Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time Flies

I guess that time flies when you are having fun.  A lot of time has passed since I last blogged and that is regrettable.  I am a person who functions well with deadlines and if there is no deadline... well, there is little blogging.  I have still been taking photos.  I don't take pictures daily and I am really seeing a difference in what I end up with.  I am still catching some nice views every now and again though.  I have quite a few photos to share with you today and quite a few more, that I have to pass up and share another day.  I don't know that I can accurately catch you up on all that I have done in the past months, but here's my attempt.
I hit the 5 year mark with the Florida Park Service.  My park manager presented me with a certificate and my 5 year pin at our last personnel meeting.  Its hard to believe that it has been such a long time.  I am really looking forward to seeing what the next 5 bring.

I have been getting more comfortable in my new job.  I have passed the 6 month mark though, so I guess it isn't that new anymore.  I have had my first review with my park manager and have to start giving all the rangers their reviews... a big task!  I have participated in several prescribed fires since I blogged last and have done lots of paperwork.  Local schools are back in session and we have passed Labor Day so things are really slowing down at the park.  It was amazing how quickly that change happened, it was like someone flipped a switch and all of a sudden, we don't have overcrowding in the park on weekends anymore.  I am helping to coordinate more special events now that things are slowing down and the weather is thinking about cooling off a little.  We have adventure races and orienteering events in the park often.  They have excellent organizers and my responsibility is just to make sure that the facility is available, their paperwork is in order, and that there are no conflicts with other user groups.  There is also a fundraising horseback ride coming up that I will be helping to coordinate.
One event that I thoroughly enjoyed happened last weekend.  We celebrate Literacy Month every September in the Florida State Parks by offering special programs and free admission when you show your library card or donate a book.  The books fill our camper library so that campers in the campground can borrow a book while they are with us.  This year we also had a big event at Wekiwa.  It was put together by the Florida Literacy Coalition and included several other partners to make it a great event.  There were several stations that children and families could rotate through in the picnic area.  There were some terrific story tellers who highlighted enjoying nature and science through reading.  There was face painting and fitness, literacy programs, and even free books!!  Every child who participated left with at least one book that was new to them and theirs to keep.  I was impressed by one event sponsor/participant.  A group called Just 1 Book was there.  Their organization was started by a 10-year-old in Orlando.  She started the program in her school when she learned of the poverty in a neighbouring town.  She realized that if every child in her school donated "just 1 book," they could supply 763 books to other children who could really use the help.  Within months, thousands of books were donated and the program is continuing to grow.  Just 1 Book brought hundreds of books to the park and every child was permitted to choose one to take home.

I had my own station at the Literacy Event.  It was Reading With A Ranger.  It was nice to be an interpretive ranger again.  I read a book about a ladybug who was searching for a good home.  When we finished the book, we went on a little nature hike to see if we could find some bugs who had made their home in the park.  I was impressed with the kids and how long I could keep them interested in finding bugs.  I expected to only be able to keep them focused on the walk from the picnic area to the spring area.  It ended up that I took them on a half mile hike and we found spiders, ants, a beetle, some damselflies, dragonflies, and more.
Another great program was the Moon Rope.  Two wonderful storytellers read the book in Spanish and English and then, with the help of the kids and some excellent props, they acted out the story.  Each child (and even a park ranger) got to be a different animal.  They carried the colorful cut-out of the animal that they were representing.  They made it to the "moon" and found gummy worms inside!

Aside from special events, I am still just plugging away with the day to day responsibilities.  As I am more comfortable in my position, I am finding that I am taking more time to enjoy my surroundings.  Here are some of the great things that I have seen.  Rock Springs Run is a northern part of the park that I usually visit once a week.  I never know what I might see there.  Sometimes its Sandhill Cranes and sometimes a new flower will be in bloom.  The giant, pink blossom below is in the Hibiscus family.  These beautiful flowers were towering above my head and I had to walk through some thorny shrubs to get to them... well worth it, I think.  Once I was through the thorns, and photographed the Hibiscus, I started chasing a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly and followed it to a Buttonbush.

The main part of the park has shown a lot of wildlife and floral activity as well.  There have been quite a few spotted fawns that I have watched grow. 

Horsemint and several other flowers are in bloom in the beautiful butterfly garden which is located in the center of our parking loop near the picnic area.

One of our Park Biologists also pointed out to me an orchid that was in bloom.  When I heard the name, Giant Orchid, I expected to see a very large flower.  I was surprised to see that its stalk was very tall, but the blooms were tiny!  Its also called Wild Coco, which might be a little less misleading.

