unlocked it this morning. Jumping spiders do not spin webs to catch their food, though they can make sort of a silk tent or cave for protection or to lay eggs. They catch their prey by leaping several times their body length in a surprise attack. There are 95 different species of jumping spiders in Florida and I wasn't able to identify this little one. I don't know if it is tiny because it is young or if it is an adult.
After opening the park, I headed to the office for my usual Monday procedures of paperwork and more paperwork. When that was done, I headed outside for a much needed walk. It was another beautiful sunny summer day and it was already starting to get hot. I made my walk around the park and picked up a bit of litter here and there, but really not much. There were no people in the park, but the park was BUSY with wildlife. The bugs were buzzing, literally! I spotted a Cicada climbing on a pillar in front of the restroom. I'm sure the acoustics were terrific there. Cicadas are well known for their sound which can be heard in a very loud chorus on a hot summer day. They sound like a mixture between the sounds of a water faucet first coming on and a whole bunch of people saying SHHHH at different times. If you haven't ever seen this insect before, you have probably seen its exoskeleton at least. The brown casing is often left on tree bark or any available rough wood. Cicadas start as eggs laid in tree bark. When they hatch, they fall to the ground and burrow. They spend most of their lives in the ground sucking on tree roots to feed. When they burrow out of the ground, they climb to a nice spot and shed their exoskeleton and emerge as a winged adult. I found some really terrific information and even a video of a Cicada emerging on Wikipedia. Many people have heard that Cicadas often have a 13 or 17 year cycle and wonder why we can hear them every year. There are thousands of species of Cicadas and some are synchronized to emerge all together in one year. Others are staggered so that there are Cicadas emerging as adults every year, but each individual may spend several years as a nymph underground. I think that they are really fascinating bugs. I hope you will read more about them at the Wiki link because I couldn't include all of it here... I already have too many photos today, I will try not to be too wordy as well.
Another critter spotted on my walk was a Green Anole. I have already posted photos of them a couple of times, but this one was so tiny, cute, and tolerant of me that I couldn't resist a few more photos. In the first photo, I had just approached it. It eyes really looked surprised to me and it is still a bright green color. When it realized that I was going to continue to stand there with a camera in its face, it moved down the stem a little and started to brown up a little to hide.
While I was still on the walkway coming from the spring, I could hear a woodpecker working so loudly on a tree. I was following the noise on the way back to the office. I kept my eyes near the tree tops in hopes of spotting the woodpecker. I am not much of a birder, but I do know most of the woodpeckers in my area and I enjoy watching them. By sound, I had narrowed down the woodpecker to one group of trees. I still couldn't see it though. I put my hand on the tree that I suspected and I could FEEL the bird pecking! It was really cool. I must have walked around the same tree looking upward 4 or 5 times and never did find that woodpecker. I'm glad no one was in the park, I'm sure I looked like I had lost my mind. What I did find was a Rainbow Scarab Beetle. I have been chasing these silly little things around for three days trying to get a photo. They can move really quickly and they always move away from me. This one was too busy pushing dirt around to be bothered by me. I see them often because they are a type of Dung Beetle, and I have a Great Dane that keeps so many Dung Beetles happy and well fed in our yard. I never have to scoop poo in our yard because the Dung Beetles make quick work of it. They have a very good sense of smell (I guess they don't even need to with what they are after) and can locate fresh dung very quickly. They have an interesting burrow system and they pull the dung underground... SO cool to watch! Now you think that I HAVE lost my mind.
If there are any other bug lovers like me out there, I want to tell you about a fabulous site that I stumbled upon a year or two ago. It has helped me identify countless creepy crawlies and keeps me entertained on rainy days. I identified the specific type of Dung Beetle today as well as another insect that you will see in this blog today with the aid of this web page. The site is called What's That Bug and I hope that you will check it out or keep it in mind the next time you see a strange insect. They have a pretty extensive database of photos and will even identify photos e-mailed to them (though there is much more demand for that than they have time for).
