Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend Day 1

We were bracing for a wild day today.  The morning was beautiful.  There were cars lined up at the gate as soon as we arrived at the park.  The closing field ranger last night had lined up all of the traffic cones in preparation of the great turn-around events that were sure to come.  The morning staff hit the ground running, jumping into the duties that they knew they had to complete.  We even had two campers checking in before we even opened at 7:30.  Once the Ranger Station was open, I went to check on a campsite and wanted to drive through the park to see how it looked.  While I was out, I realized that our radios were down because of a loss of power early this morning.  When I called the ranger in the ranger station to let him know the status of the campsite and to let him know that the radios were down, he already had lines inside and outside of ranger station and needed assistance.  I rushed back to reset the radios and then jump into action at the ranger station.  We continued to be steadily busy into the afternoon.  I never did get to drive through the main use area of the park.  From the ranger station, it felt like we had let in many more cars than our parking lot could hold, but we didn't have to close until 11:00.  With all the traffic we were seeing, we thought it would have been much earlier.
The closing of the park went off with a bang!  The driver of the first vehicle that we turned away had a reaction that was unparalleled.  He didn't stop to argue or ask for any other options.  He just started screaming and slamming his steering wheel and making unfriendly hand gestures toward anyone who would look at him.  He also screamed the F-bomb at any and every person and vehicle that he passed on the way out.  It was quite a show.  He was really pretty lucky that our Law Enforcement Officers were not there to witness his outburst.  He would have had a much worse day than he was already having.  Fortunately, the majority of the other people that we turned away were much more jovial.  I think people expected the park to be busy today, so it was no real shock that we filled up.  I also had the help of two Law Enforcement Officers.  At one point we were really glad to have three people turning traffic because there were a lot of side issues going on.  Everything was resolved relatively smoothly and we were all able to keep smiling throughout.  We were smiling even bigger when we started watching the sky.

The dark clouds were moving in closer and closer.  Eventually, it did start to rain and there was even a little bit of thunder.  There was soon a mass exodus of people leaving the park.  Oddly enough, there was still a line of people wanting to enter.  I guess they had endured the lines and the wait and were determined to get into the park.  Once the rain started though, we were able to stay open for the rest of the day.  I almost didn't know what to do with myself because things had slowed down so much.  I left the park to get change for the rest of the weekend and then headed to the office.  On the way back into the park, I saw that the only ones out in the rain were Turkeys.  No, I'm not calling the visitors names, there were Wild Turkeys walking around.

They did put themselves out on the line to dry a little later when there was a break in the rain.  Silly Turkeys.

In the office, I checked my e-mail and did some reading of our policies.  I also re-created our Lost and Found log.  I had been noticing that it was lacking.  It was a binder with four or five pieces of paper in it and it didn't make much sense.  One form even had Department of Natural Resources at the top of it.  We have the Department of Environmental Protection since 1993.  I adjusted some forms that I had made when I was at Troy and added them to the binder to see if they meet our needs here.
When I was done in the office, I checked in with the park staff again.  Everyone was happy that the day ended up being much easier than we expected.  Hooray for rain!  Now we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thought of the Day #26
I never know what to expect on a holiday at the park.  On some holidays, people stay at home with their families.  On others, they come to the park in droves.  On some holidays, people are jovial and friendly, on others they are cranky and vicious.  On Mother's Day, people were wonderful and on Easter, they were not.  We expected the worst for today, but aside from one bad apple, the people were great.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Half Day

Because of my late night last night and what will surely be some late days this weekend, I took a half day today.  I had completed all of my pressing projects yesterday and first thing this morning.  The rangers were plugging along at their projects and the park was pretty quiet.  I wrapped up the last of my responsibilities before I left.  I put away some items that I had purchased for exotic plant treatment.  All of those supplies are stored in a Bio shed for use by the Biologists and Rangers working on resource management.

