Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

I have the weekend off and enjoyed a beautiful Saturday outdoors.  My fiance and I drove to the very rural area of Hawthorne, FL to visit a friend of ours.  While they worked on piecing together some found items to make our own practice disc golf basket at home, I walked around the yard taking pictures.  There were several Rhododendron bushes in full bloom around the yard.  They were just beautiful.

The bees were really enjoying the flowers as well.

All of their animals were enjoying the warm day outside with us.  The spring chicks were pecking around the yard.  There were several hens sitting on nests of eggs and the roosters were pacing around.  Their feathers were beautiful in the sunlight.  The chickens stayed near us, but they stayed just a little farther away then I wanted them to take their picture.  I spent a lot of time chasing those chickens around to get the photos that I wanted.

Another animals that joined us was Lelu.  She is my dog's mother.  She is a sweet dog, the chickens weren't worried by her at all until she went into their nesting area to drink some water.

I saw several unopened buds of a Spiderwort.  It is one of my favorite springtime flowers because of its vibrant color.  I was so happy to finally find one that had opened. 

It was a nice, relaxing day in the country before we headed back to our city-life park oasis.

Thought of the Day #89
Some flowers are difficult to photograph.  If I use the automatic settings on my camera, many flowers will appear washed out or too bright in some areas.  I have to change several settings to get the exposure just right.  This is because of Ultraviolet light.  Many flowers reflect UV light which is visible to bees and other insects but its just outside of the visible spectrum for us.  The UV light attracts the insects to the flower, the insect feeds and the flower gets pollinated.  The attraction to UV light is what makes bug zappers work.  I don't know for sure, but I think that Spiderworts must be a type of these reflective flowers.  I always have a lot of trouble photographing them.  Quite often they are washed out or the wrong color completely when I take the photo.  My photos of the same flower range from pale purple to deep blue.

Office Chauffeur

Today was a pretty uneventful day.  I came very close to completing an operations manual for the well that I have been working on.  I had to make one more trip out there to get a few remaining details about the system.  To combine efforts, I also met up with a ranger who lived on that end of the park.  He was moving vehicles around and I gave him a ride back to the main shop.  I spent most of the day in the office working on my projects and assisting a ranger with his time sheet, but I got another break when I took another coworker to pick up a park truck from being serviced.  Late in the afternoon, we had a manager's meeting and discussed a few details about the park.  Then I was ready to head home and start my weekend off.  I think it will take some time to get used to our time off rotation, it seems like I just got back to work after my last days off, but I'm not complaining.  There are still a lot of boxes that need to be unpacked.
I didn't take any photos today.  My office was just not that inspiring and I don't think its wise to take photos while driving.  Here are some leftovers from yesterday's prescribed fire.

Thought of the Day #90
When I have talked about prescribed fire before, I usually tell you that we keep the fire low and slow.  It creeps through the underbrush slowly.  Sometimes, when young hardwoods need to be thinned, we light the area so that we get a hotter and faster fire.  There are also times when the fire finds a pocket of nice dry fuel or is pushed by a gust of wind.  Sometimes the fire climbs higher than we want it, but we always have safeguards in place to deal with those unexpected flare ups.  In the photo above, there is a snag on fire.  A snag is a large, dead tree.  These snags are important for wildlife habitat, but dangerous for firefighters.  The snags catch fire easily and can burn unnoticed until they fall.  The snag pictured above was burning near the fireline.  If it continued to burn, it could have dropped burning embers into the yard of a nearby residence or it could have fallen very close to that residence which was outside of the burn zone.  We sprayed water on it to see if we could extinguish the fire.  As we suspected though, the tree was burning through its core.  The fire had spread through all of the old, damaged wood.  We dropped the tree to ensure that the nearby structure was safe and that the tree would not spread fire to areas that were unburned.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Wekiwa Burn

Today, I headed into work thinking that another day in the office was ahead of me... I was wrong.  I got to participate in a prescribed burn today.  I may have mentioned before that burning is a major focus in this park.  It is also something that I really enjoy.  Today's fire wore me out though.  We burned about 60 acres but there were a lot of special considerations with this fire.  We burned around several buildings, a water treatment facility, a road, and a residence.  We had to be very careful.  We separated into two groups at the beginning and each group focused on one area.  The two areas linked together in one small section.  The fire was very successful.  We achieved our goals and we handled the challenges that came to us well.  It was a little hard at first to get used to the way things are done on the fire line here.  Overall, prescribed fire has similar processes and methodology.  Everyone does things just a little differently though.  I have burned in three different state parks now and have had several different burn bosses.  Each place and each burn boss has slightly different priorities and methods to achieve the same goals.  I felt like I was dragging a little because I just wasn't used to the way that things happen here.  I also had to get to know the equipment.  It was a nice introduction though and when I went home at 8pm, I felt like I had put in a hard day's work.  We really had to work hard to secure the sensitive areas and the mop-up afterward to put out anything that might re-ignite overnight was exhausting.  We can rest easy tonight though, it is now pouring rain as I type.
So here are some of the magnificent views that I saw when I was on the fire line today.  Most are of the fire or smoke, but there is also a Cuban Anole (a non-native version of this very common lizard) and a lovely flower that I found under a piece of equipment that I was using today.

Thought of the Day #91
One plant species that I am seeing much more of at Wekiwa is Wiregrass.  It is the plant that is burning in the photo above with a fire truck in it.  I see so much of it at Wekiwa because it is one of our fire dependent species.  It relies on fire to stimulate its flowers which produce its seeds.  Without fire, there would not be nearly as much Wiregrass in the park.  The Wiregrass is not only beautiful, but it is food for many different creatures and it provides shelter to many more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Then Came The Internet

Today was my second day off.  It was a day to get things accomplished though.  I was up bright and early to call the internet company to express my displeasure in the run-around waiting game that I had been experiencing.  They were unapologetic, but told me that I would have internet access today.  That left me to just wait some more which was really frustrating.  I decided to blow off some steam, so I took my dog, Dozer for a walk around the park.  He got to meet several of my coworkers and had a good time.
When we returned home, I got a few more boxes unpacked and did some general clean-up around the house.  I can't wait for everything to have a place.  Its really difficult to tidy-up when things don't really belong anywhere specific just yet.  Late in the afternoon, a serviceman showed up to work on the internet connection.  He had to go back and forth between the wiring outside of my house and the box up the road.  After an hour or two, I was finally online again!  While I was making myself available to the serviceman for questions but trying to stay out of his way, I was looking around the yard.  It is really a beautiful yard.  I watched a big, yellow, Tiger Swallowtail butterfly flutter around a Wild Plum Tree's blossoms for ages.  When I finally got my camera, it flew away of course.  I took a few photos of the blooms and saw that there were a lot of bees enjoying the flowers as well.

Another plant was just coming into bloom.  It is a Coral Honeysuckle, a favorite for hummingbirds and butterflies.  You may remember that I mentioned treating an exotic, invasive type of Honeysuckle at Troy.  This Coral Honeysuckle is native and though it does seem to need a trim, this one will not overtake everything growing around it.  I had seen this dense, viney, plant when I first saw my house a few weeks ago.  It is visible in the photo of the side of the house with the fire circle and picnic table.  In the photo, it is just a mass of green and brown.  Now, it is beautiful.  A previous resident in this house had done quite a bit of planting around the house to encourage butterflies.  I can't wait to see what else comes up and starts to bloom.... I'm looking forward to what it is all going to draw in as well.  I hope that I have lots of butterfly photos in my future.

Thought of The Day #92
Everything about Wekiwa is bigger and busier than Troy.  You would think that my stress level would be much higher at Wekiwa as well.  I'm sure that it will get worse than it is right now, but one thing I am noticing already is that my days off are really days off.  At Troy, if there was a problem on my day off, I was the only one to call to solve that problem.  Everyone had my personal cell phone number and it was rare to have a day off that was truly all to myself.  Here, there is another Assistant Manager, there is a Park Manager, there are staff members everywhere!  There are other people to call on days off.  I think it is really nice that we can all get some rest when we need it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The 9th Day, She Rested

My first day off felt great.  I fell asleep around 8:30 p.m. on Monday night and woke up at 9:30 in the morning.  I really needed that re-charge.  I was not interested in unpacking boxes and my fiance (who has done most of the unpacking while I have been at work) was not interested in boxes either.  We decided to get out of the house and away from the park for the day.  We headed to another nearby park to play some disc golf.  We really moved into a great area for disc golf.  Several city and county parks have nice courses.  Many of them are free, but the one we went to today cost $4.  It was a small price to pay to spend the day on a beautiful course.  They actually have two 18-hole courses on the property.  I will have to work my way up to a 36-hole day.  I only had the energy for 18.

The park was an Orlando City Park called Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake.  We have dubbed it Turkey Leg though, which is much more fun.  The course that we played was very challenging, but fun.  It was different from the majority of the courses that we have played in Florida because there was so much variation throughout the course.  There were hills and elevation changes, a LOT of water, holes with some trees and holes with lots of trees.  Also, because of the water and elevation changes, the wind does some crazy things to a disc in flight.

One hole, I didn't even attempt.  There was water all along one side of the fairway and you had to throw over a stream that flowed into the lake.  The wind was strong near the water as well.  There were just too many chances of a lost disc on that hole and I didn't want to risk it.  There were several ducks in the water, but they didn't look interested in retrieving discs.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed the course more for the disc golf playability or for the picturesque views.  I had my camera out almost as much as I was throwing.  There were several Pink Trumpet Trees in bloom.  I don't think that I have ever seen one before, but they are stunning.  They are an ornamental tree and not native to Florida, but they are not an invasive threat.

Another beautiful, non-native that I saw there was Lantana.  These multi-colored flowers almost look artificial because of the color variation between blooms.  They seem to be weed-like here.  I found this one growing very close to our parking spot.
In the evening, we joined a large group of employees and volunteers at a local bar & grill for a get together.  It was a fun time at a fun place.  It was nice to be able to enjoy everyone's company outside of work.  When I returned home, I expected our internet connection to be operational so that I could blog.  It wasn't.  I called the company and found out that I would have to wait another day before they would be able to start our service.  I apologize for the late blog this time.

Thought of the Day #93
Do you know what kind of park your favorite local park is?  Do you know the difference between a state park, a city park, a county park, a national park, a state forest, a state recreation area, a wildlife management area, a water management area, or a historic site?  Many people don't realize how many different kinds of parks are out there and how they are different.  There are more than what I have named, but those where the first to come to mind.  The different parks have different funding sources and different missions.  Overall, most of these parks allow people to recreate on land set aside for one reason or another.  The differences lie in how the area is managed.  Some parks will focus more on recreation and some will focus more on land preservation and restoration.  Some parks focus on utilizing the land and resources and some focus on making sure that the animals can use the land.  Florida State Parks are a nice balance of many of these ideas.  Trying to serve so many purposes and balancing the needs of people and wildlife can be difficult at times.  This balance is something that takes place in all parks to some degree.  It might be fun to find out more about your favorite local park.  Look at their organization's mission statement.  It might help you to understand why they have the rules that they do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Finally Friday!

Time has been going by very quickly at my new job, but it is starting to weigh on me.  My coworker and I can't quite decide how we are going to work our scheduling yet.  I am ready for a day off though, now that I am on day #8.  There are still unopened boxes at home calling my name.  I am going to take tomorrow and Wednesday off this week and take a break. This morning went well.  We had our morning meeting with all of the stafff, then I headed to the ranger station.  I was hoping to redeem myself after the mistakes that I made yesterday.  I met the office person who I had not yet met at the ranger station.  She informed me that she opens the ranger station on weekdays.  We were only doing it last week while she was on vacation.  What a relief!  Now I don't have to worry about making mistakes there.  I headed to the office next and we had our Monday morning meeting with our Manager.  The rest of the day, I was in the office working on officey projects.  I made more progress on the well info and ordered a chlorine water test kit for that site.  I made some editing notes on a re-print for a campground brochure.  I also talked to my coworker about some of my projects to get his input and continued to move forward with them.
I took the opportunity this afternoon to get out of the office to lock up a building that was used for a meeting today.  The building is the Rec Center in the youth camp area.  It was our classroom during ranger academy.  I spent almost 8 hours a day in that building during my two weeks of ranger academy.  It was much less intimidating to be there today.  It is really a beautiful building.  The left side of the room has several windows that overlook a low area full of pine trees and wiregrass.

