Saturday, November 7, 2009

Buoys On The Run

What a day! If you watched the parking lot today, you wouldn't think that it was a busy day. I, however, felt like I was constantly on the go. My day started with the usual drive through the park and gate opening. When I was on my way to the office, I saw one of the leaders of the group of boy scouts who are camping in the park this weekend. I went to their camping area and watched their flag raising ceremony and made plans to talk to the boys when they came to the main park area later.
When I got to the office, I checked e-mail quickly and saw a memorandum to lower the flags to half staff until Veteran's Day because of the Ft. Hood shootings. I picked up honor envelopes and brochures and dropped them off at the entrance before lowering the flags. I went back to the picnic area and opened the cabin before leaf blowing the spring walkway. When I got to the top of the walkway, I was debating whether or not to blow off the parking lot too. Just then, the leaf blower died. My mind was made up. It was good timing too, the first visitor pulled in and wanted to buy a pass. I walked with him to the office to sell the pass and ran into a scout leader that wanted to talk to me and one of our winter volunteers who arrived last night. One person at a time, I helped everyone and welcomed back our volunteer. The rest of the morning continued that way and I bounced around the park like a pinball, checking in divers, telling the scouts about the Madison, finishing up the paperwork... Then the real fun began. I walked down to check on the spring area and noticed that the buoy line was not where it should have been. The line had given away again and the buoys were floating away from shore. I made my way out to them and began to take my boots off so that I could roll up my pants, wade into the water, and drag the buoys back in. The volunteer suddenly appeared out of no where and offered assistance. While he made his way to the area that I was in, it became apparent to me that the buoys were not all connected anymore and some were, in fact, about to make their way down river. I quickly unloaded my camera and cell phones from my pockets and jumped in the river. I performed a river rescue for some big smelly buoys. Its hard to swim in long pants with a still recovering broken arm and towing six buoys behind you... up river. I did it though! The volunteer and I began hauling the buoys further onto shore. Really, he hauled, and I shoved with one arm as best I could. We also enlisted the help of a boater who, like the volunteer, appeared out of no where, right on time to capture one rouge buoy that made it further down river. That boater enjoyed a free day at the park for his daring rescue of an escape buoy.
Needless to say, I went home for lunch and changed. It is really nice to live in the park for moments like that one. I really just never know when I'll end up in the river. After lunch, things calmed down quite a bit. I got a chance to catch up with both volunteers and watched the scouts swim for a while. I also spent some time e-mailing my manager with some possible buoy line solutions, and researching some alternatives. When my evening relief arrived, I talked to her for a while and then headed out for one more walk through the park. It was a chilly morning, but it turned into a beautiful afternoon. I took a walk down to the river to take a photo of the buoy-less spring run.
There were a few Asters still in bloom and in a sunny spot, there were a few bugs too. I saw a couple of Pearl Crescent butterflies and one very busy little bee carrying a big load of pollen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Last Fall Flowers

Today was my second day off this week. I spent the day at home, doing some cleaning. I did get outside for a little while to take some photos for you all. I didn't have to go far. We have had three little tree frogs huddling together on our front porch. The have been perched atop the molding above the porch for weeks. Two days ago, the number dropped to two. Maybe the third wheel finally got the hint.
In my garden, there were still a few flowers hanging on to life. At least one bee was very grateful for the remaining flowers. Most of the pretty little blooms had turned to seed. There were several different types of seeds. Some transported by wind like a dandelion, some were "hitchhikers" that grabbed on to my pant leg and caught a ride and some were pods that will dry out and pop open onto the ground when the time is right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Devil's Millhopper

I was off today and running errands in Gainesville. Isaac and I decided to "go somewhere pretty" as an errand today as well. We had time for a quick visit to Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park just before sunset. The Millhopper is a giant sinkhole, 120 feet deep with a stairway down to the bottom. There are 236 steps from top to bottom. The temperature deep in the hole stays the same year-round and water that runs down the sides in tiny waterfalls keep the area lush and moist. Here is an explaination of the eerie name from the park's webpage.
"Devil’s Millhopper gets its unique name from its funnel-like shape. During the 1880’s, farmers used to grind grain in gristmills. On the top of the mill was a funnel-shaped container called a "hopper" that held the grain as it was fed into the grinder. Because fossilized bones and teeth from early life forms have been found at the bottom of the sink, legend has it that the millhopper was used to feed bodies to the devil. Hence, Devil’s Millhopper."
Here are a few photos that I was able to capture with the little bit of light remaining.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

6th Grade Day

Today I was only at Troy Springs for a few minutes. I checked in with my co-workers and talked about projects for the end of this week. I did the morning paperwork, and I headed over to Ichetucknee Springs. I did take a minute to see if the little snake from yesterday was still there. It was!
Today was an annual event called 6th Grade Day when kids from the nearby school come over to get an introduction to the park and some of the things that they can learn about their environment. When they are in 7th Grade, they will come back to the park throughout the year for different outdoor labs that relate to their science classes. During today's event, the kids circled through seven stations about Gopher Tortoises, Indigo Snakes, Macro invertebrates, Fish, Spring Restoration, Personal Pollution, and Prescribed Fire. I presented the Personal Pollution station with the help of a model called an Enviroscape. The model simulated a city with several sinks throughout the landscape. The "sinkholes" and waterways drained to a container under the model.
During the presentation, I talk about all of the different types of pollution that can end up in waterways. As we discuss each type of pollution, I represent it physically on the model with things like cocoa for top soil, powdered drink mix for fertilizer and pesticide, cooking oil for road sludge, and coffee for cow manure. I tell the kids that a rainstorm is on the way which may wash all of the pollutants into the aquifer. After a quick explanation of the benefits of wetlands, I assign 5 kids to be builders and the remainder of the group become city planners. I let them loose to work as a group to contruct wetlands (sponges), grassy areas (felt), and anything else such as damns, berms, walls, trees, etc (clay) in order to keep pollution from getting into the waterways.
When they finish, I hand out spray bottles and allow all of the kids to pour some rain on the city. They enjoy seeing the cocoa and drink mix puddle up and the cows fall over in the rain. Its great fun, but when the clouds lift and I take back the water bottles, we remove the container below to see how they did. If the water is relatively clear then they did a good job of containing or filtering pollution. We take a minute to re-focus and talk about what worked and what didn't. We also talk about what each individual living in the city could do to prevent the pollution in the first place. I make sure that all of their questions are answered and send them on to the next station. I did that program seven times today and each group came up with very different ideas. It was fun to watch them work together and develop their cities.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Too Much Data

Today was a busy whirlwind where I did not feel much like a park ranger. The morning was normal. I opened the gate and immediately found my first photo of the day just outside of the gate.
When I put up the flags, my three new friends were there. I don't think that they like seeing me as much as I like seeing them, but I do steal their covers every morning.
When I got to the main park, I opened the office and then opened the cabin. I enjoyed the view from the cabin window for a minute and then got to work. I did my morning paperwork and then cautiously waded in to a scary looking project that had been e-mailed to me yesterday. The project needed to be completed by tomorrow and I have to give a program all day at Ichetucknee tomorrow. I had a very narrow window to complete this scary looking project because I needed to leave the park by 10:30 to drive to Jacksonville for a training. I looked at the project, which was a database of changes we have made and need to make in order to have the park comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. It had a lot of blank spaces and cryptic acronyms. The more I looked at it, the more confused I was. I tried calling the contact listed for the project and got no answer. I called my boss, we puzzled over it together for a few minutes and then I called the contact again with better results. She was able to explain the blank spaces and strange letters to me and I zipped right through the project. I quickly wrapped things up in the office and hopped in the truck to head to Jacksonville.
The drive was just under two hours... with no radio and no cruise control. I experienced about 10 to 15 minutes of downtown city driving and realized that it has been a while since I have been out of the woods and off of the country roads. I think my truck was wondering why all the other trucks were shiny and clean and didn't have a bag of garbage and a bucket in the back. The training was pretty much painful. It was about changes to water testing regulations and involved a lot of wordy explanations. You know you are in for a long day when the presenter himself tells you that he may have trouble staying awake for the information. The majority of the presentation was about water systems much larger than the ones that I work with in the park. At least I had the company of some fun people who I knew from other state parks on the Suwannee River. Together, we made it through. Then I made the 2 hour drive back and I was so happy to see the road to the park! Just then, my phone rang. It was the person closing the park. She had just locked up the cabin and saw something that she knew I would want to photograph. I headed to the park before I went home and got one more photo to share with you. This is a baby Oak Snake (AKA Grey Rat Snake). It probably had a meal of little lizard before nestling in between the Cedar logs on the exterior of the cabin. I wonder if it will still be there tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Madness

Today was a busy Monday. I had all of the usual Monday things to do, but I also needed to make a visit to Adams Tract, and finish up another project that I have been working on. The rest of my week is very full, so I needed to get things done today.
When I opened the park this morning, it was only about 60 degrees. It was cold enough to wear long pants, but just a little too warm for my heavy coat. It was too cold for frogs. The patriotic frogs were very disappointed when I removed the flags from the box. They quickly gathered together, maybe to share the warmth that they had left.
The frogs weren't the only ones hiding from the cold in the flag box. I found this big, Regal Jumping Spider also. I found another one as I put up the flags. It was hiding under the cleat that we secure the flag rope to. I really like these spiders because of their appearance. They can be found in several different colors, including a beautiful reddish-orange. I also noticed that the one on the flag pole had green fangs. Where were these two on Halloween? Jumping spiders can make silk structures, but they are used for shelter and for egg laying, not for catching food. Jumping spiders pounce on their prey.
The rest of my morning was spent in the office. I did the daily and end-of-the-week paperwork and finished up the monthly reports that I didn't complete yesterday. I finished my time sheet and sent out a few e-mails. By mid-morning, I was ready to leave the park. I headed over to Adams Tract to drop off some gas for the mowers and blowers, drop off the pressure washer so that the volunteers can clean up some concrete areas, and pick up some bags of garbage. When I left there, I headed to Ichetucknee. There, I dropped off paperwork, picked up glass cleaner from the supply room, and picked up the equipment for a program that I will be doing on Wednesday. Next, I headed back to Troy and tried to get all of my office work done so that I could move on to a more interesting task.
When I finally broke free of the office, I headed out with a clipboard and my GPS to walk around the spring. I was completing the last step to finalize my photo points around the spring. I had previously taken photos from different points around the spring. At each point, I also took a photo of where I was standing and took a GPS reading. I had noticed while I was taking photos that the GPS readings were varying quite a bit. I went back to get better readings today. I had the GPS average its results at each point so that the reading was more accurate. I took all of the new GPS coordinates for each point and finished up a guide for re-taking the same photos in the future. Over time, we will have a good record of the changes in the soil around the spring. The guide will make it easy for anyone to find the points that I used again.
When I started down to the spring, I saw a caterpillar on the sidewalk. It was a Bagworm who carries its house around with it. I have blogged about these caterpillars before, but they are just too cool to pass up when I see them.
This one was moving, slowly but surely, likely looking for something green to eat. After a quick video of its amazing struggle to move just a few inches, I gave it a little help. I didn't want it to get squished on the walkway. I put it at the base of a bush that I have seen Bagworms on before. (Sorry about the terrible video quality, the camera was inadvertently set to compressed video.)

When I returned after getting my GPS coordinates, I saw that it had made a lot of progress climbing up the bush. It had also found and Inchworm, or the Inchworm found the Bagworm, I don't know which. The Inchworm was very interested in the Bagworm and the Bagworm looked like it was trying to hide within its bag. I hope the Inchworm didn't think that the Bagworm's house looked tasty.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Times They Are A Changin

Today, a wonderful thing happened. The time changed! I love it when the time changes in fall. Today, I didn't have trouble waking up because the sun was waking up too (and I had an extra hour of sleep). Today, the sunset time is an hour earlier than it was yesterday. Today the park was open for 91/2 hours and yesterday it was open for 101/2 hours. That means I get an extra hour to relax at the end of the day when I likely won't have any park related calls after I have gone home for the day. The first day of November was noticeable in other ways too. The warm, comfortable weather from yesterday was replaced by cool, breezy weather. If I was outside working, I was just warm enough; but if I stood still, it was too cold to be without a jacket. The leaves were falling more than I have seem them yet this year and divers didn't come early like they usually do. The 3 dive groups that I saw today all came in thought the late morning and afternoon, after the sun had a chance to warm the air up a little.
I started the day by doing something that I haven't done since I broke my arm. I used the backpack leaf blower to clear the walkway to the spring and the parking lot. It is easily my favorite park maintenance activity with mowing a close second. I still had to use my left hand to start and control the blower, but with my splint, I can get the back pack on better than I could with the cast. It was nice to be leaf blowing again, and it was too cold for frogs to be out so the job went quickly. I saw one cool jumping spider but was not quick enough with my camera.
At the top of the walkway, in the picnic area, a fern caught my eye. It was growing out of the center of a tree that forked off into multiple main trunks. I remember seeing only two or three fronds of this fern when I started at Troy 3 years ago. It is really full and beautiful now. Under the leaves, the orange spots are called sori (pronounced sore-eye). The sori produce spores which spread so that the fern can reproduce.
After leaf blowing, opening the cabin, and adding honor envelopes to the entrance station, I started on paperwork. Because today was the first day of the month, I had a bit of paperwork to do. I had to do the end of the week reports and the monthly paperwork. I got a big head start for tomorrow when everything has to be done and sent to the appropriate people. I have just a few more reports to finalize and I need to complete my time sheet tomorrow. When I had my fill of office work, I headed over to the cabin. I set up the new project for November. We are making turkeys out of pine cones! We have a great variety of sizes and shapes of pine cones around the park. I do this craft every November and I love seeing all the very different turkeys that walk away.
I stayed pretty busy today and there were a few more visitors than yesterday, but not many. When my evening relief arrived, I left to enjoy my peaceful evening.