Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Meandering

I really thought that on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, people would be looking forward to getting out of the house and coming to the park.  I am really lousy at predicting when the park will be busy.  I think that football struck again and kept many people glued to the TV or going to the game.  Troy springs is pretty much, right in between FSU and UF.  One is one and a half hours to the northwest and the other, one hour away to the southeast.  It was also COLD!  It was below 55 degrees when I went to work this morning and that is just too cold for me.  After making my morning drive, putting up the flags, and opening the gate, I retreated to my office to get warm again.  I stayed in to do all of the paperwork that I could while the sun did its best to warm things up.  When I finally braved the cold and left my office, I opened up the cabin and then headed down to the river.  It was really beautiful down there.  There was still a bit of fog remaining over the water and it was swirling!  I took a couple of pictures, but I didn't think that they would do the phenomena any justice.  Just take a minute and sit by the river with me.  Listen to the hawks, woodpeckers, and crows and watch the fog move.

I spotted something else by the river that I have been watching for lately.  I saw the first Gar of the season.  The Gar will spawn at the spring around February, but they begin "staging" or congregating at the mouth of the spring around December each year.  I'm sure they will be around long enough for me to get some better photos later, but I had to catch the first one!

I still didn't hear anyone in the park, so I took the scenic route around.  I followed the spring bank from the river to the spring dock.  I am always impressed by the formations of the lime rock around the spring.  Every one is unique.  They are like clouds, you could sit and look at them and find faces or elephants or cars.  It is also really fascinating to see what happens when a tree gets involved with a rock formation.  The two can grow together in really odd ways.  This photo is of just the root area of a tree on the spring back.  There are rocks tucked away in all of the roots and another type of tree was growing through them and next to the main trunk of this tree.  This is one determined tree!

When I made it to the spring dock and headed up the walkway, I made some unusual discoveries.  I wish I could give you more information on what I found, but the next three photos are mysteries to me.  The first may be a cocoon of some sort, but I wasn't able to find a definite ID.  It looked soft and fluffy, but I didn't touch it because we have some stinging caterpillars that also look similarly soft and fluffy.  I didn't want to take my chances.  The next encounter was with a very small Sweet Gum Tree.  It had small spikes on may of its branches.  I wonder if they are Galls.  I couldn't get any answers on that one either.  Finally, I stumbled upon a tiny Anole that appeared to have some deformities.  Its lower back has an unusual bump and its tail was kinked.  The little lizard did not appear to be limited by its challenges.  It was able to scurry off quickly when I got too close.

There was still no one in the park.  I searched for a project to busy myself with.  I decided to finish up a project that was started last week.  I bought new tires for one of the carts that we allow divers to use to haul their gear up and down the walkway.  Unfortunately, the tires available to me did not fit the cart exactly and needed some modification.  I worked with our volunteer to solve the problem and got the cart rolling again.

Finally, people started to drift in slowly.  There was a family of brave snorkelers (with warm, thick wetsuits), a few families just stopping in to show the park to a visiting family member or to stretch their legs because they were on a long drive.  By the late afternoon, we even had one group of divers.  I spent the day with the different groups of people, greeting them, answering their questions, and occupying myself between groups.  Another tiny project that I tackled was to apply graphite to the locks on the iron ranger (payment collection metal box) and the gate.  The locks are always exposed to moisture so they get stiff and hard to close.  The powdered graphite does a great job of drying up the moisture and smoothing things down so that the lock glides easily.

Between the iron ranger and the gate, I encountered the Turkeys.  I noticed something about them though.  They were unusually calm, and out late in the day.  I'm sure that they knew Thanksgiving was over and they were safe.  I was able to take several pictures before I moved on.  I didn't want to get too close, they might have smelled turkey sandwich on my breath!

Friday, November 27, 2009

We're Having Leftovers

Its day off number two and I spent most of the day at home.  I have photos leftover from last weekend that I didn't have room for, so here they are now.  The first one is the web of a Bowl and Doily Spider.  Webs like this one and other similar Sheet-webs are easy to see on a dewy morning, close to the ground.  These spiders do not have webs that are as sticky as Orb-weaver Spiders, but they use the structure of their web to catch prey.  The finer strands at the top can knock a small flying insect out of the air and into the bowl of the web.  The spider hides beneath the bowl and breaks through to pull down the tangled and struggling catch.

Here are a couple of critters that have learned to take shelter at the restrooms on cold days.  The building holds a little bit of heat and definitely blocks the cold breeze.  The first one is a Tree frog in the restroom window.  The windows are always very appealing to frogs and lizards!  The second picture is a Regal Jumping Spider who is hiding behind the brochures.  Have no fear, arachnophobes, the spider only jumps on prey and is quick to hide when someone takes a brochure.

The next two photos are of one of my favorite trees in the park.  Though it isn't very impressive now, the Red-bud Tree will be covered in pale purple flowers in early spring while everything else is still brown.  I love seedpods like these and the heart-shaped leaves are beautiful as well.  I will be sure to have photos to share with you when it is in bloom.

Near the Red-bud, Horsemint was in bloom.  It is a very unique wildflower.

The day that I took these photos was not a busy day at the park.  There were very few visitors, but I did have to spend some time cleaning up after some very messy and inconsiderate park visitors... the Squirrels.  They really enjoy our flat surfaces, like benches and picnic tables.  They will sit and feast on pine cones, or in this case, Hickory nuts and leave a big mess behind.  I have found that bundles of green pine needles that fall from the trees make great, impromptu hand brooms to tackle messes like these.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was off today.  My day was spent, like most, in the kitchen and in good company.  I had a terrific Thanksgiving and I hope that you did as well.  When I woke up this morning, the fog was thick outside and I decided to take a walk before I started cooking to be sure that I had something to share today.  I did just one lap around the house, but found enough interesting things to spend quite a bit of time taking pictures.  Here is the best of what I found.  The first shot is what inspired me to take a walk.  This is the view of my driveway that I see when I look through my kitchen window.

In my side yard, at least twenty little white mushrooms were popping up all over.  I just love  how they push dirt and anything else in the way aside as they grow.  I was surprised to see so many mushrooms because it was maybe the coldest morning that we have had this season.  These must be very tolerant mushrooms.

The mushrooms weren't the only flashes of stark white in the side yard.  There were also tiny, tiny flowers, called Innocence.  They grew very close to the ground.
On the fence of the dog's yard, I found this abandoned spider web.  I wonder if my dog is the reason that the spider is gone.  I know that my cat enjoys eating spider webs... maybe the dog eats spiders.

On the other side of the house, a grape vine drew me in.  All of the leaves were unique.  I loved all of the colors, the dampness, the fog in the air, and the curly vines.

Last, but not least, is a lovely tree in the side yard.  Its loveliness was accentuated by the fog in the air.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Tail

I'll keep it short today.  I didn't get many photos because I was busy running errands in the morning and it was raining in the afternoon.  I also really need to get off the computer and get to work in the kitchen to get ready for Thanksgiving.  There are pies to be made!
After the paperwork was done this morning, I walked to the river to check for Manatees.  No luck.  Mama and calf have moved along.  I did find some beautiful bracket fungi though.  They were such a bright burst of color on such a drab fall day.  I did a little bit of research on this particular fungus and am pleased to share that this one is named Turkey Tail!  The fan shape and color gradation really do resemble the tail feathers of a turkey.  What luck to discover this on the eve of Turkey Day!
IMG_5285After my morning routine was complete and I talked to my coworkers, I headed off to Lake City to run some errands.  I returned some incorrect mower blades and purchased some tires for a wagon that the divers use at Tractor Supply.  I picked up a nitrate water test kit for the yearly water test at Adams Tract from the Health Department.  I stopped at Lowe's for some 2-cycle engine oil and a hose for the water supply for a leaky toilet.  I also stopped at another store to order the correct mower blades before returning to the park.  When I got there, I put away the new supplies, returned a phone call, and took care of my purchasing paperwork.  When that was done, my coworkers loaded supplies and themselves into my truck and we headed to Adams Tract.  There, they installed a roof over the chlorinator at the well.  They did a great job.  It looks like it was part of the original design (I think it should have been).
IMG_5290Back at the park, the rain began.  I talked to my coworkers until it was time to head home.  Now I am off to start cooking.  Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Manatees Again!!!

Today was another gloomy, cloudy day.  It was a little colder today too.  It was perfect weather for the Turkeys to be out and about.  This year (and every year) they are thankful that there is no hunting permitted in the park.  There have been more deer around lately too.  They know where they are safe this time of year.

When I got to the office, I headed down to the river to see if the Manatees were still around.  I didn't see them.  I walked back to the office and made a plan for the day with our volunteer.  I took care of the paperwork, we loaded up the empty gas cans in the truck, and headed over to Adams Tract.  There, we picked up garbage and delivered a full gas can.  All was well there and we headed into town next.  We filled up the gas cans and picked up a much needed cup of coffee for me.  Then we went back to Troy.  On our way in, I stopped at the dumpster to offload the garbage.  I spotted a lovely little flower.  I think it is a Phlox.

Back a the shop, we unloaded the gas cans and I went to check on some visitors that had arrived while we were gone.  The visitors were enjoying the park and I answered some questions for them.  They also told me that they had seen the Manatee.  Minutes later, a family showed up that had come in yesterday while the Manatee were here and were disappointed that they didn't have their camera.  They were back today, camera in hand, with several extra people.  I'm glad that the Manatee were still around for them.  Next, the volunteer and I headed out to the barn with tin snips and saw horses in tow to cut some metal that was in storage.  Our volunteer is building a roof to cover the chlorinator on the well at Adams Tract.  The roof will keep rainwater from seeping into the chlorine barrel and protect the chlorinator.  We returned to the office with cut roof sections and it was time to break for lunch.  I saw a couple wandering the park and I went over to greet them.  They were asking about the river so I started to walk down the hill with them.  I told them that the Manatees had been around and we all hoped that they still were.  We were delighted to find the same mother and calf from yesterday in the crystal clear water of the spring run.  I was able to snap a few photos before they headed back out to the river.

While I was chatting with the couple about the river, two boys came in and they really wanted to catch some fish.  They had already been fishing across the river and didn't catch anything.  I recommended a good spot to them, but I didn't catch them before they left to see how they did.  There weren't many people in the park today, but almost everyone was friendly and talkative.  It was nice to be able to spend so much time with visitors.
After lunch, I kept myself busy with a little paperwork, straightening up the cabin, walking the park to make sure that everything was in order.  When I checked the restrooms, I could tell that it was a cold day.  One window was full of Anoles who were trying to stay close to the warmth of the restrooms.  They are not heated, but they keep the wind out and stay warmer than the outside.

I checked in a couple of fishermen at the river later in the afternoon.  They had caught one Mullet.  I could hear the boys who were fishing, it sounded like they had some bites, but no fish.  I didn't see any sign of the Manatee, but I heard something splashing on the opposite river back.  It was just far enough away that I couldn't see what it was at first.  There was an awful lot of splashing going on and it looked like something that was diving under the water and then surfacing again.  I first thought that it might be an Otter before I realized that there was more than one splashy thing.  I zoomed in as far as my camera would allow to get some photos of these birds.  I don't know if they were Grebes or Diving Ducks of some sort.  A good amount of time looking through my bird book didn't leave me with much.  I wish I had had binoculars with me at the time.  Maybe I will see them again tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Manatee Monday!!!!!

Today was another beautiful fall morning.  It was cloudy, so the fog stuck around later into the morning.  It also was just a little warmer than it has been for the past week or so in the morning.  I still had to wear a coat, but I wasn't cold.  I went for a walk as soon as I got to work.  The Dogwood tree was really getting pretty.  I took several pictures of the colorful leaves.

Near the river, I braved some very slippery clay covered ground to capture this image.

When I got back to the office, both of my coworkers for the day were there.  We made a plan for the day and then I got started on paperwork.  I am really grateful to have so much help around the park these days, but I do miss the leaf blower some times.  I finished up the paperwork and began to gather up everything that I needed for my Monday errands.  Our volunteer was working on replacing the pipe that split above the urinal.  He was trying to carefully saw through the new pipe with a hack saw to trim it.  He was getting no where fast and decided to switch to the reciprocating saw.  It turned out to be a two-man job, a holder and a cutter, and I ran the saw!  Its by far my favorite power tool, I was over missing the leaf blower.
I headed out of the park a few minutes later.  I made all of the usual stops, talked to my supervisors, and headed back home for lunch.  When I got back to the park, I made sure that the office was in order and then started to get ready for our staff cook out.  Another park worker helped me to move tables and displays around in the cabin so that we had a large banquet area.  I opened up the kitchen and cleaned the dust off of the counter tops.  While we were working, our volunteer told us that there were Manatees in the river!  We dropped what we were doing and hurried down to the river dock where we had an excellent view.  There was a mother and calf who were just resting right in front of the dock.  There were a few fishermen as well, but they were carefully avoiding the Manatees.  Manatees cannot survive in water below 60 degrees F, so in the winter months, they move from the cooler waters of the gulf to warmer spring water.  They spend the winter in the warm spring water munching on algae and water plants.  The Gulf is more than 70 miles away by river though, and there are several large springs between Troy and the Gulf, so it is certainly not a regular occurrence for us to see seem them.  I spent a lot of time watching and photographing and answering Manatee questions for visitors and staff.

I went home a little early in the afternoon to finish preparing everything for our staff meal.  An hour before we were going to eat, my boyfriend, Isaac and I loaded up the truck with food and drinks and cooking utensils galore and headed to the park.  I arranged the kitchen while Isaac started the grill and then we took a walk while the coals cooked down.  The Manatee were still there, but further down river and harder to see.  Isaac did get to see the baby surface for air though.  The sky was beautiful at the river because the sun was just thinking about setting and the sky was a feint pink.

Near the dock, I spotted this spider (sorry arachnophobes, its been a spidery month!) and her web.  I was impressed by the size and color of the spider and then I noticed its web.  There was a dark area inside and I had a hunch.  I touched the web gently and disgusted Isaac because the dark area started to move around.  This is a Nursery Web Spider.  She carried her egg sac around with her until it was time for them to hatch.  She built this web around the sac and the baby spiders will stay protected in the nursery until they are big enough to be on their own.

We returned from our walk and Isaac performed the grill master duties with the hamburgers and hot dogs while I finished arranging the buffet in the kitchen and unwrapping all of the salads and sides that I made.  When everyone had arrived, we started eating and I was pleased that everyone enjoyed the food.  We all work varying schedules, so it was nice to get (almost) everyone together at once to have a good time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chasing Moths

This morning, I was fearing that today would be as quiet as yesterday.  It was dark and gloomy out.  When I was doing my paperwork, it kept getting darker instead of the usual which is the other way around.  Finally, it started to rain.  The weather forecast predicted rain all day.  I really thought I was going to have to spend the whole day inside.
When the paperwork was done, I got out an umbrella and walked over to the cabin to open it up.  I saw that there was a van in the parking lot so I headed that way next.  The van carried a cheerful group of divers who were optimistic about the rain keeping the park empty and quiet for their enjoyment.  They didn't mind the rain, they came to get wet!  After checking them in, I filled the brochure racks and kept myself busy in the office for a while.  I went home for lunch and was happy that the rain stopped while I was there.  Back at the park, another diver had arrived and he was waiting for others.  The slow, but steady stream of divers continued all day and the rain did not.  I don't think that they could have all spaced themselves out any better if they had tried.  When one group of divers started to get ready to leave, another group pulled in... all day.
I took a walk in the afternoon.  I spent some time near the river looking for fish.  The Gar usually start gathering at the spring in December.  I was hoping that I might catch a glimpse of an early bird.... errr fish.  I didn't find any Gar, but I did find some Stickbugs.  They were mating.  The little one is the male and the giant one, the female.
IMG_5210I took a photo of the cool tree across the river.  I don't think I will ever have enough pictures of that tree.  Here are a few more.
IMG_5212As I walked away from the river dock, I noticed that my movement unsettled some tiny moths.  When I came close, they would flutter out of the brush and then hide themselves again a few feet away.  I was determined to get a good look at them.  I would rustle a plant with my foot and then watch the moths to see where they landed.  In most instances, the moth would land, I would try to take its picture and it would fly away again.  Eventually, I found a second type of moth that was much bigger and I was able to follow it and get its picture.  I haven't found a definite ID for it yet.
IMG_5215I still wanted to "catch" that tiny type of moth though.  I finally found a brave (or tired) one that didn't flutter away when the camera came close.  The moths landed underneath leaves to roost, so even when I was able to photograph this one, it took some maneuvering.  I am grateful for the swiveling LED screen on my camera.  Can you find the moth?
IMG_5220I wasn't satisfied with any of the shots that I got so I tried turning the leaf over to get the best distance and a clear shot of the moth.  I can't believe that after all of the chasing that I had to do, this moth stuck around when I moved the whole plant!  It is a very pretty little moth, called a Lace-border.
IMG_5224When I was satisfied with my moth capture, I continued my walk along the spring bank.  I intended to look for fish in the water, but the rocks on the shore caught my eye.  I love the way they are all covered in moss now.  The limerock is very porous and is easily worn away, so there are holes and divots all over their surfaces.  The holes catch little things like this piece of Spanish moss or the moss and leaves in the next photo.
IMG_5227While I was standing there, I heard a branch fall in the picnic area.  It sounded like whatever fell took more branches with it.  I headed up toward the picnic area to see where it landed.  I had to stop for one more photo of the moss though.  It was so fuzzy and it had sprouts everywhere.  The sprouts are the reproductive organs of the moss.
IMG_5230When I got near the office, I saw our volunteer and we talked about the branch.  He had heard it too and we decided that it probably fell in the wooded area next to the picnic area.  We decided to check the nature trail and sure enough, it fell right across the path.  Fortunately, it was not nearly as big as it sounded and it only took a minute to clear the path.
IMG_5232The rest of the day was pretty quiet.  I checked in divers and sold a pass.  I talked to my evening relief when she came in and then headed home for the day to start cooking.  We are having a Troy Springs staff cookout tomorrow evening and I made some potato salad, fruit salad (Ambrosia) and coleslaw.  Tomorrow I will cook baked beans and hamburgers and hot dogs.  We will have a feast to prepare ourselves for another feast on Thursday!