Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Wet One

It was raining when I woke up this morning. It was drizzling when I left the house. It was pouring once I had gotten out of my truck and unlocked the gate. I took a very quick photo of a fat little bee enjoying the Morning Glories before the rain was too heavy to have the camera out. When I got to the office and started the paperwork, the rain slowed down. When I finished the paperwork, the rain stopped. The sun came out and I thought it might be a nice day. I went for a walk around the park and picked up some branches that had fallen in the storm. I walked down to the spring dock and the spring was beautiful. All of the leaves on the trees were drippy, there was a very thin fog over the water, and there were fallen leaves everywhere. Fall is really trying to sneak up on us. I took a couple of photos of the big rock in front of the spring dock. The blue sky was reflecting so beautifully on the surface of the water and the leaves in the little puddle on the rock were such a dark crimson. It was really stunning and I was beginning to wonder if any park visitors would even come in and see it. Then visitors began to arrive and the sun was gone again. It stayed cloudy and humid and sticky out for the rest of the day.
The park did start to fill up, and it didn't rain anymore, but it was pretty yucky out. There a very large dive class that was really well organized so it didn't seem like such a big group. There were also a few other small groups of divers throughout the day. A few families came through, a couple of fishermen, and a group celebrating some birthdays. I kept pretty busy pacing back and forth between the office and the parking lot, checking in divers, selling passes, selling t-shirts, and keeping up with phone messages and e-mail. I got just a few more photos throughout the day.
I saw a neat little orange insect that I have never noticed before. It was really tiny. I also love to see the raindrops on the bush with the yellow flower. There is something about the shape and the frequency of its tiny leaves that keep the raindrops suspended within it. I'm not sure exactly which type of plant this is, but it is in the St John's Wort family. The last photo, just before I went home was the Gulf Fritillary on the Giant Ironweed (aka, the orange butterfly on the purple flower).IMG_2948

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Garden

I live within the boundaries of the state park. Living on site is a requirement of my particular job position, a requirement that I enjoy. I do have to think about some things a little differently though. I have a moral obligation to uphold the same natural resource management guidelines in my yard that we do in the park. We keep our cat indoors because outside cats can displace song birds. If there were a stray cat in the park, I would remove it. House cats are not a part of Florida's natural ecosystem. If we plant anything in the park, the seed source or the plants themselves should come from within a 50 mile radius of the park. I wanted a garden in my yard, but I didn't feel comfortable bringing in plants from just anywhere. In addition to the possibility that exotic plants brought to my yard might spread into the park, unseen insects or parasites could be brought along with those plants.
My garden started as a patch of grass in the middle of a rather strangely shaped sidewalk. I thought that the sidewalk looked weird and the patch of grass always grew faster than the rest of the yard, making it look bad... all the time. My boyfriend knew that I wanted a garden there so one week while I was out of town for a training, he dug up all of the grass. Together we put some brick paving stones behind it to make the sidewalk a little more cohesive. Throughout the next year, I collected seedpods from around the park and sprinkled them in my dirt patch. After a while, things began to grow. I know that the wind and the birds must have been helping me with seed dispersal, because some of the things that grew I had not seen before. I considered weeding the garden once or twice, but its a native plants garden. All of these plants could be considered weeds to someone. I decided that all native plants are welcome in my garden and we don't call anyone a weed.
Some people may not like the look of my garden. I think that our exterminator thinks that I have just neglected this part of the yard. Sometimes I find plants pulled up and tossed to the side after he has been through to treat for ants. It is definitely not the type of garden that I grew up with. My mom was always weeding and pruning, and kept our household gardens pristine. I do some maintenance, a couple of times a year. In the winter there are tall dead stalks that I remove and when it overgrows to the point that you can't walk on the sidewalk, I trim it back.
I really love my garden, but not just for the flowers. I stood outside for only 20 minutes or so today and just looked closely. I photographed more insects than I can post today and missed even more. I even found some flowers that I didn't know were there. I hope that when you are done reading this today (or maybe tomorrow), you will go outside and look a little closer at something that you see everyday. I think you might be surprised! Take your kids, they might show you a thing or two.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I was inspired by a comment last week to try something new on a day off. Here are two photos that I have taken this month and not yet blogged. These two animals look very expressive. What do you think they would say if they could talk?

This is a Gopher Tortoise dining on my drive way.
This is a Green Anole hiding in the walkway to the spring.

