Saturday, March 6, 2010

My New Digs

We went to Wekiwa today to see our new house.  It was a beautiful day.  We arrived at the park shortly after noon.  I knew the general area that the residence was in, so we went there and knocked on the door of the house.  No one was home.  I called the Park Manager's cell phone and left a message for him.  We looked around the outside of the house and ate the lunches that we had packed while we sat out front.  When we hadn't heard anything for a little while, we decided to head into the park.  Because we were entering from a back entrance, we were stopped by a Law Enforcement officer.  He was very nice and I explained that I had reason to be there.  He caught up with us again when we reached the parking lot and told us where we could find the Park Manager.  When we met up with him, we found out that we had been at the wrong house.  We poked around one of the ranger residences.  I'm so glad he wasn't home.  We all had a good laugh about it and then I got to tour my actual new residence.  I am really looking forward to living there.  It is a nice house, the interior walls have a really nice color scheme and there are both hardwood floors and carpeting.  Our current residence has all white walls and a linoleum floor that seems to go on forever.  The house is surrounded by trees, but also near the office and shop area.  Its a nice mix of privacy and proximity.  I am thrilled that there is both a garage and a car port for two vehicles.  There is even a nice shed in the back yard.  The house is a 3 bedroom/2 bath, like I have now, but there is an extra room that can be an office as well.  The rooms are a little smaller than what we have now, but I think there is more space overall.  Without further ado, here are the photos.

The current resident was still moving out, so I didn't want to invade her privacy by taking photos of the interior.  Those photos will have to wait until next week.  After viewing the residence, we went into the main part of the park.  They were having a celebration, just for me.  There were so many people and even some musicians playing... well, maybe it was for me or maybe it was the 5th Annual Riverfest.  There were tents set up along some of the walkways with different groups educating the public.  I enjoyed seeing the taxidermy at one area of a Bobcat and a Fox Squirrel.  The first time that I ever saw a Fox Squirrel was at that very park during Ranger Academy.

There were children's activities and guided hikes, and even art on display.  All of the activities overlooked the beautiful spring.  It was nice to see the park busy and bustling.  What a change from quiet, flooded Troy Springs!  It will be so different, but I am looking forward to all of the new experiences that I will have.

We also visited the nearest disc golf course.  It was a bit of a shock to be in such an urban area again.  Its strange how fast country livin' can become the norm.  My fiance and I are both used to living in urban areas, but we have become accustomed to the rural life we have been living for the past 3 1/2 years.  Only in Florida can you drive south and get further north.  Northern Florida is very much like the deep south of the US, but as you go south, its gets more and more like the northern US.  It took some extensive bumper to bumper driving and a lot of turning around, but we finally found the park with the disc golf course.  This park was so big that we still had to do some driving to find the start of the course.  It turned out that the park had two 18-hole disc golf courses, a skateboarding park, tennis courts, basketball courts, a ball golf driving range, pavilions, play grounds... it just went on and on.  We played nine holes of one course and came dangerously close to a very yucky, water-filled moat.  It was a nice course though.  It will be nice to have one (seven, in fact) less than a 45 min drive away.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Change of Plans

My plan for today was to finish researching the thermostat wiring in my house and to pressure wash the outside of the house.  The thermostat has been troubling me for a while.  If you remember, I changed the one in the office last month and I had purchased one for the house at the same time.  The one in the office was pretty straightforward.  The one at the house had an extra wire that was really troubling me.  There were two wires that seemed to serve the same purpose and it just didn't make sense to me.  I did more research today and found that I was right.  The current thermostat had a wire attached that shouldn't have been there and I don't need it for the new one either.  When I was getting ready to head over to the office to get the pressure washer and some electrical tape, my dog alerted me that someone was here.  Some biologists from the district office had arrived to do some more field work in the park to update our unit management plan.  They didn't really need my help, but I decided to walk with them anyway.  I learn so much when biologists come to visit.  I was also able to share some information about past land uses and where water stands and provide an extra set of eyes to find different trees.
I didn't have my camera with me initially, but while they broke for lunch, I ran home to get it.  I'm glad that I did.  We saw some neat stuff.  I'm really glad that I didn't have to show you boxes and pressure washing today... it may still happen one of these days, but not today.
We found an Oak tree that I hadn't seen before.  Live Oak, Laurel Oak, and Water Oak are all very common in the park.  This one is a type of Post Oak.  Its leaves are much larger and lobed the way that most of the northern Oaks that I grew up with are shaped.  The majority of the Oaks here in North Florida have slender leaves.

