Saturday, June 12, 2010

Easy Peasy

Day one of my weekend went pretty smoothly.  The repeater for our radios was making a horrible noise yesterday, but it had been off since then.  Apparently the time off was just what it needed and we didn't have any radio troubles today.  There were no pavilion rentals today, so there were no large groups in the park.  It was definitely a summer weekend, but it was a tame one.  We didn't have to close the park because of overcrowding until almost noon.  We stayed closed, aside from a few openings to let 5-15 cars in, until about 3:00.  There weren't any outbursts like the one on my last weekend.  People were kind and as understanding as they could be.  It was a pretty easy day.  We didn't have any accidents or injuries, everything ran smoothly.
It was still a busy day though, and I didn't have the opportunity to take many photos.  I snuck out of the ranger station during a quiet period in the morning and snapped  a photo of the flowers that were blooming in the garden in front of the ranger station.  This one is appropriately called a Firebush.  Not only are the flowers a bright red color, but the stems of each leaf have a reddish tint to them and I read that some bright red berries will follow the beautiful flowers.

One thing that was a little different today was the check-in/check-out processes in the campground.  We are no longer taking reservations in the campground because construction will start very soon on the sewer upgrades.  Until the construction starts and possibly during construction if they are able to work on one loop of the campground at a time, we will accept walk-in campers on a first-come, first-served basis.  As the walk-in check in takes longer than a reservation check in, a lot more time is dedicated to campers.  It is a time consuming process because all of the camper information has to be typed into the computer.  With more face-to-face time spent with the campers, there is more opportunity for chit chat and questions... which makes the information gathering process much longer.  Maybe this will make all of our park staff appreciate our sometimes frustrating reservation service a little more.

The day went by quickly because we stayed comfortably busy.  I even got home before 6:00!  It was a good day and I hope tomorrow will hold more of the same.

Thought of the Day #12
I'm sure that I am going to regret typing this, but I think that my weekend curse may have lifted.  The other Assistant Park Manager and I alternate weekends worked at the park.  Our Park Manager warned us that with Assistants in the past, one of them would have all of the bad weekends and one would have all of the smooth weekends.  It had begun to look like I was the unlucky one.  I was getting a lot of angry visitors and accidents and injuries and missing people while my coworker was getting away easily with very few issues.  My last weekend on and so far, this weekend have been very tame.  I'm glad, but it makes me a little nervous about what may come tomorrow.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Appreciate Your Water Heater

I have been a little cranky today and I am having a hard time getting started on the blog without letting this bad attitude show.  I will probably keep it short and sweet today so that I can stay a little closer to the sweet side of things.  I promise to get a good night of sleep tonight so that I am good as new for my weekend on.
The day started with the usual morning meeting and then back to the house with two of the Rangers.  Yesterday, the water heater at my residence sprung a big leak.  (Perhaps the mopping and cold shower this morning had something to do with my mood).  It seems as though the tank itself ruptured some how.  I was able to go out and purchase a new one yesterday evening and two people were able to come over this morning to install it.  It is so nice to have a person dedicated to repairs like this.  His expertise made the job go by quickly with few hangups.

I now have a nice, new water heater and it is even a bit of an upgrade from the last one.  A connection still needs to be made between the steam vent and the outlet pipe, but that will wait for another trip to the hardware store.  While they were there, they also installed the new flood light for the back yard that I purchased but had not yet installed.  I am actually looking forward to taking the dog out this evening to see how well it lights up the yard.  This fix also needs a little caulk and paint, all in due time though.

While the guys finished up with the repairs at my residence, I decided to make myself useful where I could.  I helped to clean a couple more cabins in the youth camp.  We were chasing spider webs and removing dust, sweeping floors and cleaning windows, and cleaning off the ceiling fans.  We took care of two cabins before lunch which left only two more to complete the job.

On my way home for lunch, I stopped to see a Soft-shell Turtle.  She was on a hike away from the water to find a place to lay her eggs.  You can still see duck weed on her back, which is an aquatic plant.  I gave her plenty of room because though they look big and slow, the Soft-shell can move her head quickly and deliver a strong and painful bite.  They are unusual looking turtles.  The pointy nose acts like a snorkel in the water so that the turtle can breathe without surfacing all the way.  Their shell is strong, but flexible enough to allow easy maneuverability through underwater obstacles like rocks or trees limbs.  Soft-shell turtles are mostly carnivorous,  eating fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. 

I witnessed another carnivore in action today, but I wasn't able to get a photo because I was driving and it was flying.  I saw a hawk flying overhead carrying something in its talons.  Its catch was dangling and at first, I thought it might be a snake.  As I watched though, my angle changed and I realized that the hawk was carrying a small squirrel.  It was just landing on a perch to enjoy its meal as it went out of my view.

The afternoon had a hodgepodge of issues that came up.  A tree limb was dangling above a walkway, just waiting to fall.  A man was looking for car keys that he lost last night.  Some hikers were lost on a trail and calling the ranger station via cell phone.  The ranger station was overloaded with registering campers, taking phone calls, and welcoming park visitors just as soon as the morning person left.  The park radios were acting up as well, producing a horrible and repetitive noise, making it a little more difficult to tackle all of the issues at hand.  We took care of everything and managed to get the youth camp cleaning and maintenance wrapped up as well.  I was glad to be home at the end of it all.

Thought of the Day #13
Happy Birthday Mom!!  Thanks for always making me go play outside.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I got to participate in another prescribed burn today.  It was nice to take a break from office stresses and other concerns to just work in the field.  The burn was not as exhausting as it could have been either, so that was nice.  We burned a small area to ensure that no one acquired any overtime as Thursday is the last day of our schedule week.  We were finished well within the work day and had time to prep all of the trucks for the next use.
I was stationed on one of the Fire Engines and just followed along to watch the fire while other people did the ignition.  The conditions in the burn zone today made my job easy.  Either the fuels burned well or they didn't burn at all.  There were only a couple of wind shifts that threatened to move some embers across our burn line, but nothing gave us any trouble.  The crew on the other side had a few more obstacles than we did, but overall the burn was quick and easy.  I had plenty of time to look around while I was watching the fire.  Before we even got started, I had already found some butterflies.  There were several Variegated Fritillaries fluttering around a very large Lantana.  You have seen Gulf Fritillaries on the blog before, they are a bright orange color.  The Variegated Fritillaries are a dull brown color, but have a similar pattern.

I also found more Meadow Beauty right next to the Lantana.  A LOT more.  There was a very large patch of it on the property where our fire was today.

At the edge of the burn zone, I found the prize for burning in the hot, summer sun.  There was some Wiregrass that had gone to seed.  Wiregrass needs summer fire to stimulate seed production.  Fire has been through this zone often enough to keep the Wiregrass in good shape.  The seeds are beautiful in the sun, they look like tiny glass beads.

I found someone else enjoying the Wiregrass as well.  This tiny Bagworm was moving, home and all, very quickly along the blades of grass.  I wonder if it was headed for cooler territory.  I have blogged about Bagworms before, but this one had a few differences in its structure.

The zone that we burned today had a lot of variety.  There were some open, grassy areas, some large Sabal Palms, some large Pines, and some Oaks.  There was a mixture of fuels to keep things interesting.  Some areas didn't burn well at all and others produced huge flames and a lot of heat.

When the big flames would die down, there were always more wildflowers to observe.  I caught some quick photos of some Daisy Fleabane.

Another tiny, white flower was much more independant and unique.  I only saw two individual stalks of this plant and each one had a solitary, three-petaled flower.

After the whole zone was lit, we gave it a little more time to burn what would burn and then we began mop-up to put out any hot areas near the edge of the zone.  There was almost no mop-up to be done.  It was really nice to have just a relaxing day on the fireline.

Thought of the Day #14
Fire and flowers seem like an odd combination.  The truth is though, that there would not be as many wildflowers without frequent fire.  The Sandhill ecosystem that we were in today would turn to Oak Hammock without fire.  Without human interference, fire would come through periodically, killing the dense Oaks and opening up the tree canopy.  When there is not dense tree cover, the sun can reach the ground and the wildflowers and grasses can flourish.  Because of the need to control fire to keep people and homes safe, we must assist the natural processes and administer prescribed fire to keep the Sandhills as they should be, open.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Training Day

Today was a long day, but I don't feel like I actually did a whole lot.  When I got in this morning, I had just enough time to get caught up on e-mails before I headed into the rest of my morning.  Today was the second part of the training that I attended last week, Volunteer Management Training.  For the first one, we met in person and the last two are being held via webinar.  We logon to a computer meeting and we can all view one person's computer desk top.  She was able to show us all a PowerPoint presentation while we were on a conference call together as well.  It saved us the travel expenses and it was a good way to get more information out to us, but it just can't fully substitute for face to face group discussion.  I finished up the webinar around lunchtime and headed home.
After lunch, I went back to the office to pay an invoice and to sign some purchasing card records.  When that was done, I headed to the Rec Hall for a talk about retirement investment options available to us.  It was nice to hear the information.  When I first started working for the parks, I was not at a point in my life where I knew what to plan for.  I wasn't sure if I would stay in Florida State Parks for a long time or not and I didn't take my retirement choices very seriously.  I'm glad to have the reminder to take another look at my options.  When that talk was over, I headed to the Dining Hall to see the progress that had been made.  It really looked fantastic and it is very nearly ready for the summer camp to begin.  The floor will be touched up a little more tomorrow, but the kitchen had been thoroughly cleaned and several surfaces refinished.  It looked great.  I also had a little time to chat with the Park Manager and the other Assistant Manager.  Outside of the Dining Hall, a Grape leaf that was burned in a prescribed fire was catching the sun just right.  It looked like it had been dipped in bronze.

