Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back To Work

I was dragging a little today, trying to get back into the swing of things after two sick days and two regular days off. I think it would have been easier if we were really busy, but it was a relatively quiet Saturday. There were a few fishermen and a large group having a church picnic, and very few other visitors.
Once I opened the gate and put up the flags, I started the day by blowing off the walkway to the spring. A full inch of rain yesterday brought a lot of leaves down on the walkway. I also noticed that the vines on the sides of the walkway were getting out of hand again. While I was leaf blowing, I came across quite a few frogs. I was able to avoid making them fly, but I noticed one little fella was missing one of his hind legs! I would have taken a picture if I had known that missing limbs would be a theme for the day. I can assure you though, that the frog was missing that leg before the leaf blower and I arrived today.
After clearing the walkway, I drove out to the honor box to add more envelopes and to check to make sure that the visitors already in the park had paid. On the drive out there, I spotted a very large mushroom! When I got back to the parking lot, I saw that I had several more vehicles than I had payment envelopes for. I tracked everyone down and was able to collect their park fees without any hassle. From time to time, people try to get away with not paying when they come to the park. Some people who are new to the park honestly miss the honor fee station, which was the case today. Its something that really baffles me though and I have a hard time knowing whether to be friendly or friendly but stern when people don't pay. I think that the honor station is fairly visible. There is a standard, red stop sign, a giant park sign with the fees listed, a box with blue payment envelopes (with honor payment directions printed on them), an iron ranger to drop the envelopes into, and a brochure box. Most people who come to find me to pay the fee or who I have to find to pay the fee say "but there wasn't anyone there." Most people are looking for a person to pay. I often wonder if there is something that I can do to make the honor station more user-friendly for people who are new to this system. We have made minor adjustments through the years, but it seems that if a visitor is looking for a person, they won't see anything that isn't a person. Maybe I should have a cardboard cut-out of myself flagging people over to the honor box. It could even have a voice recording, "please pay here." I would hate to see what people would do to a life-sized cardboard ranger.
The majority of the rest of my day was spent answering questions and asking the same fishermen over and over to not fish in the swim area. They think that they are waiting until I am not looking, but I let them know that I can see their orange bobbers from everywhere around the spring. Maybe they will try brown bobbers next week.
I spent some time trimming back the hang-over vines on the walkway. I found a little Skink that was missing its tail, but it moved along before I got a photo. I found a very large millipede walking along the wall. The plants above the walkway were covered in butterflies today. It was really fun to see and I know that many of the visitors enjoyed the show. I was not the only one snapping photos either. I took lots of photos today, but here are the best. I like the one of the very large butterfly, even though the butterfly is very tattered. I think it is a Spicebush Swallowtail, although the colors seem a little off to me and its missing its tails (another missing body part). I got more than I bargained for in the next photo, 3 for the price of 1! There is a wasp on the left, a Long-tailed Skipper on the right, and a little blurry in the back, you can see the underside of the Swallowtail. All of the wildflowers along the walkway were busy with bugs like that all day!
Just before I left the park for the day, I spotted this little Mantis on my truck. I carefully moved it to a nearby tree before I drove away. I noticed that it was missing one of its "hands." Its rough out there, I guess.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Visit To The Prairie

IMG_3034Today was day off #2. I'll be back to work tomorrow. Today was spent in Gainesville, an hour from the park. It was "big city" errand running day. I also took some time to visit one of my favorite state parks, Paynes Prairie. I volunteered at Paynes Prairie before I was hired as a ranger. It is a really cool, 22,000 acre park. The whole area is a part of the Alachua Sink, a grouping of sink holes that merged. Rainfall here helps to recharge our underground aquifer and feed springs. Throughout history, the Prairie has had varying amounts of standing water. At times it looks like dry land and at one point, there was enough water for steamboat traffic.
There are multiple entrances to this massive park. Because I didn't have a lot of time today, I visited two areas that are close to the road and allow quick access. One area was the 441 overlook. You can literally, pull off of the 4 lane highway and walk out on a nice boardwalk into the Prairie. Its easy to forget the traffic behind you looking out onto the expanse of greenery and flowers and butterflies and dragonflies and lizards and unidentified movement. When there is more water, people gather here to look for alligators. Several birds frequent this area as well, including Sandhill Cranes when the time is right.
The other area I visited was the Bolen Bluff Trail. It is another entrance right off of the highway, but immediately out of the parking lot, you are engulfed in the beautiful forest of live oak and palm trees that north-central Florida is known for. A small loop trail takes you through the forest and out to the Prairie again. I always see evidence of the Cracker Horses here, but I have never seen them. Another really cool thing about this park are the Cracker Cattle and Horses as well as the bison that roam free. These are the same breed of horses that I ride when I get to ride for work. I had a quiet walk, I saw several other people out walking though. I didn't see a lot of wildlife, but I did enjoy seeing the bright orange mushrooms. I also caught one little butterfly that was hiding from me, high in a bush.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Words of the Wild

I really enjoyed last Thursday's post. You all came up with some great ideas. Lets try it again this week with some new creatures. I have a few more this time, tell us what any or all of them are saying.
#1 Dragonfly (Taken 8/09)
#2 Jumping Spider (Taken 8/09)
#3 Green Tree Frog (Taken 9/07)
#4 Turtle (Taken 6/07)
#5 Various Insects in a Prickly Pear Cactus Flower (Taken 5/07)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sick Day II

I was not feeling as well as I had hoped this morning. I decided that because my co-worker was in today, I would take one more day to recuperate and keep my germs at home. I'm glad I did because I am feeling much better now, this afternoon. It was also a day at home guilt free because the park was covered. I won't let you down though, I spent a little time outside in my garden. See who came to visit today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sick Day

I think that I am at the peak of this sore throat and stuffiness business that I have been going through for a couple of days now. I have decided to stay home today to let myself rest and get better for tomorrow. I went in to open the park, take care of some paperwork, and handle some other business this morning and then I went back to bed. I didn't take any photos while I was there, so I am calling in sick to my blog today as well. Enjoy these photos that were taken previously and not yet blogged. I will return to my regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Well, I wasn't fishing, but I wasn't at the park much today at all. The park is set up to be available and functional, even when I am not there. Today was also the first day of school for many local students, so the park was very quiet anyway. I opened up in the morning and did my end of the week paperwork. I took a quick walk around the park and then headed out. I had to do my normal Monday running which includes going to a larger park, Ichetucknee Springs, which manages Troy to drop off paperwork. I also picked up some new uniforms and some park supplies that had arrived. It was VERY obvious that school was back in session when I saw the Ichetucknee parking lot. The past several Mondays, I have seen the parking lot nearly full (it has a couple thousand parking spaces). Today, there were no more than 20 vehicles.
After I left Ichetucknee, I traveled to the nearby city of Live Oak to pick up some fresh chlorine for the water system at Adams Tract. I got to Adams Tract in the afternoon, and spent the rest of my day there. I replaced the chlorine with a fresh batch because what we had was beginning to loose its potency. Because the new chlorine was so potent, I had to adjust the amount that the pump added to the water and I had to run the water for a long time to make sure that I had appropriate and safe levels at all of the faucets. It takes a long time for newly treated water at the pump to reach the farthest faucets, so I had time to kill. That is when I finally had a chance to take some photos. It was fun to be looking for things in a new place. Even though Adams Tract and Troy are only a few miles away from each other as the crow flies, there are enough differences in plants and insects to be noticeable. I had a great time.
I spotted a lovely little moth that was frantically trying to get a tiny ant off of its antenna. I felt its pain, I hate those biting ants! I took some pictures and was relieved when it finally defeated the ant. When I got home and looked up the moth, I made a great discovery. Not only did I find the name of the moth, I found the name of the caterpillar that I spotted a couple weeks ago! They are both Pink-striped Oakworm Moths. The moth is a male. The adults don't feed, they just reproduce. The caterpillars feed on Oak trees... we have a lot of Oaks.
Last week when I was at Adams Tract, I took a photo of two Robber Flies that are called Hanging Thieves. Today, I caught several photos of these Thieves at work, demonstrating where their name came from. They hang by one leg while they feast on the meal that they have caught. They were really cool to watch. One had caught a wasp and one had caught a bee. These Hanging Thieves may look scary and have worrisome names, but they are apparently, good bugs to have around.
I saw a stunning little butterfly that kind of vibrated its wings in an unusual way and it always landed facing the ground. I know that it is some type of Hairstreak, but I wasn't able to determine which kind. It was beautiful though, and another first for me.
The last photo is a flower that was a beetle playground. There were tiny beetles on almost every one of these flowers that I saw. It must be tasty if you are a beetle.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Butterflies Everywhere!

