Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend Peace

Its nice to have a weekend off again!  After three in a row, I'm glad to not be in the midst of crowds of people.  I spent a peaceful day in the country with friends and got to spend time taking photos.  It was great.  Here is what I found.
I couldn't find a name for this shrub, but the tiny, delicate flowers were impressive to me.  The bush is in my friends' yard, so I don't know if it is native or ornamental.  I didn't see it in either of my flower/shrub field guides, and a quick google search turned up several Florida shrubs with small white flowers, but none like this one.  The groups of white buds were obvious, but I had to look closer to see the ones that had burst into bloom.  The flower was so slight, it was easy to overlook.

In a field of grass, I found this one stalk standing proudly.  The Ladies' Tresses were blooming in a spiral around their solitary stalk.

At the base of a tree, I had to work quickly to catch this quick moving Lubber Nymph.  It will later become a giant, bright colored Lubber Grasshopper.  For now, it is a little more discrete. You may remember seeing another Lubber Nymph in the past with a red stripe instead of yellow.  Their colors vary, but all of these bright colors warn predators that they are toxic.  In case you were planning on snacking on one... it probably wouldn't be a good idea.

I found a beautiful caterpillar that I can't identify.  Its pristine, white fur coat was stunning in the sunlight.  I hope it was hungry.  I found it on an invasive, exotic Wisteria plant.  It didn't see any chew marks in the leaves though.  Eat-up caterpillar, tell all your friends!!

Finally, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of dragonflies.  They are easily, one of my favorite insects.  They are amazing to look at, they don't bother people, and they feed on pests.  What a great bug!

Thought of the Day #33
Thirty three days left!!  I can't believe it!  I started this endeavor on the first day of summer last year.  I am even more surprised that summer isn't officially here yet.  We have already had some hot days over 90 degrees.  Summer seems to have arrived at the park if you take a look around on the weekends.  Looking back on my first post, I think that Day 1 of summer here at Wekiwa will be a little different.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Training Day

A really nice perk to working at Wekiwa Springs is that because of the park's location and facilities, trainings are commonly held here.  Today, I was able to participate in a fire training that I had been trying to go to for the past year or more.  I needed this training under my belt to begin working towards a Crew Boss status on the fireline.  I had not been able to take it before because of the remote location of my former park and the travel restrictions that we have been under for the past couple of years.  Now that I have completed this training I am a Firefighter Type 1.  I need to work a certain number of prescribed fires as a Crew Boss Trainee.  Then, I will be a full-fledged Crew Boss.  I still have a long way to go before I can be a Burn Boss, in charge of an entire prescribed fire. As a Crew Boss, I will guide one group of people working on a fire to achieve the goals set forth by the Burn Boss.
I spent the whole day in training, but it was interesting and well presented.  It didn't feel like a classroom day at all.  The majority of the training was spent reviewing two resources that we carry on the fireline.  One is the Fireline Handbook, which has everything that I might possibly need to know about dealing with wildfire.  Most of the information is also applicable to prescribed fire.  It has detailed checklists for any scenario we might encounter from a safety checklist for every incident to evaluating homes in the path of fire to guiding a helicopter water drop.  It has charts to give us an idea of how long creating a fireline by hand should take, and how much room a helicopter needs to land.  It is an amazing wealth of knowledge in a small, cargo-pocket sized book.  I still have my first Fireline Handbook from my initial fire training.  It was a little out of date, so I got a new one today.  The other resource we were given is the IRPG, or Incident Response Pocket Guide.  It contains the most commonly used bits of information in a condensed format.  The IRPG is a much quicker reference to use and it fits in a shirt pocket.

Throughout the day, we reviewed different sections of both books and participated in several group exercises to put the knowledge to use.  We looked at maps and scenarios that a firefighter might encounter on the fireline.  We had to work together to run through our checklists and create a plan of attack while keeping our crews informed and safe.  After the group exercises, we had a quick review and then took a test.  I aced the test and got my certificate.  I will add it to the collection.

After I finished my test, I went outside to wait until everyone was finished.  I watched a Red-bellied Woodpecker inspect an Oak Tree.  I first noticed it when it was on the ground.  Then, I watched it hop all over the tree.  It went round and round and up and down checking each fissure in the tree bark.

Every zone around the building that we were training in today has been burned in the last month or two.  It was a great way to set the mood for a fire training!  This area was burned a week ago today, and the black is quickly being replaced by green.