We left the Youth Camp area a little after 4:00 and I was glad to be on my way home.  When I was just about to round the corner to be on the final stretch to the house, my phone rang.  Someone from the park office was calling because someone from the district office was calling because someone from Tallahassee was calling about time sheets that had not been finalized.  I bypassed my driveway and headed in to the office.  Last month, all of the time sheets had been submitted on time and there were no problems or issues.  I also had plenty of time to work on them last month.  This month, when I was pressed for time, there were missing time sheets, time sheets with errors, and overall silliness.  I finally made it home around 5:30.  Tomorrow will be a better day.

Thought of the Day #15
I am looking forward to the summer camp beginning in the Youth Camp.  The camp is run by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.  We have worked hard to prepare the facility for this big, annual event.  I am really craving the camp atmosphere as well.  I spent a lot of fantastic summers at summer camp.  I am interested to see this camp in action.  As a park, we are not involved in the camp aside from support of the facilities, but I think it will be fun to have a camp so close.  The camp staff will start arriving tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Flying Dragons

Today was my regular Tuesday off.  I love Tuesdays.  I had another relaxing day at home.  My fiance took the dog out at one point this afternoon and when he returned, he told me that I needed to get my camera and go outside.  He had discovered something interesting in the yard.  It was a big, white, fuzzy ball.  I snapped a few photos of it and then began probing it carefully with a stick.  I believe that this furry alien in the yard was a mushroom that became covered in a mold.  Mushrooms and mold are both types of fungus and both like warm, moist environments.  A mold spore must have found a moist home on the mushroom and flourished.

When that mystery was solved, I took a look around the yard.  It was a little cooler than it has been lately because of a welcome breeze.  It was sunny, but bearable in the shade thanks to the breeze.  I noticed that the yard was covered in Dragonflies!  They were zooming back and forth just a foot or two off of the ground.  They seemed to be hovering over the mowed areas of the yard.  There must have been some tasty bugs flying about.  The longer I stayed out, I began to notice that when the sun went behind a cloud, the Dragonflies would stop and perch.  When the sun came back out, they took flight again.  I wonder if the hunting was better in full sun or if their vision was better to see their prey.  How many Dragonflies do you see in this photo?

I believe that these are all the same type of Dragonfly, though I am hesitant to say exactly which type.  Dragonflies are very similar to one another and I am not certain about this one.  I am pretty sure though, that the yellowish Dragonfly is the female and the blue ones are males.  This particular guy was very patient and tolerant of me.  I was able to get several photos of it and even stick my macro lens right in its face.

Thought of the Day #16
The veins on a Dragonfly's wings are not in a random pattern like a finger print.  Each individual species of Dragonfly has a particular arrangement of veins on their wings.  They are part of an important structural design in the wing that keeps it strong and firm.  There is blood being circulated through the veins to keep them strong.  You may have seen some Dragonflies with spots on their wings.  The spots are blisters of blood which may add weight to the wings and reduce vibrations.  The Dragonfly eye is also rather intricate.  Up to 25,000 tiny lenses are working together to create one image for the Dragonfly.  I imagine it had a good laugh over my one, giant camera lens.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wildflower Day

Today was a normal Monday.  I met with the park staff in the morning at the shop and the administrative staff a little later in the office.  There wasn't much news to report.  We are all focused on two things right now; spending every last dime of our budget before it is gone at the end of this month and get ready for youth camp to begin at the end of this week.  It is a busy and stressful time of year for everyone, but we are just putting our heads down and working through it all.  It will all get better soon.
I got to take a trip out of the main part of the park today to head to the northern properties.  I really like taking the trip up there.  It is peaceful and I love being out in the field.  Today it was especially fun because there were so many wildflowers in bloom.  The hot days and afternoon rains have been just what the flowers needed.  There were so many flowers in bloom that I had to pass some of them up (I do still have a job to do) and even some that I photographed that will have to wait for a slower blog day.  I started at Rock Springs Run Reserve.  I drove down the entrance road and found the majority of the flowers along the road edge.  Before I even started seeing flowers though, I spotted some Wood Ducks in one of the ponds.