I have been working with the Friends of the Wekiva River group lately as well.  They are an organization that works to protect the Wekiva.  I serve as an advisor to them and attend their monthly meetings when I can.  They have monthly outings to enjoy the Wekiva River Basin, to socialize, and to attract new members to their organization.  Some of those outings happen on park property.  Last weekend, after work, I met with two of the board members to look at an area for a planned hike.  It was a property that I haven't had the chance to explore yet.  I had a wonderful time!  We saw some ponds as well as some hilly areas.  Those are Sandhill Cranes flying over the pond.

I saw my first Burrowing Owl which was amazing!!!  I didn't get a good photo of it though, that will have to be another day.  The tiny owls utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows and have the most striking yellow eyes!  I did find a Quail that was willing to be photographed.  I think this is the best image of a Quail that I have every captured.  They are normally quick to hide in the brush.

Well, I hope that will keep you for a little while and I will try to return again sooner rather than later to share some more.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I'm back.  I have had a very nice break from blogging now that my 365 days are up.  I still haven't sent my camera away to be cleaned, its hard to give it up.  The send-away process takes a couple of weeks and I don't like to be without a camera for that long.  I will force myself to give it up one day soon though.  I have been staying very busy.  The park has been a popular place lately as the temperatures have been hot and humid.  Everyone wants to come and swim in the cool spring water to cool off.  Wouldn't you?  I find it hard to believe sometimes that I ever had time to blog everyday.  I have had a couple of long days recently when I got home late, absolutely exhausted and was very happy to not have to blog.  I have been missing it though.  I enjoy sharing the fun events at the park and hearing the reactions.  I think from here on out, there will be a nice balance for me.  I will blog for fun with no stress involved.  To kick off the fun and the new beginning of the blog, I have redesigned the page.  Let me know what you think of the new layout.

I stopped by Katie's Landing last week.  I was just floored by the beauty of the place.  You may remember some construction pictures that I had previously posted.  The majority of the construction took place before I arrived at Wekiwa.  An old facility had been removed and a picnic area, parking area, and restroom had been built.  I witnessed the construction of the bulkhead at the water and the graveling of the canoe launch.  Now, nature has had its way with the new construction and the place looks like it has always been this way.  It is a very inviting place now and I look forward to spending more time there.  I am finding a lot of favorite places in the 42,000 acres that I help to manage that I look forward to utilizing once fall arrives.  The summer heat and humidity mean that any recreational outdoor activity for me involves being in the water.

The most exciting thing that I just had to blog about was my first bear sighting.  I have been wishing and hoping that I would see a bear soon.  I have heard so many other people's bear stories and I was so ready to have my own.  It finally happened!  I was in the office, working on a computer training, when a call came across the radio.  A bear had crossed the main park drive by the ranger station and was headed to my house!!  Several of us in the office ran outside to see what we could see.  My yard is visible from the office and we finally caught sight of a big, beautiful Black Bear!!!  It came out of the woods near us and walked along slowly.  I snapped quite a few pictures and may have done a little dance of joy while we watch the giant bear mosey along.  It wasn't at all interested in us.  It was out exploring and maybe looking for something to eat.  I was so pleased to see such an amazing wild animal outside of a cage, just being itself in the woods.  It was a great experience and definitely worth the wait!  I'm sure it won't be the last bear sighting for me.  Stay tuned and I will continue to share the fun stuff.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last Day!!!

Well it was a wonderful year and I have a great sense of accomplishment for finishing this project.  I have been able to share a lot of beautiful, crawly, and fun experiences with you all and I hope you have enjoyed the ride.  Please stay tuned and check back with me in a month or so.  I am going to take a break, give my camera some much needed rest, relaxation, and repair, and revamp the site a little.  I am done with daily postings, but I will try to keep up with the exciting moments that I encounter.
I'm sorry that I don't have a more interesting day to report for the last day of the blog, but it is what it is.  Today was a quiet day at the park.  Several of the administrative staff are using up some leave time before the full force of the summer arrives.  Park visitors were pretty quiet today as well.  I spent most of the morning in the office and most of the afternoon with the park staff.
I got a fun Bee photo yesterday that didn't make it to the blog yet.  It was intently feasting on the unidentified purple flower in my back yard.  This Bee could not be distracted from its mission.  It was there when I found it, allowed me to take several photos, and it was still in the same spot when I left.

The only photo that I took today was of a Royal Walnut Moth who was having a rest under a leaf near the door to the ranger station.  It is a beautiful moth and, I think, deserving of the name "Royal".  Its caterpillar is an interesting character that I would love to see in person.  Until then, this is what a Google image search yields of the Hickory Horned Devil, as the caterpillar is named.

While I am gone, I hope you go out and do some exploring on your own.  Turn over logs and turn over leaves.  Bring your camera, a magnifying glass, and a child.  That's all you need for an exciting day in the woods or in your back yard.  Take photos or notes and bring them home to your field guides or the Internet to continue the adventure at home to learn more about what you saw.

Thought of the Day #1
As I said, this has really been a fun experience.  I am glad to know that I can accomplish what I set my mind to and the benefits to my readers and myself have been more than I ever expected.  I hope that I have helped to inspire future rangers or at least helped people to appreciate their state park rangers.  I know that I have helped to educate a few people and that is worth all the work.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


As today is my regularly scheduled day off and the butterflies that I was chasing this morning refused to be photographed, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to look back and show you some of my favorite photos.   When I had this bright idea, I was apparently not thinking very clearly.  I had 365 days of photo files that I had to look through to find those photos.  I didn't look through all of them.  I stopped when I had a handful to share with you.  So here they are:

I love this Dragonfly close-up, originally posted 6/8/10 because of the difficulty level of capturing it.  I had to get super close to it to use the 10X macro lens and usually bugs don't like that.  Especially bugs with wings who can easily just fly away.  I also really enjoy showing photos here that people may not see on their own.  When is the last time that you magnified a Dragonfly?

Another image that people may not see on their own is a person using a drip torch to apply fire to a prescribed burn.  The photo looks very dramatic because it seems that the fire might engulf her at any moment.  Truth be told, the road edge is just to her right and she is in no danger at all.  It looks exciting though!  The photo is also composed in a way that would make my photography teachers proud.   I have always been taught the rule of thirds in photography.  If you divide a photo into thirds vertically or horizontally and break up the focus that way, it will be pleasing to the eye.   For example, if you are making a landscape image of the beach and you make the sky the top third, the water the center third and the sand the lower third, it will be more attractive than dividing it in half with a horizon line dead center.  Additionally, if you were to draw those lines dividing the image into thirds vertically and horizontally, where they intersect are called "hot spots".  It is more visually interesting to have your subject on one of those hot spots rather than in the middle of the photo.  You eye is drawn to those locations more so than the center of the photo.  In this image, the person is in the left third of the shot.  Her head is in a hot spot.  Your eye is likely drawn to her head and then follows the line that her arm makes to the tip of the drip torch.   The tip of the drip torch is also in a hot spot.

One of my favorite photo days on the blog was back in October.  I had a great morning where the light was in my favor and very inspiring.  I picked two photos from that day to display here.  I don't think that my photo teachers would have liked either of them very much.  There is no exciting subject or focal point.  In the first one, the top is very overexposed.  I'll tell you why I like them anyway though.  I like the way that the light carries your eye throughout the image in the first one.  If you follow the rays of light, you cover the whole image.  I also like that the water looks blue.  This is where personal knowledge makes a difference in the image to me.  The spring used to always look blue about 40 years ago.  Now, if there is a color it is much more of a green hue from the increased nitrates in the water and the subsequent algae growth.  The second image is the only one of my photos that is currently hanging on a wall in my home.  It isn't very unique and nothing is going in the photo.  I really like the diagonal line of the branch and the color variation in the leaves.  I love the way the sun lit the leaves from behind and created so much contrast in the image.

Another day in October produced a very fun image.  I liked this one so much because of the reaction that it got.  It is a crisp image of the subject and though it is centered, normally a no no in photography, the baby spiders are close to a hot spot.  Its not a textbook good photo, but the shock and awe from the blog readers made it great!  I love the reaction that I get from a good creepy crawlie photo.

I do love a good bug photo.  Many of my readers don't like the spider pics, but who doesn't love a butterfly?  I have a ton of butterfly photos, but this one may be my favorite.  I wish that I had shifted the camera over a little to put the butterfly in a more interesting place, but I'll take what I can get with a bug that likes to flutter away.  The sun was so nice and bright and the butterflies had been moving so much.  It was hard to catch, but I am proud of this image.  I am glad that the butterfly was perfectly in focus.  I also like how the swivel viewfinder on my camera can let me get right on ground level without having to lay in the mud.

