Borrego Springs, CA

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Expanding my horizon

I was off fairly early this morning to drive in to visit the Folkston Funnel.  The Funnel is a very busy place for trains.  All the trains headed from Savannah to Florida, or coming from Florida to Savannah and points beyond have to funnel through Folkston, GA.


Folkston is a mecca for train lovers.  70 trains a day funnel through this small Georgia town.  I was hoping to understand why people watch trains by talking to them at this train viewing platform complete with picnic tables, a bathroom, a charcoal grill, and internet access.


Yesterday I visited the Chamber of Commerce and was given a train schedule.  I chose to come this morning before nine so I could be prepared to see the Tropicana Express from Florida bringing oranges north from Florida.  I was hoping to see the white cars which I assumed would have oranges painted on them.  I was also told a local train enthusiast named Cricket would be there on his cart.

Well folks, no one was at the platform.  It was chilly and the wind was blowing hard.  I waited for about 45 minutes, but the orange juice special never appeared.  Nor did Cricket.  I did see one train, though.

IMG_1643 (2)                                                                                   It came…


                                                                It went… with horns blasting.

                        Sorry SAM, I’m still at a loss as to what the draw is to see and hear noisy trains.

_MG_1650Across the tracks from the platform is a red caboose in the woods.  Whatever happened to cabooses?  I never see them at the end of trains anymore.


                 There’s also a nice mural across the tracks depicting the trains and a fierce alligator.

I did a little grocery shopping in town before heading back to the rig to gather my thoughts before a telephone interview.  The National Elk Refuge in Wyoming is a very popular Nat’l Wildlife Refuge for RVers that are into the volunteer lifestyle.  For every open position, there are many applicants, so it is rather competitive.

I made it through the first cut and had my interview this afternoon.  I think it went well, but then you never know.  I was on a speaker phone with several brown shirts in the room at the refuge.  However, only the volunteer coordinator did any speaking.  I find phone interviews harder than face to face interviews.  You just can’t read facial reactions over the phone.  I was honest when she asked me how I felt about 32 hours/week.  I’m not crazy about it, but knew it going into this application process.  I told her that once you do your four days, then do your laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, it doesn’t leave you much time to visit and enjoy the area.  I’ll find out whether or not I’ll be offered a position a week from Friday.  This was the first day of interviews, so there are lots more people for her to speak to.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

House guests and a small triumph

Holy Moses, we’ve had a lot of rain!  My guess is about 5 –6” in the last four days.  Emma and I only made short forays out the door so she could relieve herself yesterday.  On the positive side, we really needed the rain and it was a great rest for my hip.

Emma and I were able to sit outside this evening, and while we were doing that Connor, the biology intern, came to tell me that he had spotted some guests taking up residence in my rig.  Thankfully, it wasn’t mice.


The view out his window is of the driver’s side of my rig.  He had noticed a couple of Carolina wrens visiting the space under the front slide out.  I went to take a look, and here’s what I found:


I pulled out this rather large nest that they had built in the protected area where the slide arm goes in.  No eggs yet, so I yanked it out.  Male wrens usually build several nests, and the female chooses which one she likes best.  I’m guessing she liked this one and would have been laying some eggs in the near future into the cup that is located near the top right of the photo.  Had there been eggs, I probably would have left it there.  Not sure I want the mess of a young family under my table seat.  If they rebuild in the same spot, I’ll probably leave them alone as they should be done with the brood by the time I pull out.

As for the small triumph, I’ll try to explain.  Ever since I’ve arrived here at Okefenokee, I’ve noticed a foot bridge in the forest each time I drive to work.  I tried to get to it before my hip replacement, but it was beyond my abilities at that time.


So once the rain quit and the sun came out this afternoon, Emma and I hopped in the car and made our way to the Canal Diggers Trail.

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It’s only .65 miles long, but that was more than I could do before.  If you’ll enlarge the photo on the right, you’ll read that the entrance road to the refuge and many of the trails were originally established by the men of the CCC.  Eventually, I’d like to do the longer Longleaf Pine Trail, but today’s challenge was the Canal Diggers Trail.


It starts out nice and level through the pines and palmettos, but it soon has dips and rises in the path.


                              Can you guess that Emma was thrilled to be out and about on the trail? 


