Borrego Springs, CA

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Carnivorous Vegetarians?

Is that an oxymoron?   My assignment for the first half of my day at work yesterday was to ‘roam’.  What that means is that I’m supposed to wander along the Swamp Island Wildlife Drive, mingle with the visitors, and provide interpretive services to anyone I encounter along the way.  Since helping the public to enjoy our National Wildlife Refuges and understand what they are seeing is one of my favorite things to do, I was really looking forward to this time.

However, there aren’t very many visitors driving around early on a Tuesday morning in late October on the refuge.  So after my first lonely drive around the loop, I decided to concentrate on finding the carnivorous pitcher plants that are found in this area.  I figured if anyone drove by, noticed the official vehicle, and saw me getting into contortions to take photos, they might ask me what I was looking at.  I could then launch into an explanation of these most interesting plants.

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I took these photos of the pitcher plants near Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR last April.  There are two different varieties found on this refuge, so I was excited about documenting them.

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The first variety I found were the hooded pitcher plants.  Because it was only in the low 40’s, I didn’t have to worry too much about alligators.  It was a bit too chilly for them to be moving about.  These hooded varieties don’t seem to have that frilly top to them that I found in Mississippi.

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The second variety I was looking for and found was the parrot pitcher plant.  Last April, a huge tractor was used to mow the wildlife drive roadside for some reason, and most of the pitcher plants were chopped off.  Luckily, they started to grow back, but you can see evidence of the mowing.  These parrot pitchers grow low to the ground and spread out in a circle, rather than standing up straight.  I was quite pleased to find a few growing back.  Pitcher plants are exactly that… plants, but they lure insects into their openings to get trapped and digested.  They can’t get all the nourishment they need from the soil, so they’ve evolved into carnivorous plants. 


                                                            “ALRIGHT RECRUITS… TEN HUT!!”

When I got back to the rig and looked at my photos, I just couldn’t help but think of some subtitles.  Nerd smile


                                    “DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE TRAVELING SALESMAN…?”



This morning, I finally got to meet with Gracie Gooch, the volunteer coordinator, about my time here.  First up on my agenda was to talk about my hip problems.  She was very open to my plans to have it all investigated at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and to support whatever I have to get done to get back to normal.  That was a great relief to me.  I wonder if my brother, Kurt, would consider coming to Okefenokee to help me out if surgery is in my future?  I’ll be calling the Mayo clinic tomorrow to get the ball rolling.

I then spoke with the assistant manager of the refuge about developing some bird tour programs here.  Although the refuge is on the Coastal Birding Route, they’ve never had bird tours here since they’ve never had any volunteers interested or qualified to lead bird tours before.  Color me happy!  I’ll be investigating and developing a proposal for such a program during the next couple of weeks.  I really think I’m going to like it here!  Open-mouthed smile 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Okefenokee Swamp boat tour

Part of my orientation to the Okefenokee NWR yesterday included a swamp boat tour with Okefenokee Adventures, a concessionaire that partners with the refuge to provide tours and rents canoes, kayaks, and boats. 

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In case you are ever in the area, these tours are available every day of the year except Christmas Day.  It’s an hour and a half tour, and starts out down the Suwanee Canal.  As a point of interest, any motorboats in the Okefenokee Swamp must have motors under 10 horsepower.  No big motors allowed.

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I believe our trip covered about five miles all together, and was very interesting.  This canal was started in 1891 with the objective of draining the swamp.  Thankfully, it was an unsuccessful endeavor!  A short way into our journey we entered the National Wilderness Area, which means any travel into this area is very limited in number of people each day and any travel into it must be registered and reserved ahead of time.

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After a couple of miles down the canal we took a side branch down a water trail toward the Chesser prairie.  In my mind, prairie meant dry land with no trees, but in a swamp it means a wetland area with no trees.  The water is shallow and the color of root beer due to all the tannin in the water, but it is very clear. 

One of the major ingredients in this swamp is peat.  Peat is partially decomposed remains of plant matter that accumulates on the bottom of the swamp.  When enough methane gas accumulates in this decomposing peat, it rises to the surface and is called a peat blowup.  It looks like solid mud to the eye, but if you grab a handful of it and squeeze the water out, you end up with a handful of plant matter.  It doesn’t smell bad at all.  If enough of these blowups accumulate, they become a battery, and other plants and trees begin to germinate in these dense mats.  We stopped half way through our trip so our tour guide, Joey, could explain all of this to us.