While I was working on bringing the supplies over, a Dragonfly landed on the pull cord to the overhead door.  It was such a funny perch to me, but the Dragonfly was very fond of it.  When I was done and needed to close the door, I had to shoo the Dragonfly away.  It tried to land again before I was done!

It was nice to get home a little early!  I even got to have a little shopping spree at the hardware store to get supplies to make some improvements at my residence.  I was able to get things like paint for a room that had been patched but not repainted before I moved in.  I am also replacing a few light fixtures, including one on the back of the house.  The old outdoor light had been blocked by the addition of an electrical box at some point in the past.  There was no way to put in a light bulb.  I purchased a new floodlight that will fit in that spot and shine out into the back yard.

While I was walking around the house, inside and out, looking for any other items that I might need, something caught my eye.  There was one solitary Ladybug wing sitting in the Coral Honeysuckle. I thought it was funny, because Ladybugs don't often misplace their wings.  As I looked a little closer, I found out what happened.  A Dragonfly was feasting on that poor Ladybug!  It was pretty cool.  Before I was able to capture the photo from another angle though, my park radio started squawking.  I rushed in to hear what was going on and found out that a person in the park had been injured.  I listened and chimed in a few times while the rangers helped the person and called an ambulance for them.  They handled it well though and didn't need me.

Thought of the Day #27
Today was a good day.  Everything went relatively smoothly and my coworkers were in good moods because it was Friday.  Everyone was looking forward to the upcoming long weekend... except those of us who have to work.  I'm sure that today was the calm before the storm for me as tomorrow starts Memorial Day Weekend.  I am happy to see some rain in the forecast which will definitely help with crowd control.  After typing that last sentence, I am realizing how much things have changed for me since arriving at Wekiwa.  At Troy, I was always wishing for a few more visitors, and here sometimes I wouldn't mind a few less visitors.  Maybe there is a park in my distant future that will be juuuust right.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sparks May Fly

Today was primarily an office day, but it was an exceptionally busy one.  My coworker was off today, so I was administrative and field supervisor.  The field supervision was easy, there was almost no one in the park today.  Wednesday-Friday we usually have a full crew.  Today, however, it was a skeleton crew.  Two rangers had to take time off because they worked 16 hour days on Wednesday helping another park burn.  One ranger that was supposed to be in the main area of the park was helping the north field ranger with his duties because two people were necessary.  Still another ranger went to help another park burn.  Fortunately, it wasn't a busy day in the park and we still had enough people to cover the essential positions.
In the office, I had projects from yesterday that were waiting on phone calls or e-mails or decisions.  I realized partially through my day that very little was crossed off of my To-Do list, but I had accomplished quite a bit.  I actually added things to my list just so that I could cross them off.
Another challenge was added to my day because of computer troubles.  When I arrived at the office this morning, I found out that my battery back-up had passed away.  They don't die quietly though.  They put out an ear-splitting beep at a pace that is infrequent enough that you let your guard down and forget about it until it startles you with another yelp.  I unplugged it and turned it off and moved my computer over to an unprotected outlet.  I made a mental note to save often and requested that a new battery back-up be ordered.  The power surges that likely were the death of my battery back-up also took out something that affected our local server.  Most of my computer functions were just fine, but I couldn't access some files that I needed for several hours.  E-mail and the internet were up and down again, but I wasn't too affected by those issues.
All morning, I kept telling myself to take lunch early.  Something happens at noon everyday that makes me the center of attention.  I suddenly have calls every few minutes, questions from the rangers, things that I need to ask people or get from people.  Chaos happens everyday from noon-four.  I haven't found a way to avoid it yet.  I didn't get to lunch early, like I knew that I should have.  There was always one more thing that I was almost done with and wanted to finish.  I think I finally ate lunch around 1:30 or 2:00.  I did get quite a bit taken care of this afternoon though.  Despite a 3:00 shut down of all the office computers to allow the server issue to be solved, I was able to finally cross off almost everything that had been on my To-Do list and a few more items as well.
I must have been busy because it wasn't until around 3:30 when I was pumping gas and forced to stand still that I realized that I didn't have my camera all day.  I guess it didn't matter if I didn't even know it was gone.  I made sure to take a walk around the yard to capture some photos for the blog when I got home.  So here is what I found.
A new flower emerged from a giant clump of greenery that was growing behind our back porch.  I haven't found a name for it yet.  The color in the photo is a little deceptive.  The flowers were a pale purple even though they are almost white in the photo.

