Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lazy Day

I am off this weekend.  I spent a lazy day at home today.  It was pretty uneventful.  I served as a pillow for my lap dog, a Great Dane named Dozer.  I did make it out just before a rain storm to catch some photos.  I found some flowers in bloom and plenty of insects enjoying those flowers.
I am amazed by the staying power of the Scarlet Milkweed near my front porch.  Each individual flower doesn't last more than a week, but when one fades away, another is right behind it to takes its place.  The Ants just love these flowers.  There must be some sweet nectar inside.  I caught one Ant diving head first into a flower.

At the end of my driveway, I found a plant that I had never seen before.  I thought that the little pods would open into flowers and planned on checking back in a day or two.  When I looked a little closer, I saw that there were some flowers emerging.  I had assumed that the whole pod would open into a flower, but it appears that only a tiny flower pokes out of the top.  Fluffy seeds form in the pod, similar to the seed of a Dandelion.

Nearby, I found another little purple flower.  I think that Florida has a lot of tiny purple flowers.  I also think that I need a better wildflower field guide.

In the back yard, yet another purple flower was still in bloom.  I have photographed this one before, but I still don't have a name for it.  I even showed it to one of our District Biologists.  She thought that it may be a non-native that was planted to attract butterflies.  I haven't seen any butterflies on it yet, but one Bee was loving every single blossom.

Thought of the Day #5
Blogging has done wonders for my organizational skills.  In addition to the journaling of information that I mentioned on another day, I have catalogued my photos extremely well.  For starters, I made sure that the time and date on my camera were set correctly.  I also now have a folder on my computer for every single day of the past year.  Its amazing how often that comes in handy.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Today was another hot spring (yep, still not summer) day.  The temperature was in the high 90's and the heat index was over 100.  We also had high humidity.  If that wasn't enough, we put fire on the ground!  We did another prescribed burn today and it went very well despite the weather conditions.
The zone that we burned was mostly Wiregrass and Pine Trees.  There were a few scattered Oaks as well.  The zone was burned just two years ago so it was really in good shape.  There wasn't a lot of fuel that had built up, but just enough Wiregrass and Pine needles to carry fire along.  We were a little concerned with the weather conditions at first.  Our burn boss made a wise decision to decrease the size of the burn because we had very low winds, which allowed them to change direction easily and the humidity was very high, which made ignition difficult sometimes.  When we lit our test fire at the beginning, I was a little worried that this would be a long, hard day.  The fire didn't move at all, it just went out.  It seemed like it was going to take a lot of work to get a fire to carry through the zone.  Fortunately things turned around.  As we moved down the line a little, we found better fuels that were in the direct sun so they were a little drier.  It still took some work to get started though.  One person lit the edge of the zone and I walked in to paint stripes of fire a little further in.  The strips of fire pulled toward each other to burn out each area a little better.  As it got later in the day and we moved into more open areas, we finally had a little wind on our side from time to time and that helped push the fire along.  I did a lot of walking in the woods next to fire and got pretty hot.  Before too long, I needed to take a break in the air conditioned truck.  Fortunately, we had enough people that we could rotate our jobs as we needed to.
We started on the east line of the zone.  Once we rounded the corner to the south line, I was refreshed an ready to go.  I was able to just walk along the edge of the zone and light as I went.  The wind was pushing the fire into the zone and we were able to just move right along without much work.

It was neat to be able to watch the fire from the east line move across the zone towards us.  We had to slow down about half way through to give the crew on the west line enough time to get their side burned out before our fire made it to them.  While we waited, our afternoon storm came to visit.  The approaching storm brought some stronger winds and they were shifting around a little.  We needed to get the whole area lit before the storm came along and put it out.  Some people from our team went to help the team on the west side finish up their line and I continued to creep along, slowly bringing my line towards them.  I had the time to enjoy some wildflowers while I waited.  I saw some of my favorites, the Purple Passion Flower.  There were also a few other tiny purple flowers that I caught a quick shot of.

When our ignition was complete and the sky was getting darker, we all got into our trucks and enjoyed our lunches in the air conditioning, a rare occurrance.  We were hoping that the storm would arrive while we waited and put out the fire for us.  We heard some thunder and saw a lot of dark clouds, but the storm decided to dance around us.  In fact, the road was wet as we drove back to the shop after the burn and there were even a few drops when we got back, but nothing on the burn zone.

After we gave the fire a chance to burn a little, we mopped up what was still burning near the edges and called it a day.  There was very little mop up because the fuel burned well.  There was not much on the ground aside from Wiregrass and Pine needles.  There weren't many branches on the ground and there were just a few dead trees at the edges.  We had to drop the dead trees that were burning at the edge of the zone to make sure that they didn't spread any embers into neighboring zones overnight, but there was only one such tree that I saw.  We put out just a couple of other places where there was still fire smoldering and we were done.

When we got back to the shop, we had to prep the trucks for their next use.  We filled up all of the fuel containers and topped off the gas in the pump.  We used almost no water, so we didn't have to fill the water tank this time.  We put our gear away and headed home.  It felt like a very easy day on the fire line.  When I got home though, I started getting a headache.  I knew that I had been drinking plenty of water and I didn't feel overheated or dehydrated.  It ended up that I needed more electrolytes and some Gatorade fixed me right up.  Next time I burn in this heat, I will be sure to bring more than just water.

Thought of the Day #6
I have enjoyed the feedback on my photos through the blog posts.  I have really gotten a lot of encouragement from others with my photography.  Its also interesting to hear which photos really excite people and which photos are just so-so.  I think that I often have a different opinion about what my best photos are than other people.  I don't know if that is because of the meaning that the photos have to me as they hold a memory of a time and place for me or because of what I see in them from photography classes.  Sometimes other people will love a particular photo and I won't because it doesn't follow the "rules" of photography.  The blog has been fun because the feedback that I get from people remind me that some rules are meant to be broken from time to time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thoughtful Thursday

Today was a laid back day.  It was too hot to stay very busy outside.  We are now at the very end of our fiscal year and can't do any more spending, so any projects that need supplies are on hold until we get our new budget information.  Most of the administrative staff was squeezing in some time off while they could and some of the rangers as well.  I myself am only working a half day today, so the blog will be posting nice and early today.
Even with the slow pace of the day, I managed to get some things done and even got to explore the park a little more today.  I took care of paperwork in the morning.  We are saying goodbye to a temporary employee today, so I did her termination paperwork.  She was one of our clean-up people, so I decorated a toilet brush (a clean one, of course) with her name and a thank you note.  Everyone had a good laugh about it.  We also had some other park service trinkets around that I gave her to remember us.

Later in the morning, I was dropping some paperwork off at the ranger station and I got a call to come back to the office with my camera.  A Barred Owl was perched above the courtyard in front of the office.  A group of office personnel had gathered to watch the owl and as each person arrived, the owl moved its neck around to get a good look.  We all agreed that the owl was enjoying people watching today.

In the afternoon, I drove out to the Youth Camp to meet with one of the directors to coordinate some canoe transport.  They are beginning their staff training and the kids will start arriving on Sunday.  The Youth Camp is really coming to life and its fun to see.  I had a good view of the "bowl" behind the Rec Hall at the youth camp while I was out there.  It was just burned last month and most people would never know to look at it.  I love that fuzzy look that the new Wiregrass gives the ground.

While I was in the area, I drove out to the Primitive Youth Camp for the first time.  There are three campsites deep in the woods for scout groups and other organized youth groups.  The road to the Primitive Youth Camp is over a mile long and it really feels like you are getting away from everything.  On my way out there, I came across another Softshell Turtle.  I'm sure that she was considering the road as a good place to lay her eggs.  I'm glad that I came along at the right time to convince her otherwise.  Her shell is very interesting from the back, it looks like a big helmet.

When I made it to the Primitive Youth Camp, I was in awe.  It was a beautiful area, full of Live Oaks.  The entrance to the camping area is marked by a bridge that crosses a depression that evidently has water in it sometimes.  The bridge was made last year by an Eagle Scout.  There are three campsites, each with benches around a fire ring and a couple of picnic tables.  There are even restrooms way out in the woods.  They are primitive sites though, so the restrooms are just a step above an outhouse.  They do have running water though.  I think they are very nice for being primitive site restrooms.

When I was back in the main area of the park, I was about to walk down to the spring.  It was looking much busier than the last few Thursdays I have seen.  The hot weather and the end of school have definitely increased our visitation.  Before I made it to the spring though, I got called back to the office to meet with a person who is holding an event at one of our distant properties over the weekend.  I went over some details with him and then decided to call it a day.  I don't know how many more quiet days like this I will have this summer, so I might as well take advantage of them while I can.

Thought of the Day #7
I enjoy hearing reactions to my blog.  Quite often, I get calls or e-mails from friends, family and co-workers who want to talk about something they saw on the blog.  Sometimes it surprises me to know who has been following it each day.  Sometimes I feel like a celebrity.  I have been at work taking a picture of something and hear someone pipe up "oh, is this going to be on the blog!?"  Its fun, this has been my 365 days of fame.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In The Box

My day was rather uneventful, another day in the office.  My evening last night was a little more exciting.  Somewhere around 9:00pm, I got word that lightning had started a wildfire at one of our northern properties.  There were already some park staff and two of our fire trucks on the scene, but they asked me to bring another truck and call in some more park staff.  When I arrived, the county fire department was there as well.  The crew that arrived first had battled the fire a little, but the humidity was on our side and it remained manageable.  If it was left overnight though, there was no telling what it might do as the weather conditions changed.  The Division of Forestry also responded to help with the matter and they had equipment to create a firebreak around the fire.  There wasn't much that we could do aside from wait for the firebreak to be put in.   The majority of us headed home.  We didn't do much and I never actually saw the fire, but it was a good exercise. 
Today, several people went back to the fire with a crew from the Division of Forestry to work on further containing the fire.  It was still burning so they burnt out a little more of it to make sure that there was no fuel around the fire, no way for it to spread.  We will have to check it again tomorrow, but it is under control.  Hopefully it rained up there this evening. 
I didn't get to join the group at the fire today because I had to finish up the webinar training program that I have been participating in for the past few weeks.  Before the webinar started at 9:00, I had to send an e-mail, reporting the fire to all of the people who oversee the park from above.
By lunchtime, the webinar was over and my training was complete.  I still had more work to do in the office though.  I responded to some e-mails that I had flagged earlier in the week that needed attention.  I reported a staff injury to our workers compensation line.  I wrote up a memo to inform staff of some down time in a program that we use to report our hours.  I got out of the office only a couple of times to take care of a few things here and there.  I had to help receive and relocate a shipment of 1100 pounds of doggie poo bags (don't worry, they were new bags).  I also paid a visit to the ranger station.  It was another wildly hot and humid day.  The temperature was in the high 90's but the real feel temp was 109!!! I was glad that I wasn't on the fireline.
The day was over before I knew it and once again, I hadn't taken any photos.  When I got home though, I took my dog out and found a giant juvenile Lubber hiding from the rain under the roof of my back porch.  It is almost full sized at about two inches long, but it has not yet changed to its adult coloration.  It wings are also just starting to grow.  It is an awkward teenager at the moment.

Thought of the Day #8
With my shift in job positions from Park Ranger to Assistant Park Manager, I do less of one part of my job that I truely love.  Interpretation is my passion.  I really enjoy teaching people about the environment and helping them to discover and connect with their surroundings.  This blog has given me the opportunity to continue to interpret the things that I see with people, even if they are not park visitors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stormy Tuesday

Today was my usual day off.  We had considered going fishing, but the hot and sticky weather made us decide against it.  Instead, we stayed inside and even had someone come over to inspect our air conditioner to make sure that it is ready for the summer.  It needs to have its coils cleaned and some loose fan blades are making an irritating noise, but all is well other than those small issues.
In the early afternoon, a storm arrived.  The rumbling thunder came first.  Soon after, there was lightening and more thunder.  One giant FLASH-BOOM later, shook us.  The power flashed off and on again.  It was even powerful enough that the phone rang once!  I was really glad for the surge suppressors that we installed less than a month ago on our good TV and the computer.
I went out once today to run a few errands.  There were tree branches and leaves coating all of the roads and neighboring yards from the storm.  One store's lighted sign at the road was laying in shards around its posts.  It was either struck by lightening or a surge made it burst.  It was really something.  The storm didn't last long, but it was intense.  What a great day to be inside!
I did get out for just a minute to take some photos.  I had to wait a few minutes for my foggy lens to clear, but I captured some lovely rain drops that had remained on the Coral Honeysuckle.

I also spotted a Regal Jumping Spider who was enjoying the shelter of my porch.  I know that most people would, but I don't mind sharing my porch with this beautiful spider.  It won't leave webs all over the place, but it will pounce on any other insect invaders.
Thought of the Day #9
Another reason that I have enjoyed blogging is the journal that it  has become.  It is so nice to have a reference when I am at work as to when I did something.  My time sheet is submitted monthly and not only do I record my time, but also a module number that reflects how my time was spent.  There is a code for prescribed fire, park maintenance, training, working with volunteers, helping park visitors, etc.  I will admit that I don't always stay on top of filling out my time sheet regularly, but it is easy to look back at the blog at the end of the month and know what I have been doing all month.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mojave Monday

Today was another normal Monday.  We had our usual morning meeting at the shop, followed by an administrative meeting in the office.  I reported to the group about the uneventful weekend and heard everyone's plans for the week.  I did a little office work after the meeting and somehow, 11:30 rolled around before I knew it.  I headed north to the distant areas of the park for a weekly visit.  I was hoping to see some more of the wildflowers that I caught last week.  To my surprise, there were almost no flowers this time.  They must have all melted, it has been hot and dry this week.   The only ones that I saw have been photographed thoroughly on the blog.  To be honest, I didn't mind that there weren't any good photo ops, I wasn't really looking forward to standing in the hot sun to take pictures.  The temperature got up to 97 degrees today and with the humidity, it felt more like 103.  Can you believe that it isn't even summer yet?  We still have another week of spring!
When I got to Katie's Landing, there were a few things to see.  A Dragonfly was on the ground near my truck.  I snuck up to it slowly to take its picture, but soon realized that it wouldn't fly away from me.  It was dead, but it was still a good opportunity for a photo.  This dragonfly is called a Red Saddlebags for obvious reasons.  The "saddlebags" on its wings may have a purpose aside from a pretty design.  The dark area makes the Dragonfly look bigger which may be in its best interest.  It is also speculated that the design might make the Dragonfly look like a wasp, and who would mess with a wasp?

Near the river, some Ducks had the right idea.  What a good day for a swim!  I guess if you are a duck, every day is a good day for a swim.  There were also some Mullet leaping out of the water.  I'm sure that they appreciated the cool water that they live in even more after a trip through the hot, humid air.

I stopped for some lunch on the way back to the main area of the park, then I headed back to the office.  I did the paperwork associated with the properties that I visited today and thought that I would sneak away home a little early to make up for my late weekend days.  I stopped at the ranger station to enter a deposit into the computer, and to post a new schedule.  I made the mistake of answering the phone though while the rangers were busy.  I thought it would be a quick question that I could answer, like it usually is.  It was a person wanting to rent a pavilion.  I started the call, I figured that I might as well finish what I started.  I took the reservation and did all of the paperwork.  Then I was put on hold to be transferred to the person who would be paying for the pavilion.  I waited, and waited.  Two of the rangers who had come in to cool off left.  Another ranger got ready to go home because it was that time.  I finally gave up.  I called back the number that they gave me and asked that when the person was available that he call the ranger station.  I didn't make it home early, but at least I made it home on time.

Thought of the Day #10
Ten days left of my 365 days!!  What a year!  I am looking forward to having a little more free time once the blog is over, but it has still been a great experience.  I guess for my last ten days, I will tell you ten reasons why I have enjoyed blogging about my job.  Where should I start?!  It has been wonderful to press my photography a little.  My best work prior to the blog had been when I was taking photography classes in school and was given assignments to complete.  I had to take photos based on a specific theme or topic.  Sometimes the photos were so-so if I wasn't interested in the topic, but quite often, I came up with images that I was proud of.  Without an assignment, quite often my camera stayed at home.  The blog became my assignment again and reminded me to keep taking photos.  Just like in school, some of the photos were ordinary or just told the story of the day.  I have had some great moments though that captured the magic of the natural world around me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Super Busy Sunday

Today was another relatively tame weekend day.  It was a little more challenging than yesterday, but that isn't saying much.  We were busy.  There were a lot of people that wanted to come to the park today and we had to send a lot of people away because we had reached our capacity.
The day started out the way that most Sundays do though.  We were slow in the morning.  People get a late start on Sundays because of church or sleeping in or whatever.  Once the ranger station was open and things were all set there, I took the rare opportunity to check out the park for a little while.  I took a walk around the spring.  There were quite a few people swimming laps in the spring.  There were a couple of families that got there early to get the best picnic spots, but most of the people there in the morning were regulars who were exercising themselves and/or their dogs before the heat and the crowds set in.  When I got to the lagoon area between the spring and the river, it was very peaceful.  It really made me want to go kayaking though.

I felt a little sad when I got to the top of the hill and some of the park staff were coming my way.  They asked me what was wrong because usually they only see me in the spring area if something needs attention or if there is a problem.  I really need to find the time to get out into the park more often.
I drove out to the other end of the park next to the Sand Lake parking area.  Along the 2 mile park drive, I enjoyed seeing the sun filtering through the trees.  I was also happy to find a very large group of deer grazing just off of the drive.  There was a mother with her yearling and her young fawn.  There were also two or three other does.  A little ways away there were two bucks who had some very fuzzy new antlers growing.  I thought that I would be able to get some great pictures because they were standing in such a nicely lit area.  The vegetation in my way and finding out later that my camera was not set to the settings that I intended led to photos that were not what I expected, but its still nice to capture the moment.

The park looked great.  Most of the mowing had been done at the end of the week, so the park really looked nice, the way that it should.  On my way back from the Sand Lake, I spotted a turtle in the road.  At first I thought that it was a Gopher Tortoise, a normal sighting.  As I moved closer to it to get it out of the road, I realized that it was a Box Turtle!!!  I couldn't believe it.  I had just been talking about Box Turtles with a coworker yesterday.  I had told him that they are not very common and I would like to see one because I had never seen a Box Turtle in Florida.  I used to see them regularly when I worked at a nature center in Delaware.  Box Turtles spend most of their time on land, but they will go to water sometimes to cool off or to catch some food.  They are unique because if threatened, they don't just retract their limbs into their shell, they also can close a garage door like flap to seal up their shell.  It would be very difficult for a predator to find a soft place on a Box Turtle.

After the Box Turtle sighting, I moved it off of the road and continued on my way.  I stopped one more time to photograph a lovely yellow flower that I had seen along the park drive.  There were several of them sparsely dotting the Sandhill areas along the drive.  I believe that they are Rabbit Bells.  Shortly after I took this photo was when I realized that my camera was not set up the way that I expected.  The photo is a little darker than I would have liked it, but it was a neat, accidental effect.

The flower photo was the last one that I took today.  I returned to the ranger station and things began to pick up a little.  A steady line of two or three cars became a steady line of eight or ten cars and by 10:00 there was a line out to the road that stayed that way until well into the afternoon.  We finally reached our capacity shortly after 11:00.  When we closed and began turning people away, they weren't mean, but everyone had a question or a comment.  It was hard to keep the traffic moving.  I am definitely getting more comfortable with the process though.  I am much more confidant with my answers to the common questions, complaints, and comments.  I watched a lot of very patient people pass by me over and over again as they circled and waited to get into the park.  It was nice to rejoice with them when they did finally get into the park.  We stayed closed until around 3:30.  We were able to open for five or ten cars at a time several times throughout that period, but people were coming to the park in droves.  This was the longest lasting crowd that I have seen so far here, it seemed to be never-ending.  Things finally began to slow down after 5:00 and fewer people were trying to come into the park.  The crowds in the park were pretty well behaved.  It was a good day, just a hot and busy one.

Thought of the Day #11
The early morning park visitors have it made.  They are annual pass holders who have requested after-hours permits.  The Annual Park Pass is good for all of the 160+ Florida State Parks (with just a couple of exceptions for parks with a higher fee).  The after-hours permits are park specific because not all parks are able to allow after-hours visitors.  The after-hours visitors can come into the park two hours before or after the park's normal hours.  This works out well for people who come to exercise and want to avoid the crowds or the heat of the day.  It is also great for photographers who want to catch the morning or evening light.  We see a lot of people who walk, jog, or bike and then take a dip in the spring.  There are also quite a few people who use the spring as a lap pool, as I saw this morning.  The Annual Park Pass at $60 per year for an individual or $120 for a family is cheaper than most gym memberships and I'm sure the scenery is much better than the gym.