Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just Another Day

A visitor asked me today if my job ever got boring. He remembered me from his last visit to Troy more than a year ago. I'm sure I was probably doing the same thing when he talked to me then, standing on the spring dock talking to visitors. I told him that my job is never just the same old thing, everything is always changing. Today was just the same as most Saturdays in the park. I did all of the same things, opened the gate, unlocked the cabin, checked the restrooms, walked the park, probably even took some of the same pictures, I did the same paperwork, I checked in divers, I told the same story about the Madison wreckage to at least three groups of people, I politely listened while people told the same story I hear daily about what Troy was like when they came here before it was a park, I paced my normal route around the park several times, and I answered the same phone calls. However, just like all of those other days, this one was new, different, and special. I noticed spiderwebs in new places, I watched squirrels perform different stunts to get to the appropriate place to eat a snack, I watched the light through the day hit the water in a million different ways, I saw at least a dozen people see or learn something brand new to them and enjoyed the excitement in their eyes. If my job ever becomes boring, I will certainly move along because these experiences shouldn't be wasted.
Here are a few of the new sights that I saw today.
The way that the sunlight came through the trees this morning, illuminated this otherwise unspectacular plant. This False Nettle bears a resemblance to the irritating Stinging Nettle, but it is much friendlier. The 'fuzz' around the stem are clusters of tiny green flowers.
The water level has dropped enough now for two rocks to peak out above the water! It was just last Tuesday when I noticed the first rock. The turtles are loving these new sunning spots, I'm sure.
I set up the craft project for October in the activity room. This month, visitors can make and take an Origami bat and learn a little bit while they have fun. Did you know that one bat can eat 3,000 insects in a night? Would you rather have one bat or 3,000 mosquitoes?
I see Red-shouldered Hawks often. I do not often see a hawk fly through a busy picnic area to land on a branch in full view of everyone, where it then feasts publicly on its small catch of a possibly lizard variety. I suppose everyone is welcome to picnic in the picnic area. While we all watched and cautiously inched around to take advantage of the photo-op, the proud hawk seemed to be showing off for us. I watched for some time, answered questions as they walked by, and eventually walked off to check dive cards or show someone where to find the Madison wreckage or something. When I passed through again, the other people that watched the hawk told me that it eventually flew off and swooped to the ground to pick up another tasty morsel of some sort.
It was just another day at the park.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Today was another day off. I didn't do anything exciting except for going to the doctor to find out that my broken arm is healing properly and I will be liberated from the big green cast on October 23rd. I can't wait! I will take up the empty space today by answering a question left in the comments last week about flooding and our water levels. Here is the whole story, but I will try to keep it brief.
The Suwannee River begins in southern Georgia, in the Okefenokee Swamp. It flows south into Florida where it snakes around and gets bigger and bigger before it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, 266 miles from where it began. Several other rivers and springs flow into the Suwannee both in Georgia and Florida. From Georgia, some major tributaries are the Alapaha and Withlacoochee Rivers. They begin in Georgia and join the Suwannee in Florida. These are the two rivers that saw record floods this year in April and caused the last major flood here at Troy. Further south on the river from Troy Springs, the Santa Fe River joins the Suwannee. The Santa Fe is mostly spring fed and includes the spring water from the Ichetucknee River. This map of the Suwannee River Basin will give you a good idea of the huge area that affects the Suwannee. If rain falls anywhere within that area, some rain will be absorbed into the soil, but much of it will work its way through those water ways and down the Suwannee River. Troy Springs is in the northern part of Lafayette County on that River Basin map. To sum it up, if the weather report is calling for excessive rain in south Georgia along I-75 south of Perry, in Valdosta, or near the Okefenokee Swamp, I will see it go by the park in three to seven days. Excessive rain in Columbus, Macon, Augusta or Atlanta will flow elsewhere, either directly to the gulf through Georgia or east to the Atlantic.