This was just before we had to head downhill to cross the footbridge over the canal and then trek uphill to the other side.  I’m afraid the photos don’t give a true idea of the steepness for someone with a new hip.  I told Emma to go slow so I wouldn’t slip, and she did.  It’s amazing sometimes what she understands.  Of course there are other times when I’m shocked at how she totally ignores what I have to say.Confused smile


At the top, we encountered the junction for the four mile Longleaf Pine Trail.  We turned right today.

IMG_1629Then, there it was.  The illusive footbridge.  Yahoo!  I finally went up and over it, and I made it all the way around the trail and back to the car without pain or having to quit.

To paraphrase a famous quote from Astronaut Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11, today was “One small step for mankind, one great leap for this woman!”

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Today was my Friday

After four days of work, I’m ready for a few days off.  Three of those days were split between roving and working the VC, but that floor in the VC is still doing a number on my hip.  We are entering the busier season for visitors, so that helps with the boredom, but I still prefer the roving assignments.  They not only get me outside, but I also enjoy the interaction with visitors on the trails and nature drive.


Winds were absolutely calm this morning after last nights thunderstorms and rain.  Alligator pond was very reflective, and if you had a pair of binoculars, you’d see a gator on the far bank.


I thought I’d include a picture so you can get an idea of how the Honey Prairie fire of 2011-2012 resulted in stands of totally burned out upland forest.  That fire, which lasted a year, burnt through over 80% of the refuge.  While it looks rather devastating here, Mother Nature knows what she’s doing, and the swamp will come back rejuvenated.


As we near the end of February, the first hatches of butterflies are occurring.  This is a zebra swallowtail that I first noticed yesterday while roving.

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You probably would have chuckled if you had been able to watch me try to get these shots.  I was hobbling a bit yesterday trying to get this creature to sit still long enough to find it in my viewfinder.  The sand was wet from all of the rain, and I almost made myself dizzy wheeling around with that big lens following it’s flight path.  I think, perhaps, it was getting a drink from the moist sandy soil.


Then this morning, I found this Palamedes Swallowtail near the secret pond.  Thankfully, it alighted and sat still long enough for me to creep up on it.  The Palamedes is the signature butterfly species of the southern swamps, including Okefenokee.  This was the first time I had seen this species, but I suppose now I’ll see them just about everywhere.  That seems to be the way it goes. Sarcastic smile  You search and search for something, and once you find it, it seems to appear every time you turn around.


I want to assure you folks up north that spring is coming.  The pine warblers are beginning to sing all over around here.  I’ve been surprised that the droves of robins haven’t entirely left yet, but I’m sure they’ll be on their way shortly along with the greater sandhill cranes.  Our local sandhills are already beginning to nest.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring!

After taking care of my mundane chores on my next three days off, I’m hoping to visit the Folkston Funnel if the rains hold off.  I don’t know much about watching trains, but I’m open to trying to figure out why people want to watch trains rumble by.  This may be a real stretch for me.  Disappointed smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, February 22, 2013

Needed rain

As I write this post tonight, there’s a nice moderate rain going on outside.  The swamp needs it badly.  Over the four months I’ve been here, I’ve noticed the water levels drop.  Ponds and borrow ditches are drying up.  That’s not a good thing.  Rain has been forecasted for the next two days, and I, for one, hope the forecast is correct for a change.  I would also much prefer to have rainy days on the days I have to work, so it can rain all it wants for tomorrow and Sunday.

Yesterday was supposed to be a day of training about the environmental programming we do for schools.  The morning almost went as planned, and our volunteer/intern group followed along as fellow volunteer Barry led us on a hike to discover those things that most people wouldn’t notice along one of the trails.  He did an excellent job pointing out things you’d normally just walk past.

The afternoon didn’t go as well, as there were a couple of unexpected emergencies.  One involved a visitor that had recently had brain surgery.  As he was sitting at a table in the picnic area, he began to bleed profusely from his head.  Staff went out to help him, but the men’s bathroom and the picnic table needed taking care of.  Reminded me of my blood born pathogens' training from my working days.

Then the eighth grade school group arrived and descended on the Visitors Center.  Half of the group went on a boat tour, and we handled the other half in the VC.  After 90 minutes, they traded places.  I was scheduled to give a program to them before they left.