I especially enjoyed learning about how the swamp changes and evolves and seeing some bladderworts and sundew plants.  They are among the several different varieties of carnivorous plants found in the swamp.  Today I went on a mission to find the two varieties of pitcher plants found on this refuge, but I’ll show those in a separate post.  I was pleased with myself on the boat tour when I was able to identify the yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) that I learned about at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR in MS.  Smile  Those are the red berries in the above collage.


Because of the very chilly and windy temperatures yesterday morning, we really didn’t expect to see any alligators on this tour.  It was a surprise to all five of us on the tour when one of the women on the other side of the boat spotted one in the lily pads.


This fellow/gal was about five feet long, and I really liked the view as we floated past.  All those ridges leading down its spine gave it a rather eerie look to me.  Once the tour was over, I grabbed a quick lunch and then spent the afternoon learning about the operation of the visitors center (VC).  There are a lot more steps opening and closing this VC compared to the other places I’ve volunteered at.  It will take me a few days to get them all down pat.  I think my biggest challenge is going to be unlocking and locking the money vault.  My left and right don’t seem to be the same as the directions are. Confused smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reptile of the month

Many of you know that I spent the last three months at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  While there I didn’t see one solitary alligator.  I did see and photograph lots of black bears.  Well, now I’ve moved to Okefenokee NWR, and I’m guessing I’ll be very lucky to catch a sight of a bear, but alligators will be more than abundant.


When fellow volunteer Barb and I took that drive yesterday in the late afternoon in the electric cart, we saw a couple of alligators along the way.  This one is called ‘Mama’, and she pretty regularly can be found in the same pond/ditch area along the Swamp Island Auto Tour Route.  Because of that fact, the refuge has put up a sign about alligator safety.  I thought it was a hoot that Mama posed for us right next to the sign.


This kind of displaying with the mouth open and the skin bagging under the jaw is usually reserved for the breeding season which is in the early spring.  Mama had a nest near by last year, but none of the young have been seen recently.  Compared to some of the alligators I’ve seen at Anahuac NWR, Mama is not that big (6-7’), but I guess she’s old enough to raise young.


I’ve never had the opportunity to look down the throat of an alligator before!  I expected her teeth to be larger, and it seems to me that she has a slight issue with plaque. Sarcastic smile  I guess she doesn’t use a tooth brush.

Today was my first work day, and half the day was spent with orientation to this refuge.  The highlight of that was a boat tour through the swamp.  Even though the temps were chilly (in the upper 40’s), it was a wonderful experience.  I’ve gone through all of my photos from the tour, but I’ll talk about that trip tomorrow. 

The alligator will probably end up being more than just the reptile of the month for the next several months.  I think it will be a battle between alligators and turkeys as to which species I, and you, see most often. Winking smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Settling in

I wanted to be the first person on the wildlife drive this morning, and I think I was.  The chances of seeing wildlife are always better the earlier you get out there.  It wasn’t like I left at the crack of dawn or anything, but seeing as it was a Sunday morning I felt fairly confident that visitors would take a while to get here.  Okefenokee NWR is a bit off of the beaten path.


I think there is a guide to the wildlife drive with about 12 numbered stops along the way.  I just haven’t gotten one of those guides yet.  The first stop for Emma and me was at Alligator Pond.  I didn’t see any alligators, but the cloudiness of the last two days was gone.  There was a pleasant breeze, so the pond reflections weren’t mirror perfect.

IMG_1109I was cruising along at about 5 mph with the front windows down so I could hear as well as see anything that might be out and about.  Here it is almost November, but the swamp was alive with blooming flowers.  Don’t know yet if the blackened portions of the pines are from a prescribed burn or the great swamp fire of 2011. 

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I pulled to the side of the road here and shut off the engine just to enjoy the scenery.  There were at least four different kinds of butterflies enjoying the flower nectar, but I only captured three varieties. 

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This mockingbird was not sure about our intrusion on his/her territory.  There were little birds flitting around all over the place.


Far off in the woods, this pileated woodpecker was going about finding something to eat in this pine tree.  I’ve found that it just never hurts to stop and take the time to look and listen.

I moved on and then parked the car to take Emma for a walk around the Chesser Island Homestead.  That place is worth a post on its own, so I’ll leave that for another time.  I’m hoping maybe I’ll get the chance to be the interpretive host at this location while I’m here.  I think it’s a really cool place.

