Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day at Home

Today was the start of my weekend off.  It was a pretty quiet day at home.  We unpacked some more boxes and we now have the guest room and guest bathroom set-up and ready.  Its hard to believe that we have been here for almost a month and a half.  The time is flying by so quickly.  I spent the day working around the house and battling malware on the computer so I didn't get out to take any photos.  Here are some leftovers from the past week.  The flower was from Wednesday and the fire photos are from yesterday.

Thought of the Day #61
Someone asked yesterday how we decide when to start a prescribed fire.  Our park biologists write burn prescriptions for each zone of the park.  The prescription tells us how and when to burn the zone to achieve our desired results.  It gives us a range of conditions that are necessary for that zone.  The prescription takes into account wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, recent rainfall amounts, fuel moisture, and several other factors.  Our biologists can look at the weather forecasts for the week to plan out a window of opportunity to burn.  They look at the upcoming conditions and find zones that fit those conditions.  When there is a match, we tentatively plan ahead to burn, but the final call is made the morning of the proposed burn.  Those of us on staff that participate in prescribed fire are to be ready at all times to burn.  As you know, weather forecasts are not always accurate, so things can always change at the last minute.  Another check is done right before we start the burn.  There is also always someone on the fire line monitoring the weather throughout the burn.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wekiwa Burn #2

Today was much better than yesterday.  I started out a little grumpy, but I found out soon after arriving to work that I would be burning today.  I thought that a day out of the office, on the fire line would do me good... it did.  I was able to make it in to the office and finish up the project that I had to complete by today.  It took less time than expected and I ran home to change into my burn gear.  I have been wearing my burn boots to work everyday to break them in.  I wasn't too confident that they wouldn't cause blisters though.  I strategically placed a double layer of band-aids on my heels and put on an extra pair of socks.  It did the trick, my feet aren't any more sore than they always are after a burn.  I think that I do need to invest in some squishy insoles for my boots though.
The burn zone that we hit today was a nice, quick burn but we did have a lot of mop-up at the end to put out anything still smoldering near the edge of the zone.  One side of the zone was along the road that the park entrance is on.  We had to make sure that we didn't worry visitors or our neighbors with smoke near the edge.  The wind did its job today and all the smoke blew into the zone and through the woods.  We didn't have any trouble with smoke on the road and our coworkers in the park never even smelled smoke.  The only trouble in the road was with people slowing down to watch what we were doing and one turkey caused a little worry... no, not a driver, a real Turkey.  A group of turkeys were being turkeys and scrambling around to decide what to do about the fire coming towards them.  One silly bird flew out into the middle of the road.  It took flight again when a car came along and a man driving a convertible almost got a passenger that he didn't expect.  All of the turkeys made it to safety though, none were roasted.
When we got into position at the beginning of the burn and were waiting for the OK from the test fire location.  I took the time to photograph some of the things around us.  We started out in a rather wet area and there were lots of wildflowers that I hadn't seen before.  This one looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book.

We also saw quite a bit of wildlife today.  Aside from the silly Turkeys, we saw more than a few hawks.  This pair sat on their perch and enjoyed the show for a long time.  Can you see them?  They almost look like a couple of pine cones.

Once we put fire on the ground, someone saw this Pygmy Rattler making a run for it.  I was able to get close enough for a good picture.  It didn't care about much aside from moving away from the heat.  It was exciting!  This was the first time that I have seen a Rattlesnake in the wild, live (I have seen a few dead ones).

It was a calm fire, for the most part.  The side that my team lit was a wet Hammock (an oak filled forest that doesn't burn well).  We had to work to get it to burn.  Once we made it around to another side, we were able to watch the fire carry through a little better.

Later in the morning, when the sun had been out for several hours and things began to dry up a little, two people went back and re-lit some of the areas that didn't burn well this morning.  It was nice to go back and see it afterward.  It was a beautiful sight to see open, nicely burned Hammock.