The first flower is not very showy.  The Blackroot doesn't have much color to its bloom.  It is just a big white cone.  The insects that it attracts bring a little life to the party though.  The bright colored beetle was easy to spot on the pale background of the flower.

Another beautiful white flower was on a tree.  The Loblolly Bays were in bloom and they were just stunning.  These trees are dependent on the ponds and marshy areas at Rock Springs Run Reserve.  Their roots do not go very deep into the ground so they would dehydrate quickly without a constant source of nearby water.

I had to lean over some Blackberry bushes to get close to the Loblolly Bay flower to take its picture.  I was so focused on the white flower that I didn't even see the berries at first.  I looked down to place my foot so that I could lean over the plants and saw that there were ripe berries.  After I took a few more photos of the flower and the berries, I had a little snack.  They were sweet and delicious.  I left plenty more for the wildlife.

The next place that I stopped had quite a few flowers as well.  This second area was further away from the ponds, in the drier grassy areas.  It was easy to see which side of the park drive got the most sun.  One side of the road was covered in beautiful flowers and the other had only a few.  The first flower that I photographed at this spot was appropriately named, Meadow Beauty.  It is a vibrant and fun flower.

Nearby, I found another purple flower.  This one I can't find a name for.  It is a delicate flower and it eventually becomes little tufts of fuzz.  It spreads it seeds the way that Dandelions do, via wind.  I like the jagged little edges on each petal.

The last flower that I photographed is also nameless for the time being.  It is very similar to a lot of other yellow wildflowers, but I couldn't find this one in my field guides.  It looked very nice with all of the purple flowers around it.

When I left Rock Springs Run, I headed to Katie's Landing.  It was the first time that I had been there since the bulkhead was completed.  It really looked good.  The park no longer looks 'under construction' and the bulkhead looks like it has been there for years.  It has come along way since I posted the last photos less than a month ago.

When I got park to the main area of the park, I went home for lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the office.  I finished up my first draft of a proposal for funds to rebuild the bridge at the spring.  It was nice to get that project out of the way.  My manager is looking it over now and I will add some more photos, but I'm glad to have the majority of it done.

Thought of the Day #17
It was fun to see so many new flowers today.  Its still amazing to me what a difference in vegetation there is just three hours south of where I had been at Troy.  I don't remember seeing any of the flowers that I showed today at Troy.  It makes me wonder how much of the difference is related to the excellent burn program here and how much is geographic.  I am glad to have the blog though, I wouldn't have looked up all of these flowers otherwise, I'm sure.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Soaked Sunday

Today was another rainy day off.  I got some laundry and some vacuuming done.  I was hoping to be able to take the dog for a long walk today, but when I took him out for the first time in the morning, it was too hot and humid for both of us.  The humidity was followed by some short thunderstorms and more humidity.  I managed to get out in the yard for some photos but I had to wait for my lenses to adjust to the conditions outside and for the fog to fade away from them.
I found a lot of the usual suspects and looked for any changes with the plants in the yard.  The spiders caught my eye today more than the flowers did.  The first one is a close look at an Orchard Orb Weaver.  I have shown you this little spider a few times before, but I don't think that I have caught the interesting pattern on its underside before.  It almost looks like a smiley face!

Another spider was close by.  A Basilica Spider had a web almost touching the Orb Weaver.  Like the Orb Weavers, the Basilica Spider is named for the web that it builds.  There is a big tangle of fine webbing surrounding a dome in the center of the web.  The spider waits below the dome for another insects to get stuck to its web.  You can see how fine the webbing is in this photo.  Its an easy web to miss.  This spider is about the same size as the Orchard Orb Weaver, only a millimeter or two long.  Without the macro lens, you wouldn't be able to see as much of this spiders beautiful patterns.

There is still Tropical Sage blooming all over the yard.  When the first one popped up, I watched it carefully.  Now that I see there is so much of it in all of my gardens, I haven't hesitated to mow it down in the areas outside of the gardens.

The Aloe had caught a little rain puddle from today's showers.  I imagine that some insects or maybe even a lizard or frog will benefit from this fresh pool of water.

I had to look closely, but some of the other plants were still hiding a few drops of water from the hot sun.

Thought of the Day #18
Plants usually take up water from the soil through their roots.  Excess water evaporates from the leaves and the cycle continues to pull water from the soil.  If needed though, plants can also take water back in through the leaves and distribute it to dry areas of the plant.  If the soils dry out from the heat of the Florida sun and the short afternoon rains do not soak the soil again, the leaves of the plants can pull water in to cool and moisten the plant.  Some plants, like the Aloe, are succulents and can store excess water for use later.