I found several very small Garden Orb Weavers around the house.  They are very quick, intelligent spiders.  The white, thumbprint sized area in the center of the web serves as a shield when the spider needs it.  When a human with a camera in hand approaches, it is able to quickly dart to the other side of the web and hide.  This was the third spider that I had attempted to photograph, this one was either trusting or stupid.  Either way, it was nice to get such a close image.

I revisited the Aloe that I had been waiting on for a bloom.  It was a little anti-climactic.  The blooms were not much different from the buds.  The end opened up and then the flower died... not very exciting, Aloe.  It is still a very beneficial plant for sun burns though, I won't hold a grudge.

Near the Aloe, I glanced at a Beauty Berry Bush was getting quite large as they are prone to do.  I noticed something that I had never seen before though.  They have very tiny, discrete flowers!  The berries that come later are so large, bright and conspicuous.  It was a treat to see the little beauties.

Thought of the Day #28
I have to apologize to my loyal readers.  This post is very late.  I was about 3/4 of the way done with this post when the food that I had put into the oven for dinner was ready.  I took a break to eat, but just as I was pulling the food out of the oven, my work phone rang.  How does it always know when dinner is ready?  A ranger was calling to let me know that she had driven by and noticed a power pole near our gate sparking.  I went out to take a look and it was steadily sparking and flaring up.  I had quite a struggle to notify the electric company.  I eventually had to contact the fire department because after an hour of calling and waiting on hold, I hadn't gotten any response from the electric company.  The fire department was able to notify the appropriate people and I was grateful that they relieved me of my post, watching the sparks.  By 12:30pm, after more calling and frustration, the problem was fixed.  A fuse on the pole had given out and it was evidently the cause of the power surges that we had been having.  We were without power from 10:00-12:30 and by the time the whole ordeal was over, I was headed to bed.  Thank goodness for the auto-save function on Blogger.  I still had the post that I had started.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back to the Grind

Now that I'm finished with all of my days off this week and I am back to work to stay for a few days, the week is ending.  My week will continue through Sunday, but in the office, everyone was scrambling to get things done.  We are still in the mad dash to wrap up our budget before the fiscal year ends in June.  We have almost reached the deadline to stop using our purchasing cards so that the payments process this year.  We are rushing to get all of the things that we need while we have the money.  I spent most of the morning calling and pestering a business that needed to get me a quote and a cleaning company that needed to e-mail information about the work that they did weeks ago.  By 3:00 I had reached a point where I couldn't get anything else done because I was waiting on responses from others. 
The majority of my day was spent in the office.  I did find a few bugs hanging around the office porch to share with you.  One is a variety of Tussock Moth caterpillar.  They have very distinctive tufts of fur at each end that stick out further than the rest of their fuzz.  You have seen some other Tussock Moth caterpillars here and here.  This is a head-on view of its face.

Near the caterpillar, I found an Assassin Bug Nymph.  When it grows up, the orange, spiky mouth part that you see will be much more intimidating.  It will use that mouth part to stab other insects to feed. 