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My main goal for this morning’s outing was to see wildlife, so I continued on to the parking area for the Boardwalk Trail.  We didn’t take that trail today, but the surrounding area was alive with birds.  There were several pine warblers gleaning insects from the trees…


as well as a flock of palm warblers under the pines and in the bushes.  I was happy to get any photos because these little guys just don’t sit still for very long.  The place was just bubbling with them.


As I pulled out of the parking area, a small flock of wild turkeys were in the distance.  Two of them made for the woods, but the other two gave me the eye.  As I looked down the road, a coyote was standing in the middle of the road.  As soon as it saw me, and I saw it, it beat a hasty retreat before I could get my camera to my eye. 

I saw another flock of turkeys on the way back to the rig.  It was a very nice drive this morning.  In the late afternoon, fellow volunteer Barb and I took a ride in one of the electric carts down this same drive and saw different wildlife.  I haven’t had a chance to look at those pics yet, so I’ll save them for tomorrow.  The folks here in the volunteer village are going to watch a movie this evening in the theater in the Visitors Center, but I bowed out of that this time.  I’m just not in the mood for “Lion King” tonight.  Confused smile  Instead, I dug out the sewer connection, and finally hooked up my dump hose.  I guess I’m pretty much settled in for the duration now.


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, October 26, 2012

Slid right in to my chosen site. :)

No need to get up early this morning since I only had a drive of about 65 miles today to arrive at Okefenokee NWR.  On top of that, there was a hunt going on this morning at the refuge so the road I needed to drive down to get to the volunteer village was closed until noon.  Since I had scoped out the drive and found an acceptable gas station along the way, I thought I’d sleep like a log last night.  Not so!  I tossed and turned until almost four in the morning before drifting off briefly.  Just don’t understand that.


When I was checking out the available sites yesterday, I had four to choose from.  I chose the one on the far left in this view.  Only problem was, I couldn’t find a sewer hookup.  While I was out doing the wildlife drive, maintenance went over and found the missing hookup.  It was buried under the grass and sand.  I still will have to dig it out a bit, but to me this was the best sight in the village.  My car is parked on another site, and there is one more to the right.


My other choice wasn’t much better.  Notice how close the sites are?  It was obvious that these sites have been here for quite some time, and my guess is they were designed by someone that has never lived fulltime in an RV.  My gosh, there’s barely ten feet between them.  I like people, but really.  With all the acreage available on these refuges, you would think they’d give their volunteers a little breathing space.

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So I chose the site I did so I wouldn’t have to stare into my neighbor’s RV when I sat outside with Emma.  There are only two sites here where that is possible.


This is my front yard and view.  This side faces the pine and live oak forest.  If and when we get more volunteers, I can put up with them on one side, but considering the amount of time Emma and I spend outside this was the premiere site in my opinion.

I knew it would be a little sticky sneaking into this site, but with the help of Barry, another volunteer who drives a motorhome, spotting for me, I backed into it in between the hookups on both sides on the first try.  I even placed the rig just right so that I can open all the basement bins without banging into the hookup posts.  I was feeling pretty smug when I checked out my backing up job.  Sarcastic smile

IMG_1106Most hookups are usually on the driver’s side, but we also have propane gas hookups here and they are on the passenger’s side at this site.  You can see how tight the squeeze to get in is.  That’s my rear tire on the right on the edge of the cement pad.  I have to go to town tomorrow to get the proper attachment so I can take advantage of the included propane.  My extend-a-stay hose doesn’t have the right couplings.


After spending the entire afternoon getting things set up for an extended stay, I collapsed into my rocker outside.  As usual, the biggest challenge was finding an opening in the forest to get the two satellites for my DISH honed in.  That finally accomplished, I put up the trucker’s antenna and hooked up the Wilson amplifier to see if I could get any internet or phone connections.  It’s not outstanding here in the middle of the boondocks, but I hope I’ll be able to post tonight.

As I was relaxing, I noticed this batch of fungus in the middle of my front yard.  As I lay prone on the grass to get this shot, no one called 911.  Winking smile  I guess I’m home for now…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First impressions

Once in a while I have the forethought to make a good decision for me, and today was one of those days.  I had decided to just visit Okefenokee NWR in my car today since I’m only about 60 miles away, and not drive the rig in until tomorrow.  As it turned out, it was also a good decision to leave Emma at home while I made that visit since it was quite warm and she would have been roasting in the car.


