Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day Off

Today was a regularly scheduled work day, but the park was covered and I didn't expect any crowds now that the spring is closed.  I decided to take the day off and continue my holiday weekend a little further.  I spent the day at home, enjoying Christmas gifts.  I did take a stroll through the yard with my camera though.  I found some beautiful things, but I really had to look.  In the past ten days or so, we have had temperatures above 80 and below 30.  The grass has stopped growing, brown leaves cover the ground.  Its very dead outside.  To find flowers still blooming and mushrooms still sprouting is a true example of survival of the fittest.  Some of the flowers can survive the difficult variation in temperature extremes and continue to flourish.  They will continue to create other hardy plants that will endure temperature fluctuation.  Nature is good at adapting to change.

As I walked, I was drawn to places where there was bright color in contrast with the dead, brown leaves.  I have a function on my camera that lets you select a color and transform everything else to black and white.  I played around with this feature a little to highlight some of the colors that I found.  The first two are kind of a before and after with a normal photo and a highlighted photo.  The last one, I really only liked when it was highlighted.  The little flowers got lost in the original image.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Happy Holidays everyone!  Today is my regularly scheduled day off, but I talked my co-worker into staying home with his family today.  I got up and opened the park this morning.  It was very quiet and wet and drippy.  We had almost a quarter inch of rain last night.  I drove through the park, put up the flags, opened the gate, and headed to the office.  I quickly did the paperwork and headed out for a walk.  I opened up the cabin, snapped a few photos and headed back home again.  It started to rain as soon as I pulled up to the house... perfect timing.
The river is still rising.  You can really see a big difference from the last time I took these pictures, which was Monday.  Compare these pictures with the start of the water rising to really see a big difference.  We were at about 8.50 feet above sea level when this all started.  On Monday we were around 12.75, and today, we are a full foot above that at 13.80.  You might be able to just make out the big rock in front of the spring dock in the first photo, all the way to the left.  Only the very top of that rock is still above water.  That was the rock I was standing on when I did the Secchi Disk readings.
I watched a whole tree float down the river. Its always amazing to see the things that float by during a flood. When the river rises, it does a good job of flushing garbage and debris out of the flood plains. We have seen refrigerators, docks, boats, coolers, footballs, trees with birds catching a ride...
The leaves and debris on the surface of the spring aren't moving any more. The spring is at a standstill. It is no longer pushing much, if any water back out to the river. Usually, if you stand at the mouth of the spring run, where the spring meets the river, you can see water coming in to the spring on the upriver side and see water flowing out to the river on the downriver side of the mouth. Water is only flowing in towards the spring now. Its loosing the battle. Its possible that the spring will begin siphoning soon, which means that it will actually reverse flow and water will flow into the aquifer instead of out. Its hard to tell when that happens with this big spring, but I have seen it happen dramatically with smaller springs. It looks just like a bathtub drain when the water spirals down.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

I woke up early this morning (my dog decided that really) to play a Christmas Elf.  I started baking cookies, making fudge, and mixing up a few other tasty treats.  By late afternoon, I was finally ready to head over to the park to deliver some gifts and treats to my coworkers.  When I got home again, it was time to wrap presents.  There was no time for photos today.  I meant to take photos of the desserts that I made, but it just didn't happen.  Enjoy some leftovers from Monday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Trail Day

Today was a productive day and it went by quickly.  I was hoping that it would, it is my Friday after all, and my weekend includes a fun holiday this week!  On my drive to the park, I stopped at the barn.  I don't usually, but it was calling to me today.  The sun was positioned just right and it looked like it was a pretty morning over there.  I'm glad that I listened to my instincts.  There were three deer and lots of pretty frost-covered things to look at.  The deer were not in the sun and it was still too dark to get a decent photo of them.  I tried to sneak around the barn to get closer, but I wasn't sneaky enough.  The frost covered vegetation didn't frighten easily, so I do have some photos to share.  We weren't expecting freezing temperatures last night, but some areas behind the barn had a light dusting of frost.  The grass and spiderwebs just sparkled in the morning sun.

I went to the office next and got straight to work on paperwork.  I wasn't at the park yesterday, so I had two days to catch up on.  It went quickly though, with the spring closed, we haven't had any paying visitors.  Just as I was finishing up, I got a call from a worker with a tree service who was just pulling into the park to meet with me to give an estimate on the three dead trees at Adams Tract.  I took him over there, got the estimate, and talked to him about the river camp and some possible opportunities for a scout troop that he is involved with.  We had some company while we walked, a neighbor's dog enjoys visiting the river camp.  The dog is a very sweet Lab named Bear.  He and his brother love to come to Adams Tract to visit, but we would rather that they didn't.  On my way out, I loaded Bear into my truck and took him home.  His owners weren't home, but his brother dog was there so I let him out of the truck and they started playing.  I'm glad he didn't follow me out.

When I got back to Troy, my coworkers were already hard at work on our project for the day.  I had saved it for this Wednesday because we had four people working.  It was a big job and more people lighten the load.  I joined them when I arrived.  Our project was shoveling and spreading wood chips on the pathway down to the river.  I picked up the wood chips from Ichetucknee last week, you may remember.  The pathway turned out even better than I had hoped.  We filled in the holes that were made by erosion and created a smooth surface.  I was a little concerned that the wood chips would be slippery on the hill, but it was nice and stable.  We will try to walk on it as much as we can to pack it down so that it doesn't wash away in a heavy rain storm, but I think it will hold up pretty well.  All of the roots that were exposed will help to hold the wood chips in place.  Take a look at the dramatic before and after below.

When the trail was done, we broke for lunch.  After lunch, our volunteer and I went to town to put gas in the truck and to visit the local hardware store for a few more supplies.  Once my paperwork was done, e-mails were sent, and my projects were wrapped up, I headed home a little early to make up some of my long day yesterday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Bird Count

Today was a fun and unique day.  I left the house just after 5:00am, put up the flags, and unlocked the gate.  Our volunteer covered Troy Springs this morning while I went over to Ichetucknee Springs. There, I met with several people to participate in a Christmas Bird Count.  Other park staff and voluntary private citizens broke off into groups and spent the day patrolling specific territories to record bird sightings.  The Christmas Bird Count is coordinated by the Audubon Society and has been going on for 110 years.  During a set period from late December through early January, groups all over the Americas do bird counts and the data is compiled to serve many functions, but especially to study long term changes in bird locations and numbers.  This data can also benefit the park in the same way, by recording data about birds in and around the park.  If this sounds interesting to you, click the link to find a count near you that hasn't taken place yet.
I am not a very experienced birder.  I know many of the common birds in the park, but I don't have a lot of experience with smaller songbirds.  I was paired with two very experienced birders and they taught me a lot.  I was able to contribute by helping to spot birds, and then someone else could identify the ones I didn't recognize.  I also did all of the driving because I knew the park and the surrounding area.  I learned a few new species and brushed up on some that I knew but didn't see often.  I also found out about a very cool phenomena.  Many of the birders had recordings of sounds from a Screech Owl.  When they would play these recordings, small songbirds would start gathering around us and chirping.  A Screech Owl is a potential predator of songbirds and the gathering birds were alerting everyone of the threat.  It is interesting to me that instead of running and hiding, all the little guys work together to draw attention to the otherwise stealthy predator.  Their tendency to gather at the sound of a Screech Owl really benefited us.  We could see birds that would have been much harder to find and we were able to get a more accurate idea of what birds were out there.
We started before sunrise and patrolled a few areas listening for owls without much luck.  As the sun began to come up, we began walking areas of the park and finding birds.  Later, we drove out to a more remote area of the park and surveyed several parts of that section.  We finished up by driving around some of the perimeter of the park before meeting with the other groups in the afternoon.  When we all got together, we compiled all of our data and went species by species to see how many each group had seen.  It was fun to see the different numbers and hear everyone's excitement, disappointment, or shock.
I saw some truly beautiful sights while I was at Ichetucknee today.  The morning fog on the water there is like no other.  It really is magical.  This morning was so, so cold (hat, mittens, long-underwear cold) but it generated the most incredible fog on the warm spring water.  Fortunately, we had several opportunities to look out onto the river in addition to the time we spent in the woods.

I saw a lot of birds today, but most were too small and quick to capture with my camera.  I did get a few though.  The first is of an Eastern Phoebe perched on some wild rice.  It is above the bright green plants and in between the two grouping of rice stalks.  The second image is zooming in a little closer with the help of computer editing.  The two white birds with curvy orange beaks are White Ibis.  We ate lunch with those Ibises.  We sat down on the river bank and they didn't fly away like the other birds.  They just continued using their long bills to probe the water and silt for their lunches.

A high point in the end of my afternoon of birding was finding this butterfly.  I have always wanted to see a Blue.  They are tiny and vibrant.  This one is a Ceraunus Blue and it was a perfect model for me.  It even opened up its wings on command so that I could capture the beautiful color.  It really could not have chosen better flowers to perch on either.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Muddy Monday

Today was the day that I was dreading since the water began to rise.  Our visibility in the spring has diminished to only four feet and we had to close to the spring for swimming and diving.  You may remember from the start of my blog on the first day of summer that when the spring is closed, we have very few visitors.  Now, on the first day of winter, we are back to where we started.  I hope that 2010 takes us back to average rainfall amounts, well spaced.

I went to check the spring as soon as I arrived at work.  I walked with one of my co-workers to the spring dock and climbed out to my perch on the big rock to use the Secchi Disk to measure the visibility.  I knew what I would find, but I wanted to document everything accurately.  I dropped the disk in the water and it disappeared quickly.  I pulled it back into view and counted the marks on the line to see that we were just under 4 feet of visibility.  Compare this photo to the first readings that I took and you will see a huge difference!

My rock pedestal is shrinking by the day.  Its a good thing that I won't have to take any more Secchi Disk measurements.  Last night was another night below freezing, so it was still very cold this morning.  At least there was fog.  Its always easier for me to deal with the cold if there is something pretty to see.

We walked back up to the office to get out all of the signs to notify visitors that the spring is closed for swimming and diving.  They weren't hard to find, they haven't been stored for very long.  My coworker took the signs to hang and the leaf blower to start cleaning up the walkways.  I headed to the cabin and then down to the river.

I can't get enough of the fog.  I also love this vantage point because of the way that the trees frame your view so gracefully.

At the river, I couldn't stop myself from taking the same photos that I have taken so many times.  Up river, down river, all of my favorite trees that can be seen from the river dock, I snapped photos of it all.  I also tried to get some new angles, to look at things a little differently.  The next two photos were taken just a few inches from each other.  I just scooted over a little from where I normally stand to photograph the water level and I found another stunning view that I had not appreciated before.

Next to the walkway between the river docks, I spotted this little mystery.  It appears to be a structure similar to a Mud Dauber Wasp's nest, but I can't find any photos of a Mud Dauber nest that looks exactly like this one.  Each different type of Mud Dauber builds their nest to a specific shape.  Mud Daubers lay their eggs in pods that they build and they will also include some food for the larvae to eat when they hatch.  Quite often, they will sting a spider which will subdue and preserve it until the eggs hatch.  The spider is sealed in the nest with the eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae will consume the spider before emerging completely from the nest.

After my walk around the park,  I headed to the office to thaw out.  I took care of the paperwork and finished up the end of the week paperwork.  I answered some e-mails, and made sure that the other workers in the park had projects to work on (indoor projects, it was still cold).  Then, I headed out of the park to run my usual Monday errands.  It didn't take me long, I didn't have any extra stops to make today.  I talked to my Assistant Manager for a few minutes while I was at Ichetucknee, then I headed back.  I went home for lunch and then finished up my day in the office calling to schedule another tree removal estimate, checking over our property inventory list, and getting details about my activities tomorrow. 

Winter Wonderland

Today was much colder than yesterday, but for some reason, a busier day than we have had in a while.  We even had four brave divers who were experienced with dark water and determined to make the dive.  I will definitely have to close the spring tomorrow, so they made it in just under the wire.  There were a couple of families who came well bundled for the cold and enjoyed their day at the park.  One family even spent some time in the activity room making ornaments.  They came up with some creative ideas.  Is was nice to have so many people in the park.  I was so busy with them that I didn't take many photos today.  Here is the shot from the cabin porch and a video of the spring first thing this morning.  The fog is dancing all over the place and the surface of the water is almost boiling with fish and turtle activity.