Thought of the Day #62
Burning at Wekiwa is a little different from burning at some other parks.  Much of the park is right in the public eye.  We have neighbors close to our fence lines and roads that cross through and around the park.  We have to work hard to educate the people around us to make sure that they know we are doing this for a good reason.  If we didn't burn these zones, our neighbors would not enjoy such a lovely view and their homes would be in real danger of incidental fires if we didn't keep the fuel load low.  We also have to burn carefully to make sure that smoke is not bothering people or creating a hazard on the road.  We have to do much more extensive mop-up than I have done at other parks.  Generally, after the fire has burned, most of the burnable fuel is gone.  Things like downed logs and branches can continue to burn or smolder for a long time afterward.  We put out fires that are near the edge of the zone or could flare up later and catch something else on fire.  Here at Wekiwa, when our burn zone is in the public eye, we have to make sure that anything that is smoking within 100 feet of the edge (the length of our fire hose) is fully extinguished.  It takes a lot of work, but it alleviates a lot of worry.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Hiking We Will Go

After just one day back, I'm ready for my weekend. I was stuck in the office most of the morning to finish adding our resource management needs to a database. It was time consuming because I was going between several different documents to make sure that our requests were in line with our management plan and that the information was added to the database in the preferred format. Just about the time I was ready to pull my hair out, I decided to take a break for lunch. I went home, made some lunch and just as it was ready, I got a call to meet a contractor in the youth camp area of the park. The construction is just about to begin for our sewer upgrade and the contractor was looking over the area and representatives from the utility companies were there to locate buried utility lines. I was needed to unlock locks and buildings so that they could see what they needed to. While I was at the youth camp, I noticed a Sandhill Crane enjoying the porch of one of the cabins.

While they walked some of the areas that I was not needed for, I headed home to finish my lunch. The contractor was going to call me later when he needed me again. I was able to return to the office to get a little more done before I headed out again to unlock some more locks. I decided that I had made enough progress on my project to be able to finish it up tomorrow. When I was done with the contractor, I tried to fix a problem with the computer that the rangers use. I didn't get to finish because I was called to the ranger station. I had to cover the ranger station for a little while between shifts. It was just one of those days and I was glad to be home when I got there. Tomorrow, I will start fresh and it will go much better, I'm sure.
When I got home, my fiance and dog and I went for another walk. I needed it. It was really nice out. It was warm, but comfortable. We saw a lot of pretty views along the trail. The trail we walked moves through several different natural communities. There were wetter areas with lots of ferns.

There were also areas that had more trees. We surprised a hawk that flew out in front of us and landed on a nearby branch. It seemed as interested in watching us as we were in watching it. It seemed much larger than the Red-shouldered Hawks that I saw often at Troy. Without seeing its front, I can't be completely sure, but it appears to be a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

There were a few areas that had some pretty flowers. I found several plants with these lovely flowers on them. I had found flowers like these that were white shortly before I left Troy. I wonder if these are also in the Blueberry family.

One of the last areas that we walked through was almost completely covered in Palmettos. It felt different in that area too. The air smelled like rain and it felt a little cooler. I am really liking this trail, and there is so much more left for us to explore. You can follow the link to the park trail map.  We walked on the orange Volksmarch trail from somewhere around the 2 to the 24.  I don't think it was more than 2 miles each way, but it was very relaxing.

Thought of the Day # 63
One thing that impresses me about Wekiwa is how dedicated the regular visitors are.  The rangers hand out dog biscuits at the ranger station to anyone with a dog in their car.  I found out that there are several different visitors that supply the biscuits.  There are visitors that have come to the ranger station to report suspicious activity, and visitors that come every single day and take the time to chat with the rangers as they come in.  Wekiwa can be a busy and frustrating place, but overall, its a great place to be.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Photo Day