I had some rather involved written directions from Gracie Gooch, the volunteer coordinator, but I tried putting the address into Jack-in-the-Box and it wouldn’t recognize the street name.  So I just put in the number of the closest highway, and Jack took me a different way than I had originally planned.  I went with the new to me directions, and it turned out best in the long run.  The mileage may have been slightly longer, but it kept me off of the Interstate and on a couple of other great roads.  The best part of that is I found an easy in, easy out gas station to fill the rig at only 30 miles from my destination.  So I get to avoid those nerve wracking jam packed truck stops along the Interstate, and my tank will essentially be full upon arrival.Thumbs up


I’m going to include just a few photos tonight of my introduction to the refuge.  It’s interesting that the refuge doesn’t show up on any GPS units.  The first thing I did when I found it was to stop at the visitors center.  I went inside and introduced myself to Barb, the volunteer that was working there.  Her reaction warmed the cockles of my heart.  “Judy Bell, the Bird Lady?  We’ve been waiting for you to get here! Welcome!”  Wow!  What a difference from the welcome, or lack there of, I got at Alligator River.  I then met a couple of other staff members, and they were also most welcoming. 


Gracie was not available, so Kathy, one of the interns, took me to show me the RV sites.  It was at this point that I was sure glad that I hadn’t driven in with the RV.  It took us a while to figure out the best approach to the sites considering the tallness of my rig.  I was most concerned about low hanging (for my rig) electrical wires on one approach, and very low live oak branches on the other approach.  Kathy was most helpful, and we figured out a third way to get to the sites with no wires or branches to cause havoc.  I’ll show you some pictures tomorrow of the site I chose and why.


I took a quick drive around the wildlife route, and found my first ‘gator at this refuge.  I’m sure it won’t be my last.  My first impressions of Okefenokee NWR are that it will be a most friendly place to volunteer with some interesting things to do.  I’m really excited about the possibilities in my near future.


When I finally got back to the rig it was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon.  I took Emma out for a walk around the campground, and as I rounded a curve I noticed a familiar looking Winnebago Journey with South Dakota plates.  It made me think of Paul and Marti Dahl, but I figured it couldn’t be.  They weren’t taking I-95 north from Florida.  Surprise!!  It was them!  What a treat.  This was the sugar topping to the day.  Since they knew through the blog where I was staying, they stopped here over night so we could go out to dinner together.  Best I can say is, “Cool Beans!!”

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I’ve got Georgia on My Mind…

I was a little worried this morning that I might be getting Paul Dahl Disorder (PDD) today as I had planned to drive 250 miles from Florence, SC, to Brunswick, GA.  I’m much more comfortable doing about 100 miles less than that, but I was on a mission to get within striking distance of Okefenokee NWR.


                                   (tonight’s photos are from Pearl’s garden that I visited yesterday)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest challenges I have on the road is finding a gas station that I can get into and out of without issues.  Since I don’t have a diesel engine, finding a gas pump with enough room for my rig and toad gives me heartburn.  When I’m at a campground for more than an overnight stay, like I was in Florence, I try to scope out a place I can easily get gas while I drive around in the car. 


If I’m lucky, the best of all circumstances are available, and that was the case this morning.  There was a wide open approach and exit to a gas station just a quarter mile before my entrance onto I-95S.  As it turned out, it had about the slowest pump I’ve run into (twenty minutes to pump 50 gallons), but I didn’t care.  No nerve wracking heartburn today.  Then I looked down and found two coins on the ground…a penny (isn’t that good luck?) and a quarter.  The quarter had the South Carolina state on it as well.  Kind of gave me a good feeling for today’s travels.  Smile


I needed that.  I always try to check out the next campground I have a reservation for on the RV Campground Reviews website, and where I would be staying tonight had some very low reviews lately.  It made me a little apprehensive.


After about six hours on the road, taking into account my slow gas stop and lunch at the Georgia Welcome Center rest area, I arrived in Brunswick at the Golden Isles RV Park.  My first impressions are that I have no idea why the recent reviews rated it so low.  Compared to my site in Florence, this place is tons better.  I was too pooped to bother with pictures of the place this evening, but I’ll try to do that tomorrow.  I’ll be here for two nights.

As near as I can figure, Okefenokee is only about 50-60 miles away.  So I’ll pack a lunch tonight and Emma and I will make a visit there in the car tomorrow to scope out my approach and where we’ll be setting up camp for the next several months.  They’re not expecting me until Friday or Saturday, and I’ll just be more comfortable with checking out how to get there in the car first.  I’ve ended up in some rather sticky situations with the rig when arriving at some refuges for the first time. 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy