Saturday, May 8, 2010

Oh Deer, Its Saturday

I worked last weekend, but I had some extra weekdays off when my sister visited.  I am working again this weekend to make up my time off and to give my co-worker time off that he requested.  After opening the ranger station this morning, and getting everyone started on their tasks for the day, I went out to the burn zone from yesterday to check on it.  Everything was just fine.  One tree that we were concerned about had fallen overnight in just the place that I wanted it to.  As I made my way around the zone, I saw some deer.  There were two bucks enjoying the openness of the freshly burned zone.  One was resting peacefully near fire break road and the other decided it would be better to cross the road and hide in the bushes.  They both have shed their antlers, but you can see the velvety nubs that will produce antlers this fall.

When I headed back to the main area of the park, I saw two does near the edge of the park drive.  I drove slowly and watched them.  When I got close, I realized that one of them had the tiniest fawn that I have ever seen.  It must still be so young.  The mother was comfortable with my truck being nearby.  She wasn't going to let me stop her from a tasty meal of greens.  The fawn wasn't sure what to think.  I am glad that it was nervous around my vehicle.  It needs to remain cautious if it is to stay safe.  It was hard to get a good photo of it though.  Fortunately, I had to drive by that spot a few more times today and they were there every time.  Here is the best photo I got of mother and fawn.

The rest of the day was a normal Saturday.  We reached our capacity in the early afternoon and remained closed until 3:30 or 4:00.  We opened a few times throughout that time period, but I sent a lot of people away.  It is a bad situation to be in.  I had to give so many people the bad news that they couldn't come into the park and so many people had good reasons to be there.  They had a daughter/sister/friend having a birthday party, they had the food for the company picnic, they came all the way from (insert distant state), there were people inside waiting for them, etc.  Everyone had a good reason, but that didn't give us any extra parking spaces.
The day was pretty uneventful in all.  There was one lost bicycler out on the trail who had to be retrieved, one person slipped and fell, but was OK, and a lost child who thought her family had left without her (they didn't).  There was nothing serious, which we appreciate so much!

Thought of the Day #47
Our trail system is expansive.  The main area of the park has a hiking trail that is 13 miles long.  There are also horseback riding trails and bike trails that crisscross through that area.  To add another degree of difficulty, there are also unmarked service roads that serve as through transport or fire breaks for us.  There are nice, color blazes along each trail, but its too easy to get off of the trail.  Something that I would like to focus on throughout my time at Wekiwa is improving our trail labels and maps.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wekiwa Burn #3

 It was a HOT day today.  It was in the 90's and humid... and we started a fire!  It sounds crazy, I know, however Wiregrass needs a burn in the summer time to encourage its seed production.  The two zones that we burned today were overdue for a summer burn.  The open area that should have been full of dense Wiregrass and some Longleaf Pines was being invaded by Oaks and Dog Fennel and plenty of other volunteer growth.
The burn today was just what it needed to open it all up again and restore the natural community to what it should be.  The burn went well and because so much of the burn zone had predominately Wiregrass and pine needles, it went quickly.  We didn't have to work too hard to get fire to carry through the zone evenly.  We did have to drink A LOT of water.  Anytime I wasn't doing something else, I was taking a drink of water.  We also took turns getting cool in the cab of the firetruck with the air conditioner.

Every once in a while, we would find a shady spot to stand in.  Sometimes the wind would blow and give us a little bit of relief.

I spent most of the first half of the burn on ignition.  I carried a drip torch, the red can pictured below, and applied fire to the edge of the burn zone.  I did small segments at a time and then watched until the the section that I had lit moved into the zone a little before I lit a little more.

The rest of the time, I was raking around things that we didn't want burned, moving the fire truck along, watching the fire, looking at flowers, and of course, helping to extinguish what we needed to at the end of the burn.   I found a lot of beautiful flowers and didn't have time to photograph them all.  Here are a few of the beauties that I found.  The first was new to me, but still familiar.  It looks just like the Spiderwort that I have shown before, but its was smaller and pink instead of blue.  It is a relative of the Spiderwort that I am familiar with.  The only common name that I found for it was Pink Spiderwort.  The photo makes it look more lavender, but that is an illusion.  They are a pale pink in person.