Click "comments" below to tell us what these animals are saying. Everyone's ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On The Go

I opened the park as usual and headed to the office this morning. My co-worker arrived minutes later and started on his morning routine. I took care of the paperwork and chatted with him for a little while. We walked together around the park and picked up a little bit of litter by the river. On the way down to the spring, I spotted a beautiful little flower that I have never seen before. It looked dressed for a formal event. I wasn't able to find it in my wild flower book, but I will keep looking. While I was photographing the flower, we heard a hawk call above us. It was RIGHT above us on a branch. I snapped a picture while it kind of gave us a warning that we should move along or it would... it did. At the spring, there were at least fifteen turtles at the surface of the water, enjoying the peace and quiet. I wanted to stay and enjoy the peace and quiet too, but I had work to do. We headed back to the office and made a list of things that we needed. My co-worker loaded the empty gas cans into the truck for me. It was errand day.
Every quarter I have to take water samples from the well at Adams Tract to be tested at the Department of Environmental Health. They check to make sure that the well water is still clean and bacteria free. I take three samples. One that is from the first part of the well, so that it is raw and untreated. The other two are from the far ends of the system (faucets far away from the well) which are treated with chlorine. We measure the chlorine in the system twice a week, to make sure that it is strong enough to kill any incidental bacteria, but low enough to be safe to drink. When I take the last two water samples, I have to check and record the chlorine levels again. The black plastic device in the photo is what we use to measure the chlorine. It has one control bottle on the left of water from the tap. The bottle on the right is also water from the tap, but it has a reagent in it that will make it turn pink in the presence of chlorine. You can see the pink water in the window on the right. The window on the left has a spinning disc with shades of pink on it. I spin the disc and when the two windows are the same color, I read the amount of chlorine in the lower window. Once I have taken the three samples, I put them in a cooler full of ice and take them to the Health Department in Lake City, about 25 miles away.
While I was at Adams Tract, I saw a lot of butterflies. I didn't have a lot of time today to chase them and get photos, but I did get one! It is a stunning Gulf Fritillary. I saw so many of them while I was there! I also happened to notice a tiny blue flower too. I think it is a Day Flower, but I am not entirely sure.
I noticed something new while I was at Adams Tract. My boss e-mailed me last week and told me that a boy scout troop that camped at the Tract had such a great time that they wanted to donate some fire wood. I knew that they had been out to drop it off, but I was amazed at how much they brought. It was a really generous effort. I am sure that many people will benefit from their gift, especially when the weather cools down. The benches and fire ring were also added by another scout troop last year.
Once I dropped off the water samples, I stopped at Lowe's to pick up a few supplies that we needed for the park. On the way back, I stopped to fill the gas cans. I was surprised to see a caterpillar that I have always wanted to see in person right on the ground by the gas pump. This is beginning to happen regularly, its funny. The caterpillar is a Saddleback Caterpillar. I have only seen them before in photos. I vaguely remembered that they might sting, so after I took its picture, I scooped it onto my gas receipt with the help of the screwdriver that I need to open my tailgate (gotta love a park truck). I moved it out of the main drive of the gas station and into the grass... yep, people were staring. When I got home, I confirmed that they do have a nasty sting. I was glad I was careful. I also learned that they turn into a rather boring brown moth. At least they get to look cool for the longer part of their life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weather Identity Crisis