Throughout most of our walk through the woods, we were looking upwards.  We were looking at the upper parts of the trees to distinguish them from each other and to find different species.  The collection of trees found in an area can help to determine what type of natural community is found in each section of the park.  It is important to know which communities are there to know how best to manage them or protect them.  If there is a fire dependent community, then we need to be sure to introduce prescribed fire.  If one type of plant is becoming too prevalent in a disturbed area, we may remove some to encourage the natural variation that should be there.  The biologists used GPS to identify the different zones that we found and also made notes of which species were found in each area.

During our exploration, I couldn't help but get distracted by other interesting things.  We saw a Question Mark butterfly, but I wasn't fast enough to "catch" it with my camera.  We also found some beautiful Lichen and Fungi.

There where a few Red Maples throughout the woods that had beautiful crimson helicopters at the end of each branch.  I didn't get close enough to any of the trees to get a good shot, but I found some of the helicopters in the water at the edge of a pond.  I have great memories of enormous helicopters from an Oak tree near my grandmother's porch.  I loved holding them up and dropping them and watching them spin to the ground.  I don't know if these tiny Red Maple helicopters fly as well as the ones I remember.  I will have to try them out.  They are seed pods and the "flying" motion helps spread the seeds far and wide.

In some other wet areas in the woods, we found some big patches of Sphagnum Moss.  It is a beautiful, lush green moss that you just can't resist touching.  It grows in very wet areas and it feels like a saturated sponge, like you could squeeze water right out of it.

I found a really cool old stump.  There wasn't much left of it, but it had an amazing pattern in the wood.  I don't know what might have caused this wave.  Maybe this is why the tree is no longer standing.

My favorite find of the day was a puffball.  I have blogged about the Earthstar puffballs that I have found before.  This was much more like the ones I remember finding with my mom when I was young.  We all reverted to childhood as we crouched to poke the puffball and watch it perform.

It was a fun day in the woods, definitely better than wiring and pressure washing.  I did pick up the pressure washer though... it still has to happen.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More Leftovers

Today was a much needed, regularly scheduled day off.  I tried to sleep in.  I thought that I had succeeded when I woke up and saw daylight, but then I rolled over and saw that it was only 8:01.  There was no going back to sleep, the cat and dog sensed motion and were ready with their list of demands.  After getting up and getting dressed, turning on faucets to the appropriate drip for the cat and steady flow for the dog, filling food bowls, and procrastinating for a while, I finally got down to packing.  I cleared my bookshelves and took them apart.  While I was doing that, I was trying to figure out how many times I have moved those very shelves.  It was somewhere between 5-8 times.  I'm not exactly sure when I first acquired them, they had belonged to my Grandfather.
In the afternoon, when my fiance was home from work, we tackled the back porch which had become his art studio.  We packed up all the paints and brushes and removed the giant canvas from the wall.  We got rid of a truckload of garbage and I packed all of my craft supplies.  We also moved and cleaned out his poor old '87 Honda that has been sitting, neglected for 3 and a half years.  I had to evict a rat from under the hood and I even used a leaf blower to clear the acorns and leaves that where packed around the engine.  A junker will come to pick it up tomorrow.  Its hard to give up an old, loyal car that has so many memories associated with it, but its time.  I still have fond memories of my first car, The Little Red Car.  It was an '86 Nissan Sentra hatchback wagon.  My dad has lots of memories of being under the hood of that car too, but they are not as fond as mine, I'm sure.
We made a lot of progress today, but also reminded ourselves of what a big job it is to pack.  Its amazing how much stuff two people can acquire.  Maybe a move will do us good.  We are throwing away and giving away a lot.  I only left the house today to mess with the car and to take garbage to the dumpster.  I didn't take any photos today.  Here are some lovely views leftover from Monday.  I hope tomorrow will be a little more exciting.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Is Springing

It was another exciting day in the office today.  I think I have most of my loose ends all tied up.  I even packed up the books and decorative things that belonged to me in my office.  I could not leave without my frog stapler!  I worked on transferring photo files to make them accessible to anyone who might need them.  I also organized some other files and cleaned out the "do something with this soon" pile on my desk.  I got a few more calls and e-mails from people who heard that I was leaving.  The advertisement posted for my current position today.  I even called a very loyal boy scout troop who has done a lot of  volunteer work at the park to let them know that I was leaving and told them to be sure to call my replacement to introduce themselves.
I had planned to spend some time in the office and then take a break to head to Lake City to pick up water sampling bottles for Adams Tract.  I also had some supplies to drop off at Adams Tract, so I planned an excursion there as well.  My plans were foiled, but it was a good thing.  Our volunteer had an appointment in Lake City and asked if I needed anything.  I asked him to pick up the bottles so I didn't need to go to Lake City.  I was glad that I didn't have to make that big trip but I still had a chance to get out of the office to go to Adams Tract... then the Adams Tract volunteer called.  He was on his way to Troy so I didn't get to leave at all.  I was able to take care of everything that I needed to and then some.  I did get out for a walk in the afternoon.  I told you I would take more photos today.  The water is still receding and the budding flowers that I have been stalking are finally making some progress.

Japanese Magnolia



Yellow Jessamine

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nothin' But A Hawk

Today was as busy as I expected it would be and more.  I did my normal gate opening and flag raising rituals, drove through the park and ended up at the office.  I was then stuck there like glue for the rest of the day.  Every time I thought that I could take a break and go for a walk, the sky would go dark and the cold wind would blow.  It never did rain, but it threatened on and off all day!  It also got very cold and windy by the end of the day.  When I left at the end of the day, I realized that I had only taken one photo today.  It was of a Red-shouldered Hawk that I saw as I drove to the office this morning.

My day was full of finishing up projects and tying up loose ends.  I said goodbye to one of my coworkers who is moving to another job as well.  I made a schedule and deleted my name from the list.  I was able to keep the park covered through the end of the month until my replacement is found.  I packed up the form and all of the supplemental information for the historical structure report on the cabin that I had been working on.  It is ready to be mailed out to the appropriate people.  I made some more preparations for the move to the new park and I sent some e-mails to people giving them the valuable information that is only in my head.  I also received a few congratulatory calls and e-mails from people that I have worked with in the Florida State Park system.  Its amazing how the word can travel, but its also much like a family and its nice to hear from so many people.  We'll see what tomorrow will hold, but I will really try to take more photos than I did today.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another Marathon Monday

Today was a busy day and I think there will be many of these busy days in the next couple of weeks as I switch jobs.  There are a lot of things that I need to do to prepare the park to be ranger-less for a little while during the transition.  Another person will be hired to take my place, but the process takes a little while.  I hoped to spend some time writing down the things that are only in my head.  I also had to do the normal, Monday end-of-the week paperwork as well as the end-of-the month paperwork and had volunteers moving out of Adams Tract and into Troy and another into Adams Tract that I had to check in with.  I was on the go most of the day and I didn't get to everything I wanted to do, but I did get a lot done.
When I got to the park this morning, I saw that I was the first one there so I headed out for a walk before I got stuck in the office for the rest of the morning.  I was really happy to see that the water had obviously gone down quite a bit.  You can now see land on the other side of the spring unlike the last time I showed this view.  What a relief!

When I walked as far as I could down the river path to admire the fog, I saw that the river dock had returned.  I expected to just see the top of the railing poking out of the water but I was really happy to see that much more was showing.  It has receded about two feet since it crested on February 18.  I don't think that I will see the spring clear again before I move to my new park.  At least I have a lot of photos.

The sunrise was beautiful, as always.  I love to see the sun filter through the trees on the east side of the park.  It seems so different wherever you are standing.

My coworkers joined me as my walk continued and I saw all of the things that they worked on while I was away this weekend.  I know that the park will be in good hands after I leave.  I headed back to the office and got down to the paperwork.  I plugged right along and got through the weekly and the monthly paperwork.  I made it through the vehicle logs and all the while, I was thinking about my replacement and trying to set things up well for them.  I even picked up extra office supplies while I was at Ichetucknee to make sure that we didn't run out too soon.
When the paperwork was done and it was starting to get close to noon, I headed out to Ichetucknee.  I told one of the friendly bank ladies that I see every Monday that I was leaving.  She was happy for me but also sad to hear that I was leaving.  I will miss some aspects of the small town life.  Its nice to be greeted by name in several stores in town.  I have been hearing the same sentiments from my coworkers at Ichetucknee too.  I made photocopies and chatted with the Ichetucknee crowd a little before heading back to Troy.  I also stopped to fill our gas cans on the way back.  When I was almost to Troy, I heard from the volunteer arriving at Adams Tract.  He was almost there.  I checked in at Troy and handled some of the time sensitive matters still on my list.  I quickly checked my e-mail and regretted it... more things to do.  I quickly updated the volunteer notebook for the Adams Tract volunteer and grabbed the keys and headed out.  When I arrived at Adams Tract, the volunteer was already getting settled.  He has volunteered at Adams Tract before.  It was so nice to not have to train him or even tell him much.  We talked about the few changes that had happened while he was gone, made sure that he had everything he needed, and that was that.  It was the easiest volunteer transition that I have experienced since I began supervising Adams Tract.  Now was the perfect time for it to be easy!  While we walked around the Tract, I noticed that a lovely Redbud Tree had come into full bloom.  It was in much more sun that the ones at Troy (which still have not popped).