I saw a lot of Prickly Pear Cacti.  They were everywhere and many of them were in bloom.  They have such big, lush flowers in contrast to their waxy, prickly exterior.  The cacti do well in the fire.  And are able to survive.
I didn't find a name for this one.  It looks so soft and delicate.
When I got home, I was ready for a shower and some dinner.  I smelled like sweat, diesel fuel, and smoke and I had worked up quite an appetite.  My fiance was kind enough to make dinner for us, but while he was in the kitchen, he made me get up one more time.  There were three Fox Squirrels in our backyard that he could see through the window.  They were beautiful and romping all over our yard!  I was able to sneak out the back door to catch a shot of one who was all black.  The other two looked more like the ones I see most often.  It is normal for their colors to vary between individuals.  This one looked like a tiny black bear!  Can we count this as my first bear sighting?
Thought of the Day #48
While I was looking for more information about the Pink Spiderwort, I stumbled upon an amazing tidbit about the original recipe Spiderwort.  It is reactive to radiation.  The bright blue hairs, or stamen, in the center of the blue Spiderwort will turn pink if the plant is exposed to even low levels of radiation.  It can be used as an indicator of dangerous conditions even before some man-made equipment.  There are many other natural things that humans have learned to gauge their own safety with.  I'm sure you have heard of the canary in the coal mine who is much more sensitive to carbon monoxide and methane gases which could be harmful to miners.  There are also insects in streams and waterways that are indicator species.  Their presence or absence says a lot about the health of the body of water.  I wonder what else nature could tell us if we looked closely.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

O is for Office

It was another office day for me today.  I had a lot of little things to take care of today.  I got through most of what I needed to do though and only had a few things that will carry over for tomorrow.  Because of the end of the month, I had to complete my time sheet and approve most of the ranger's time sheets.  I also had to complete and submit my vehicle log for April.  I completed an online training and sent an e-mail to the rest of the park staff informing them that it has to be taken and how to find it online.  I did some application reviews, some interviews, and hired a part-time employee today.  I also prepared all of the paperwork that the new employee will have to fill out tomorrow.  I typed up the remaining incident report that I had to do from the exciting weekend that I had last week.  I spoke to the leader of a volunteer group and faxed her the forms needed to volunteer in the park.  I finalized an expensive order for a part for one of the firetrucks, and received a call about an incoming donation for almost the exact amount as the part.  I called a person that I have been trying to get a hold of for weeks and again, waited in vain for a return call.  I made some copies of the best map that we have of all of our trails and service roads and made a folder to be kept at the ranger station in preparation for the next missing person.  I also refreshed some fliers in the campground advertising our Wi-Fi survey.
The day sped by because I stayed so busy.  Today had a nice flow to it, I hope that will continue through the weekend.  I enjoy being busy, just not being stressed.  I realized at the end of the day, that I had not taken a single photo.  When I went to the campground to hang the new fliers, I looked around for some pretty things.  I found some lovely little Daisy Fleabane.  It is such a simple and common plant, but a closer look makes them something special.

A true bug of some sort thought these flowers were rather attractive as well.

My next discovery was much more exciting.  I didn't see them until I was really searching for something to photograph.  Once I spotted them though, I realized that they were EVERYWHERE!  This stunning creation is a Purple Passion Flower.  It is also called Maypop.  I don't think that I could imagine a more beautiful or interesting flower.

After taking several photos of the Purple Passion Flower, I moved on.  I was amazed that they were in bloom all along the road and it took me so long to notice them.  I stopped again when I saw several butterflies hovering around them.  I was dreaming when I thought that I would catch a beautiful butterfly on one of these flowers, but I did find something.  I noticed a bright orange, spiky caterpillar on a leaf of the Purple Passion Flower.  It will one day become a Gulf Fritillary Butterfly once it eats enough Passion Flower leaves.