As promised, I made it a point to take lots of pictures today.  I was off again today, but I had a personnel meeting to go to this afternoon.  The meeting was at our shop, so I only had to walk to the end of my driveway to get there.  It was nice to be home in less than a minute after the meeting too!
When the meeting was over, my fiance and I tried out another disc golf course.  It was yet another local course that we had not yet been to.  Its so cool to have so many to choose from near by.  This one was called River City Nature Park.  It was a nice little city park near the St. Johns River.  The course was a 9-hole course, but it was well spread out and a nice combination of wide open, grassy fairways and curvy, tree-lined fairways.  There were other people there, but it wasn't at all crowded.  I even had time to stop and take photos throughout the whole course... and there was a lot to photograph!  I had a great time.  I did OK playing too.  I was inches away from a hole-in-one once.
The start of the course was a barren, grassy field.  We quickly found some dense vegetation though.  After the first few holes, I was beginning to worry that we might loose a disc or two in the dense areas.  It was fun to search for a disc in the woods here though, I kept finding cool things everytime I ventured into the bushes.  The first photos are driving me crazy.  I have seen this plant a million times before and it is as familiar to me as an old friend, but I can't think of a name for it and I can't find it in any of my books.  Please feel free to comment below if you know its name.  It was very tall, easily 8-10 feet and the flowers remind me of Queen Anne's Lace.  I really liked the flowers that had not quite opened yet.  I really did NOT like the ant mound that I found myself standing in while I was taking these photos.

Once I swatted all of the biting ants off of my ankle and shoe, I started to notice all of the other bugs about.  There were big, fuzzy bumble bees buzzing from one flower to the next.  I only have one blurry photo of them though.  They would stay on a flower just long enough for me to focus on them and they would fly to the next spot just before I hit the shutter.  I was easily distracted from the the bees when I saw a bright green Dragonfly.  It was much more cooperative and stayed perfectly still.  I highly recommend clicking on this photo to enlarge it.  You can see every vein in its wing.

A hole or two later, we were back in a lightly forested area.  There were some nice, old Oaks.  One tree really caught my attention.  It had a very thick trunk, but there was almost nothing left of the lowest section of it.  The top had obviously been severed by lightning or a similar drastic force.  Its largest branches had been knocked off as well.  Somehow this trooper was managing to flourish though.  It was covered from its scraggly top to its scraggly bottom in fresh, new growth.

This course was such a neat combination of areas.  There were little islands of Oak, little islands of Pine, and even some Palm trees.  I felt like I was on a ball golf course when we were on the section pictured below.

I was still throwing some discs between photos.  I think that the disc was helping find some cool photo subjects though.  Once it landed right next to this vertebra.  It is pretty big, I assume it is from a deer, but it seems big enough to be a cow.  There was a flower conveniently located nearby, so I had to share this Georgia O'Keeffe tribute.

The next hole had a little tunnel of pine trees.  There wasn't much in between them aside from dozens of Paw Paw.  I just love the lazy beauty of these droopy flowers.  As I knelt down to take some photos, I noticed that they have a very strong smell.  I'm surprised that I never noticed it before.  At first, is smells perfumey, but as I took another sniff, I realized that they smell a lot like Anise or black licorice.

When we were out in the open fields again, my fiance made a discovery.  The other day, we watched a series on PBS about the Florida outdoors.  There was one about springs and we were surprised to see A LOT of places that we recognized.  There were scenes from the Ichetucknee, and even of Wekiwa.  In one segment, they were standing around a sinkhole that is literally in my backyard!  Another of the shows was just about Frogs in Florida.  It showed researches putting plastic pipes in the ground that would attract frogs so that they could collect information about them.  While I was taking another photo, Isaac walked past a PVC pipe in the ground that was labeling a gas line.  He peered down into it because of the PBS show that we saw and sure enough, there was a frog inside!  It backed down further into the pipe when it saw him and had changed from green to brown by the time I arrived with my camera.  We walked by another one of these pipes minutes later and found three frogs inside!

The eighth hole made a beautiful tunnel through the Oaks and the ninth was a nice open drive towards the car.  It was a beautiful course and a beautiful day.  I hope you enjoyed the photos.