Last, but not least is another photo that I got some good feedback on.  The colors turned out so rich and bold.  The sky was reflecting off of the water in a dark blue color and the white clouds were in stark contrast.  The puddle on the rock was in a hot spot and the dark red leaves were a pretty blast of color.  The blogged photo showed more of the scene, but I have another image of this view that I like even better because it was zoomed in on the rock puddle.  You can still see the dark blue of the sky in the water but it highlights the red of the leaves even more.

Thought of the Day #2
I really enjoyed going through my photos for this blog.  It reminded me of another benefit to this whole project.  Each photo jogs my memory of the day that it was taken.  If you were to ask me what my day was like on 10/28/09, I would never be able to tell you.  Looking back at my photos though, I remember the morning well.  I remember the walk that I took around the spring and the way that the light created so many amazing views.  The photos are like memories in themselves.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer, Day 1

Happy summer solstice!  Here we are again at the first day of summer.  You may remember that I started this blogging endeavor on the first day of summer last year, it was also Father's Day.  So we have come full circle.  Today is actually the 366th day that I am sharing my visions with you.  I didn't forget how to count halfway through, I knew that I would go over a few days.  I wanted to do something special and countdown the last 100 days.  However, the 100th day was in the middle of my move to my new job/house.  I didn't start the countdown until I was somewhat settled, so here we are at Day 366 with two more to go.
Today was another normal Monday.  I think that a lot of people dread Mondays, but they aren't so vicious for me.  I am off on Tuesday.  If I work the weekend, then Monday feels like Friday.  If I am off over the weekend, then Monday is just a blip on the radar before another day off.  Mondays aren't usually very stressful for me either.  Monday starts with a staff meeting at the shop and then a meeting with the administrative staff at the office.  I get caught up on the happenings in the park and the upcoming events.  I also spend some time at the computer as there is usually an influx of e-mails on a Monday morning.  I also usually get to go to our distant, northern properties to do our weekly check.  Today was no different.
I really enjoy my trip out of the park and the 15-20 mile drive to the northern properties.  Rock Springs Run doesn't seem like much.  It is basically a long road that was going to be a much longer county road but it became a park instead.  There are extensive hiking and horseback riding trails, but no structures or exciting attractions like a spring.  Something about the property really draws me in though.  I enjoy the long road that seemingly goes no where.  The expanse provides a great view of the ever changing sky.  The clouds were really performing while I was there as the afternoon storms were rolling in.

There weren't as many wildflowers at Rock Springs Run today as there were a couple of weeks ago.  I should say that they weren't as obvious.  Once I started to really search, I found more than I had seen from the road.  There was the occasional Prickly Pear Cactus that would catch my eye with its bright yellow flower.

Once I was out of the truck and at the Cactus, I found a few more little flowers here and there.  I found this type a couple of times but I couldn't see it at all from the truck.  It was so small and delicate.  I couldn't find an identification for it, but its flower resembles those in the pea family.

I found some flowers that were done blooming and had gone to seed.  They were just waiting for a good gust of wind to carry the seeds to other places to start the cycle all over again.

I also found some flowers that similar to the wispy seeds mentioned above, but the white fluff was the blooming flower.  There were several insects interested in these flowers, they must have been tasty ones.  The wasp at the lower right was focused.  It didn't care at all about the camera that kept inching closer to it.  I also saw a few ants and a butterfly that probably would have landed if I had not been standing there.

The last flower that I found stood out almost as well as the Prickly Pear.  I believe it is a type of Coreopsis.  You may remember the Coreopsis photo that I have posted before, the older post is Florida's state flower.  This one is a close relative.  I can't decide which one I like more.  The state flower is more colorful, but this one has such a simple beauty about it.

My next stop was Katie's Landing.  There wasn't much to see there, but that was a good thing.  An orienteering, adventure race was held there over the weekend with over 100 participants.  I saw absolutely no trace of crowds.  It was definitely an environmentally conscious group because the park looked better than I have ever seen it.  I found some ducks there enjoying the peace and quiet.  They looked like teenager ducks to me, not quite old enough to venture out on their own.

On the way back to the main part of the park, I drove through a few tiny patches of rain.  I saw a lot of dark clouds, but it didn't rain at the park.  Its funny how hit-or-miss the rain can be here.  I wrapped up the last of the things that I had to do for the day and stopped in at the ranger station just before heading home.  I found one more flower to photograph.  It was right outside of the ranger station.  A Saw Palmetto was in bloom.  A tall stalk jutted out from the base of the plant and was covered in tiny white flowers.  I see Saw Palmettos almost everywhere I look, but I don't always get to see these beautiful flowers.  I will have to try to remember my 10X macro lens to really enlarge them and do them justice.

Thought of the Day #3
Another reason that I have benefited from the blogging process has been the education that I am getting.  Though I am not always successful, I try to identify everything that I post.  In the past, I would see something interesting and try to make a mental note of it to look it up later.  Apparently, my mental Post-It pad erases like an Etch-A-Sketch.  I rarely got around to looking up all of the plants and bugs that I saw daily.  Now that I have been photographing daily and blogging, I am doing a lot more research.  I still don't find all of the answers that I seek, but I am learning a lot more than I would otherwise.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

I started this blog on Father's Day last year.  On that day, I painted a very different picture from the park life that I have now.  At Troy last year, I was all alone in a very quiet park.  The spring was flooded and everything was quiet.  This year, I wasn't working, but the park was far from quiet.  Here at Wekiwa, there are no days when the spring is flooded and closed.  It would take a hurricane to close down this park.  Even though I was off, I had two park visitor calls before 10:00am.  I could hear how busy the park was, even from the house.  I was anxious to get away.  What a difference a year makes!
We went to the beach this afternoon.  It was too hot out to do anything that didn't involve water and I was not interested in being at work.  We expected the beach to be busy, so we went a little later in the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day at the beach!  It was much busier than when we last went, on a Thursday.  When we got there though, some people were beginning to leave.  We didn't have any trouble finding parking or a cozy spot of sandy beach.  I even discovered some evidence of wildlife right away.  There was a smashed crab on the beach.  I'm not sure how it met its demise, but it was interesting to see.  A fly was inspecting it at the same time I was.  I thought of my Dad because he loves to eat crab legs.  This crab didn't look tasty to me, but I think that fly thought it looked good.

We saw quite a few kites flying in the sky and it was fun to play the game "bird or kite."  There was one kite that was very bird-like.  It had me fooled for quite a while.  One kite was just enormous.  It was attached to a surfer.  The kite pulled him all over the place.  Even though there weren't any big waves, the person looked like he had a good time.  It must have been exhausting to hang on to that giant kite all day.  Quite a few times, he came to shore and had to walk back up the beach again to his starting point, towing the kite through the air the whole time.  He was there when we got there and he was there when we left.

The beach was full of people, but as I mentioned they were starting to leave as we arrived.  The first photo was taken right after we arrived and the second, shortly before we left.  It was late in the afternoon and there were some dark clouds looming overhead.  We heard thunder in the distance, but only found rain when we were traveling home.  Please excuse the dark blob in the lower center of each photo.  A piece of dust has settled inside of my lens and I have no way of removing it aside from sending it in to the manufacturer for repair.  As soon as the blog is done, that will be the first thing I do.

The smashed crab and the multitude of people were not the only wildlife that we saw at the beach.  I saw a lot of the same pretty shells that we saw last time.  I also found this little oddity.  I picked it up thinking that it was a shark tooth, but on closer inspection, I found that it was not.  It appeared to be a very young something or another.  The ocean is a mysterious place to me.

The beach was dotted with this beautiful seaweed.  The edges remind me of pine needles.  I can only imagine how many miles this little pile of seaweed has traveled just to end up on our beach.

Again, we didn't see any Seagulls.  I really don't miss them.  Another scavenger was in their place though.  I saw quite a few Pigeons.  There were a lot more of them today than there were last time.  Maybe it was because there were a lot more people who might drop their snacks on the ground.  We also saw several Pelicans, but none came close enough to photograph.

All in all, it was a great day at the beach.  We got just enough sun, the waves were small and manageable, the way that I like them.

Thought of the Day #4
I have enjoyed blogging because it forces me to find things that are out of the ordinary.  I am always looking for interesting things to photograph for the blog.  I don't think that I would have taken such a close look at the seaweed or found the mysterious "thing" if I had not been searching for something other than a beach landscape to photograph.  When I was at Troy, I made a brochure for a program that I gave.  It was entitled, "Ten Ways To Have Fun On A Hike."  One of the ways that I listed was to bring someone else with you when you walk.  Quite often, you will see things that you might have missed or the other person will spot something that you overlooked.  Blogging has been like taking other people with me wherever I go.  I really search for something neat to entertain you all.  Thanks for the company, its been fun.

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.