I found these caterpillars in all stages of growth, there were small, medium, and large ones.  This medium one was posing in such an interesting way, just opposite a Gulf Fritillary egg.  I didn't even notice the tiny, yellow speck when I took the photo.

Thought of the Day #49
You have likely heard the story about The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  While its true that caterpillars eat A LOT, they do not usually eat things like apples, oranges, cake, or ice cream.  They usually have something specific in mind.  The Gulf Fritillary caterpillar only wants Purple Passion Flower leaves.  Monarchs only want Milkweed leaves.  Some caterpillars will be a little more flexible to include foods from a family of plants.  For example, a Black Swallowtail will eat from the carrot family which would include carrot, dill, or fennel.  These specific plants are called host plants and the adult butterfly will seek out the right kind of plant for its egg.  That will ensure that when the young caterpillar hatches, it can get right down to business... eating.  The adult butterfly will drink from any number of different flower types for nectar, but the caterpillar is picky as can be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rainy Day Off

Today was my last day off this week.  We had considered playing some disc golf or going kayaking, but the weather report looked a little damp for outdoor activities.  I didn't mind another restful day at home though.  The rain started in the afternoon and continued, on and off for the rest of the day.  We spent some time on the porch because the rain brought some cooler temperatures.  It was really nice to sit and watch the storm.  During a break in the weather, we saw our neighbor, the Gopher Tortoise out for lunch.

She didn't mind the rain when it was light.  It must feel nice to have a shower, even to a tortoise.  After I went back inside and the rain got much harder, the tortoise headed back to her burrow as well.
While I was out photographing the tortoise, I walked by the Coral Honeysuckle.  I am a sucker for perfectly formed raindrops perched on a leaf.  They are just like like sparkly diamonds to me.

Thought of the Day #50
I think that my neighbor, the Gopher Tortoise needs a name.  She is a regular feature in my yard and I think we should at least be on a first name basis.  Do you have any suggestions for a female Gopher Tortoise?  Please post in the comments below.  I will make a poll later with the ideas.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buggy Tuesday

I was off today and took my sister to the airport.  We had a great visit together.  I returned home around noon and enjoyed a quiet day at home for the rest of the afternoon.  I did get out once it was below 90 degrees again in the evening to take some photos.   I decided to get out my macro lens and look closely through the yard.  I found some cool things!
I started with the beautiful and still steadily blooming, Coral Honeysuckle that is just outside of my home office window.  It was such a long flower that the majority of it was out of focus with the macro lens.  I liked the surreal feeling of this photo.

I was taking a closer look at this budding flower.  I was wondering what it will become, I will have to wait until it blooms to find a name for it.  Then I noticed that some ants were very interested in the buds as well.  One was so focused that it didn't notice the camera lens just inches away from it.

One insect was not as cooperative.  This caterpiller was a very quick mover.  It was spotted crawling across the ground, but it quickly took camouflaged cover on a pine tree.  It was amazing to see how well it blended in with the bark.  I think that it was the same type of caterpillar that we saw on our shed. 

A Lubber Nymph caught my eye on a tiny milkweed plant by my front door.  One of the former residents of my house planted several butterfly and caterpillar friendly plants in multiple gardens around the house.  Milkweed is a favorite food plant to many insects, including Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.  The Lubber Nymph will feed on many different types of plants as it grows into the giant,  bright colored adult.  This guy didn't seem too interested in the Milkweed.  It was pacing round and round the plant, but there weren't any chew marks on the leaves.

While I was looking at the Lubber Nymph, I spotted some more babies.  These tiny yellow specks are Aphid Nymphs.  They were definitely enjoyed a Milkweed feast.  These little things are 1-2mm long.  They are almost hard to see without the macro lens.