I had a great day today, despite the fact that I think I am coming down with something. I stayed so busy today that I didn't have time to think about not feeling well. It was a beautiful morning and I had time to do everything that I wanted to before a crowd showed up, almost on cue.
IMG_2954When I untied the rope to put the flags up, a spider dropped in to join me. It situated itself on the American flag while I took a picture. It stayed there too. As far as I know, it went back up the flag pole without having to climb. My best guess is that it is a Frilled Orbweaver. If so, it mainly preys on the male moths attracted to its pheromone. The top of a flagpole is a good place to attract a moth, I think. I opened the gate and fought the urge to take yet another photo of the Morning Glories. The light from the sun was filtering through the trees in a really stunning way and I wanted to get to the office and park so that I could walk around and get a photo. I caught one, just before the best light was gone.
IMG_2956Instead of starting on paperwork, I decided to set to work straight away on leaf blowing. I knew that the walkway looked bad yesterday because of the rain, and I wanted to get it cleaned up and put the noisemaker away before people started coming in. I was able to get the walkway and the parking lot donw and was just putting down the leaf blower when the first visitor arrived. It was great timing. I spoke to him and found out that he was waiting on more people. I headed back to the office, put away the leaf blower and opened the cabin. I started on the paperwork and checked the window often. All of a sudden, the parking lot was full!
IMG_2957As I headed over to the parking lot, I very nearly stepped on a snake. It was a Coral Snake. They do have a very dangerous venom, but they rarely bite. I see Coral Snakes somewhat regularly and they are always moving away from me when I see them. The Coral Snake has a couple of snakes that mimic its color pattern and there is a rhyme to help people remember which is which. Most people that I meet don't remember the rhyme or get it mixed up, so the rule of thumb that I use is to remember a traffic light. If red and yellow are touching, it is a coral snake, if they are separated by black it is the Scarlet King Snake.
IMG_2961After I got some photos of the snake and it slithered into the woods, I made it to the parking lot. Four groups of divers had arrived at about the same time and the parking lot was full. I got everyone checked in pretty quickly and my day didn't really slow down until I left. I stayed busy talking with the different groups, checking in even more divers, answering questions, and selling T-shirts and passes. The spring was bubbly with SCUBA divers all morning. I took a very quick walk on the far side of the spring and took the photo of the divers in the water, and was able to sneak up on some yellow butterflies who were drinking up nutrients from the soil. The two larger ones are Cloudless Sulfurs and I really didn't get a good enough picture to be sure about the little one. It is either a Sleepy Orange or a Little Yellow.IMG_2966
At one point in the afternoon, I was walking though the parking lot and had to stop. There was someone laying on their belly, in the middle of the park drive, taking a picture of a butterfly. I laughed and told him that I was glad that I wasn't the only one that did that sort of thing. It really was a butterfly extravaganza for a little while in the parking lot. There was something on the ground that they were very interested in. Myself and several other people (really, it wasn't just me!) were chasing butterflies with our cameras. The photos below are the best of the bunch that I took. The first one is a Zebra Swallowtail, though its swallow-like tails are missing. These butterflies had seen some abuse. The next is a Spicebush Swallowtail. I have never photographed either of these butterflies before, so I was glad to add them to my collection. I really couldn't tell you how many times I have chased Zebra Swallowtails to try and photograph them, it may be in the double digits. The big fat caterpillar is so far, unidentified. One of the divers saw it fall a great distance out of a tree. He was disappointed that I didn't know what it was. I try, but I just can't know everything.