On my way out of the youth camp area, I had to stop to get a photo of a recently burned area.  It was burned almost a month ago and there is a lot of lovely green regrowth.  It comes back so quickly!  As I crouched down to get a close photo of the new green grass growing out of the charred remains of the old grass clump, I could still smell the burnt plant material.

I decided to go out to Sand Lake and down to the spring area to see what a Monday looked like in the park.  Sand Lake is the farthest into the park that the main park drive goes and the spring area is at the opposite end of the main drive.  It was really very quiet.  When I got to Sand Lake, there were no cars in the parking lot, but there were four people there.  Two were sitting down and two were looking at a kiosk, holding a map, and obviously unsure about their whereabouts.  They flagged me down and told me where they had been and where they wanted to be.  I was able to get them pointed in the right direction and they were glad that I was there.  Its always nice to help visitors.
Thought of the Day #94
There are many more palm trees here than there were 3 hours north of here at Troy.  I am looking forward to learning more about them.  Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of the palms here in Florida are not native.  The Cabbage Palm, our state tree is one of the few that is native.  Seminole Indians used the palm fronds to thatch their roofs, and wove them together to make things like baskets and hats.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rain Check

Today was such a contrast from yesterday.  The morning did not go as smoothly and the weather did not cooperate either.  When I opened the ranger station, I was stumped by a void that needed to be processed.  I had to push all of the same keys that the ranger pushed while in void mode to get rid of the transaction.  The ranger had voided the transaction because he didn't know what button he pushed.  We couldn't figure it out and we ran out of time.  So the void didn't get processed and I'm sure that the person who processes the ranger station paperwork is going to have a headache to deal with tomorrow.  In addition to that, I forgot to finalize the credit card machine... more work for the office person.  To top it all off, tomorrow is the first time I will meet her and I have to ruin her morning with paperwork mistakes.  I re-wrote a checklist for myself to make sure that I get it right next time.  I also need to find out what all of the keys on the register do.  In time, I'm sure I will learn it all.
When I went to see the painting volunteers today, there were very few arriving.  I'm sure that the rain in the weather forcast scared some people away.  The rain in the afternoon got rid of the rest of the people later.  The park was pretty quiet today aside from a couple of groups that were in the covered picnic pavilions.  I spent some time in the ranger station, trying to absorb the procedures there.  I also spent a little time in the office gathing information for the Operation and Maintenance Manual for our newest well.  I didn't use my camera in the rain, so here are some more shots from yesterday.  I finally captured some of the turkeys that hang around the administrative offices (hey now, no jokes about my co-workers).  This group of turkeys regularly makes a trip through the parking lot.

Another critter that I saw yesterday was an Armadillo.  They are not native to Florida, but they seem to have established residency.  They are a bit of a nuisance because they dig holes everywhere looking for grubs and things.  They can also be a little alarming when you are in the woods at dusk.  One tiny Armadillo can convince you that something as big as an elephant is about to jump out of the woods at you.  They are noisy hikers!  They don't have very good hearing, so they don't usually startle at people noises.  They also don't need to be very stealthy because of their tough armor.  They are pretty well protected.

It was a quiet day.  Tomorrow should be busier for me, but I don't know if it will be any better for photos.  Monday is meeting day.

Thought of the Day #95
The difference in size and visitation between Troy Springs and Wekiwa Springs means that there are different user groups as well.  For the most part, park visitors are happy to be recreating and are pleasant to be around.  Sometimes though, there are problems that are tougher to deal with.  Especially in large crowds, people can get out of hand.  In addition to park rangers who attempt to acheive voluntary compliance (approaching visitors in a friendly manner and asking them to follow the rules) the Florida Department of Environmental Protection also employs Law Enforcement Officers.  At Wekiwa, the visitation is so great that there is usually a Law Enforcement Officer onsite to help us maintain order.  I never had a situation where I needed more help at Troy, but I am glad that they are here at Wekiwa.