Today was another quiet and gloomy day. I don't think that the sky could make up its mind. Yesterday it was gray and it looked like it was just about to rain all day and it never did. Today, it was gray in the morning, then sunny, then cloudy, then sunny... I didn't know whether to stay inside or work outside today. I did both, until I got rained on.
At the gate this morning, the Morning Glories were glorious again. It seems like they have been blooming for such a long time. There was one bloom that had evidently been nibbled on by some little bug before it opened. It reminded me of making snowflakes out of paper when you fold, cut, and then open up to see mirrored patterns. When I stopped to check the honor station this morning, there was a lot going on. There was a tiny spider under the Plexiglas cover to the brochure box. The picture was not very interesting. There was also a tiny mushroom that kind of looked inside-out. The gills were on the top of it. Then I noticed a Walking Stick on the back of our park sign. Apparently, it didn't realize that its excellent camouflage didn't work very well on flat, shiny things. Can you tell which end is its head? Its the end up to the right, but a third set of long legs stretch out past its head.
IMG_2856After opening and driving around the park, I went to the office and picked up the leaf blower. Before I started up the noisemaker, there was another noisemaker in the park. An adult Red-shouldered Hawk was making itself known. For being such a beautiful, graceful, powerful bird, their call is really strange. Its disappointingly similar to a Crow's caw, just a little more whiny. I like the shriek of the juveniles better. You can enjoy its silhouette in the pine tree in peace though. I cleared the spring walkway and the parking lot. It was really nice to have a cool breeze blowing while I worked. At the end of the parking lot, there was a beautiful bush fruiting. It is appropriately named Beauty Berry.
Once the park was in good shape, I headed in to the office to get the paperwork done. I responded to e-mails and then was disappointed that there was still no one in the park. I drove out on the Gator to add some envelopes to the Entrance Station. I took some garbage to the dumpster and took a short drive through the back part of the park. It was still pretty windy and I was able to find some butterflies who were too busy holding on tight to the leaves they landed on to fly away while I tried to take their picture. The yellow butterfly is a female Cloudless Sulphur. I watched one of these butterflies flutter madly around a diver's bright yellow tank the other day. He said that yellow butterflies where always drawn to it. The next butterfly is another Buckeye. This one is much brighter than the other one I blogged about. With its wings drawn back a little, the way that they are, it really looks like a snake's face or something that might scare a bird or another predator of the butterfly. I was very happy to find several Partridge Pea in bloom out there. I found a little beetle that was happy they were in bloom also. A grasshopper caught my eye because I thought I saw a bright green stripe down its back. When I looked closer, I saw that it was a very small, bright green grasshopper on the back of a larger, brown grasshopper. I am guessing that the small one is male and the large one, female. I am just not sure though.
IMG_2882When I got back to the main area of the park, I talked to some divers and started heading back to the office just as the rain finally started. There was no gradual drizzle that built into a heavy rain. No, there were a few drops, then someone turned the faucet all the way on. It poured! I spent the rest of the afternoon in the office organizing photo files and adding my park photos to the park's computer. My photos are another resource that the park has for documenting the changes at the park, and can be used for future interpretive materials.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Megascopic Monday

It was Monday again. I did the usual routine, drive the park, put up the flags, open the gate, drive to the office. I stayed in the office way too long today doing paperwork and phoning septic maintenance people and such. The sky was very gray again today and there were very very few people in the park. Around 10:00, I took a break from paperwork to take a walk around the park. I opened the cabin and found another mysterious caterpillar of the same variety as the one I saw on Saturday. When I got down to the river, I saw that a group of canoers were taking a break from paddling to enjoy the spring. I picked up some garbage while I chatted with one of them. They are going all the way to the Gulf, about 72 more river miles. I hope to make that trip one day, I think it would be a lot of fun. I have seen many places along the river, but it would be great to see them all connected.
I was able to photograph another dragonfly while I was down at the water's edge. Also, while I was on the river dock, I finally photographed my first Red-spotted Purple of the season. It was very interested in a pile of algae that a Mullet fisherman had left behind on the dock. This is the same type of butterfly that was teasing me on Saturday and landed on my hand. As I made my way to the spring side of the park, I talked to the only other visitor that was in the park until late in the afternoon. I also saw a Velvet Ant. These vibrant insects are not really ants, but wingless wasps. Some people call them Cow Killers because I hear that they have a painful sting. I see them often, but I have never talked to anyone who has actually been stung by one. They are easy to spot and quick moving, they are easy to avoid.
I spent most of my afternoon at Ichetucknee, dropping off paperwork, picking up supplies, and making copies of our brochure. When I got back, I had lunch and took another walk through the park. It was still empty and I was enjoying watching the dark sky and listening to a very distant thunder rumbling. It was nice to feel a breeze again too, its been a while. On the walk down to the spring and back, I spotted a lot of living things, as always. I actually caught a photo of a damselfly. They are similar to dragonflies and very closely related, but usually damselflies will rest with their wings together and dragonflies rest with their wings spread. I saw several very small lizards, but this Green Anole really caught my attention. He watched me closely to see if he needed to hide or not. I was flattered that he felt comfortable enough to stay. The last photos are of another dragonfly. I have decided that I have to buy either a caterpillar or a dragonfly book next with all of luck I have been having photographing them. I couldn't decide which of these two photos to post for this last dragonfly. Its solid blue body was just stunning, but I think that their eyes are really interesting too. You get both!
On a very unrelated side note, I wanted to share an interesting coincidence that I just found out about last night during a phone conversation with my parents. The photo of myself as a child that I posted in the blog about how I became a Park Ranger, was taken by my brother soon after he had gotten the camera that he later gave to me. That camera is what fueled my initial interest in photography and that photo is one of my favorites. Thanks B!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Question Mark?