I got back to Troy much later than I would have liked to and wondered what happened to my day.  I checked in with the volunteers who had just moved from Adams Tract to Troy.  They were getting settled as well and doing just fine.  I will work on adding them to the schedule tomorrow.  I went back to my office and finished all the things that only took a few minutes and headed home.  It was well after 4:00 and I already have a big head start on the creation of tomorrow's To Do List.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Snakes and Bears, Oh My!

I had a great weekend and I am ready to get down to business with my park move.  I was traveling today and I didn't take any naturey photos on the road.  I decided to post answers to some questions that I have gotten this week.  Because one of them is about snakes, I thought I would show you some of the snakes that I have seen in the past in the park and remind you of some that I have shown you before.
The question was whether being further south in the state at my new park would mean that I would see more snakes than I do at Troy and if there would be more venomous snakes.  I noticed this weekend as I went south to St. Petersburg, that there were differences in vegetation that were very obvious to me.  Plants that are about to bloom here have been in bloom down south.  There were even some flowers that bloomed here in the summer but died out this winter, and they were still blooming there.  I am looking forward to exploring the new park to see how different things are a few hours south.  I predict that I may see more snakes, but only because the slightly warmer temperature will allow them to be active longer.  I think the same types of snakes will be there.  We have only 6 venomous snakes in Florida and more than 40 other non-venomous snakes.  They are the three types of Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Coral Snakes.

The Coral Snakes, I see relatively often at Troy.  Like many snakes, they are timid and I have never seen one come towards me.  I don't consider them much of a threat to worry about.  The Rattlesnakes are also usually not aggressive and will try to get away from you before biting.  They are something that I think about when walking through the woods though.  Copperheads are not in the area of Troy and I don't think that they will be at Wekiwa, but I don't know for sure.  They like dry, rocky areas.  Cottonmouths are more bold than most snakes.  They prefer warmer, marshy water over cold, clear spring water though.  I have seen Cottonmouths here in Florida, but never at Troy.  There are some areas of Wekiwa that would have Cottonmouths, I imagine.  They are not a worry near the swimming area.  There are a few Cottonmouth look-alikes that do come near the swimming areas, but they are non-venomous.  The Brown Watersnakes and Banded Watersnakes are often mistaken for Cottonmouths and cause some real panic.  The snake below is one of these look-alikes sunning on a log on the bank of the Suwannee River.

I enjoy snakes and respect them enough to be aware and keep a safe distance.  They help control an awful lot of the rodents that we would like to have do away with.  I will be sure to keep you posted on the snakes that I find at Wekiwa.  Here is one more photo of a VERY common snake at Troy, an Oak Snake.  Its also known as a Grey Rat Snake.  It is harmless, but it does sometimes try to convince you that its dangerous by coiling up as though it is about to strike and tapping its tail rapidly like a rattler.

The other question was about Black Bears.  I don't know much about them, but I hope to learn more when I get to Wekiwa Springs as bears have been seen in that park.  I have only one photo of a Black Bear that I have seen in person.  It was not in the wild though.  I was visiting Homosassa Springs and was given the opportunity to see a baby bear that had been turned in.  It was going to be transferred elsewhere for rehabilitation, but I was lucky enough to see it.
May 2007 006

The bear question was whether Florida Black Bears hibernate in the warmer climate as their northern relatives do in the winter time.  I didn't know the answer, and found out a lot of good information from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's web page.  The Florida Black Bears do not hibernate.  They go through winter lethargy where they do slow down but its because of fewer opportunities for food and not because of the cold.  I think I may be part bear, I slow down in the winter too.  Another fact I learned was that babies are born in January of February.  The female bear will stay primarily in her den when she has cubs so it may seem like the hibernation behavior of northern bears.