Thought of the Day #64
I am at a loss for the thought of the day today.  It was a day for photos more than words.  What are your thoughts today?  Do you have any questions that you have been wanting to ask?  Is there something at Wekiwa that I haven't shown you yet that you want me to get to this week?  Do you want to share something neat that you saw outdoors recently?  What's on your mind?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Camera Scare

Today was a very relaxing day off.  I got to sleep in, watch some movies, do some laundry and take a walk with my dog and my fiance.  It was a nice day, but I did have a small worry in the morning.  The dog was being silly and insisted on laying on the kitchen rug while my fiance was doing the dishes.  The 130lbs dog had wedged himself into a place that he did not fit into.  I grabbed my camera to take a picture and the batteries were dead.  I usually get a little more warning than that and I thought it was strange, but I went to the junk drawer and found four more batteries.  When I loaded the new batteries, the camera would turn on but not take photos.  It was still telling me that the batteries were low.  I was horrified at the thought of my camera being broken.  We decided to leave for our walk and I brought my cell phone in case I wanted to take photos.  I was hoping the walk would keep my mind off of my camera for a little while.
We had a nice walk into the park and along a section of one of the nature trails.  We walked by a few other people and Dozer didn't slobber on anyone.  I was relieved that no one was too nervous around him.  Sometimes people don't react well to meeting such a big dog.  He did see a Gopher Tortoise that he wanted to chase, but there were plenty of other distractions to keep his dog-brain busy.  We had a water bottle with us for our use and we poured some into our hands for Dozer.  He decided to just drink straight from the bottle, so he got to finish it... we were done.  When we got near the ranger station again, we stopped at a faucet with a water bowl under it.  It is specifically there for dog watering.  I knew that Dozer would rather drink from the faucet than from the bowl, but I had to laugh when he laid down on the ground to do so.  The faucet is close to the ground.  I wasn't fast enough to get a picture, but I will be ready next time.
On our walk we saw several of the same type of shrub or tree.  They were just sprouting new leaves and each stem of leaves had pink, fleshy petals curled back at its base.  I wasn't able to find an identity, but they were very unique. 

The cell phone photos are not very crisp, but I like the fogginess in the photo below.  It makes my day off look so dreamy.

When we returned from our walk, we decided to go out and buy some new batteries.  It was possible that the batteries bouncing around in the junk drawer were not in their best condition.  Thankfully, the new batteries did the trick and my camera is just fine now.  What a relief!!  I will have to find some beautiful things to photograph tomorrow.

Thought of the Day #65
It occurred to me today that I take my camera for granted.   It has become so easy for me to shoot and share everything that I see.  My cell phone is not quite good enough to be my regular camera, and I just wouldn't be able to afford to post photos at this pace if I went back to one of my old 35mm film cameras.  One-hour photo processing would make it possible, but it would take so much more work and money for processing.  I am grateful for my digital camera and quick file transfer to the computer.  I'm glad its not broken.

Monday, April 19, 2010


My "Friday" is finally here.  I am off for the next two days and I am ready for it.  It has been a good week, but a tiresome one.  I was really doing just fine until today, but as this was day 8, I started feeling it.  We had our usual Monday meetings and everything was going well.  I went out to check on the Ranger Academy group next.  They were in their best uniforms and ready for graduation day.  I helped with some last minute details.  A lock was really holding us up.  It was being stubborn and my key wouldn't work.  I was also trying my best to not interrupt a group discussion that was going on nearby.  I felt terrible when I had to call a ranger away from the project he was working on to open the silly lock.  When that battle was won, I moved on to the kitchen area.  They needed more garbage bags and tweezers to remove a sliver.  I drove back to the shop area to get the bags and stopped at home for some tweezers.  I dropped off the supplies to the kitchen and began to make my rounds of the youth camp area.  I had to check on the men's side restroom because someone reported to me that there was a back-up with the drains.  The restroom looked fine, but I checked the nearby lift station pump and it was too full.  No one in the park had a key to the lock securing the fence around it, so I had to make another trip to the shop for some bolt cutters.  Meanwhile, I called out the cavalry to help round up some assistance with the well.  I went back to the smelly issue at hand and opened up the fence.  Then I checked the pump controls to see what I could do.  It was not a problem that could be easily repaired.  We had to call in one company to pump out the VERY large tank so that we could see a little more.  We happened to get very lucky because another septic service agent was in the park on another due to a completely un-related ordeal.  He was able to check over the wiring and get things working well enough again.  I don't know why this pump couldn't wait just a few more months to falter, it will be removed very soon because we are about to connect everything to city sewer.  The majority of my morning was spent dealing with sewage.  The only photos I took today were of, you guessed it... a septic tank.  This is the cleanest of them all, after the tank was pumped and pressure washed.

When we left the issue in capable hands to get the pump pumping again, it was lunch time.  I was not ready for lunch yet.  I returned to the office and sent a response to a fire marshall inspection.  With my mind clear and the smell of sewage no longer lingering in my nose, I headed home to get a bite to eat.  After lunch, I inched forward a little more on a project that I need to complete by the end of the week.  I have to enter our natural resource project needs into a database which tracks such things.  Last week, I was able to locate the program that I need to use and got logged on.  Today, I had someone show me how to enter the info, but I was not yet authorized to do so.  I had to call a help desk and then another contact to gain those permissions.  When I finally was able to get somewhere, I got called away.  The Ranger Academy participants had graduated and were ready to go home.  I had to walk through and check their cabins and restrooms to make sure that they were clean enough.  It was starting to rain and everyone was eager to hit the road.  My coworker gave me a hand and everyone cheered when we gave the thumbs up.  Park Rangers are great at cleaning!  It was fun to watch them all say their good-byes and then flee to their vehicles.  We stuck around to take care of some last minute items and then headed home.

Thought of the Day #66
Between grease traps and lift stations, I have had more than my share of smelly things to deal with this week.  As a Park Ranger and now as an Assistant Park Manager, I have felt like a plumber on so many occasions.  I'm sure that the iconic image of a Park Ranger in your head does not include a plunger, but human waste really becomes a big part of the job whether it is litter or sewage.  I remember being a little surprised in college when I had to take a waste water treatment class and I visited almost every waste water treatment plant within 45 minutes of the school on different field trips.  If you think about it though, managing natural resources includes managing our impact on them.  Waste water is treated and it returns to our water table.  We have to make sure that waste water is treated effectively and consistently or else it can be detrimental to something that is so important to life, clean water.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Drippy Sunday

Today was very quiet, you could even call it a slow day.  The cloudy skies that we saw all morning finally became a very light rain around 11:00am and continued into the late afternoon.  We never came close to having to close the park today.  I spent the day back and forth between Ranger Academy and the main park again.  I worked with one of the rangers to remove another load of garbage from the overfull dumpster at the dining hall.  We also hauled chairs from the pool area back to the dining hall.  I delivered an enormous truck and trailer to the Ranger Academy area which carried a set of bleachers which the Academy class will stand on tomorrow for their class photo, weather permitting.  On one stop at the dining hall, I had the opportunity to stop and look out onto the water.  Lake Prevatt has much more water in it than it usually does and the view has been opened and improved by our recent prescribed fire.

I had a few little rescue missions today.  Once I had to pick up two Ranger Academy participants who missed the bus for their field trip.  We didn't really know where the rest of the group was headed, but we tried one area and went the other way when we didn't see tire tracks.  We caught up to them just as they were leaving the spring area.  I also took some jumper cables to someone at the Sand Lake parking area whose battery had failed.  That was right after it stated raining, of course.  While I was there though, I noticed some of the biggest Thistles that I have ever seen.  They were just beautiful.  I set my camera up under the cover of my rain jacket and snapped a few photos with my lens pointed down so that I didn't catch any rain drops.

It was a quiet day, but a good one.

Thought of the Day #67
With the park so slow, I had time to have conversations with the rangers.  That was nice.  I am still getting to know them all.  When a camper checked in who had a similar last name to mine, one of the rangers asked me about my name.  He told me that he had known a guy with the same last name years ago in Lake Park, FL.  He told me that he worked with him at the fire station.  My jaw dropped to the floor.  This ranger worked with my Dad 30+ years ago.  We really couldn't believe the coincidence and began exchanging details.  It really was true.  I immediately called my parents and put them on the phone with the ranger.  They had a great time passing memories back and forth and they are looking forward to meeting up again after all these years at some point when my parents come for a visit.  My Dad was the fire chief so the ranger called me chief for the rest of the day.  I had to laugh when I walked into the ranger station and he said he was seeing me with the beard that he remembers my dad having.... I guess there is a bit of a family resemblance.  It really is a small world.