Saturday, October 24, 2009

Now We're Busy, Now We're Not

I arrived at the main park area early this morning. My closer last night was not able to come in, so I closed the park but decided to tackle the restroom clean-up in the morning. When mud is tracked in on the floor, its much easier to clean when its dry in the morning. I swept out the dirt, filled toilet paper, and mopped. I have been very lucky in the last few months to have so much help around the park. It has been a while since I have really had to clean the restrooms, but this is very much a large part of being a park ranger. I don't want to disillusion you all to make you believe that all I do is chase butterflies with my camera.
As I cleaned, it started to drizzle a little. There was also an amazing sunrise forming. I took a quick photo of the beautiful sky, thinking that I was fast enough to keep any rain drops from landing on the lens. When I looked at the photo at home though, I realized that the flash had fired and reflected off of some of the falling drips. Its kind of a neat effect though and it almost looks like there are stars in the sky.
When I headed out to the gate at ten minutes to 8:00, there were already four cars lined up to come in. I opened the gate and was told that there would be many more people. He was not kidding. By the time I finished the rest of my opening rituals, our little parking lot was nearly full with 24 vehicles which brought 50 divers to the park. That sounds like a lot, but they were all together and very organized. Their instructors come regularly and were ready with the appropriate pass, payment, and knowledge of the park. They went to the water in organized, much smaller groups, and were gone by early afternoon. I watched the restrooms that I had just cleaned gradually get muddier and muddier, which is just inevitable with that many people and a morning rain. I wanted to take a photo, but I didn't want to do it while the group was there. They were a very conscientious group and I didn't want them to feel like they had done anything wrong. After they left, I forgot to take the photo.
It turned out to be a beautiful day after the rain stopped mid-morning. The sun was shining and a cool breeze took away all of the humidity from the rain. I spent the day walking around, talking with the visitors, and picking up the few pieces of litter that I found along the way. The park was really quiet aside from the big dive group. There was one fisherman who didn't stay long, a few people passing through, and two more divers in the late afternoon who could not believe that 50 people had been there earlier. They were the only visitors in the park at that point.
Here are the sights that I enjoyed today. The first is of a tree frog. I found it perched near the walkway on one of my first walks down to the spring this morning. Later in the afternoon when I was passing by again, I looked for it. It was still there, but had shifted positions a bit. Maybe it had moved to be in the sun or maybe it had moved to catch some lunch.
This is one of my favorite vantage points to the spring. I like to watch the columns of bubbles from the divers work their way to the surface.
At the river, the Mullet were everywhere. They haven't been biting this weekend for the fishermen though. Last week was the peak fishing time for the month according to the Farmer's Almanac. Its really impressive how accurate those fishing calendars are.
I saw this Yellow Garden Orb Weaver wrapping silk around a tasty morsel. Wouldn't it be nice to generate your own Tupperware or cling wrap? It would make after-dinner clean-up a breeze! At first, I thought that this may be her egg sac, but I changed my mind after reading a little online. The egg sac would be a darker color and would be hung somewhere a little more protected. It also wouldn't be in the center of her web, but in its own protective structure.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Big Day

Today was the day! I had my cast removed today. It was wonderful to be able to touch my own skin again, itch whenever I wanted to, bend my elbow. I never thought I would say that its wonderful to bend my elbow, but it really is. Never take elbow motion for granted (a little free advice).
I arrived at my appointment a full 30 minutes early, but they took me right back to the saw! I was not nervous at all about the whirring saw coming close to my arm, the excitement and anticipation of freedom made me welcome the blade. A long cut was made on either side of the cast.
Next came the spreader tool that pried the cast apart at each cut. A quick snip with the scissors through the cottony padding inside, and my arm was set free! I was thrilled to have my arm cleaned for the first time in a month.
After that, I headed to X-ray and then to wait in the doctor's office. He reported back to me that I have made progress healing, but I am not 100% yet. That was to be expected because this injury takes 4-8 weeks to heal and it has only been 4 weeks. He wanted to re-cast me, but must have seen the anguish in my face at the thought of even another day in the cast. He said that if I promised to wear a splint, we could go that route. I agreed and was sent upstairs to the therapy room. There, they molded plastic around my arm and fastened it together with some lovely green velcro. While I am not pleased to still have something holding me back, the splint is MUCH better than a cast. I am able to hold a pen and bend my elbow. I am also able to take the splint off to get to an itch or to shower without a plastic bag.
The rest of the day was spent running errands, visiting an art museum, and grocery shopping. As we were almost home, the sun was setting and it was just too pretty to pass. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just Me And The Birds

It was a quiet, quiet day at work. After my morning drive, I saw that the gate was already open and the flags were up. My co-worker beat me to work and he was off today! He was already at the river fishing when I got to the office. It was a perfect fall day, but almost no one was in the park to see it.
I did the paperwork and checked e-mail before taking a walk around the park. I started at the cabin porch and snapped a picture of the spring. The water came up again since Monday, the rocks are partially covered with water again. I unlocked the cabin, turned on the lights, and then headed down to the river.
Near the cabin, high in a tree, I found this hook. It was above my head so it was probably placed in the tree lower, when the tree was shorter. I have found quite a few trees around the cabin that have various hardware and accessories fastened to them. The strangest is an outlet attached to a tree. I'm surprised that I haven't noticed this before, but its dark rust color makes it blend in with the tree bark.
Before I got to the river, I noticed that the water in the spring was very still and it was reflecting everything above the water. I took one more picture before I continued on.
I chatted with my co-worker for a few minutes. The fish weren't biting. They were around and continuously swimming by, but they just weren't biting. He didn't stay too long after that. The fish were biting just enough last week to get everyone excited. Now, I have a lot of disappointed fishermen.
I headed back to the office and worked on my time sheet. I also answered some e-mails and started the footwork for a project that I will work on next week to update information about our cultural or archaeological resources in the park. I only put in half a day today because I worked half a day last Saturday. As my day was coming to an end, I took one more walk through the completely empty park. Now that the sun was up and warm, the wildlife was much more active. Through the window of the cabin, I was able to catch a picture of two squirrels that were playing on the porch. The one on the ground was very small and evidently younger.
On the walkway to the spring, the lizards were everywhere! They were sunning themselves on the railing and scurrying to hide as I walked by. This one was very brave.
The turtles were trying to take advantage of the warming sun as well. The turtle stealthily crept up onto the rock while I was on the dock. One minute there was rock, the next minute there was a turtle on it.
Back at the top of the walkway, I heard a bird shrieking. It was a loud, whiny call, similar to a Red-Shouldered Hawk's call, but... miniature. It was too high-pitched to be a hawk. I followed the noise and stared for a long time before I finally caught some movement and was able to focus my eyes on the bird. It was MUCH smaller than a hawk, black and white, and I saw a red patch on its chin. It was a bird with my very favorite bird name, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Yes, that's really its name. They are winter visitors to our area, perhaps it was announcing its arrival to me.
On the way back towards the office, I heard more bird noises and saw a big commotion. Two woodpeckers (either Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers) flew through a dense area of trees and as my eyes followed them, I found a large group of Blue Jays. The Jays were hopping around on the same few branches and making A LOT of noise. I noticed that one had an acorn in its beak. Maybe they were all fighting over the acorn. I thought it was strange for a couple of reasons. I didn't know that Blue Jays eat acorns (they do according to my bird book) and I did't know how the Jays wouldn't notice that the park was full of Oak Trees. There are more than enough acorns to go around. One Jay figured that out, I saw it drop to the ground and then fly back to the branch with its beak full of acorn.
Be sure to check back tomorrow, something very exciting is happening!!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Patriotic Frogs

I put up the flags today for the first time since I broke my arm. The other workers in the park have been leaving them up when they know that I will be the only one opening. I was the first one to the gate and flags this morning though, and when I opened the flag box, I found a surprise. A big, fat tree frog had found shelter in the box. I took a quick photo and encouraged the frog to shift over. The frog left a big moist circle on the flag. I put up the American flag and the POW MIA on the first pole and headed back to the box for the state flag. I discovered a second frog hiding at the bottom of the box. Another worker today mentioned to me that when she put the flags away, there were many more frogs. Do we have a new species of patriotic frogs invading the park?!
Another fun thing that I encountered this morning was right next to the flag poles, in the garden in front of our park sign. Not only was the Coontie thick, dark green, and beautiful, but the Muhly Grass was in bloom also. The grass has a gorgeous spray of purpley-pink fuzz at the top of it.
The rest of the day was not as exciting as my morning. I did the paperwork, took our empty gas can to the gas station and filled them, talked to a few divers and really had to work hard to coax them into paying to come to the park (after their dive), and looked at my schedule for next month. I also applied for a new job. Don't worry, it is still with the Florida Park Service and I have committed to blogging for 365 days, but it just may not be as a "ranger."
I have applied for an Assistant Park Manager position at another Florida State Park. This position is two steps up for me as far as pay rate goes, but it is similar to the duties that I have currently. The new position also requires that I live on-site in park housing. I have applied for an APM position two other times, but its very competitive and there are a lot of other very qualified people out there. I am trying to be confident, but also realistic by not getting too excited about it. I wouldn't have even mentioned it, but I am hoping to truly represent my job through this blog. A question that I get often is whether I get to choose which park I work in. Within the Florida Park Service, each employee applies for the position that they are interested in when it is available. We are not assigned to move to another park or promoted by our supervisors. We have to apply to each position as if it were any new job. Today, I updated my official, state application and my resume and faxed them along to the hiring Park Manager. In the coming weeks, I will be looking into the area that the park is in, reviewing information about the new park, and reading over the management plan for the new park. Hopefully, I will get a call to schedule an interview and take it from there. I am confident about interviewing, and because I have been to two APM interviews previously, I know what to expect. I will do my best to effectively represent myself and then I will hope that I am what that Park Manager is looking for. Troy has been my home for 3 years and I love it here, but I need more room to grow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thawing Out

The day started out cold again, but by the afternoon we started warming up. It looks like the rest of the week will continue to get warmer. I had another person working with me at the park today and I knew that the park would be quiet. I took the opportunity to take the new volunteers at Adams Tract on a tour of their surroundings and Troy Springs so that they could better answer visitor questions.
Before I went to Adams Tract, I took care of the paperwork and made sure that the other worker had things to do. Just as I was heading out of the office, the Coca-Cola truck pulled in to fill our machine. I talked to him while he worked and found a neat bug nearby. This is a Wheel Bug. The bug looks intimidating with a saw-like disc on its back, and if you are a soft-bodied insect, you should be scared. Its red mouth part that is folded under its head can stab into another insect so that digestive juices are injected in and the insect is consumed. I think this is a cool bug that belongs in a scary movie.
One of the places that I took the volunteers to was another state park called Lafayette Blue Springs State Park. Quite often, people staying at Adams Tract have just boated in from Lafayette Blue as it is about 20 miles up the Suwannee. Lafayette Blue Spring is a smaller spring than Troy, but it flows into the Suwannee with an impressive force.
After touring with the volunteers and dropping them back off at Adams Tract, I picked up garbage from the camp and headed back to Troy. I was there to see off one employee and greet another. I also got to see a group of fishermen who used to spend a lot of time at Troy. For various health, flood, and life issues, they haven't all been in to fish for a while. It was nice to have the group back and I enjoyed catching up with them. The fish were stubborn though, and there weren't many fish caught. While I was at the river, I found a few flowers that made it through the cold weather.
I talked to the closing worker and tied up my loose ends for the day before heading home. It was a pretty uneventful day, I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Monday, October 19, 2009

High of 70 Degrees

It was another cool morning. I turned on the heater in the truck for the first time this season. I also wore long pants with my uniform instead of my summer shorts for the first time this season. A high of 70 may sound warm enough, but it wasn't that warm until late in the afternoon. That means that the air temperature was cooler than the spring water which always makes a beautiful morning.
After I opened the park and made my morning drive, I went for a walk to soak up the morning and see how the park looked after my weekend away. The park looked great aside from the persistent leaves and pine needles that fall each night lately. I started at the cabin and then headed down by the river while I admired some stunning views as the sun rose.
Back up the hill and through the picnic area, I headed down the walkway to the spring. The only life that I saw aside from Squirrels and the occasional Cardinal was a very long Millipede who was moning in extreme slow motion. It was easy to get a photo!
Once I made it to the spring dock, I saw that the view from there was just as awesome and different as it ever was. The sun was just beginning to burn the mist off of the water's surface.
Next to the dock, in the shallow water at the shore, the Whirligig Beetles were zipping around on the surface faster than usual. I wonder if their activity had something to do with their temperature.
I headed back to the office and started to work on paperwork. I completed the usual end of the week paperwork and checked all of the week's work. I answered some e-mails and calls and then headed out of the park. On the way out of the service road, near my driveway, I had to stop to let four Deer cross and then immediately afterward, a huge group of Turkey.
I made my usual stops at the bank and Ichetucknee Springs to drop off my paperwork. At Ichetucknee, I chatted with my manager for a few minutes and said hello to the other rangers. Back at Troy in the afternoon, I greeted a small group of divers and let them know that they could warm up in the visitor center when they got out of the water. They sounded grateful. I did some computer work, got another call about the same dogs from Saturday who were at Adams Tract again, and talked to my evening relief before heading home for the day. Hopefully I will have a resolution for the dog issue tomorrow for everyone's safety and sanity.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last Day

Today is the last day of my four day weekend. It was a terrific weekend and I spent today just relaxing. I did take a walk around the yard though to get some photos to share. The weather is still cold, but thankfully, not as cold as Saturday. One of the frogs that I photographed Thursday night was still on the porch. It was high up, near the ceiling, obviously struggling to keep warm. I hope it ate well on Thursday.
I found a few other chilly critters around the yard. Every spider and insect that I saw did not budge. They were frozen in place. Not literally frozen, of course, but too cold to move. A Carolina Satyr was perched on the house. The Golden Orbweaver in the next photo seemed like she wasn't even clinging to her web deliberately anymore. Finally, the Garden Orbweaver was just there.
I walked past our fire circle from last night. There was a neat pile of ash that was still emitting a little bit of warmth.
In the back yard, I saw a pretty little group of flowers. When I bent down to take a closer photo, I smelled something wonderful and realized what this plant was. It was mint! I checked the stem to see that it was square shaped to be sure of its identity as a mint. I thought that it would be easy to find a mint ID resource online, but unfortunately I do not have a name for this lovely mint. I wish I could share the smell with you along with the view. Maybe you can find some mint gum or tea to smell while you view the blog.
I took a few more shots of the sky and the setting sun before heading inside to blog. Tomorrow I will be back at work.