Thought of the Day #34
I have mentioned the different outdoor agencies before.  It is often difficult for people to make the distinction between state park, national park, division of forestry, city park, water management area, etc.  We are all separate entities and for the most part, we work independently.  Firefighting is one thing that brings us all together though.  We all go through the very same National Wildfire trainings, so quite often, we are at those trainings together.  We can help each other out when one area is short on staff for a prescribed burn or if a wildfire happens, we can work together to fight it.  Because we go through the same trainings, it is easy to work together to achieve the same goals.  We use the same terminology and look for the same safety considerations.  Our organizational structure is the same, and our procedures are the same.  Today, there were several other Florida State Park people, but there were also people from the county, the Office of Greenways and Trails, a Water Management District, and the Nature Conservancy.  Many of the people in the room had worked some of the same fires together or burned on the same properties.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday Thursday

I was in the office a lot again today, but I did have some relief.  I was the field supervisor today in addition to my normal duties because my coworker was off today.  The majority of the staff worked on a small prescribed burn though, so I really didn't have to do much.  I talked to everyone in the morning and they went their separate ways to prepare for the day.  The only people not burning were stationed in the Ranger Station, working on clean-up, or taking care of completing mandatory trainings.  I plugged away at my office work, hoping that I would be able to go out to watch a little of the burn.
I had a lot to do in the office, and more things kept coming up throughout the day.  I processed some paperwork to get a fuel card PIN number for an employee.  I did some more paperwork for a new hire to make sure that the funds to pay this person were coming from the right budget.  I set up another appointment to get another estimate on floor cleaning.  I did a few more steps to prepare for a new ADA compliance tracking database.  I responded to a few calls and questions from the field.  I sent and answered at least a dozen e-mails.  It all kept me busy until well past my lunch time.  I did get to step outside for a minute or two in the morning.  I couldn't get out into the park, but nature came to our doorstep.  One of my coworkers noticed a perfect little spiderweb that had caught the sunlight just right.  She pointed it out to me and I agreed that it was photo-worthy.  This little Orchard Orb Weaver was one of many spiders utilizing the railing on our porch to provide a structure to build their webs.  Its funny, the Park Ranger in me took the time to admire the spiders and educate those around me.  Then the Assistant Park Manager in me wanted to clear the spiderwebs from the front of our Administrative Office.  The Park Ranger won today... the webs are still there.

When I was finally able to break for lunch, I stopped home long enough to make myself a bite to eat and quickly scarf it down.  I was determined to make it out to the burn zone before they were done.  The prescribed fire today was at the youth camp area.  The majority of the larger zones around the youth camp have been burned in the past month or two.  Today, they burned the small islands between the buildings and pathways throughout the camp.  The islands are not part of larger zones, but they do get built up with pine needles, debris, and woody growth.  Fire keeps the area nice and open and protects the buildings in case of unintentional fire.

The burn today was a nice, small one.  They were able to burn each plot and mop it up right away, the fire was extinguished before they moved on to the next one.  Thursday is the end of our work week, so they had to be done on time because there is no opportunity to make up for time that they might stay late.  By mopping up each section before moving on, they were able to stop when they needed to.  They were able to get a lot done today and even finished up with one slightly larger section.

While I was walking around to see their completed areas, I got called away to meet with a county inspector.  She wanted to see how we were storing and disposing of hazardous wastes like light bulbs and used oil.  We did just fine on the inspection and the inspector gave us some helpful hints to improve even more.  She also gave me some ideas on disposing of items that we would like to recycle, but haven't yet found a facility that will do so.  After parting with her, I headed back to the office.  I was given another assignment while I was there that I am looking forward to.  We are looking into replacing the bridge that divides the spring swimming area from the lagoon that leads to the river.  The bridge is beautiful, but it is showing its age and it is not compliant with ADA standards.  I am working on drawing up a proposal to request funding for a new bridge.  I did a bit of research online and requested a quick quote to start thinking about numbers.  I also took a walk down to the existing bridge to take some photos for reference.  I really like the old bridge, but I see where it needs improvement.  I hope that our replacement will be aesthetically pleasing while meeting out safety, functionality and ADA goals.

Thought of the Day #35
If you are not familiar with the acronym, ADA, it stands for Americans with Disabilities Act.  It is law that was put into place in 1990 to ensure that people of all abilities have the same opportunities available to them.  The Florida State Parks have been making an admirable effort in the past years to make sure that the parks are compliant with ADA standards.  This has been a huge endeavor to check picnic areas, pathways, restrooms, and buildings to make sure that we are in compliance.  It also has been challenging to make the changes necessary on our limited budgets.  We are making tremendous progress though and slowly, but surely finding ways to serve all of our visitors.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Today was another officey day.  I processed some more paperwork for our newest employee.  I think it may never end.  I also got caught up on some projects that had been put on the back burner for a little while.  I made the whole office laugh when I called to speak to someone named Mary Ann.  Her co-worker, Ginger answered the phone so when I said "Hi Ginger, is Mary Ann available?" everyone thought that I was phoning Gilligan's Island.  I didn't even realize the connection until I hung up the phone and everyone was laughing.  I wonder if they hear a lot of Gilligan's Island jokes at their office.  I had to make some edits to a data-filled report that I completed about a month ago.  My eyes began to cross from going through the difficult database and I knew it was time to break for lunch.
While I was at home, I took the dog out for a walk around the yard.  As we were headed back to the door, I was delighted to see three butterflies around the Lantana!  I was just talking about them yesterday and wondering why I hadn't seen any.  It was just my bad timing, but it worked out today.  All three Gulf Frittilaries were enjoying the Lantana and the Honeysuckle.  It is difficult to hold a leash attached to a Great Dane in one hand and a camera in the other and take macro photos of things that fly, but I managed to get a few shots.

