Saturday, May 15, 2010

Silly Saturday

It was one of those mornings... the kind when you just can't predict what will happen next because everything that happened was out of the ordinary.  I was expecting a crazy weekend though because this weekend is my normal rotation.  I am figuring out that I get the rough weekends and my co-worker gets the run-of-the-mill weekends.  I know this because I worked his weekend last week and it was just fine.  My weekends, before and after his weekend, were not fun.  So, I knew it would be weird, but I didn't know what direction it was coming from.
I usually spend most of my time on the weekends in the ranger station, helping out, until I have to turn traffic when the park fills up.  This morning, I had to run an errand out of the park, I had to go to the office to pick up signs for a special event tomorrow, I had some burn zones from Thursday and Friday to check, and I had to head back to the office later to sign some paperwork for one of the Rangers.   The burn zones looked great.  On Thursday, they burned the zone across from the parcel that we burned on the 7th.  Its neat to compare the two right next to each other.  The burn from the 7th is on the left side of the road.  You can see lots of green grass filling in the black areas.  Thursday's burn is on the right side of the road with no new growth yet.

They burned on Friday as well.  That burn was in our youth camp area which was vacant at the time.  It must have been a fun one to watch because there is a deep bowl, or a dip in the ground.  I'm sure that standing at the top of it provided a great view of the fire.  It looks like they kept the fire nice and low, the trees are not very charred at all and most of the pine needles are still green and not brown.

As I checked over the burn zones, I found that the only things still smoldering were on the ground and well inside the zone.  They will be no threat to catch anything else on fire.  At the edge of one zone, I found a Gopher Tortoise near its burrow.  This will be one happy Tortoise in a week or two when the fresh, new shoots of grass start to emerge.  It will have a clear path to any food source in its sight.  The Tortoise burrows are a big help to other animals during a fire.  If they aren't able to find their way out of the burn zone before the fire moves through, there is always plenty of room in a Gopher Tortoise burrow.  Hundreds of species of animals, lizards, snakes, insects, etc. know to dive for these burrows if they need to.  Gopher Tortoises are crucial to the fire communities because of that function.

Between all of my random tasks this morning, I was helping out in the ranger station.  The calls that came in were just silly.  Everyone took their crazy pills this morning.  At least a dozen people called for directions after they were already on their way to the park.  A few more called for the park address to enter it into their GPS.  Then they called back when the GPS couldn't find which of the dozens of streets in the area labeled Wekiwa or Wekiva was the right, Wekiwa Circle.  They still didn't want directions at that point, they just wanted me to make their GPS work... that's hard for me to do over the phone.  I had quite a few callers that couldn't understand why we didn't have room in the 60 site campground for them, even though it was a busy summer weekend and they didn't make reservations.  In the midst of the phone calls to the ranger station, my Manager called from our shop area to tell me that our burn pile was ablaze.  We have a large pit where we pile wooden debris that can be burned and it was pretty full.  Some coals had been dumped there and even though they seemed cool, they managed to re-ignite and start a fire.  We were really lucky that our Manager just happened to come by.  I had to call in my co-worker and have one of the Rangers come in early to keep an eye on the fire until it went out.  They wetted down the trees around the pile to make sure that the fire was not able to spread and kept sprinklers running around it.  With that problem under control, I headed back to the ranger station to hear about a person who slipped and fell and hurt their ankle on the spring steps.  I was beginning to worry that this Saturday was going to eat me alive!
I survived though, fortunately the day calmed down after that.  The park filled up around noon and we had to close, but people began leaving then as well.  We were able to open again several times and stayed open for 15-20 cars each time as people slowly trickled out of the park.  Shortly after 3:30, we were able to stay open for the rest of the day.  The afternoon flew by and I was even able to duck out to walk down to the spring for a few minutes.  This is the first time that I have been able to see the spring area when we were at full capacity.  It was busy, but people still had some room to move around.  I definitely wouldn't want to see it anymore full.
Thought of the Day #40
GPS devices are wonderful things.  They can make navigating much easier... sometimes.  No gadget is completely fail safe though.  It is wise to still look at a map and know your general route before relying on your GPS.  It worries me how often people ignore common sense because their GPS device told them to.