The other half of the water level equation at Troy is groundwater flowing out of the Floridan Aquifer at the spring which flows out to the river. The aquifer is a lot like water logged Swiss cheese or a saturated sponge. The porous and easily eroded limestone that is beneath the soil in much of Florida has intricate pathways where water can flow. The water enters the aquifer from rain which falls and filters through the soil and limestone, or from larger openings where areas of rock have opened up to form sink holes. Water exits the aquifers at springs, public and private wells, and water bottling plants. Local rain in what is referred to as the spring-shed will recharge the area of the aquifer that feeds Troy Springs. Its a little harder to define a spring-shed as compared to a river basin because the spring-shed pathways are all under ground. Specially trained SCUBA divers and dye-trace studies can tell us a lot about the pathways that the water takes, but we definitely can't see the whole picture just yet.
Troy Spring pumps out an average of 90 million gallons of water each day. That amount does fluctuate, based on the amount of water in the aquifer that is available to feed Troy Spring. If we are in a drought, locally or if there is a high demand on water from wells, the spring will put out less flow. If we have had a great deal of local rain, or if people are not using much well water, we have a better flow. Its just like trying to take a shower in a busy home. If someone is running the dishwasher and a hose outside, your shower will have less pressure or contrastingly, if no one else is using the water, your shower will have more pressure.
A picture that I show you often, illustrates the constant push and pull that exists between the dark, tannic river water and the clear spring water. If the river level is high, you will see the river water pushing into the spring run. If the river level is low, the spring can push way out into the river. The amount of flow from the spring can move this line around as well as the river level. Because of these two factors, we can't really say exactly how the water will look at any given water level. In the three years that I have been at Troy, I have seen the tannic river water completely overtake the spring and cause a brown out anywhere from 11 feet above sea level to 13 feet. We have gathered some historic information from divers who visited many years ago by using land marks and water depth from their dive logs. We can see that in the past, when there was less demand on the aquifer, a brown out at Troy Spring would happen when the water was much higher.
So that is the delicately balanced system that keeps my job teetering back and forth between having park visitors and having just a few people stop by every once in a while to see how high the river is. Because I haven't shared any photos today, here are some shots from previous floods at Troy. These were all taken from the porch of the cabin but they are at different points in time throughout the past 3 years.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Today was technically a day off, but because it was the first of the month, I had to complete monthly reports, pick up deposit slips from the bank, and take paperwork to Ichetucknee Springs. I went in, chatted with my co-worker and completed all of the reports. Many of them were partially completed earlier in the week and some just needed to be compiled, so it really didn't take long. I got to Ichetucknee just in time for birthday cake! We helped a co-worker over there celebrate his birthday. While I was out and about, I stopped by Adams Tract. I checked the restrooms and the garbage cans, nothing was in need of attention. I checked the chlorine levels at the well and headed out. I stopped along the way to take some more photos of this week's amazing wildflowers. It seems like there is always something new when I come by.
Here are some better photos of the delicate and lovely False Foxglove which were unfortunately missed on Monday.
Here is a more removed view of the False Foxglove. It seems like those giant purple flowers might just tumble off that tiny little stem. You can see the yellow, Showy Rattlebox in the background. Those giant seed pods may be the source of the "rattlebox" name. I am guessing that those seed pods will dry out over time and the seeds may rattle inside.
This beetle has found a nice place to sit, a lovely Black-eyed Susan.
This is another one of the lovely grasses currently going to seed along the road to Adams Tract. At first glance, its almost a brown haze of brush. When you look a little closer, the sun picks up the purplish-red tones.
I have never seen this shockingly gorgeous little flower before, but I loved it instantly. I came close to overlooking it because in its green bushiness, the tiny blue buds are easily missed. My new favorite flower is called a Forked Blue Curl.
Rough Blazing-star reminds me of Muppet hair.
I believe that this is a Blue Mistflower. I really need to train myself to photograph the whole plant or at least include the leaves for proper identification. I really only have a pretty shot on the brain, it seems.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


As I mentioned yesterday, I am using up a vacation day today. Here is some spill-over from yesterday's full day of snapshots.
This lovely little butterfly is a Skipper of some sort. I won't try to be any more specific than that because many of the Skippers (many, many!) are so similar.
Snake shed. I don't know who it belonged to, but the snake certainly picked a good place to shed. There were many rocks and plants to rub against to help the shed come off.
I believe that this plant is in the Clotbur family. Its prickly burs will stick to any person or animal that walks by in order to move its seeds around. A similar bur was the inspiration for Velcro!
I can't find a definite ID on this pretty yellow flower, though it may be in the Primrose family. While I was searching, I found an ID for another flower that I was not able to find previously. That seems to be happening often lately... serendipity!
Peaceful fall day!
This unassuming little butterfly is likely a White M Hairstreak. While the Hairstreaks, like the Skippers are numerous and similar, I had a few other clues that led me to this decision. The White M Hairstreak has a solitary orange spot and prefers open, brushy hilltops with Oak trees nearby. The location description fits perfectly, and one last piece of information really swayed me. When I was walking in this area, there were almost no butterflies around accept for these tiny brown butterflies that would rise from the ground like leaves taking flight as I shuffled along. Once, I caught a glimpse of the most brilliant blue color, but it flew away before I could focus my eyes on it, let-alone my camera. The description of the White Hairstreak states that it has iridescent blue on its upper-wings which you would only see in flight. This is my best guess, but the more research that I do, the more I doubt my decision. I have a long way to go before I am an expert on butterflies!
What a trooper! A little wooden structure won't stop this Morning Glory!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Change In The Air

What a beautiful day! It really felt like fall today. The air was crisp, there was a nice breeze, the park was silent except for the bustle of squirrels, the cries of the Red-shouldered Hawks, and the tap-tap-tap and occasional shrieks of woodpeckers. I had planned to stay inside most of the day to work on end-of-the-month reports and my time sheet, etc. I just couldn't do it.
My day started in the usual manner, opening the gate and driving through the park. I haven't had to put the flags up since I broke my arm because the evening closers have been thoughtfully leaving the flags up when they know that I will be the only at the park in the morning. I saw this little insect on the Morning Glories by the gate. This particular insect help me solve a mystery that has been on my mind for quite some time. I often see a similar looking insect in my garden. It didn't seem quite like a grasshopper, but that was the closest idea that I had. Seeing this insect today with some developing wings made me realize that the insect I have seen in the past is a nymph, or young insect. Today's specimen looked enough like the adult to allow me to make the connection to Katydids. If you have ever seen a green leaf with legs, it was likely a Katydid and it is what this little insect will become. I have a so-so image of an adult here.
I did spend some time in the office and got a good start on paperwork and and my time sheet. At one point, I looked out the window and the sky was overcast. I was afraid it might rain and I wanted to get some outside time while I could. I took a break to walk around and check out the park. Once I was out there, the clouds lifted and the sun started to shine. I didn't mind at all! I couldn't make myself go back to the office though. I opened up the cabin and saw that a rock in the middle of the spring was finally poking out of the water. The water level has really been dropping lately, but its still higher than it was last summer. The turtles in the spring were glad to have a rock out of the water. Later in the afternoon, they were fighting over this prime new sunning spot.
When I made it to the river, I could really see a difference in the water level! The water was still touching the tree about two weeks ago. The fishermen have even been catching fish recently!
From that side of the spring, I could see that there was some garbage on the opposite bank. I went back to the office and got the leaf blower and the garbage picker and bucket. I walked down the spring walkway and decided that it really didn't need to be blown off. I continued around to the side of the spring and ended staying there long after all of the garbage was picked up. I saw a lot of Mullet and Carp in the water. I heard a Sturgeon jump somewhere in the distance on the river. I saw so many little brown butterflies, flowers, and other assorted insects. I took so many pictures that my camera batteries started getting low. I have enough photos to do two days of blogging! Here is one that I took while I was patiently waiting for a Spotted Sandpiper to come a little closer. I looked down to find an empty snail shell from the water, hidden among the leaves.
I took quite a few shots of the bird from where I sat, but I wasn't happy with any of them. When I walked back toward the dock, I decided to slip off my shoes and walk through the water a little to get some cigarette butts that were tossed over the dock railing. As soon as my feet were in the water, that little Spotted Sandpiper flew right over to an area in front of me. I guess it could trust me now that I was a wading bird too. I see this little bird often. I guess I have no way of knowing if its the same bird or not. I do often see a solitary Spotted Sandpiper patrolling the edge of the water. I rarely see it when park visitors are around and when they are, they probably think I'm crazy when I try to point out a tiny, bobbing dot on the other side of the spring. I have never gotten a decent photo of one until today. I highly recommend clicking the image and viewing it as large as possible, its a tiny bird.
The last outdoor job that I could think of doing was to walk the nature trail. I wanted to make sure that the glue on our new interpretive signs kept them in place and I wanted to evaluate a tree that fell over the trail. My boyfriend, Isaac texted me that he was on his way home and wanted to go for a walk. I decided to wait for him and got a little more office work done. When he arrived, we had a nice walk on the trail. All of the signs are absolutely perfect! When we got to the tree, I was looking at it and not feeling good about having to assign this job to anyone. It was leaning in a way that made chopping it up a somewhat dangerous task.
Isaac thought that he might be able to push it off of its rotten stump. I told him to give it a try, but I was a little worried about where it might go. He gave it a big, grizzly bear shove and the tree laid right down. When it popped off of the stump, it dropped out of the other tree that was holding it up. I felt much better about it being on the ground and was content to send someone out to clear the trail tomorrow. It would now be a simple task. I joked with Isaac that now he should just pick the whole tree up and move it off of the trail... he did! It was more rotten than I thought, and he said it wasn't too heavy. Thanks Isaac!
I spent a few minutes with my evening relief and then headed home. I also called my co-worker to tell him that I will take tomorrow off. There are plenty of people working tomorrow and I don't like watching people work when I can't do much. Besides that, I have more than a month of vacation time built up and its about time I used some. Don't worry, I have plenty of photos to show you tomorrow!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Mulligrubs

Quite often on Mondays, you may have noticed, I use an M-word in the title with 'Monday'. A while ago, I found a web page that lists unusual words and they are grouped by their first letter. Most Mondays, I consult this list and find a fitting and unusual M-word. Today was a real winner! Not only does 'mulligrubs' perfectly describe the funk that I have been in all day, but it also makes me laugh just saying it and is a good start to alleviating my case of the mulligrubs! I found a good description of the word's origin here, for those interested.
My case of mulligrubs began this morning when my dog and cat were sleeping on top of me and I was having trouble keeping my arm comfortable. I got up early because I couldn't sleep and found that ants had invaded and they were trying to carry my house away. Ants are an unfortunate side-effect of living in a state park... well, living in Florida anyway. I cleaned up a few things and strategically placed ant bait around the house. I love most bugs, but ants, I hate!
I got to work early and decided to take a walk around the park after opening. The sun rise was really beautiful as the light poked through the trees wherever it could.
After my walk, I opened the cabin and found that the pocket door on the restroom had been inadvertently locked from the inside and then closed. The only way to open it from the outside is to remove the metal plate that covers the latch mechanism. With a tiny screwdriver and a lot of frustration and crankiness, I was able to pry open the cover and turn the lock. Then, I had to shove a pair of scissors into the latch to turn it so that the door would open. I got the door open, but because I had to pry the metal plate off, it was bent too much to fit back in place. I put it in a vice to straighten it out, but I needed to hammer it as well and I just couldn't with one hand. I relinquished the project to another worker.
I worked on the weekly paperwork for a while this morning and typed a To-do list for the other person working. It seemed silly to type a simple list like that, but typing is a lot faster and more legible than my left-hand scribble. As soon as the paperwork was done, I headed out for my usual Monday wanderings, which included a stop at the local hardware store for more ant removal products. When I got to Ichetucknee and dropped off my paperwork, I also picked up some supplies and made some photocopies of the brochure.
I picked up lunch on the way back to Troy and caught up on e-mail while I ate. After lunch, I went to the cabin and found that the door was repaired and a bird had come to visit. It was a Carolina Wren. They are very silly birds who are the likely culprits if a bird built a nest in your mailbox, flower pot, lawnmower, porch light, or other odd place. This bird was having a hard time understanding that it could not fly through the window. I opened a side door and guided the bird to the open door with a broom. It looked relieved when it flew away.
When my evening relief arrived, we took a field trip to Adams Tract. She did a very thorough job of cleaning the restrooms while I emptied garbage, checked the chlorine levels, and blew off the walkways. I realized that the hand-held blower at Adams Tract was much easier for me to use while I have a broken arm because of its light weight and more ergonomic design. I decided to borrow this blower until I have a volunteer at Adams Tract again. My left arm is grateful, I'm sure. As we were leaving Adams Tract, we stopped to admire some wildflowers are grasses that had newly bloomed. The majority of the 1 mile road to the tract was lined with alternating waves of the most delicate, purple False Foxglove and bold, yellow, unknown-to-me-right-now flowers. There were also patches of tall grasses that had gone to seed. They puffy tops of the grasses had a muted beauty of their own.
There was a breeze about, so it was hard to photograph the False Foxglove. I will have to try again on my next visit. I was able to catch a photo of a Buckeye Caterpillar as it munched on the stem though.
I can't find a name for this stunning plant yet, but its currently in bloom in every park that I visit on a regular basis, including my back yard. I will get back to you with the name.
Even grass can be pretty.

*****Edited To Add*****
This is my 100th post!!! Only 265 days to go. Thanks for everyone's continued support, keep telling your friends!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Hint of Summer Remains

Today was a pretty busy day. We had several larger dive groups today and many of them made multiple dives. We had quite a few swimmers today too. It was a beautiful, hot sunny day with just enough of a breeze to keep you comfortable.
I thought we might be busy today because yesterday was busy, so I held off on paperwork and walked the park first thing this morning. I saw that my evening staff last night had trimmed back the plants along the walkway to the spring and I was really happy to see it looking so much nicer. I used the small leaf blower to clear the leaves from the walkway. I will be so glad to be able to use the backpack blower again once my cast is off, it does a much more efficient job. There weren't many frogs on the ground on the walkway, maybe the snake yesterday cleaned up. I did see a few tree frogs though. They were climbing the walls of the walkway, so they didn't get in my way at all.
When I was on the spring dock, I took a moment to enjoy the view. I spotted some Morning Glories that were growing out of the mud, rocks, and Cypress knees. I thought they were especially pretty against the dark background.
I spent the majority of the day checking in divers and talking with park visitors. I took occasional breaks to cool down in the office and finish up the paperwork. On one walk through the picnic area, a group flagged me over to identify a caterpillar that they found. It was exciting to see it, it was a Puss Caterpillar. I have read about them but I have never seen one. Hidden beneath their soft and furry facade are venomous spines that can give a person a painful sting. One person told me that they had picked it up, they really were lucky to have not been stung. The people had more questions, so I quickly did a little research for them and was able to show them an image of the beautiful Flannel Moth that this mean little caterpillar will become.
The day continued to be steadily busy and visitors were coming into the park from all directions, it seemed. There was quite a bit of boat traffic on the river and a few boaters stopped to enjoy the spring, including a canoe group that had camped at Adams Tract last night on their paddle down the river. They stopped for a swim and to find out a football score before heading down river.
When my evening relief came in, the park was beginning to quiet down. After chatting for a little while about the day, I headed home. I didn't get too far before I had to stop because a Gopher Tortoise was in the middle of the service road. I got out to take a picture and the tortoise was really funny. It pulled slightly into its shell and then stretched back out again. It began walking slowly past me as if it was trying to tip-toe by without being noticed. Once it got to the edge of the road and close to taller grass, it broke out in the fastest little tortoise run that it was capable of. I returned to my truck and went home.