I did get out of the office for a little while after lunch.  All of the park staff joined forces to patrol the spring area when we heard that a rowdy group was coming into the park.  A "senior skip day" tradition had started with a local high school.  For the past few years, the groups that came had caused a lot of trouble.  I had heard stories of stolen food from a family in a pavilion and a ruined birthday cake, rotten eggs, and bullets found in the woods.  Everyone was on guard for what the group might bring this year.  Overall, the group was good.  They were rowdy high school seniors, but for the most part, they were respectful.  We had to watch closely and catch problems right away, but they were responsive to our requests.  I stuck around for a while, but I saw that there was no major trouble and the Rangers were doing a great job.  I finished up what I could in the office and then went back to check on the crowds one more time.  Most of the people were on their way out.  I heard reports of a stun gun and a boxing match from the rangers, but they were stopped immediately.  You just never know what to expect, but I am more and more impressed every time I see the Rangers jump into action together to tackle a big situation.  They really are like a family.  They pick on each other and complain about each other, but when someone is a threat to the park, they work well as a team.
Before heading home, I took a quick walk around the Wet-to-Dry Trail.  I was taking a look at the accessibility of the trail.  We have a group coming in next week for a tour.  The majority of the trail is a wooden boardwalk and is accessible.  Where the boardwalk ends though, there is a sandy, bumpy and hilly trail to the picnic area.  Anyone on wheels or needing stable, flat ground would have to turn around on the boardwalk and return the way that they came.  I had to look again to make sure that there was enough clearance to turn.  My Manager and I discussed it later and while ADA regulations are often on our minds, we remembered the layout of the trail much differently that it really is.  I'm glad I took another look.  While I was on the trail, I saw a Dragonfly that was a different color from the blue and green ones that I see in my yard most often.

I also saw a large Skink.  While I stood there and took its picture, two park visitors walked up behind me.  I started talking to them about the Skink when another one arrived.  While we stood there and watched, at least three other Skinks scurried through the area.  I believe that they were all Broadhead Skinks, but the female and young Broadhead Skinks look very much like another, Five-Lined Skink.  They are usually somewhat solitary creatures, but they usually lay eggs in the summertime.  I imagine its time for them to make friends.

On my way back through the picnic area to my truck, I passed another Dragonfly.  I know I have photographed one like this before, but it seemed to be studying the sign.  I thought it was funny.  The Dragonfly obeyed the sign too... it didn't bring a grill or a pet past that point.

Thought of the Day #29
Crowd control can be a delicate beast to deal with.  Everyone in the park paid their entrance fee and deserves to enjoy the park the way that they want to as long as they are following the rules.  Different people enjoy the park in different ways though and it can be a difficult balance between visitors sometimes.  Some groups come to the park to enjoy the peaceful serenity of nature.  Some people come to the park to play in the water and have fun with friends.  Both groups deserve to enjoy themselves, but its up to the Rangers to make sure that they can compromise with each other.  Its hard sometimes.  All we can do is use the rules and policies in place to guide our decisions to make sure that we are fair and reasonable to everyone involved.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time-Out Tuesday

Today was a very quiet day off.  It was a rainy day, so there was not much outdoor activity to be had.  I did make it out between showers to study the Scarlet Milkweed a little more. It really is a stunning flower and I wasn't the only one who thought so.  This little ant was posing so perfectly while it inspected the flower even closer than I did.

I was having a great time with that, and even found some Dragonflies who would let me chase them with the camera.

My camera batteries had other plans for me though.  They quit after the dragonfly.  That was the end of photos for the day, but I did run out to get more batteries, so I am ready for tomorrow.

Thought of the Day #30
I was grateful for the rain today.  When I mowed my lawn on Sunday, I noticed how dusty everything was.  It had really been getting dry.  The rain helped knock the dust back down and hopefully it will get more grass started in the yard.  The rain is also important if we want to continue burning.  We can't do any prescribed fire if everything gets too dry.  We need a little rain from time to time to make sure that a prescribed fire is safe.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Milkweed Monday

Today was a typical Monday.  I spent the morning in meetings.  We had our daily staff meeting at the shop and then the Monday Morning meeting with the administrative staff.  We looked at the week ahead and spent a lot of time talking about money.  The end of June is the end of our fiscal year.  We are working hard to effectively utilize every bit of money available to us before it is gone and the new budget is upon us.
When the meetings were over, I went back to my office, where I stayed for the majority of my day.  I worked on getting organized for the week, and made progress on a few projects.  The floor cleaning estimate that was scheduled for today was rescheduled for tomorrow, my co-worker will have to take care of it.  I don't like leaving my projects for someone else to finish, but we need to get the estimates in and the work done on this budget year.  I also got prices and purchased a new box blade, which is a tractor attachment that smooths our dirt roads.  I processed honor fees for three park entrances and did the associated paperwork.  I also spoke to someone about one possibility for replacing the bridge over the spring area.
It was a busy paper-pushing day, but I did steal a few glimpses of the beautiful outdoors.  The Milkweed Plant outside of my front door had burst into bloom by the time I got home for lunch.  The yellow color was a surprise to me!  I had seen the tight, crimson buds and had expected flowers the same color.  This is a Scarlet Milkweed and though it isn't a native Florida plant, it has established here.  It fits in well with our Florida habitats.  It does have predators and it grows well here, but doesn't overgrow.  It is also a favorite plant of the Monarch Butterfly.  I will have to keep an eye out for more butterflies.  I will definitely be revisiting this flower with my macro lens tomorrow.

I also had the opportunity to walk down to the spring area, late this afternoon.  I was initially surprised by how many vehicles were in the parking lot on a Monday afternoon and shocked at all of the people around the spring.  It was a pretty busy day!  As I walked toward the water though, I noticed the sky getting darker and darker.  By the time I was at the water, the thunder began to rumble in the distance and the crowds were quickly dispersing.  The weather was absolutely perfect at that moment.  The air was warm but there was a cool breeze.  I took a few seconds to enjoy the view from the bridge over the spring, looking out onto the lagoon which leads to the river.  I just love to watch an incoming storm.

There was a little bit of rain, but not much at all.  The storm left just as quickly as it came.  It led to a nice, quiet evening at the park.

Thought of the Day #31
Tomorrow is another day off.  It almost seems silly to have two days off, one day on, and one day off again.  I think I like the new schedule though.  When I return on Wednesday, I will have to work six days in a row, but that beats the eight days in a row that I worked with the other schedule.  Strange and rotating schedules are something common to Park Rangers.  We work when other people recreate.  We have to be here on weekends and holidays, because that is when people most want to come to the parks.  There are different rotations at all of the state parks in Florida.  Each park finds what works best for their crowds, and their Rangers.  I think that my favorite schedule was to work four 10-hour days and have three days off in a row.  It was also nice when I had a set schedule at Troy, and didn't have to keep track of rotations.  One thing that I like about my schedule these days is that I rarely have to work into the evening.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yard Day

On Day Two of my weekend, I slept late, relaxed all day, and then used the cooler evening hours to get some yard work done.  My neighbor, the still-to-be-named Gopher Tortoise, was trying to politely tell me that my yard needed attention.  She was out there this afternoon trying to trim things back a bit on her own.

While I was outside, sitting perfectly still to photograph the Tortoise, a flock of Turkeys snuck up behind me.  They moved through the yard and pecked around a bit.  They didn't stay long, they were apparently appalled by the unkempt tall grass.

To appease the wildlife, I finally went to get the weed eater and the lawn mower once the afternoon sun was gone.  My fiance trimmed up all of the edges and I mowed the yard.  When I was done, I had to leaf blow all of the concrete surfaces, the cars, and myself because of all of the dust that I blew around with the mower.  I may have to mow another four or five times before all of the leaf mess is ground up and gone.  Between the leaf dust and the sand, mowing this lawn is a very messy job.  It was well worth it though.  The yard looks much better, I hope that the wildlife will approve as well.  Take a look at the before and after of the yard.

Front Yard

Back Yard

Thought of the Day #32
I was being a little silly in the blog today.  Of course, the animals don't care about the length of my grass.  The Gopher Tortoise was just feeding, not trying to trim the yard.  Don't worry though, there is still plenty of tall grass at the edges of the yard for the Tortoise.  She had also returned to her burrow long before I started mowing.  Don't forget to place your vote for your favorite Gopher Tortoise name!  Once you select your choice, you can see how everyone else is voting.