Friday, May 14, 2010

In The Wild Backyard

Today was my last day off before I head back to work for the weekend.  I spent the majority of the day at the vet with my dog and cat to find out that my dog is allergic to Florida.  The excessive pollen in the air this year is not just making people miserable, its making my dog very itchy.  He is content now with medicine (which means a wet food treat to make sure he gets food with his meds) and a new toy to distract him and keep him from scratching.  He is happy, but I think that the cat is still mad because we forced her to leave her sanctuary.
When we returned home, I went for a walk outside to get some photos for the day.  I started with the plants around the house but them stumbled upon some interesting insects as well.  The first plant was Aloe.  We noticed that we had some growing in the garden last week because its tall flowering stalk was starting to bud.  It still hasn't bloomed all the way, but it is starting to show some color... stay tuned for more!  Its amazing that a plant that is so cool and soothing would be so prickly and harsh on the outside.

You may remember a post from a couple of weeks ago when I blogged about some tiny Aphid nymphs and a young Lubber grasshopper on a Milkweed plant.  That very same plant is beginning to bud as well.  I can't wait for it to bloom.

I wandered into the side yard next and spotted a beautiful Dragonfly perched in the sun.  It was a little nervous as I crept towards it and it kept fluttering away and then coming back.  I slowly moved into position and waited for it to return.  I was able to get several photos of it before we finally parted ways.  I was glad to see several more Dragonflies while I was out... they eat mosquitoes.  Happy hunting Dragonflies!

Near the Dragonfly's perch, I saw some busy little Paper Wasps.  They were hard at work and didn't mind me taking a closer look.  Wasps usually get a bad rep because of their sting, but they do some good too.  They feed on nectar, so they help to pollinate plants.  They also will feed on some other insects which may be pests in the garden.

After a few more steps through the woods, I nearly walked into a spiderweb.  It was at face level and the individual strands of the web were so tiny, it was easy to miss.  The spider itself could have sat comfortably on the top of a pencil eraser.  It took several tries, but I was finally able to capture it in focus with the help of my macro lens.

On the way back to the house, I was examining a plant that has some new growth on it.  It also has the dead stalks from last year's growth still standing in the middle.  As I looked at the dead stalks, I noticed an insect perched on it.  I think that it is a young Robber Fly.  You may remember seeing their photos in other posts here or here.  It looks like it might cause a person harm, but that pointy mouth part is for insects only.

Thought of the Day #41
Have you looked at your yard closely today?  Spend a few minutes, the next time you have the chance, to really look at things.  Bend down to look at a few plants, really scan the things that you would normally just glance at.  What did you find?  A great web page to help identify the mysterious insects you may find can be found here at What's That Bug.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Beachy

Today was a lovely day off.  My fiance and I drove to New Smyrna beach which was less than an hour from the park.  We had absolutely perfect weather and the beach was not crowded at all.  There were several other people there, but we had plenty of room to ourselves.  I'm sure it was good that we were there on a weekday.

There were no Seagulls anywhere.  I think this is the first time that I have ever been to a beach that wasn't overrun with Seagulls.  I don't know why that is.  There were a few other birds.  We saw a few Pelicans fly over us and there were several Ruddy Turnstones that were always pecking around on the beach nearby.  There was also one bird that only thought that it was a Ruddy Turnstone.  It stayed with the group the whole time we were there.

The waves were nice.  I usually prefer the calmer Gulf waters, but my fiance loves to battle the waves.  I think we were both happy with the water conditions today.  There were enough waves to play in, but I didn't get knocked over by them.

What is a visit to the beach without some seashells?  I learned long ago that while it is fun to collect pretty seashells, once they come home in a pocket, they just become clutter.  I would rather leave them on the beach for everyone to appreciate.  That doesn't stop me from collecting them and photographing them though!  Here is what we found.

Most of the shells that we found were tiny or they were pieces of shell.  On the way off of the beach, there was one more shell that I had to stop for.  It was the largest one that we saw all day and it was far from the water.  I wonder if it fell out of someone's pocket at some point.

Thought of the Day #42
At some point in my career, I think that I would like to work at a beach park.  I'm sure that they come with their own, unique set of challenges with crowd control and water safety, hurricanes and wildlife protection.  A beach park would also have some very different natural communities that I would like to learn more about.  Salt water communities are fascinating to me.  I grew up in the mid-west so life near the ocean is still quite foreign to me.  I had a small introduction to salt marshes and the Delaware Bay when I worked for a private nature center in Delaware.  What I learned was exciting, but I feel that there is so much more for me to learn.  Plants have evolved methods of dealing with the salt and harsh conditions near the shore.  There are also completely different birds, turtles, fish, etc.  Florida is an exciting place with so many opportunities to explore.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quick Friday

Today was Friday for me.  I am taking Thursday and Friday off this week.  My schedule has been so upside-down lately, I am really looking forward to a break.  It will be nice to get back on a regular schedule soon too.  I think that my co-worker and I have finally settled on a new schedule that seems like it will work well.  We will see.
The day started out in a rush.  I went to the morning meeting at the shop and then hurried to the office to take care of new hire paperwork for a temporary part time employee.  When all of the pages were signed and photo copies were made, I headed out of the park.  I had to take the last water sample at Fechtel and then carry both water samples to the county health department for routine testing.  It was so peaceful there.  I thought about how nice it would be to sit on the bench in the shade of the Oak Tree to watch the day go by.

I couldn't sit and enjoy the Oak Tree though, I had water samples to deliver.  I packed the new sample with the other one in my cooler and got on the road.  It took about 45 minutes to get from Wekiwa to Fechtel and then almost another hour to get to the health department.  I returned to Wekiwa with plenty of time to spare before our personnel meeting at 1:00.  I took care of some office work and then headed home to change.  We wore our Class A uniforms (our formal uniform with tie) to the meeting.  This is not a usual occurrence, but we have had some changes to our uniform policies in the past couple of years and we wanted to make sure that all of the Rangers had complete Class A uniforms and knew how to wear them properly.  I changed into my Class A and headed to the meeting.
I had to drive past the zone that we burned last on the way to the meeting.  It was looking beautiful.  There was already green grass growing just five short days after the burn.  Its amazing to see how quickly the plants come back.  There will be some nice grazing opportunities for Deer and Gopher Tortoises.

The meeting went well.  We talked about current events at the park and some upcoming events.  We also talked quite a bit about customer service.  We watched a DVD that I have seen before.  It is a fun way to get the idea of customer service across.  Its called Give Em The Pickle.  In the DVD, a man named Bob Farrell discusses his background in customer service at an ice cream shop.  He relates some stories in a funny way about giving the customer what they want and serving them the best we can.  After the video, we discussed a few more issues and then started taking pictures.  With all of us looking our best, we took advantage of the situation and I took individual pictures of all of the staff and a group photo for our archives.  Here is mine!

After the meeting, it was almost time to go home.  I wrapped up my office projects and turned in some paperwork.  I talked to my coworker about the next few days because we won't see each other again until Monday.  Then, I headed home.

Thought of the Day #43
I enjoy the monthly personnel meetings here at Wekiwa.  It gives us a chance to communicate as a group and discuss important issues.  We also communicate with the staff via memo, but the memos don't get all of the information out as well as face to face communication.  I enjoy seeing how the group interacts as a whole as well.  There are so many different personalities at this park and while they are all very different, they all are essential to the operation of the park.  Its neat to see how they interact.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Busy Bee

Today was a very full day.  It started out with some office work.  I worked on finishing up some projects that I had going and revisiting scheduling discussions from yesterday.  I did some more paperwork for a new hire and prepared forms for signatures.  The morning really flew by.  It was lunchtime before I knew it.  When I returned from lunch, I headed over to our sign storage room.  It needed some work and I am preparing a big sign order so I wanted to make sure that I wasn't ordering any signs that we already had.  I organized all of the signs according to their topic and labeled the shelves.  I also pulled out the unusable signs and made a stack for recycling later.  I hope the signs stay this way for a while.  It is really pretty easy to look for a sign this way.