Once I got back to the office I headed out for my Monday Ichetucknee run. I found out why the park is empty... everyone in Florida was at Ichetucknee! I couldn't believe how full the parking lot was on a Monday! I dropped off my paperwork and headed back to Troy. I stopped to gas up the truck and pick up some lunch. After lunch, I went for a drive on the Gator. I stopped to clean out the picnic area grills and drove the roadways in and out of the park picking up soda cans, a Gatorade bottle, and a beer can or two no doubt, tossed from a window. I even went out of the entrance and picked up more beer cans outside of the park. I would really like to catch Mr. Natural Light drinker in action. I pick up after him far too often. Because the park was still virtually empty (I saw 2 cars all day) I went continued my drive to less visited areas of the park. I patrolled around the barn area and was reminded that a section of gutter fell and will need to be reattached. That is a two-person job that will have to wait until Wednesday when I have a co-worker. I also drove through the tall grass along the south fence line of the park. I don't have reason to go back there often, but it is so fun when I do. I found so many more busy bugs and even a wildflower or two.
I stopped to photograph one flower (the photo of which didn't make the cut today, but will on a day off) and while I was standing there, I had a bit of a serendipitous moment. Just like when I looked for the woodpecker and found the beetle, I looked for one flower and found another. There were the tiniest purple Violets hiding deep down in the tall grass. I never would have seen them from just driving by. Next, I stumbled upon a bug haven. There were tall leafy greens and plenty of sunlight. I saw caterpillars and grasshoppers happily munching, butterflies fluttering from flower to flower... and big mean bugs feasting on other bugs, what fun!! The scary fellow devouring the grasshopper is a Robber Fly who probably pounced upon the unsuspecting grasshopper while it was munching on the plant. Have no fear, there were so many grasshoppers out there! I also photographed a butterfly and its caterpillar, but I will save them for my days off. Today was just too exciting for one blog post.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Today was a beautiful summer day. It was hot, sunny, there were very few clouds in the sky and no rain in the forecast. That is why I was so surprised that the park was very quiet today. I wonder if people are getting ready for back to school time. There were just a couple of small dive groups this morning and a few families were in and out. On Sundays, we are usually slammed with divers in the morning and then the swimming crowds show up around noon. At 1:00 today, there were five cars in the parking lot. It was just weird. The people who did come to the park were thrilled to have such a quiet day.
I started out the day by blowing off the walkway. It was finally mostly dry (its been about 2 whole days since it rained last!!!) and I was able to get a lot of the sand up. There were also a lot of tree droppings (pine needles, leaves, etc.) to clean up. There was only one toad that was seemingly very clever at avoiding my blower path. After the walkway was clear, I headed to the office for paperwork. It went pretty fast and I was able to get out for my morning stroll around the park right away. I had enough time today to really have conversations with most of the people in the park. I also had some time to walk along the far bank of the spring and out to the river. I was happy to only find one piece of garbage over there. I also took some time to enjoy the awesome view from the high bank on that side of the spring. There were already divers in the water, so you can see their bubble clouds. I also saw quite a few turtles cautiously observing the divers from the surface. I chose this photo to post because you can really see the contours of the spring underwater. The dock is just out of view to the right and you can see the large, dark area is the deepest part of the spring (72 feet right now). Where you can see rocks underwater, I am able to stand with my head and shoulders out of the water. The shallow areas are deep enough to be swim-able, but shallow enough to stop and take a break when you want to.
I needed a project to keep me busy. I decided to trim back the briers on the walkway again. They were even longer than they were the last time I trimmed them; they grow quickly! I found a few pieces of garbage sneakily crammed in with the plants while I trimmed, I also found A LOT of bugs. It was a very spidery day and I spotted so many tiny little spiders. Many of them I didn't even get pictures of because it took too much time to put down the clippers, take off my gloves, get out my camera, set all of the settings, and then try to get a tiny speck of a spider in focus. I didn't think to bring home my spider book from the office either. I will have to look them up and post names in the comments later.
Another very fun bug that I saw several of today is a Spittle Bug. If you have ever sat down in a patch of grass or walked around near grass and saw a tiny speck of a bug fling through the air, it was probably an adult Spittle Bug, also called a Froghopper. They are hard to find as adults because of their tiny size, but the young are easy to spot. When they are young, or nymphs, they can mix air with liquid bodily secretions to make a protective slime around themselves. The photo that literally looks like a blob of spit on a plant is one of these Spittle Bug nymphs. Now that you know what they are, I bet you will see them often if you walk by tall grass or weedy brush. The next photo is a little nymph that I temporarily borrowed from his spittle cloud to photograph. The nymph is the little yellow dot at the bottom right of the photo.
Bugs aren't the only things that live in the plants over the railing on the walkway to the spring. I also spotted a little lizard, a Green Anole trying its best to make me think that it was just a stick. The lizards are always so much fun to watch.