There were delays with the boat tours, and even though the VC closes at 5:00, I wasn’t able to start my program in the auditorium on the red-cockaded woodpecker until 5:30.  So how does it go with 64 hungry eighth graders for a half hour at the end of a long day?   Well, I put on my dancing shoes and kept them glued to the subject and interested in a little bird for the duration.  I get pumped for these presentations, and thankfully it was successful.  Sometimes, the ‘Force’ is with you!

Today, it was back to a normal morning working the VC and roving in the afternoon.  Although overcast, it was warm enough to do my roving in the open electric cart.

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It had been several days since I’d been down Swamp Island Drive, and I noticed the bladderworts beginning to bloom in one of the borrow ditches.  They are a carnivorous plant that ‘eats’ microbes in the water.  There are little bladders hanging down in the water at the end of each of the star shaped stems resting on the water top.  Each of the little bladders has a trap door that closes when something moves inside.  Then it’s curtains for that microbe as there is no escape.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-1343

As I drove further, there seemed to be a pretty large hatch of what I thought were pink butterflies.  As I got out of the cart and tried to chase them down with my camera, I found it impossible to get a good sharp shot.  They never stop moving.  When I got back to the rig, I couldn’t find any pink butterflies in my field guide, so I’m thinking it’s probably a moth.  All the splashes of pink in the swamp were a colorful surprise today.


Of course, the alligators were out this afternoon.  This guy (?) lives in the ‘secret pond’, and was out cruising this afternoon.  I saw a fish break the surface, and the alligator literally blasted out of the water and dove after it.  What a sight!  I guess the alligators have begun feeding again…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This and that

After the great day on the swamp on Friday, I worked the next two days in the VC.  Business has picked up as predicted, so at least there aren’t hours and hours of no visitors.


When I drove to work on Sunday, I noticed one of the pine trees about to explode with pollen.  Luckily I’m not allergic to this pollen, as it has been coating everything for a couple of weeks.


I found each end of the branches to be very geometric with the round spread of needles, and the bouquet of catkins in the middle.


The centers kind of reminded me of those ‘snakes’ you light with a match.  Remember those?  As a kid I loved the smell of the sulphur when you lit one of those little black pellets that grew before your very eyes.  This looked like a whole box got lit at once to me.


                                              A SMALL FOREST OF CYPRESS KNEES IN THE SWAMP

I was pleasantly surprised to get an email yesterday, on a National Holiday, from the Volunteer Coordinator at the National Elk Refuge (NWR) in Wyoming.  I had applied to volunteer there for the coming summer, but it is a very competitive process since lots of people want to volunteer there.  It’s located in Jackson which is close to both Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. 

My friends, John and Diana, have volunteered there the last couple of summers, and alerted me early last fall to the possibility of some openings for this summer.  Folks that volunteer there tend to return for several years.  So I was happy to hear that I’ll be granted an interview within the next couple of weeks.  I’m thinking I’m good to go, but one can never tell.  Diana, of course, has put in a good word for me.  Winking smile


                                                                  WILD BLUEBERRY BLOOMS?

I seem to remember some bloggers like Gypsy mentioning that they really like Biscotti.  I’ve never really had it before, so when I saw it at Publix this morning on the buy one/get one free table, I decided to try it.  I don’t need two boxes of it since I didn’t know if I’d like it, but at Publix if you only buy one you get it for half price.  I chose a package with cranberry/pistachio Biscotti.  I tried a piece tonight, but the jury is still out.  I’ll see if the taste and dryness of the bread grow on me.  Do you like it?

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Off to the swamp–part 2

After our rescue of the turtle and lunch, we were back in the boats to head for the Big Water area on Friday.  The boat I was in brought up the rear for this portion of the journey. 


That meant that most of the wildlife encountered was gone by the time our third boat drove by.  Sad smile  We had to settle for enjoying the cypress scenery along the way.  I found the warped reflections from the wake of our boat interesting though.


This great egret was perched far enough away that it wasn’t bothered by our passage.  I liked the swirling branches of the big tree. 


Of course, there were quite a few alligators out sunning themselves.  They really don’t move if they’re on the shore, but gators closer to the water trail roll off and swim away at a boats approach.  I lost count of how many we saw.