When I returned to the office after the sign project, I had more paperwork to track down.  I spent some time with our newest ranger to get his paperwork all squared away.  Once I was done with things at the park, I headed out to our distant properties.  The bulkhead at Katie's Landing is almost ready to be poured.  Things are really coming together over there.

I found my way to the Fechtel Tract of Lower Wekiva River State Park today.  It was one of the properties that I toured with my Manager a couple of weeks ago.  I saw so many different places that day that they all sort of blended together.  It was nice to make my way out there on my own to learn the route.  While I was at Fechtel, I had to take a routine water sample from the well.  I have to do another one tomorrow morning and take them both to the health department to be analyzed.

The edges of the service road into Fechtel were covered in a sea of yellow.  There were SO MANY Prickly Pears and they were all exploding into blooms.  They were beautiful.

On the way out of the gate, I stopped to admire a few more flowers.  I see these purple Ruellia often.  They are also called Wild Petunia.

There was also a Grapevine nearby.  Its new growth was showing off some beautiful colors in the evening sunlight.

With the water sampling complete, I made the long journey home.

Thought of the Day  #44
Managing properties that are so far away from the main areas of the park is very challenging.  There are two gates to the Fechtel property.  One is to enter the property from the road and one is set in much further and leads to the primitive horse camping area.  The property is just too far away from anything for a staff member to have to go there to open and close the gate every morning and evening, so the first gate stays open.  Unfortunately, that can attract people who are up to no good.  There are usually a few beer bottles or cans to be found.  The inner gate has a combination lock that changes monthly.  When campers register at Wekiwa to camp at Fechtel, they are given the combination and help themselves to the facilities.  A ranger visits the property once or twice a week to maintain it, but we rely heavily on volunteers for the majority of the property management.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Monday

Today was a very full Monday.  It definitely felt like a Monday though.  My brain always felt like it was a step or two behind what I wanted to be doing.  After our morning staff meeting at the shop and our Monday morning administrative staff meeting, I went to my office to get some work done.  I just wasn't as focused as I wanted to be.  I still was able to take care of the things that I needed to though.  I checked e-mail, approved time sheets, tracked down the people who had not yet submitted their time sheets, and made an appointment with a duct cleaner to have the dining hall stove exhaust cleaned.  I worked out some scheduling issues with my co-worker... sort of, I did some paperwork on the honor envelope payments collected at our other park entrances, and wrote up an incident report from this weekend.  By noon, my thinking skills were pretty well used up... Monday was winning.  Then I heard that we were going out to lunch.  That was the break that I needed!
I enjoyed lunch at a restaurant that was new to me and had a nice time with some of my coworkers.  When we returned, I made another visit to my office to see if there was anything that I missed doing.  I wrapped things up there and prepared to head to the Environmental Health Department in another county to pick up water sampling bottles for a well at one of our distant properties.  Before I left, I was called to the ranger station to open a lock on the cash box.  While I was there, I was told that the printer had stopped working.  It was crumpling up every sheet of paper that we tried to put into it.  I opened it up, pulled out some crinkled shards of paper and snapped a roller back into its proper place.  With the printer up and running again, I headed out to find the Health Dept.  I made it there successfully and only made one wrong turn on the way back.  I got home a little late, but I realized that I had not taken a single photo.
I walked around the house and was happy to find some fun stuff to photograph.  A tiny spider, right outside of the back porch door caught my attention right away.  This is an Orchard Orb Weaver and its smaller than a dime.  I have photographed them before at Troy (third photo down) but they are hard to photograph because they are so small.  Today I used my macro lens and got a nice close view of it (sorry anti-spider people).

Also near the back porch, I found some bright red flowers in bloom.  I had to settle in and sit right in the middle of them to steady my camera on my leg to take the photo.  I was running out of light and had to keep the camera very still to avoid a blurry image.  When I sat down in the flowers, they had a very strong aroma.  I found out later that it was Tropical Sage.  It is an herb in the mint family.

There was a very young Garden Orb Weaver who had spun a web between the Tropical Sage and the outside wall of the porch.  I disturbed it when I first tried to take its picture and it darted to the other side of its web's stabilimentum (the dense area in the middle).  It makes a very good visual shield which the spider uses for protection from predators.  I soon realized that I didn't want to eat it and came back to have its picture taken.

The next flower that I came to was stunning.  I had noticed the plant along my walkway and wondered what flower it would produce.  I was pleased with the outcome!  It is a native Lantana.  I have blogged about the non-native before.  I like the solid yellow much better than the multi-colored version.  This is again, taken with the macro lens.  The flower is the same size as the non-native that I had photographed previously.

As my light was finally almost gone, I hovered over an ant mound.  It was under construction and it was fun to watch the little ants carry out the balls of sand from down below.  There were also some ants carrying pieces of Sage and Honeysuckle blossoms into the hole.  I tried to get some close photos, but the ants were moving too quickly and blurring the image.  I decided to try a video so that I could still share the experience with you.

Thought of the Day #45
One of the people who lived in this residence before me planted native plants in gardens surrounding the house.  There are butterfly and hummingbird attracting flowers all around the house.  Most of them died off during the unusually frosty winter.  There were a lot of tall, brown skeletons of plants around the house when I moved in.  Slowly but surely, they are coming back to life.  New green growth is rising from the ground and it seems like I am surprised with new colors in the yard every week.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day, all of the Florida State Parks offered 75% off of admission to the parks for mothers with their children today.  We were expecting a crazy day because of it.  We have had busy weekends lately anyway and it was a holiday and there was a discount.  I was afraid that we would fill up early, have to close the park, and hear lots of heart-wrenching stories about how I was ruining Mother's Day for hundreds of people because I wouldn't let them into the park.  Fortunately, most everyone remembered what their mothers taught them today and even after we closed, people were very nice about it.  I only had one person really get mean with me and he came back to apologize later.  The day went very smoothly and we even got a few extra things done this weekend.  It really went about as well as it could have.
This morning, after opening the ranger station and starting everyone on their tasks for the day, I got away while I could.  I took another drive around Friday's burn zone.  It was in great shape, the only things left smoking were well inside the zone and didn't have anything near them that would burn.  I enjoyed admiring the result of our hard work, and the morning sun was really making it beautiful.  I thought that this grouping of charred, dead Oaks was very impressive.

Most of the zones burned very well, but there were some funny areas in the interior of the zone that stayed very green.  I guess those little areas were burned recently for a training so there was not any dead fuel built up.  This really illustrates one of the reasons that we do prescribed burning.  If we remove the dead pine needles and other dry, dead plant matter with regular fires, than the risk of wildfire spreading uncontrollably is very small.  If there is no fuel, a fire can't burn.

After checking the burn zones, I went to the office for a little while and then back to the ranger station to help with the phones as the park began to get busy.  As expected, we were hit hard by the after-church-rush.  The morning was slow until about 10:00 when everyone came at once.  We had traffic backed up onto the road, but there wasn't much that we could do about it.  We let people in as fast as we could and once we filled up, we had to turn people away.  We closed before noon and stayed that way until just after 3:30.  We opened 3 or 4 times throughout that period to let in 5-10 cars.  By 4:00, the park was calm and there were just a few people still coming in.  I really wasn't needed anymore, but I was afraid to go home.  It seems like whenever I go home, things get crazy.  The visitors must be able to sense when I am comfortable on the couch.  I stuck around the park a little longer, but when I knew that things were well under control, I headed home.

Thought of the Day #46
It was fun to be in the ranger station today to hear people's reaction when they found out that the fee was only $1.50 today instead of the usual $6.00.  Most people were very pleasantly surprised and grateful for the unexpected gift.  It was also fun to listen to the rangers at the window as they delicately danced around the question of who was a mother and who were her children.  Its a difficult question to ask without offending people and most people just stared blankly when asked if the children with them belonged to the woman in the car.  Its also hard to tell when the child is an adult and mother and daughter look like they could be sisters.  Sometimes language barriers added another degree of difficulty to the situation.  When someone only speaks enough English to handle a monetary transaction and then we start asking about familial relationships, they really get confused.  It was fun to watch the surprise and joy on people's faces though, and it was fun to watch the rangers' creativity as they handled each situation very tactfully.