Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dreary Day

Today was quiet and drippy. It was very cloudy all day and from time to time there were a few raindrops. It was never enough to need an umbrella, but as I was leaving the park this afternoon, it started to rain a little harder. The first people that came into the park this morning were divers and they didn't mind getting a little wet, in fact, they came to the park just to get wet. Everyone that came in throughout the day would have liked to see a little sunshine, but didn't mind a quiet park. There really weren't many people in today, they were missing out. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week, all Florida State Parks are offering free admission if you have a library card, a library book, or bring a book to donate. I think that this is the 3rd or 4th year that we have offered free admission during the month of September, Literacy Month. You can read more about the event here.
Even though it was a quiet day, somehow it went by quickly. I talked to the few people who were in the park and managed to find a few projects to keep me busy. I scrubbed the algae off of the glass in the fish tank in the Old Log Cabin Visitor Center. I also collected a few snails from the river who might help me with the algae removing task from here on out. Tomorrow I will do a water change and refill the tank. I spent some time in the office too. I returned e-mails, did some reading, and took care of paperwork.
Most of my photos today did not turn out well. The sky was so gray and the sun really was not around to help. Many of my photos are dark as well. Here is what turned out though.
This pair of Love Bugs found a nice place to hide and wait for the sun to come out.
These two probably could have found a little more shelter on another plant.
I guess I really like the Morning Glories. Its so hard for me to walk by without taking a picture. There are dark purple ones by the gate and these light purple ones have been taking over near the river and the spring. The light purple are my favorite. They have such delicate tendrils that they wrap around everything and the purple color is just so slight.
I am definitely not the only one that loves those Morning Glories.
This very hungry caterpillar was happily munching on this leaf. It was fun to watch it eat so methodically, almost like a person working on an ear of corn. It would eat its way across and then return to where it started to take another line off.
Don't be sad. This isn't a dead grasshopper, it is just the clothing that the grasshopper left behind when it out grew it. It is amazing to me how so much of the exoskeleton stays in tact as the complex creature manages to get every limb and antennae out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sunset Walk

Today was day off number two and it was jam-packed with errand running and grocery getting. Once we were home, the car was unloaded, groceries put away, and the attention starved animals were sufficiently petted, we decided to go for a walk. As usual, the dog and the camera were attached to my hip. Here is what we saw on our walk.
Dozer realizes that it is important to stop and smell the flowers.
This makes the name Partridge Pea make much more sense.
A Gopher Tortoise driveway. This path was formed by a Gopher Tortoise repeatedly sliding in and out of its burrow.
A Sparkleberry Bush. Look at those berries sparkle.
That's a big pine cone!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ichetucknee Springs

Today is my day off. In addition to spending some time relaxing at home, I also went to visit Ichetucknee Springs with my boyfriend. Ichetucknee is a much larger park about 15 miles away from Troy Springs that manages Troy as well. I spent my first year as a ranger working at Ichetucknee before transferring to Troy. Throughout the summer season, I don't visit Ichetucknee much aside from my weekly paperwork runs. Thousands of people visit the park daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Now that the summer season is over and kids are back in school, Ichetucknee is a peaceful and stunning place.
On a 2,000+ acre park property, nine large, named springs and countless other smaller springs converge to start the Ichetucknee River. The river flows for about 3.5 miles within the park and another 3.5 miles outside of the park before it empties into the Santa Fe River, which then empties into the Suwannee River. The full length of the Ichetucknee River is crystal clear, 72 degree spring water. While boating or tubing along the river, you can look down to watch fish and turtles swim along, weaving between the vegetation below you. The two largest springs in the park are accessible for swimming. Those are the areas that I visited today.
We started by walking down about a 1/4 mile path to the Blue Hole Spring. It is the largest spring in the park which puts out an average of 70 million gallons of water each day. Troy Spring puts out only a little more with 90 million gallons each day. It is easy to forget the world when you are alone in this peaceful spot. Here are some views from above and below the water.
On the way back, there were some neat sights to see as well.
After visiting the Blue Hole, we walked down a much shorter path to the Headspring. I almost missed the gate keeper sitting quietly high up on a branch above the trail. It was a very calm Red-shouldered Hawk.
The Headspring has a smaller output than the others, I think it is 20 million gallons of water per day from that one. It is the beginning of the river, and my favorite spring to snorkel. It was obvious to me how many feet had trampled the bottom of this spring throughout the summer. There was much less vegetation than the last time that I snorkeled here. The roots were still there though, and it will all grow back again before next summer. The more-bare-than-usual spring floor gave the living things less cover, so it was fun for taking pictures! I was able to observe several of the Loggerhead Musk Turtles. They are my favorite turtle by far. These tiny little turtles have great big heads so that they can crush snail shells and eat the soft meat inside. I have sometimes witnessed bream, or the sunfish in the spring hovering above these turtles and trying to snatch the food that they free from the snail shell.
When I resurfaced from snorkeling along with my camera, I realized that the sky had turned dark, the wind had picked up and it was about to rain. The small, heavy drops were just starting to fall as we got to the car. We realized that we had perfect timing as we headed home, cool and content.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ready For The Weekend

This week just flew by, and today did too. However, I feel like I have been at the computer screen all day and I am having trouble finding momentum to complete my blog for today. I hate to cut it short, but I'm afraid it won't get done any other way. It is my Friday, after all and I am anxious to start my weekend.
In a nutshell, here is my day. I did some research on options for the buoy line (Thanks Dad!) and reported my findings to my managers. I met and gave a park tour to a new worker from Experience Works. I made fliers for our upcoming free admission weekend in celebration of Literacy in State Parks. I contacted new volunteers for Adams Tract. Finally, I tied up all my loose ends for the week and talked with my co-workers in the park. I was able to break free of the office twice today and managed to snap some photos. I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday on a Tuesday

Because of the holiday yesterday, my normal Monday activities were performed today. I had to pick up bank deposit slips and take them along with my weekly paperwork to Ichetucknee, the park that manages Troy. The "Monday activities" usually take up a majority of my day. Saturday and Sunday are usually spent with visitors, so my only days to really get anything done around the park are Tuesday and Wednesday. I always call Wednesday my Friday because it is the last day in my workweek. So that means that today was my Monday and tomorrow is my Friday... what a week! I do have an awfully long To-Do list for tomorrow though.
This morning was another beautiful morning. No fog today, but I was up and out of the house a little early and the sun is waking up later and later these days. I even found an owl who was still out and about this morning. I was done with my park opening procedures and parked at the office while the brilliant rays of the sunrise were still firing through the trees. I decided to take a walk through the park first thing to catch some images before I spent the rest of my day doing paperwork and driving paperwork around. I am a little sad that the summer is on its way out, it was just not long enough for me, but there are a few things that I am looking forward to as fall approaches. I like coming to work to see the sun still rising. Most people hate it when the days get shorter, but I like it! The park closes at sunset, so when the sun sets earlier, the park closes earlier. It doesn't change my work schedule much, but manpower resources are not stretched as thinly and I can stop worrying about what is going on in the park after I go home at an earlier hour. I go home when my shift is over, but I can relax once the gate it closed. I am also looking forward to being able to work on outside projects at all hours of the day rather than only in the mornings before it gets hot. I think I am rambling a bit today. Back to the beautiful morning... this is what it looked like.
As I made my way over to the picnic area, I was thinking that the park really didn't look like 300 people had been through over the weekend. Good job park staff and good job park visitors! Everyone held their own with cleaning responsibilities and I only picked up one piece of garbage left over this morning. I did, however, find the mother of all mud pies of all places at the rinse station. I'm sure that the child that made and carried this mud pie from the spring area definitely needed some hosing off at the rinse station. It really was the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a wet and muddy summer. I left it to cook a little longer in the sun today, and tomorrow I will chisel the dried mud pie up and clean up the spot it will leave.
After my walk, I powered through paperwork and then headed over to Adams Tract. I was seeing off the volunteer host who has been living and working at the river camp. His stay is up and he was off to his next volunteer position. I helped him with the finishing touches of packing up his RV and hooking up his truck to trailer behind the RV. While I was there, I caught a glimpse of a large Skink sunning itself on a woodpile. I tried to get closer for a better photo, but it was very shy and scampered away to take cover in the woodpile.
The next stop was the bank and then Ichetucknee. I dropped off my paperwork, chatted with my assistant manager and the park biologist for a few minutes and then headed back to Troy. I stopped for lunch on the way back through town and ate half of it on the way. When I got back to the park, I was happy to see a dive instructor that I haven't seen in a while. She hadn't been back to Troy since the flooding, she was happy to be back too. I got her squared away and then headed to the office to finish lunch. I took care of a few things and my evening relief came in. While I talked to her, the phone started ringing more that I have heard it ring in a while. One call after another kept coming in. I realized that I was not going to accomplish anything else today, so I headed home. Tomorrow will likely be a busy day for me, but at least its my Friday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Part III

It was not a typical Monday. I still had my normal end of the week paperwork to do, but I had to juggle taking care of that in between leaf blowing, cleaning out grills, checking in divers, and answering visitor questions. Because today is a bank holiday, I can't pick up deposit receipts so I don't have to go to Ichetucknee to deliver paperwork until tomorrow. I left a few things to take care of tomorrow so that I could focus on the crowd at hand. When I checked the rain gauge this morning, there was still no rain in it, and no lizard today, but there was a grasshopper or cricket. I'm just not sure why its been such a popular place this week.
The beginning of the day was even cloudier than Saturday and Sunday. I had to laugh when I looked at the weather report though. Saturday and Sunday's predictions were for a 50% chance of rain and we never saw any. Today, the clouds were thicker and darker, but the prediction was only a 1% chance. I really didn't know what to expect, but fortunately, the sun finally made an appearance in the late afternoon. The cloudy morning made taking quick photos more difficult. It was just gray enough that with a flash the photo was washed out, and without it was too dark. If I had more time, I could have adjusted the intensity of the flash, but the park was just too busy for me to take the time to chase bugs. I did get a few photos though. The water level is going down again. It looks a lot better at the buoy line today than it did on Saturday.
I also finally caught some of the bugs responsible for the fun designs in the Morning Glories. I find this type of grasshopper in my garden often, I am going to have to try to find out more about them. It looks like these guys just devour the whole flower. I think that the little inchworm is a likely candidate for putting the neat patterns in the flowers before they open. The holes that it made here are similar to the holes that I found here and here.
We had very few divers today, but many more families picnicking. We stayed pretty busy with swimmers, picnickers, and boaters all afternoon. I noticed though that even as busy as we were, it was quiet. Everyone was enjoying the peacefulness of the park today. I stayed busy keeping up with toilet paper in the restroom and keeping a watch on all areas of the park. At one point in the afternoon, I was on the spring dock and saw a large group of children playing on the buoys. I started back up the walkway to head to the river to caution them that they could get hurt on the metal parts of the buoys. As I made my way past the cabin, I got into a conversation with some other people. Soon, someone came up the hill to tell me that the buoy line had broken. I wen to the office to get some rope and considered running home to get my swim suit. I decided to go check it out first. When I got down there, people were trying their best to secure the buoys and a man confessed to me that he had been trying to run across the buoys when the cable snapped. He took the rope from me and with another companion, they secured the buoys until I can get in and make a more secure fix. I thanked them for their help and the man apologized profusely. I insisted that it was not their fault because I knew that the cable had been fraying a bit. The kids jumped in though and didn't want me to let the adult off the hook. They told me that they would punish him for me... poor guy.
Near the end of my shift, I took the Gator out to the honor box to add more envelopes and collect the payments that were out there. When I got back and parked the Gator in front of the office, it didn't take long for the butterflies to make themselves comfortable. It almost looks like these Red-Spotted Purples were trying to steal my Gator.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Part II

I found the summer crowds! They showed up today! It was really the first time this summer that I have seen the park full like it was so often in the past summers. Its sad to think that the summer is winding down. It really feels like it just got started. I am still bitter about the flood ruining the beginning of the summer. At least we had Labor Day...
The morning started out peaceful and impressive. There was such a dense fog that everywhere I looked, I wanted to take pictures. I contained myself and hurried along my morning drive through the park and flag and gate procedures. At the gate, I couldn't resist another Morning Glory that had been chewed on in a few spots before it opened. I just love the effect that it has on the petals when its opened. I also took a look at the spider web that I mentioned yesterday. The Banana Spider was working hard to repair her web from the last catch. I looked around on the stabilizers of the web and saw that there were more than the one little kleptoparasite living on that web! There were at least six other tiny little spiders taking advantage of this one industrious spider, not to mention her male companion that really does the same things as the others. I took one more quick photo of the view of the fog at the park entrance and moved on to the office. On my way in, I stopped to check the rain gauge to see if we ever had any rain last night. The result was not what I had expected. It apparently rained one baby Anole last night.
I held off on paperwork to make sure that the park was in good shape and ready for a busy day. I wasn't sure, at that point if it would be busy, but I was hoping. I loaded the leaf blower in the Gator and headed out into the park. I unlocked the Log Cabin Visitor Center and took a quick photo of the view from the porch. I love a foggy morning. The ride over to the picnic area was cool because I could feel the moisture in the air. The fog was almost raining on me as I drove along on the Gator. As I was checking over the restrooms, the first vehicle pulled in. They were divers and after I checked them in, I asked if they minded if I did some leaf blower. I don't like to interrupt a peaceful day at the park with a noisy blower, but many of the divers don't mind it. I tried starting the blower, but it decided that it wanted the day off. We do usually only blow off the walkway every other day at most, but the leaves have really been falling. I wanted to clean up again, but the blower said 'NO.' After trying to start it a couple of times (knowing that if it doesn't work on the first try, it isn't going to) another car pulled into the parking lot and I admitted to myself that the walkway was going to have leaves on it today. I at least made it down to the dock to make sure that it was presentable. I emptied the garbage can and caught one more photo of the fog before it drifted away.
My day continued at about the same pace all day. Car after car after car continued into the parking lot. There were only a few dive groups, who were very well spaced and easy to keep track of. There were several large family groups, enjoying the holiday weekend. There were also several people who I saw at the park yesterday. I think I talked to nearly everyone at some point, even if it was just a quick 'Hi' in passing. I even got a hug from a toddler. He was really happy to see me every time he saw me, he was cute. At the busiest part of the day, just after noon, I walked along one side of the spring to get some photos of the park in full swing. Its really amazing how many people this body of water can entertain at one time. Its exciting.
Before the excitement was all over, I emptied more garbage cans, picked up the restrooms, added toilet paper and picked up some litter along the river bank. I talked and joked with some very disappointed fishermen who stayed all day and left with one fish. They were frustrated, but they did stay in the area where they are supposed to fish even though the fish have other ideas. I also had a little scare late in the afternoon when we had to call an ambulance, but fortunately, it was nothing too serious. It was everything I would expect a holiday weekend at the park to be.