Thought of the Day #51
Insects either go through complete or incomplete metamorphosis as they grow from an egg to an adult.  Insects that go through a complete metamorphosis change from an egg to larva to a pupa to an adult.  A familiar example would be a butterfly.  The caterpillar larvae hatches from an egg.  When it grows large enough, it will pupate in its chrysalis and emerge as an adult.  The young and the adult look completely different in complete metamorphosis.  With incomplete metamorphosis, the young nymph hatches from the egg and it looks very much like the adult.  It will grow in size and it may change color or grow wings, but it will still look very similar as an adult.  The Lubber and the Aphid go through incomplete metamorphosis.  The adult Lubber will be bigger and brighter and have wings, but it will still have the same legs and antennae and body parts.  The aphid will also change color and grow wings, but will look very much like the nymph above.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Make-up

It was a short work day for me today.  I had hoped that I would be able to leave early to spend my sister's last day here with her.  My brother drove down from Gainesville as well.  My late night last night, granted me that time off.  I went in at my regularly scheduled time to work.  I met with the staff and briefed them on the events of the weekend.  Then I met with our office staff for our usual Monday morning meeting.  I had a short online training to do, a couple of calls to make, some incident reports to do, and then I was done.  Just as I was finishing up, my brother arrived.
My brother and sister met me at the office and then I took them around the park.  We spotted a Fox Squirrel on our way into the campground and had fun watching its antics for a little while.  It used the scaly branches of this young pine to scratch an itch or two, then laid down to rest for a bit.  It realized that we were watching it at some point and decided to hide in the tall grass.  It still wanted to watch us though, so it sort of looked like a prairie dog.  When it started bounding through the grass and went behind another tree, we moved along.

We stopped at home so that I could change into canoeing clothes and we ate some lunch.  Then we headed out to do some boating.  My sister kayaked and my brother and I shared a canoe.  It was great to finally get out and explore the river.  Where the spring run joins the river, there is a T.  We paddled to the right for about 30 minutes, returned to the spring run and then paddled to the left for about 30 minutes.  We had a great time.  There were several other people out enjoying the river and lots of wildlife!  We saw butterflies, birds, fish, heard bull frogs, and even saw a young alligator.  The gator was too quick and dove for the water before I could get a good photo.  The river was beautiful and very tropical.  It was very hot and sunny, but the tree-lined banks provided some shade and there were cool breezes when we needed them most.
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There were beautiful Bromeliad air plants in bloom everywhere!  I had seen them with the pink stalk, but never with the purple top on the bloom.  They were just gorgeous.
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Another lovely plant that we saw a lot of was Pickerel Weed.  It had a tall purple stalk of flowers.  This Gulf Fritillary butterfly was enjoying the plant also.
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This Great Blue Heron surprised us.  We paddled so close to it before we saw it and it stayed very still, hoping that we didn't see it.
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An Ibis watched us go by from a branch up above.  It flew away when it first saw us, but landed on a branch up ahead.  We must have surprised it initially because as we went by its new perch, it just sat and watched us.
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We had a great time on the river, but we returned home with a little too much sun.  We were worn out and ready for air-conditioning.  After we had cooled off a little, we went outside in the yard to look at a few things.  I just happened to look down in time to see a tiny Gopher Tortoise strolling through the yard.  It was so much fun to see!  We watched it progress as it moved all the way across the yard.  I wonder where it will end up.  I wonder how a little, young Gopher Tortoise decides where to start digging its burrow.

Thought of the Day #52
It was really great to finally see the river.  It reminded me of the Ichetucknee in some ways.  There were areas that were very clear and you could see every fish and stick all the way down to the sand below.  Unfortunately, the Wekiva River has some challenges that the Ichetucknee does not face.  There are several private areas where people can access the river.  That means that Wekiwa Springs State Park is not able to supervise who gets on the river and what they do while they are there.  From time to time, Law Enforcement officers are able to patrol, but they can't be everywhere all the time.  Alcohol, garbage, and exotic plants are reminders of that fact.  There wasn't much garbage, but each piece feels like an insult.  I was spoiled by the pristine conditions of the Ichetucknee.  There, the park is able to monitor everything and everyone that gets on the river because all access is within the park.  The wildlife on the Wekiva is a little more accustomed to activity from people though and I think that wildlife opportunities may be greater on the Wekiva than on the Ichetucknee.  I can't wait to go back and see it all again!

Super-long Sunday

Oh what a day!  We started out short-staffed, but we made the most of it.  We had the essential positions covered and we were able to serve our visitors.  Everyone had to work a little harder than usual, but all was well.  Then we started getting calls about a dead deer on the road.  It was the road that the park is off of, but the deer was no where near park property.  Our park is not involved with hunting, hunting regulations, or wildlife management and is certainly not responsible for dead animals outside of the park.  It was obviously bothering our visitors on their way in though.  I started making calls to all of the agencies I could think of and following their recommendations as well to find someone who would scoop the poor animal out of the road on a Sunday.  I found no one.  I sent our only ranger, while I ran the ranger station, out to quickly dispose of the deer remains into the woods.  Fortunately, when he arrived at the scene there were other people there with the same idea.  Their agency didn't handle those matters, but they had received so many calls that they chose to just act.  Thank goodness for them, our ranger was able to return quickly.
Fortunately, the park didn't fill up as quickly as it did yesterday.  The major rush waited until the evening shift began and we had an overlap in staff.  We did have to close because of overcrowding for a longer period of time than I have seen before.  People were enjoying themselves and just didn't want to leave to make room for more people... I can't blame them.  My sister and my fiance showed up when I was beginning to turn traffic away after we closed.  They watched the whole ordeal and gave me a little friendly heckling.  Then, my sister did a wonderful thing.  She took my camera and began a walk around the park.  I couldn't go far, but thanks to her, you have some things to look at today!
This was my view for several hours this afternoon from my post at the turn-around.  I stood behind the ranger station, grateful for the shade of all of the Oaks.

I flipped this sign back and forth as we opened or closed throughout that time period.  This is the second sign that visitors pass when we are closed, but for some reason, many still ask "Why are you closed?" once they get to me.

The spring area was pretty busy all day.  It was all our staff could do to keep up with them and keep the litter at bay.  I don't get to see this area so busy very often, because my post is at the ranger station on busy days.

My sister also explored some other areas of the park.  It was nice to have a second set of eyes taking pictures today because she saw and photographed some things that I take for granted or have overlooked.
This is the lagoon area.  It is behind the footbridge that stretches over the spring.  The bridge divides the swim area in the spring from the beginning of the spring run to the river.  The lagoon is also where canoes and kayaks can launch or enter the park from the river.  This is the area where I saw the manatee.

This is one area of the shop facility.  I like this photo of our mowing fleet with the all important Coke machine in the background.

Finally, this is my home sweet home.  I did not see enough of it today.  After I left for the day, more trouble began.

From about 5:00pm to about 10:00pm, several emergency personnel were in the park trying to locate a missing person.  The person was finally located and was not injured.  I was continually getting and giving updates to the appropriate people and when the ranger shift ended, I took over the ranger station to help guide incoming help.  It was a long night.  This is what people have been warning me about.  It wasn't horrible though.  Everyone did their jobs so well and from my vantage point, the park staff could not have been more efficient or helpful in the situation.

Thought of the Day #53
I never had to deal with a missing person at Troy Springs.  There were only 80 acres to the park and I knew every inch of it.  It didn't take long to drive around the park and see were anyone might have accidentally walked.  There was one time when a person was reported missing and after a frantic search it was realized that big brother had left little brother at a different spring and only thought that he had been along for the ride to Troy.  At Ichetucknee Springs, we would get reports of missing people, but they almost always showed up moments later.  Tubing down the river was the most popular activity there and sometimes groups would get separated.  There are very few places to get off of the river, so usually the missing people floated in to the landing eventually.  Troy Springs has 80 acres, Ichetucknee has 2,000+ acres and Wekiwa has 42,000+ acres.  A missing person at Wekiwa is a much bigger issue.