I'm glad that I caught the butterflies because there were no other photo-worthy views before me for the rest of the day.  After lunch, I went out to the youth camp to pick up a community service worker and transport him to another work area.  I went back to the office to pick up a few things that had to go to the Ranger Station.  By then, it was time to head to the district office.  The district office is conveniently right down the hall from my office.  I was taking part in a conference call with parks throughout the district and it was nice to be able to be in the same room as some of the people on the call.  During the call, we discussed our volunteer programs, our interpretive programs, our new ADA database for keeping the parks accessible and compliant, and safety issues.
Before I knew it, the day was almost over.  I chatted with some of the rangers about plans for tomorrow and wrapped up any loose ends from the projects that I worked on today.  It was a good day, but a quick one.

Thought of the Day #36
I feel like the blog is not as exciting as it was when I was a Park Ranger.  I'm glad to be able to show the changes between being a Ranger and being an Assistant Park Manager, but I miss being able to show all the cool things to find in the park... I miss seeing all the cool things in the park.  I spend a lot more time in the office than I ever have.  My coworker is off tomorrow, so hopefully I will need to spend more time in the field tomorrow in his place.  I know that I have some office work to take care of though.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time-Out Tuesday

Today was a nice day off.  I didn't do much aside from walking the dog and taking a nap with the cat.  All is right with the world.  I took a little stroll around the yard with my camera as well.  The flowers have not changed much, but one of the buds on the Aloe did finally spring open.  The flowers are a lot like the Coral Honeysuckle.

The Lantana is still blooming and is as pretty as ever.  There is so much of it!  There is a lovely yellow pocket in my yard.  I would like to know where the butterflies are though.  I don't know how they could be passing up all of the foliage in my yard.  It must just be poor timing on my part.

Just when I thought that the Coral Honeysuckle couldn't possibly produce any more blooms, it makes more.  It has overgrown its trellis, but there are so many flowers on it that I couldn't possibly trim it back now.  I will just have to wait until its done blooming, but I don't see that happening any time soon.  I really like the little green nubs that the flowers come out of.  They look silly before the flowers emerge.

I wasn't satisfied with just the same flowers that you have already seen.  I went walking around the yard for a little while to find something new and interesting.  Between smacking the mosquitoes and deer flies that wouldn't leave me alone, I stumbled upon this odd combination.  A blade of grass must have grown up through a leaf.  The grass leaf was curled through the oak leaf.  Can't you just imagine this process happening in the slow motion of real life?

While I was examining the leaf that was stabbed by the grass, I saw a little fuzz on another leaf of that grass.  I didn't think it was anything more than a fuzz until I looked a little closer at it.  It was an insect!  I had never seen anything like it aside from a few caterpillers.  This little guy had defined legs though, it was no caterpillar.  I photographed it using the macro lens and was finally able to get a good look at it once it was on the computer screen.  It is a Planthopper Nymph.  When it grows up, it won't be much bigger than it is right now, but it will be a splotchy brown color and it will loose its fuzz.  It was true to its name.  I didn't get to take many photos of it because it suddenly disappeared.  It hopped away.  I never would have seen it if it wasn't for that wacky leaf.

Thought of the Day #37
There are millions of species of insects that share the planet with us.  Its impossible to know them all, and it can be challenging to identify insects sometimes.  Their different stages of growth add another degree of difficulty especially with insects that undergo complete metamorphosis and their appearance changes drastically throughout their life cycle.  Learning the different orders of insects can make pinning down an identification a little easier.  Within the classification of insects, there are around 30 groups, called orders that are defined by some of the insects characteristics.  A nice break down with photos can be found here at Bug Guide.  Some of the Orders that are most common and you may already be familiar with are Coleoptera, which are Beetles, Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths, Hymenoptera are bees and wasps, and possibly, my least favorite are Diptera which are flies and mosquitoes.  The latin names describe some of the insects characteristics.  The "tera" on the end of the word refers to their wings.  Beetles have sheathed wings, butterflies have scaled wings, flies have two wings, etc.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rainy Monday

It was nice to have a quiet, rainy day today.  I was able to spend most of the day in the office, just taking care of things that I needed to get to.  I had to take some time in the middle of the day to go to the vet to work out another issue with my dog, but even that ended better than expected.  The day had a nice, slow pace to it and I even got to enjoy the rain storm from the porch in front of the office.

It was quite a show, we even had some thunder.  While in the office, I completed more paperwork for a new hire.  I waded through a big pile of papers that were on my desk.  I printed the photos that I took of all of the staff at the last personnel meeting.  I called to set up an appointment to get an estimate on floor cleaning for two of our buildings.  I called to arrange payment for an exhaust vent cleaning that took place last week.  I placed a uniform order.  I typed up four incident reports from the weekend.  I took some phone calls from visitors.  I prepared some paperwork for two employees who need to complete a training and fill out some forms to get a PIN number to use our fuel cards.
It was a productive Monday, but at a nice pace.  It was a great way to lead into a day off.  My coworker and I are starting our new schedule this week.  I will now have every Tuesday off and every other weekend off.  I already love Tuesdays, this just gives me another reason.

Thought of the Day #38
It was so nice to have a good hard rain today.  It put out anything left smoldering from the last week's prescribed fires.  It wetted down our dirt roads which were becoming dry and dusty.  It knocked down some of the airborne pollen that has been giving everyone trouble.  It also gave the beautiful flowering plants some growing power.  I bet this next week will be colorful.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Today was another busy weekend day.  It was just like yesterday.  It started out crazy and wound down in the late afternoon.  There weren't any major issues today, but the crowd at the entrance was a little harder to control.  In honor of Military Appreciation Month, the Florida State Park System offered free admission to everyone at all of our parks today.  People were pleasantly surprised and thought of their friends and family that are or were in the military.  Most of our visitors were also very generous with donations to our park in lieu of the park admission.
Like most Sundays, the morning was quiet.  We had a slow but steady stream of people coming in.  I stayed in the ranger station to answer phones, but I had plenty of time to fold brochures as well.  We are well stocked for the next few days on folded brochures and trail maps.  I even had time to take the only two photos that I took all day.  I spotted a pretty little moth on the window of the ranger station.  It was outside and I was inside, so the view that I had was of its underside.  I didn't find a name for this little moth, but it reminds me of a very common butterfly that I used to see during our butterfly life cycle programs at the nature center where I worked in Delaware.  I watched a lizard on the same window as well, but I was soon called away by a ringing phone or visitor, or something.

By 10:30am, the rush was beginning.  The constant line was forming and getting longer and longer.  The parking space counter got into position and began monitoring spaces.  Once we reached our capacity and had to begin turning traffic away from the park, things got difficult.  It was harder to get people to keep moving today.  The line was so big all at once, that there was both a line coming in and a line going out that were connected and not moving.  That gave people the perfect opportunity to blow their horns, yell, and complain.  Soon, I had three separate families who had surrounded me from behind.  Each group had already gotten into the park but had people that they were waiting on that had been turned away. They wanted me to let their additional people in.  Between trying to explain the situation to each group, I was still trying to keep the traffic moving and catching the barrage of complaints and "but I" and "what if" and "can't I" and "why don't you" from each passing vehicle.  It is difficult to be kind, accommodating, yet fair in that situation.  I did my best and called our Law Enforcement officer for additional support.  People whine less when there is an officer standing there... maybe its the gun on his hip or the handcuffs.  Whatever the reason, I was thankful.
We were eventually able to get more people into the park.  The three groups waiting behind me went through all levels of begging, demanding, screaming, and eventual gratefulness as they waited for their companions to be let in.  Finally, by 4:00 we were able to reopen for the last time and we stayed that way.  I heard from the field staff that it was a good crowd today out in the park.  I guess they got all of their frustrations out on me before they got into the park.  Maybe it was the free day that made them happy.
By the time I got home, I was so glad to be there.  I am really looking forward to a weekend off next weekend.  I am even looking forward to Monday.  Even Monday is better than the weekend that I had.

Thought of the Day #39
Did you know that the first park rangers were military personnel?  When the first National Parks were created, someone had to protect them.  The US Army was first tasked with this job in 1886 in our first National Park, Yellowstone.  Over time, it was realized that while the Army was effective at protecting the land and keeping visitors safe, there was still a need to educate the public and answer all of their questions.  Over time, park rangers evolved into the multi-talented people that they are today.  The job has changed drastically through the years, but there are still some reminders of the Army days.  We are still uniformed personnel and are strictly regimented in many ways.  We still are here to protect the land and the people coming to visit, but our jobs have evolved to include many more things as well.
Please take the time to remember those who have served in the military, past and present.