Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Part I

So far, the weekend has been pretty quiet. We had fairly steady visitation all day, but it was really no more than 15 people at a time. We did have quite a few boaters who pulled up by the buoy line, but they were all well behaved and for the most part, stayed on their boats. We were periodically entertained by a boat zooming by with water skiers or wake boarders or tubers in tow. We had a few dive groups, but none larger than 3 people and they were well staggered throughout the morning. The park was quietly occupied with really friendly people all day. I had several nice conversations and had a lot of people who were interested in hearing about the park. I love talking about the wildlife and the history of the park, which is good because that is a big part of my job.
The first photo I took today was taken at the gate, right above the Morning Glories. I thought it was cool to see the Banana Spider (AKA, Golden Orb Weaver) feasting on a Sphinx Moth. What I didn't realize until I got home and looked at the photos was that there was another spider in this photo as well. When I zoomed in on the little grey dot on the moth, I saw that it was an Argyrodes nephilae. It doesn't have a common name that I could find but it is a kleptoparasitic Cobweb Weaver, meaning it is a spider who lives off of stealing from others! The do commonly live on Banana Spider webs, but only on the outside stabilizers of the web so that they can stay hidden. Whenever they get the chance, they will sneak around and feed on whatever they can from the web, avoiding the view of the Banana Spider. This one was apparently taking advantage of such a large catch.
When I walked down to the river for the first time this morning, I saw that the river is still coming up. Compared to this shot from Monday, it is a noticeable difference. The tannic water is fully inside the buoy lines again, but not by much. Fortunately, the majority of the spring is still very clear. I hope the river starts receding again... any day now.
On the way back up the path from the river, I saw a millipede walking along on the sand. I see these guys often on the walkway down to the spring, but now in the sand, I noticed something neat. Their footprints! They look just like the stitching on a pair of jeans. I guess even the familiar is worth taking another look at.
On a trip out to check the honor box, I encountered some deer on the service road. When we saw each other, I slowed way down and they walked just off the road into the woods. I was able to stop right next to them and take some photos. They were pretty relaxed around me, so these are probably regulars. They are so neat to watch.
On another trip down to the river, I stopped to enjoy the quick little yellow butterflies. I think that this one feeding on the Ironweed is a Southern Dogface, but my photo is a little overexposed and it was moving too quickly to be sure. I would like to get a better photo of one because their is a silhouette of a dog's head profile in black on the wing. It is really cool.
Near the end of my day, I had spoken to everyone in the park and I had been to the dock, to the river, and through the picnic area several times. I took a few minutes to sit quietly on the cabin porch, where I could be alone with my thoughts and still keep an eye on everyone. I watched a little boy desperately try to get his parents into the cold water and out to where he was swimming to show them where the rocks stopped and started. He was so anxious to show them everything he had discovered. Its fun to watch moments like that. While I sat there, I realized that I was not alone. A little dragonfly was sitting practically face to face with me a few feet away on a branch. It was on a very good perch that it was not willing to leave and I was able to photograph every angle of this little dragonfly. Not long after that, I was back on the dock and my evening relief came in. We'll see what tomorrow will bring.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take a Hike

Today was day off number two, but I felt like being outside today because I spent so much of this week in the office, doing paperwork. This morning, while it was still cool, I went for a hike on the nature trail with my trusty side-kick. He is a 4-year-old Great Dane, named Dozer.
The purpose of my hike, other than enjoying being outside, was to make sure that there was still flagging tape up at all of our proposed sign locations on the nature trail. Over the past year, I have been working with a boyscout group on an Eagle Scout project to put up interpretive signs on the nature trail. The scouts used a distance measuring wheel and flagging tape to mark out the appropriate spacing between stops along the trail. I followed them later and looked at what was on the trail as well as what pre-made interpretive signs were available through our supplier. I adjusted the flagging tape and marked out which sign would be at each location. When I received the signs that I ordered, I gave them to the scouts along with our state sign regulations. We discussed the materials and the sizes, and the scouts set to work on building the posts for the signs. They will be here this weekend to help dig the holes along the trail and set the posts. I am really looking forward to the completion of this project!
Dozer and I had a very nice walk. I attached his leash, as well as my camera case to my belt so that I had my hands free to walk with my check list in hand to mark off each stop. Most of the flags were still in place, but a few had succumbed to the forces of nature and I had to replace them. We saw a lot of spiderwebs (in our faces) and fungi while we walked, enjoy the photos.
This is a Net-winged Beetle. I apparently arrived sometime after it had shed its larval skin and emerged as a winged adult. When I first saw it, I wondered what it was eating or what was eating it because of its exoskeleton sitting next to it. When I got home and looked at the photos, I guessed that it was probably a the orange insect's shed and did a little research to find out that my second guess was the right one.
This little Yellow-necked Caterpillar was inspecting my flagging tape as well.
I was surprised to see this lovely little Rain Lilly or Atamasco Lilly in bloom. I saw many of its friends in bloom earlier this summer.
Yes, Dozer, I agree, those are lovely fungi!

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Today is my first day off of the week. I spent most of the day at home relaxing. I did get one call because the cash register was acting up and one call because my evening park attendant would not be in. That meant that I had to close the park, but it really didn't interrupt my day off too much. I made one drive through the park in the early evening to see that it was very quiet, only a few fishermen were left. I made another drive through at closing time and made sure the park was clean and secure. I also cleaned up the restroom at the barn so that it is ready for boy scouts who will be camping this weekend. It was a quiet day today, enjoy some photos from a more exciting day. These were all taken last Sunday and I just didn't have enough room for them all then.
This is a Bumble Bee. They are not aggressive bees and will rarely sting. I remember watching my dad pet one when I was very little. I also enjoyed scaring my friends by petting them too.
This is a Tussock Moth Caterpillar. There are lots of different kinds of Tussock Moths. There are also lots of kinds of Tussock Moth Caterpillars that have this similar "hair do" in different colors and patterns. They become boring brown moths, but I love the caterpillars!
This is a Red-spotted Purple, checking out a puddle on the railing. I liked the silhouette.
This is a male Tropical Checkered-Skipper. I love their subtle blue fuzz.
This is a female Tropical Checkered-Skipper. She is dressed more formally in white and black.
This is not a great photo of this poor Spicebush Swallowtail, but I liked the colors in this photo.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Park tools can be tricky. They tend to have a way about them where they develop their own personalities. The Gator doesn't like cold mornings; the blower can't be given too much gas or it floods and you can't start it, don't even try; you have to choke the chainsaw to turn it on or off. The leaf blower likes me best, and apparently, the mower likes my co-worker best. He went to check on the mower after I failed again this morning to start it. Before I new it, he was coming around the corner, riding the mower. The aggravating-even-when-its-working cable that causes the mower to turn off when you get out of the seat had become disconnected. I'm really glad that it was something simple. I don't think our budget would like another repair expense.
I took care of the paperwork quickly this morning and had a good, outdoor job planned. It really looked like it might rain, but it was cool, there was a nice breeze, and it was a great day for a job that was not in the shade of trees. My co-worker did some leaf blowing before joining me, but together, we scrubbed all of the blue railing boards on the full length of the walkway to the spring. We each toted a bucket of water, a scrub brush, and some Simple Green in a yellow wagon that we keep available for divers to carry their heavy gear with. He scrubbed one side and I did the other while we made our way all the way down the walkway and reminisced about playing with little red Radio Flyer Wagons. We were hoping for a nice soaking rain right after we finished so that it would rinse what we were scrubbing. We gave it a light rinse, but a good soaking would be ideal... it still hasn't rained though. The top part of the railing was covered in a weird red fungus-like growth. It makes the before and after look very drastic. The whole length was not that bad though.
Spending all that time on the walkway, we did find some things. I was too busy scrubbing to catch everything, but I did get a few photos. We saw an Assassin Bug nymph, or baby. I like its flashy black and red colors. It looks like it will one day be an intimidating bug, doesn't it? I saw more than one Green June Beetle clinging to plant stalks. I also saw another Pink-Striped Oakworm Moth Caterpillar. I have blogged about these caterpillars and their adult, moth form before. The next, smooth brown caterpillar is as yet, a mystery. It was too pretty to pass though and I hope with more searching I can find out what it is.
Along with the cleaning supplies, I also brought along the drill, some screws, and a shovel in my little yellow wagon. I scooped up some sand that stays in one corner of the walkway even after leaf blowing. We also pulled up and reattached a railing board on the spring dock that had worked loose. We had to pull the whole board off to remove rusted and broken screws underneath before reattaching it. When we flipped the board, we found a chrysalis, a pupating butterfly. I removed it from the board so that we didn't squish it and I decided to relocate it somewhere near the office so that we can keep an eye on it. I wasn't sure what type of butterfly it was going to become, but I took a guess based on what butterfly I have been seeing the most recently. I looked it up and was pleased to have guessed right on the first try! It will be a Question Mark butterfly. I hope the move didn't disturb it. I will update you all on any changes.
When our project was complete, we took some time to eat lunch and then ventured out of the park, still hoping for rain to help us with a final rinse of the railing. First we went to town and fill all of the gas cans. It is such a better job with two people. Then we headed to Adams Tract to check on things there. On our way back to Troy, I decided that we should check out another spring that is on stat land between Adams Tract and Troy. A new entrance had just opened and I haven't seen the spring since we were in a drought. It was a beautiful spring now that it was full of water. It was a really nice, quiet place in the middle of the woods. My co-worker and I both decided that it was a good place to come back to sometime. It is called Owens Spring, which I like because I have a nephew named Owen. I think of him every time I drive by.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Today felt a lot like yesterday. Yesterday I had end of the week paperwork, today I had end of the month paperwork. I had to compile rainfall, water level, wildlife, and water clarity reports and e-mail them to all of the right people. I had some help with these reports yesterday evening from another park worker, I was very grateful. I also had to update tracking forms for things like passes and inventory and fuel.
I took a break from paperwork mid-morning to walk around the park and open the cabin. It was a pretty quiet, overcast morning. I did find some life on the walkway though, always a happening place. I spotted this giant fly. It is a Black Horse Fly. I always get nervous when I see these from the back of a horse. Their bite is painful because its mouth actually slices at the skin and the fly drinks the blood. Horses usually get very antsy when they feel one of these flies on their back, they are also too big to smash with your hand to get them off of the horse. This is the first time I have ever stopped to really take a look at one. I learned today that its only the females that drink blood, the males feed on nectar. This one is a male and it probably had been feasting on some wildflowers.
On the dock I spotted this little Skink. This one still has its beautiful blue tail... most of it anyway. The tail is usually a bit longer and comes to a sharp point. There is a downside to being a small Skink living on a dock at the bottom of a walkway... people feet!
On the way back up the walkway, I spotted a few more insects. I thought that this grasshopper was interesting because of its bright red head. I haven't seen one like that before. The butterfly is Florida's state butterfly. It is a Zebra Longwing. They have a very unique shape, and I would have liked to show you the full spread of their wings, but Zebra Longwings are quick. They don't stay at each flower for long, especially when there is a camera after them. They are said to be one of the smartest butterflies because they will return to the same spot each night to roost with a large group of others. I read that the older butterflies (up to 6 months) get the first choice on their individual roosting spot. They are also the first ones to wake in the morning and their fluttering wings waken the younger butterflies. I think it would be really cool to see a group of Zebra Longwings roosting.
After my walk, I finished up my paperwork, ate an early lunch, and got on the road to Ichetucknee. I didn't stay long when I dropped off my paperwork, I was just there yesterday. I was in and out again after a few quick photocopies. On the way back into Troy, I spotted these very vibrant fungi. I was surprised by color, it looks a lot like leather.
Back at the office, I was determined to get out and find a project outside. I had a few potential ideas in mind. Things just didn't go my way though... for the rest of the day. I remembered that I had to take another look at an e-mail and respond with comments. I was finishing that up when my evening relief came in, I chatted with her for a few minutes and more e-mails popped up. Before long, my day was over. I really wanted some time outside though, so I decided to ride the mower home and cut the grass around my house. I got about 1/3 of the way through the yard and an alarm on the mower went off. I think it was over heating. I checked the oil and everything else I could think of to check and it seemed fine. I let it cool down for a few minutes and opened up the fence to the back yard. I picked up all of the dog's toys and went back to check the mower. It wouldn't start. I left it to puzzle over in the morning and went back to the office to get my truck and the weed eater. At least I got the edges of the yard and the trimming around the house done. I really hope the mower is OK.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Motatory Monday

Its Monday again. It was a drab and cloudy Monday, the kind of day that is best spent in the office doing paperwork. That's what I did all morning. I did all of my usual Monday reports and paperwork and got it all out of the way pretty quickly. I did a bit of e-mailing and then headed out for a walk. I knew that the rest of my day would be spent doing other things, so I wanted some time to enjoy the park and make sure that everything was as it should be.
I opened the cabin and then walked down to the river first. I knew that the river level had been creeping up again, little by little. It was very obvious though this morning. The tannic water from the river is creeping back into the spring. You can see some Mullet swimming in the water in the bottom right of the photo, just into the brown water. I really hope it starts dropping again soon. I don't mind the higher water as compared to the past few summers, but when it stays high like this, it doesn't take much to brown out the spring completely. I'm not ready for that again so soon. Also near the river, I took some time to admire these Morning Glories. They are so much more delicate and subtle than the dark purple ones by the entrance gate.