                  We all had a good chuckle at the exuberance of this turtle catching the sun’s rays.  Laughing out loud

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As we made our way along the trail, we lost sight of the two boats ahead of us.  Eventually the path got smaller and smaller, and we could no longer go forward because of fallen trees over the water.  We had no idea where the other boats were as there were no telltale bubbles in the water ahead of us, and we certainly hadn’t passed them along the way.  When this happens, thoughts of being lost in this vast swampland swirl around in your head.  We decided to turn around and just head back by ourselves.  Normally each boat would have a radio, but alas, we didn’t.  It certainly added a sense of adventure to this outing. 

Trying to take a positive outlook on our situation, I noted that we were now in the lead and were seeing lots more birds since the other two boats hadn’t already chased them off.

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As we rounded a curve, we saw a belted kingfisher make a catch.  Yahoo!  One of the things on my bucket list has been to get a decent photo of a belted kingfisher.  These birds are usually so skittish that it’s hard to capture a good shot of them.  They fly off at your approach.


This guy was so intent upon consuming this fish that he fairly ignored us.  What a National Geographic moment for me!  I asked Bruce to try to get a little closer for this unique opportunity.  While this photo could be sharper, I was thrilled to document how the bird went through contortions to slap the fish dead on the branch so it could get it down its throat.  For you birdy types out there, if you look closely you can even see that the nictitating membrane has covered the kingfisher’s eyes as he gets ready to whack it on the branch.   That membrane covers birds eyes kind of like a set of goggles to protect their eyes.


Sated for the moment, this male took a moment to digest a bit before flying off.  Eat your heart out Karen of RV Travels of Karen and Al!  (We’ve both been on a quest to get a good photo of this bird)  Rolling on the floor laughing

After that thrill for me, I heard the approaching drone of the other two boats.  I don’t know how we lost them, but I’m sure glad we did!  We all made it back safe and sound to the docking area at Stephen Foster State Park.  What a marvelous time I had on this field trip into the wilds of the swamp.  It was truly a memorable day.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Off to the swamp!

Yesterday, 12 volunteers and two staff headed off for a day long fieldtrip into the swamp.  Our destination was Big Water which is reached through the west entrance.  It’s a 70 mile drive from the east entrance, so we packed lunches and dressed in multiple layers for this on the water adventure.


After many days of overcast skies, Friday dawned clear and cold.  By a little after 10:00, we were on our way in three refuge boats to enjoy the cypress swamp area of the refuge.

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We motored our way through Billy’s Lake to then thread our way through the canoe paths.  One of the pluses of volunteering at this refuge is the number of fieldtrips that we are able to do so we get a true feeling of the swamp that we can relate to visitors.

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It’s hard to explain the beauty of traveling through this wilderness.  Alligators lurk around many corners, and I find the cypress knees especially wonderful to look at.


After several miles of travel, we arrived at our lunch stop.  Connor, the new biology intern, was in the front of the boat I was in and scooped up this turtle as we arrived at the shelter.


Little did any of us know, but the poor turtle had a fish hook through his lower mouth that had fish line wound around a large tree branch.  It was trapped, and surely would have perished if we hadn’t come upon it.


Within minutes, a set of dikes was found, and the operation to free this guy began.  What else could all of us wildlife loving people do?


         It wasn’t long, and the surgery was over.  Can you believe the size of those claws on its feet?


In short order, it gave us one last glance, and dove into the swamp with, I’m sure, a new sense of freedom.  Why is it that unthinking fishermen don’t understand the consequences of leaving their tangled lines in the swamp?  How much effort could it have taken to clean up their tangled line?  After all, the only way they got here in the first place was by using a motor less boat that could be maneuvered to retrieve the line.  I’m happy we arrived in time to provide a happy ending to this situation.


After our turtle rescue, we tied up the three boats to the shelter dock, and some of us went through various contortions to make our way up to the picnic table and porta-potty.  I thought better of taking pictures of that hilarious situation.  Flirt male  My seat for this excursion was on that middle board of the lower right boat.  Thank goodness there were plenty of hands to help me out.


There are several of these shelters provided in the wilds of the swamp wilderness.  I know all of us appreciated being able to get out and stretch our legs, use the facilities, and enjoy tasty packed lunches.  What a peaceful place to sit back and enjoy.  I think sandwiches always taste better surrounded by the wonders of nature. 

We weren’t even half way through our travels for this day, but I think I’ll save the rest for tomorrow’s post.  This is long enough for one post.  I will say that the second half of the day was even better for me as I not only got to check something off my bucket list, but there was also a moment when we thought perhaps we were lost in the swamp.

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy