Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sad Saturday

Winter is almost upon us.  I think it is trying to make a grand entrance this year.  The temperatures last week were in the 80's.  Now we are looking at lows below freezing for the next three nights.  I need to move further south.  It has been windy too; so windy that leaves, branches, and even logs are falling continuously.  When I made my morning drive, I had to stop to clear some very large branch pieces.

Once I was at the office, I checked the water level from the computer.  I saw that it was still creeping up at the same pace.  I checked the water levels upriver and they are still rising as well, that means it will only get higher here.  I picked up the Secchi Disk and headed out towards the spring to check the water.  I could tell that my coworker had mowed to grind up the leaves while I was off, but there was already a fresh layer of leaves and sticks on the ground.  I picked up more sticks on my way to the spring.  Once I was at the dock, I climbed over the railing onto the big rock, which was getting smaller and smaller by the day as the water creeps up around it.  We have only six feet of visibility now.  The water is very muddy.

Before the water started to rise this time, there were only two steps in the water.  Now there are seven, almost eight wet steps.  The silty and tannic water is creeping up closer and closer to the dock.  It seems like I was just scrubbing those steps clean after the last flood.  I hope that this high water doesn't stick around for long.  The turtles, Gar, and Mullet are having a blast though.  The fish have full run of the spring.  They usually hide at the edge of the tannic water just outside the spring run.  Now that the dark water has crept in, so have the fish.  The Mullet keep jumping, they really must just jump because they are happy.  There are many other unproven theories, but that one makes the most sense to me.

After walking back up the spring walkway, I stopped at the office to put away the Secchi Disk and take care of the paperwork.  Next, I headed to the cabin.  I opened it up and took my usual photo from the porch.  Then, I headed down the hill for my usual river shot.  Compare the next two photos to the same ones from last weekend and you will really see a difference.

I also had to take another photo of our favorite tree because it has finally dropped all of its needles.  Its roots are shrinking too.

I was just watching the river when some motion caught my eye downriver.  I really had to watch it to see what it was.  Eventually, I figured out that there were three birds floating on the water.  They definitely weren't going to allow me to get any closer to them and they didn't look like they were planning on coming upstream.  I really couldn't tell what they were.  I decided to take my chances with zooming in on them with my camera and hoped that I got a halfway decent image.  I didn't really, but at least I was able to see what they were.  The first photo is the original image.  The three ducks are the gray blob in the middle of the photo.  Fortunately, when I enhanced the image on the computer, I was just able to make out that they were Hooded Mergansers.  This is the first time that I have ever seen them here.  They are really beautiful birds.  The fellow with the striking black and white mo-hawk is the male, and the brown and tan mo-hawk is the female.  The third one is likely a younger duck who hasn't developed all of its coloration yet.  It is probably not one of their offspring though, it would have left their care by now.

The rest of my day was spent reluctantly telling visitors, in person and over the phone, that the water was really not clear enough for an enjoyable and safe dive.  They were appreciative of the warning, but like me, disappointed that Troy was not the park for them today.  We had only one fisherman who didn't stay long at all.  It was a cold, quiet day.  I drained all of the rain barrels throughout the day and opened up their drain spouts to prepare for the freezing nights ahead.  During my pacing back and forth to move the drain hose on the barrels, I saw a really beautiful pile of fungus that was catching the tiny bit of sunlight that was breaking through.

Near the end of my shift, I was waiting for a tree trimmer to come to look at some large trees that need to be dropped at Adams Tract.  I drove out to the barn to start all of the faucets dripping to keep the pipes from bursting in the freezing temperatures.  I saw a very large bug on the outside wall of the barn!

There are twelve faucets at the barn.  There are another eight in the main part of the park that my evening relief took care of after I left.  When the tree man arrived, I took him to Adams Tract and we looked at the trees.  He wrote up an estimate for me and headed back out.  I checked in with the volunteers and went home for the day.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Its Leftover Friday again! Day off number two was spent doing a little bit of Christmas Shopping. Here are some remnants of Monday's fabulously foggy day and my day at Ichetucknee yesterday. Yesterday's game of hide and seek was so much fun, I included a quick Round Two at the bottom of today's post.

This was on the Ichetucknee and it was a happy mistake.  The camera was not as stable as it should have been and it blurred the image slightly.  It gave the photo a dream-like look though, and I really like it.  It is the Ichetucknee in my imagination.

So here is the game.  The Kingfisher is a beautiful bird that perches above the water and watches for fish.  It will then dive-bomb the water and scoop up a fish, returning to a perch to consume its meal.  They are awesome birds.  In addition to their swift hunting abilities, they are stunningly colored and VERY noisy.  They always let you know that they are around.  They also have an uncanny ability to sense the very second that I am pressing the shutter button on my camera.  They dodge my photos almost EVERY time!  I caught a glimpse of one on the Ichey though.  See if you can spot it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Day On The River

Today was my day off.  When I was at Ichetucknee on Monday, seeing the river reminded me that it had been a long time since I had gone kayaking.  My boyfriend, Isaac and I decided to spend the day kayaking together on the Ichetucknee River.  It was a cool day, but that just meant that the river was very quiet.  There was rain in the forecast for the later afternoon so we made sure that we went earlier in the day.  We had a great time and saw some beautiful views.  Here are some of the things that we saw.  I even have a game for you at the end of the blog today.

Now let's play a game of hide and seek.  There is a creature hiding in each of the next three photos.  The same type of creature is in each photo.  If you can find it, post a comment below.  Don't peek at the comments until you have found it!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shopping Day

On Monday, I took more photos than I could possibly use.  Today, I took one photo.  I guess it all balances out in the end.  After making my morning drive and completing the paperwork, I took a quick walk around the park.  The water is still creeping upward, we are at about 12.00 feet above sea level. We were at about 8.50 before it started rising.  I took a look at the the spring water and we still have more than four feet of visibility.

The majority of my day was spent at Lowe's with my coworker and a volunteer.  We spent a couple of hours shopping around and collecting items to fulfill a list that was an entire notebook page long.  By the time we left, we had a very full cart and a lumber cart as well.  We have supplies now to keep us busy with projects for at least a month.  I am really looking forward to giving some extra attention to some very deserving parts of the park.  When we returned from our shopping expedition, we unloaded the truck and broke for lunch.  Afterward, I returned several calls and waited on a return call from a tree trimmer to come give an estimate on the removal of some trees at Adams Tract.  When the call finally came, it was too late in the day and we rescheduled.  I am ready to start my weekend!  Because I am short on photos today, here is a video that I recorded on Sunday at the river.  You can hear two birds chattering back and forth and every once in a while, see a fish or turtle disturb the surface of the water.  This is what if feels like to be a park ranger.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lists Lists Lists

Today featured another beautifully foggy morning and several to do list items being scratched off the list.  It was really a pretty good day.  I even saw some park visitors!
I started my day in the usual fashion with a drive around the park, opening the gate, and putting up the flags.  I headed to the office next and took care of the paperwork.  It went pretty quickly, there was no one in the park yesterday, so no revenue to report.  Next, I headed out for a walk to take a look at the spring.  The view from the cabin porch was awesome because of the fog.  The water is still on the rise, unfortunately.   Compare it to the last photo I posted of this spot, on Sunday.

On the way down the spring walkway, I spotted another spiderweb full of dew from the fog.  This one had evidently been abandoned, but it was still performing its duty.  It had collected quite a few little gnats.  Who knew that dead bugs could be so pretty?

I really could have stood on the spring dock just watching the fog until it lifted.  It was a good thing that our volunteer was with me to keep me focused.  The fog was so thick that I could just make out the outline of the trees across the river.  There were a lot of turtles enjoying the warm water and the tranquility of the spring this morning as well.

I decided to use the Secchi Disk again today to see what the visibility was now that the water has risen some more and it is looking more tannic and murky.  There is still 8-10 feet of visibility, but if you compare this photo to the one from Sunday, you can really see a difference in the clarity of the water.  The disk is sitting on the very same ledge.

I spent the rest of the morning walking the park with our volunteer and a notebook.  I have been given access to some work project funds in the park budget so I am taking the opportunity to tackle several of the smaller "some day" projects around the park.  We are going to improve the exhaust fans in the restroom and re-paint the interior to freshen it up.  A compliment that we get almost weekly from visitors is regarding the cleanliness of the restrooms.  We definitely want to continue that trend, restrooms are very important to people.  We are also going to replace some toilet workings to stop some little leaks.  In the old log cabin, our visitor center, we are going to sand and refinish all of the exterior doors as well as seal them a little better.  We will replace damaged interior doors and a ceiling fan.  We are going to switch thermostats in our buildings to programmable ones so that we will be more energy efficient.  We are even going to repair the 'toilet of frustration' that has been haunting me for more than a year.  I am looking forward to our shopping expedition tomorrow and more-so, getting all of these minor repairs done.  It will really be nice to have so many projects taken off of the wish list.  While inspecting a warped board that we are going to replace on our entrance sign, I spotted a little lizard.  It had leaped off of the sign and into the grass to avoid us, but I was intrigued by the green spots on its back.  This Green Anole can change from green to brown, but its usually its whole body that changes.

Before lunch, we decided to go to town to fill up our gas cans and to exchange some things at the hardware store.  When I went to the gas can storage, I found a lovely little frog who was seemingly the keeper of the gas cans today.  It watched over what I was doing and, fortunately, hopped away before I had to close the lid to the storage box.  The lid sits on the post where the frog was resting.

After lunch, I settled into the office for some paperwork, phone calls, and e-mails.  Our volunteer was finishing up a project that he has been working on, a new gas storage box.  I took care of the paperwork for the purchases that I had made in the last couple of days.  I also tried calling to get some estimates on getting some giant dead trees, dangerously close to buildings, removed at Adams Tract.  Unfortunately, I didn't make much progress with that last one.  Maybe I will have better luck tomorrow.  I did a little research on the computer about erosion control on downhill trails and started working on a plan for our trail to the river.  By then, I had spent quite enough time in the office and I was at a good stopping point.  I saw some visitors approaching, so I went out to greet them.  I had a nice talk with them and showed them around the visitor center.  Next, I headed down to the river bank to talk to some of our regular fishermen who where in for the day.  On the way down to the river, I encountered another visitor!  He was reading a sign and I said hello to him and answered some questions for him.  Near the river, I spotted several turtles sunning themselves.  They were enjoying this warm day as much as I was.

The fishermen had been doing pretty well.  Normally, they fish for Mullet, but its not a good time for them.  The majority of the adult Mullet have headed to the Gulf to spawn.  Its also hard to fish for Mullet when the river is flooding the spring because they usually sit on the line where the clear spring water and dark tannic water meet.  They are just all over the place when the water is mixing like this.  Today, the fishermen were after Catfish and they had caught quite a few.
When I headed back up the hill, our volunteer had finished his project and was ready to put the box in place.  He did a great job with it, it looks so much better than our old box.  Its also raised off of the ground so we don't have to strain our backs every time we move a gas can.  His sense of humor is evident in this project.  After the box was almost complete, he realized that it looked like an outhouse.  To complete the picture, he even cut out a moon and a star.  I thought it was a great touch.  We moved the box with the help of the tractor and got it in place.  Then we moved the gas cans into their new home.  It was so nice to just slide the freshly filled cans from the tailgate of my truck into the new box without lifting and bending.  Tomorrow, we can take apart the old box and say goodbye to it forever!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Foggy Foggy Fog!

Today was my kind of a day.  I checked the weather before I left the house to find a fog advisory in effect.  Foggy days make photo days for me, and I took WAY too many photos.  I will have plenty of leftovers for my days off.  I make a list of the photos that I will use each day before I blog, and there were too many on my list after trying to choose sparingly.  I try to keep it between two and ten photos each day.  I had to go through the list again to try to take a few more off.  I got the list down  to eleven, finally.
I started taking photos when I was about two steps out of my front door.  It was warm, humid, and extremely foggy.  There was moisture everywhere!  The spiderwebs are just amazing to me when the weather is like this.  Most of the webs are empty, except for water droplets which make the webs so much more visible.  When I got to the office, I wouldn't let myself go wandering right away because I thought I might never get my paperwork done.  I dove into the paperwork first and got all of the daily and end of the week reports out of the way.  When I was done, I went over to the cabin to look into a project that I had left on the back burner for way too long.  A leaky toilet had become a long, tedious, and frustrating problem.  It is in a secondary restroom in the cabin, so it really wasn't a priority.  In the time that I had ignored the toilet, someone had locked the restroom door from the inside.  The old pocket doors on the restrooms do not have a way to unlock them from the outside so I had to take the whole panel off of the door latch to just get to the toilet of frustration.  While pacing back and forth between the cabin and the office for screwdrivers to get into the restroom, I saw this lovely Banana Spider (aka Golden Silk Orb Weaver) who was, like her web, covered in water droplets.

Once the door was put back together and I got our volunteer up to date on the toilet situation, I began to drain the rain barrels around the cabin.  Then I finally got to take my walk.  I started at the spring area because I saw some people come into the park and head that way.  I greeted them from a distance because they were already in the water and looked very content to just swim around.  They didn't seem to mind the somewhat tannic water.  On my way back up to the picnic area, I snapped several photos of the very few flowers still in bloom, and soggy spider webs.  The flowers were all bejeweled with water droplets and even tiny flies and one very small inchworm.  The spiderwebs and remnants of old spiderwebs had such fat water droplets hanging from them that it seemed as though the spiders had set up tiny strands of Christmas lights all along the walkway.

In the picnic area, I stopped to pick up a few sticks and I came across this little garden of Resurrection Ferns.  This grouping of ferns, growing on some bark, had evidently fallen off of the branch of a tree and landed here on the ground.  They don't mind.  They are epiphytes, or air plants, who can really grow anywhere.  When there is no rain, they begin to dry up and shrivel.  As soon as moisture is available again, they resurrect themselves and green right up.  These ferns have no shortage of moisture right now.

I passed the cabin again to head towards the river and switched the hose to start draining another barrel.  (I realize now that I am typing this that I forgot to move the hose to the last barrel... oops).  When I crouched down to attach the hose, I spotted a silvery Millipede who was marching along.

On my way down the hill to the river, it was hard to make much progress.  There were photos to be taken everywhere.  I don't think I ever put my camera back in its case until I got back up the hill a little later.  I was surprised to actually see a spider in a little web on the ground.  Most of the webs I had seen this morning were empty.  I also thought it was a little strange that there was some Poison Ivy wrapped up inside the web.  As much as I hate Poison Ivy, it really can be a lovely and colorful plant.

At the river, it was interesting to see that there was still a highway of fog above the river even though it had cleared everywhere else, including the spring.  That tells me that the spring is still mostly spring water as opposed to being completely overwhelmed with river water.  Right now, the river water is cold and the spring water is warm.  To be more precise, the spring water is the same temperature as it always is but the river water is now cold, while in the summer time it is warmer than spring water.

I finally pulled myself away from behind my camera and prepared to leave the park to do my Monday running around.  I stopped at the barn on my way out to hook up our trailer so that I could pick up some wood chips while I was at Ichetucknee.  I made my usual stops in town and headed continued to Ichey.  I dropped off my paperwork and then talked to one of the other rangers there.  He went to get their tractor to load the wood chips for me.  The electric company had come through a month or two ago to clear the power line right of way in the park.  They shredded the trees that they removed and were kind enough to leave the wood chips.  We can always find a use for wood chips.  I have a lot of erosion holes to fill in at Troy, so I plan to utilize as much as they will give me.  Free wood chips are much better than pricey fill material.  While I waited for the other ranger to arrive on the tractor, I snuck over to enjoy the river view for a moment.  I almost caught a photo of a Blue Heron, but it saw me before I could get a good shot.

When the trailer was loaded, we covered it with a tarp and I headed back towards Troy.  I made a couple more stops in town to the hardware store for some miscellaneous items and the gas station to fill up my truck.

Back at the park, I ate some lunch and straightened up my desk.  I dropped off the trailer, talked to my coworkers, and then headed over to Adams Tract.  The new volunteers were settled in and already cleaning restrooms.  Volunteers are amazing people!  I went over some more things about the camp in better detail than yesterday and left the camp feeling like it was in very good hands.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Full Day

It was another quiet day at the park, but a pretty busy day for me.  After my two days off and one day spent in preparation of the parade ride that didn't happen, I had three days away from the park.  Paperwork and e-mails were piling up.  I was a little glad that the park wasn't too busy, but its always more interesting when there are other people around.
The first thing that I did today after opening up the park, was to check on the water level.  I could see that it was still rising, but I had to make sure that the spring was still safe for swimming and diving.  I do that with a Secchi (sĕk'ē) disk, a black and white, weighted circle on a string.  I drop the Secchi disk in the water and lower it down as far as I can with the black and white sections still visible.  The length of the string that is in the water is the distance of visibility in the water.  It all sounds simple enough, but its hard to find a place to have the appropriate vantage point.  I can't stand on the bank of the spring because the water is shallow at the bank.  I can't stand on the dock because I'm not at the water.  I planned to stand on the rock in front of the spring dock, but the water is now covering the paths to it.  I climbed over the dock railing and got to the rock that way.  I was a little nervous because everything was damp and slippery.  I kept seeing myself landing in the water with my cell phone and camera.  I was very very careful.

From the rock, I still had some trouble because there were more rocks sticking out under the water.  I was able to get the information that I needed though.  Our policy is that we need more than 4 feet of visibility for a safe swim area.  We definitely still have more than 4 feet.

After I took the photo, I "cast" out again to try to get the disk past the rock ledge that I landed on the first time.  I was able to get it out a little further, but I just hit another ledge.  I put a loose knot in the string to mark the depth and measured it when I got back to the office.  We still have more than 15 feet of visibility in the deep area of the spring.

I made it back over the railing and onto the dock without incident.  I was about to head back up the hill to the picnic area when I noticed that the garbage can looked a little disheveled.  I opened the lid to straighten the bag and I found something a little unexpected, but not shocking.  Frogs just love the steamy humidity in the garbage can.  In the summer I can pretty much rely on being able to find one in there to impress an impatient or grouchy kid.

I continued my walk over to the river bank and decided to see what the Secchi disk said about the river.  The disk disappeared after 4 feet.  I really hope that the river starts to recede before the spring gets this dark.  I'm just not up for another flood so soon.

I took several photos at the river when I was done.  Of course, I took the obligatory buoy line shot to give you another daily comparison of the rise.  Look back to last Saturday to really see the difference.

There was still just a hint of fog over the river, upstream.  The fall colors seem like they are mustering up some last minutes punches of brilliance before everything fades to brown for the winter.  The hickory trees were especially bright yellow today, and I don't know why I didn't get a photo.

On my way back towards the office, there were squirrels and woodpeckers everywhere.  Both of those creatures are always around me at the park, but are the hardest to photograph.  They keep their distances from me usually and can make a quick get away.  I was surprised by this squirrel who was initially much more interested in its gathering activities than me and I thought I was being so stealthy to sneak up on it.  I had my camera ready and was snapping photos as I got closer so that I didn't miss a shot all together.  Then the squirrel turned and really seemed to be posing for me.  It wasn't scared of me at all.  Here is the next contestant on America's Next Top Model: Squirrel Edition.

I opened up the cabin and then headed to the porch to get my other obligatory photo.  The water is really starting to creep up on the shore now.  I am happy to still be able to see the rocks out in the center, even if its just barely.  Remember when they were still trying to peek out of the water?

After spending as much time outside as I could get away with, I finally headed to the office.  There, I had two days worth of paperwork to do, and of course, they were the two busiest days all week.  I had several e-mails to respond to, each involved checking back for information in my files.  I also had some extra work to do because of the spring conditions.  I e-mailed my managers and our park biologist to let them know the status of the water.  I changed our answering machine message and e-mailed someone at the district office with an update for our web page to caution divers about the rapidly changing and somewhat diminished conditions.  I also updated a spring clarity tracking sheet that will help rangers at Troy in the future know what to expect when we have similar water conditions.  I made cautionary signs making visitors aware of the water conditions and laminated them.  I got to go outside again to hang the signs at the honor station and at the walkway to the spring.  When I was driving out to the honor box, I found a lost diver's watch.  It is a rather expensive computer that tracks important information during a dive.  A diver had reported one missing, but that was days ago.  We thought it was long gone.  I was so surprised to find it on the park drive, still in good condition.  When I returned to the office, I called the diver and let him know that I had found his lost item.  I am pretty sure that I made his day.
Throughout my time in the office, I did get to wander out to greet two small dive groups, and four or five other people.  That was the extent of visitation today.  I stayed so busy with my other tasks though, that I wouldn't have had much time to chat with many more people.  I went home a little early because I was still waiting to welcome in the new volunteers at Adams Tract.  They were coming in a little later than planned.  They called me when they got close and I went back to meet them.  While I waited in the parking lot, I found one more photo to take.  A Daddy Long-legs was hanging out too.

When the volunteers arrived, I led them over to Adams Tract and gave them a quick tour of the camp.  They seem like great people and I am looking forward to getting to know them throughout their stay.  I left them to get their RV situated and to get acclimated to their new surroundings.  I will return later this week to really train them on the activities at the river camp.