Next, I made my way around through the picnic area and down to the spring. I walked through the woods a bit today instead of down the walkway. I'm glad that I did. I saw this stunning flower. I had seen it in bloom from the walkway last week, but I couldn't see it well and I thought it was just another Swamp Mallow. It is in the same family but it is slightly different from the ones that grow along the entrance road and bloomed earlier this summer. This one had such a striking red center. I realized that the flower next to it had already bloomed and the bloom was fading away. The whole flower was pink though! I will watch this one and see if it turns pink as well.
Very close to the Mallow, I saw a little Pearl Crescent. It was very good to me and stayed still while I took several photos of it from different angles. This is a pretty common little butterfly that can be found all over the Eastern US and the Midwest.
After my walk, it was back to my usual Monday. I loaded up my paperwork, prepared a list of supplies that I needed and headed to Ichetucknee. They are short staffed in the office these days, so while I made photocopies of our brochures and gathered supplies, I helped out by answering the phone. At Troy, I answer the same questions over and over on the phone. They do the same thing at Ichetucknee, but there are different questions. I didn't mind answering different questions for a change... but I'm glad that I didn't have to stay very long and I am also glad that the Troy phone doesn't ring as often as the Ichetucknee phone. On my way out, I took a minute to admire the butterfly garden. It has been a work in progress since I was working at Ichetucknee, three years ago. It was an idea that I had that very slowly grew into this lovely place with the hard work of many other people. I am thrilled with the way it turned out and I look forward to watching it grow and change through the years. I love the rustic trellises and the bench. I even saw some butterflies admiring it too!
When I left Ichetucknee, I headed to Adams Tract. I thought that when I refreshed the chlorine last week, I would be done with any water treatment hassles for a while. I was wrong. The volunteer at Adams Tract called me this weekend to say that the levels were low again. I was really frustrated because I knew that everything was working properly and there just shouldn't be anything wrong. I figured out the problem as soon as I got there and was kicking myself for not realizing it sooner. I really could have saved myself some trouble if I had figured it out months ago. There is a small opening in the top of the chlorine storage container. Every time it rains, the chlorine is diluted a little more. We had over an inch of rain on Friday, which made a noticeable difference in the chlorine level in the well water. I will be brainstorming to find the best solution for this issue this week. I am glad to have the answer to this ongoing mystery though!
While I was running water and checking faucets, I found this Luna Moth. It was dead, so it was a great photo-op. I think that Luna Moths must be THE most beautiful moth species. I love their pale green color, the very unique shape of their wings and the subtle "eye" spots on their wings.
On my drive out of the Tract, I went slowly to admire the wildflowers and the life buzzing around them. I noticed something that does not interest me though... Lovebugs. If you live in the Gainesville area, you know these bugs all too well and you probably believe that they were a product of a University of Florida experiment that went wrong. The local legend goes that UF created these creatures to control the mosquito population and some escaped. Lovebugs (which are actually flies and not true bugs) where initially found in the Texas and Louisiana area and have spread to establish themselves in several other states, including Florida. Because of their relatively new status as Florida residents and the immense numbers of them seen during each mating season, people talk and stories spread. Lovebugs are seen twice a year, in the late spring and again in late summer. As the adults emerge, they connect to mate and spend the rest of their adult life this way. Some years, the emergence of the Lovebugs is so drastic that its sometimes hard to drive because of the swarms of them splattering on the windshield. Several years ago we had to leafblow the restrooms every morning to get the Lovebugs out. The broom would just squish them and make a bigger mess. Lovebugs are a pest to so many people and seemingly have no purpose on the planet... they definitely don't eat mosquitoes! I learned though, that the larvae are useful. If you have a lovely grass lawn, you may have Lovebug larvae to thank for it. They live in and eat the thatch in the grass. Its the layer of dead grass clippings and other debris just above the soil. When the Lovebug larvae eat the thatch, it allows air and moisture to reach the soil, it returns nutrients held in that debris to the soil, and it makes the area unsuitable for some common grass pests. Even with that knowledge, I am still not looking forward to Lovebugs emerging at Troy. I hope its a light year!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Flutter By

I took too many photos today. The park was absolutely buzzing with buggy life again today. The numbers and varieties of butterflies seem like they are doubling daily. My butterfly field guide has been getting a lot of use this month and it is great to have such a good refresher for myself. If I keep this up for the next couple of years, I may be able to make my own field guide! Oh yeah, there were people in the park today too. There were no divers in the park at all yesterday, so I had a feeling that we might see some today. It was a somewhat busy morning with several dive groups, but they really did not require much attention. Everyone paid what they were supposed to and I didn't have a hard time checking certifications. It was an easy day. All I had to do was keep an eye on everyone, answer questions, pick up some litter, and try to photograph everything that walked, flew, hopped, and slithered past me. I did too well with the photos though, and I will have to save some for future days off to post.
The first critter I saw today was really pretty exciting for me. I saw a little snake on the walkway to the spring. It surprised me! There are so many things that I see daily on the walkway and this very unique snake is not one of them. I really didn't know what kind it was when I first saw it. Given its proximity to the spring, its color, and the shape of its body, my first guess was that it was a very young Red-bellied Watersnake. Later in the day, I got a chance to do some research online and I discovered that I was definitely wrong. Young Red-bellied Watersnakes have spots. After a little more searching, I was fairly convinced that this was an adult Pine Woods Snake. However, now at home, with my field guide, I have to add the Redbelly Snake (different from the Red-bellied Watersnake) and the Florida Brown Snake to my list of possibilities. I just can't be sure. Unfortunately, my close-up photos of its head and chin did not come out crisp so there are some defining features that I can't make out. I will e-mail some of our park biologists to see if they can tell me. I am very curious! None of the visitors got to see this little snake. I never know how people will react to a snake so I have found that if I can't stand guard to watch the snake, its best to get it out of people's way to ensure its survival. Sadly, I have had to scrape dead, harmless, non-venomous snakes off of the walkway when people killed them, thinking that they were protecting others. If you look closely in the photo, you'll see that I may have interrupted its meal. There was a frog, trying to hide in the crack in the sidewalk. The frog looks much bigger than the snake, but snakes always amaze me when they stretch to eat a large meal.
I spotted this little flutterer hiding under a leaf this morning. I am not sure if it is a butterfly or moth, but I am leaning towards moth. It definitely does not appear in my butterfly field guide. I was not able to get a close look at its antennae, which would tell me whether it was a butterfly or moth. Moths usually have furry antennae while butterflies have thin stalks with a club at the top, or a little bulge. Also, moths are usually more active at night while butterflies are more active during the day. This little guy was roosting (hiding under a leaf), so it may have been settling in for the day.
As always, there were plenty of frogs on the walkway. I took a photo of this one because it has an interesting shape and I see them often. Frogs are so difficult to identify visually unless they are a type with really striking features, but I decided to give it a shot with this one. I was happy to find that in our area, there are not many frogs with this shape. It is a Narrowmouth Toad. That fitting name should be easy for me to remember. They like moist areas with plenty of shelter, so the walkway with gaps in the boards on the wall is a good fit.
I couldn't resist taking a photo of this Skink. It is likely the same one that I mentioned in yesterday's post because I saw this one in nearly the same spot on the walkway. The tail that is is missing would be a beautiful electric blue. Their tails detach easily and will continue to move once they are no longer attached to the lizard. Any predator trying to eat the lizard may be distracted by the moving tail long enough for the Skink to make a get away. I remember the first time I learned about these Skinks. I was very new to Florida and even more new to being a Park Ranger. I was helping another ranger to put away a rescue boat and I looked down to see a bright blue wiggly thing right by my foot! The other ranger told me that it was a Skink tail. I was amazed, but felt terrible that I probably stepped on the lizard and caused it to loose its tail. It takes a long time for the tail to grow back and while it is tailless, it is also without its best defense.
On a trip to the far side of the spring to pick up some garbage, I had a great time butterfly chasing! The mud at the water's edge was very appealing to several butterflies who were drinking the mud to take in minerals from the soil. I spent a good deal of time trying to photograph this Giant Swallowtail. It wasn't too bothered by me, so I was able to get close to it, but its wings were fluttering non-stop! I had to take so many photos to get these two crisp images and I am thrilled that I got them. It was a beautiful butterfly and another first-time photo for me.
More trips up and down the spring walkway yielded these two photos. One is a Lubber, a giant, very slow-moving grasshopper. They are by far, my favorite grasshopper. I love their size and slowness which makes them so easy to observe and their colors are just pretty. The other is a snail. I see this type of snail on the walls of the spring walkway often. I found one once that was much larger, but usually they are about this size and usually they are just slowly moving along the wall. I have not yet been able to identify it, but I will continue to try.
The last photo that I am posting was taken on my way home. I noticed these flowers in bloom yesterday and almost stopped to take a photo, but I was anxious to get home. I am glad now that I waited because a flower and butterfly photo is much better than a flower photo. This butterfly looks similar to the Giant Swallowtail above, but it is lacking that second yellow stripe. This is a Black Swallowtail feeding on a Trumpet Creeper blossom. The Black Swallowtail shares the very fluttery characteristic of the Giant Swallowtail but it was not as patient as the Giant and flew away before I got a good photo. Sorry for the blurring, but I didn't want you to miss this one.