The threat of weather created another very slow weekend. A storm in the Gulf, finally big enough to be named, Claudette is to blame for our gray skies and noisy afternoon thunderstorms. Fortunately, the bulk of the storm is hitting the Panhandle of Florida and is missing Troy. I will also be keeping an eye on Ana and Bill which have formed in the Atlantic and are making their way towards Florida. Generally, I don't worry much about hurricanes. We are far enough inland that we won't have too many problems from a hurricane other than wind and rain. The rain is something that I worry about right now though. Our water level is on the high side of just right and I would like to keep it that way.
On my drive through the park this morning, I spotted a huge group of Quail! There were 25-30 of them. I have never seen more than 6 together in the park so it was really pretty exciting. I tried to get photos of them, but I failed miserably. They are so good at darting through the thick underbrush and hiding. There were 30 birds and all I got was a blurred photo of ONE of them! I enjoyed seeing them though, and hearing them. They sound sort of like a whisper of a Turkey's gobble. During the drive and once I arrived at the office I spent some time playing pick-up-sticks to clean up after the storm yesterday. I also blew off the walkway to the spring first thing this morning. There were so many leaves on the walkway! The rain knocked some down, I'm sure, but after an hour or two there were already leaves on the walkway again. I guess that time of year is coming. On my way up the walkway with the blower, I found a small Green Tree Frog who was very good at avoiding the blower, it climbed the wall! I also found another wall climber who was MUCH larger. The Fishfly is really a neat looking critter, but they are big! It was probably about 4-5 inches long from end to end. The first people in the park, a large group of divers, met me at the top of the walkway just as I was finishing up. They turned out to be the only people in the park until about 11:00. While they were underwater, I made a little more noise and blew off the porch of the cabin.
I went for a drive on the Gator a little later to make sure that there were plenty of honor envelopes at the entrance station. As I passed a small downed tree, I noticed a mother Turkey and several of her young. Because I interrupted them before I saw them, I don't know if they were roosting or about to start flying lessons. I also didn't really have time to get a great photo, but I wasn't going to miss another giant flock of birds today. When I got back to the park, I decided to walk around with the garbage pickers and the bucket. I was glad to see that there really wasn't much garbage. I was able to get all the way around the spring, the picnic area, and the parking lot without having to empty my bucket to make more room. I found more bugs too! I saw several Question Mark Butterflies today on one side of the spring. I was able to photograph more than one of them and I was able to see for sure that it was the Question Mark and not the very similar Comma. I had photographed one once before but I wasn't able to see the defining characteristic on its under-wing. If you look closely on the lower part of its wing, you will see a very small, bright white question mark shape. The next photo is another Question Mark Butterfly with its wings open. The one with its wings closed has wings that are in good shape, they show off the jagged and leaf-like appearance. The one with open wings has been weathered a bit so its harder to make out their unique shape. I felt very lucky to capture the butterfly shots that I did today, but to top it all off, I got another dragonfly! Either the bugs are getting slower or I am getting better.
After lunch, things finally started to pick up a little bit in the park. I occupied myself talking to visitors until my relief arrived later in the afternoon. I chatted with her a bit before I headed out to Adams Tract. A new problem had arisen with the septic tank and I needed to check it out. I was able to temporarily solve the problem, until the professionals arrive. When I was in college, I went on more than one trip to the local (and many other) waste water treatment plants in the area. I really did not think at the time that I would ever again need to know the processes involved. I know even more than I would like to now. On a brighter note, I saw two deer on the drive in to the Tract. They walked into the woods a little, but I was still very close to them with the truck window open to take the picture. They were ready to run if they needed to, but they weren't going to go further than they had to. The last photo is of two Hanging Thieves. They are a type of Robber Fly like the one I saw last week. I read that the Robber Fly I photographed last week is a slow clumsy flier that relies on a sneak attack to catch its prey. The Hanging Thief is much faster and can even catch prey in mid air. This one had caught a mate this time, but I liked how the photo made it look like a blurred mirror image of the first fly.