Borrego Springs, CA

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It’s gobbling time on the refuge

I’ve got a little over two weeks left at Okefenokee, and I’m getting short timer’s attitude.  Some people call it hitch itch, but I have noticed that as the time for me to move on nears, I become less tolerant of minor irritations.  Same thing happened just before I retired almost seven years ago.  The excitement of new horizons builds, and the attitude turns to “What can they do?  Fire me?”  I’ve been at this volunteer assignment longer than any other I’ve had, and I guess I’m ready to move on.  It seems to happen every time as the departure date nears. 

IMG_2308I’ve spent the last two days between roving and working the VC.  This is the busy season here, and work in the VC is non-stop as hundreds of visitors come in.  Roving and observing the wildlife is a welcome break from all the harried activity.


I got a call on the radio this morning that fellow fulltimers and bloggers, Randy and Pam, had arrived at the VC.  I headed in, picked them up, and gave them a tour of the refuge on a couple of the back roads and out to the Chesser Homestead.  Little did I know at that time, that they had already been out there a couple of days ago.  I don't know smile  It’s always nice to spend some time with people of similar interests.  The last time I saw them, they visited me at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR in Mississippi when I was pretty much under the weather.  This was a much more pleasant experience.


Before heading in to pick them up, I had made a stop at the secret pond.  Love is still in the air, and the tom turkeys were gobbling away and showing their finery.


I had thought that this flock only had two toms, but today I’m thinking there may be four.  At this point, most of the females had headed for the woods, but one was left.  I think all four birds on the right are males.  Two of them just couldn’t help themselves from displaying to the fullest every couple of seconds.  They seem to be helpless to the effects of spring fever!  Surprised smile


It’s always nice to spot one of our endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers along the way.  Notice the two yellow and one blue bands on its left leg?  I believe this bird hatched here on the refuge. 


Nearby was one of the much more numerous red-bellied woodpeckers working the longleaf pine branches for tasty morsels.  I had a minor accomplishment today, as I had decided to not rely on using my cane all day at work.  I felt I needed to push myself a little to get past the recuperation plateau that I seemed to have reached.  Things went well, so I will concentrate on not using the cane.  I think it became too easy to use it.  I want to move on to more normalcy. 

IMG_2332                                                                                THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I’ll be heading to the ‘Land of Ten Thousand Lakes’!

We had 400 high school forestry students at the refuge today, so it was “all hands on deck” to handle a crowd like that.  They were here to compete in some practicum forest tests this morning, and then they were free to participate in four venues that we offered for their education and enjoyment on the refuge.  I was stationed at the beginning of the Cane Pole Trail to direct them where they needed to go for an alligator presentation.  It was a busy day with that many young people descending on us, but lots of fun besides.  All of us senior volunteers are pretty well worn out tonight.

When I staggered back to the rig late this afternoon, I turned on the computer to check my email just in case there was a message from Tamarac NWR in northwest Minnesota.  I had that interview yesterday, but wasn’t expecting to hear anything until tomorrow.  Lo and behold, there was an email, and I crossed my fingers before opening it. 

Judith-- I would like to offer you the position here at Tamarac. I think you are a great fit for our needs - you have the  skills and experience we are looking for. Let me know if you would like to spend the summer with us and the loons, wolves, trumpeters and eagles etc... and then we'll go from there.

thanks so much!

Hmm… should I think about this??  Ha Ha!  I was doing a happy dance!  My response:

You Betcha!!  I'll try to be there a little before the bird festival with "Bells" on!  (pun intended)  :)  Let me know what I need to do next...

Ya-Hoo!  Besides the fact that I love the north woods, and haven’t been there in seven years, I also have two sons and three grandchildren that live in Minnesota.  They’re not exactly next door to where I’ll be (Minnesota is a big state), but I’ll only be working three days/week so some trips down to Rochester will be occurring.  I’m a happy camper tonight, and that’s about all that was important to me today…


                                                                                THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The rest of the story…

Tonight I’m continuing the rest of the day we spent on the western side of the refuge yesterday.  After visiting Billy’s Island, we back tracked a bit to find the passage to Minnie Lake.

IMG_2233Along the way, we noticed the first blooms of the water irises.  In a week or so, the swamp on this side will be blessed with their vibrant blue/purple color all along the canoe trails.  There never seems to be a month that goes by that doesn’t have some flowers blooming.


Even though it was a Tuesday morning, we did pass a few folks out enjoying the solitude in their canoes and kayaks.  Though chilly and windy, it was a great day for being out and about on the swamp.


Shortly before the cutoff for Minnie Lake, Kathy noticed an American bittern skulking in the dried grasses and reeds along the edge of the trail.  I’m sure glad she spotted this secretive bird so we could turn around to get some pictures of it.

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As we approached, it apparently noticed us and went into it’s defensive mode.  The idea behind this behavior is that no one will see it if it stretches its neck out skyward to look like the dried reeds.  “Now you can’t see me!”  We cruised back and forth for a bit, and I was thrilled to get quite a few pictures.  I’ll sprinkle them out in future posts.


We stopped at the Minnie Lake shelter for lunch and a much needed potty break.  Interestingly, it was much colder up on the shelter than it was in the boat on the water.  Even so, what a magnificent place to savor a picnic lunch!  A red-shouldered hawk went screaming overhead, and the shrubs along the trail were bubbling with warblers. 


I looked for the turtle we had freed from the fish hook a few weeks ago, but it was nowhere to be seen.  It may have been cold, but the yellow-bellied sliders were out catching rays where ever they could.  Our return trip to the dock was slow and easy going.


We chuckled at all the alligators that were draped along fallen trees.  I think these survivors from the dinosaur age must have not become extinct because of their laid back lifestyle.  Just flop yourself out in the sun somewhere and meditate, and occasionally grab a bite to eat.  Reminds me of some retired RVers I know. Winking smile

Today, Jack and I headed for Kingsland so he could gas up his one ton dually truck, and I could do my grocery shopping.  He will depart for Indiana in the morning, and plans to be there by Sunday.  Safe travels my friend!  Upon my return to the rig, I dashed to the VC to do the phone interview for Tamarac NWR.  I thought it went well, but then I always do.  I should know by Friday if I’m heading for a summer in the north woods of Minnesota.  If I get that position, Jack will probably visit again sometime in May for our next episode of adventures.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Anchors Aweigh!

After driving the 75 miles over to the west entrance of Okefenokee NWR in 30 something degree temperatures, we rented a small motorboat at the Stephen Foster State Park to start our adventure in the swamp this morning.  After explaining that we were all volunteers for the refuge on the east side (yes, Jack qualifies after helping with the canoe trail maintenance last week), I was charged a price for a two hour rental even though I said we might be out for six hours.  Sweet!!  I would have been willing to pay the full price for this outing, but I’m not one to pass up a bargain either.


It wasn’t long before we were all bundled up and made our way out onto Billy’s Lake.  The west entrance is really my favorite as that area has the big cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.  That’s what a southern swamp means to me.


I had invited intern Kathy to go with us as she enjoys getting out into the swamp as much as I do.  Between the cold temps and the hat that Jack was wearing, I felt like I was a voyageur working for the Hudson’s Bay Company plying the waters looking for beaver back in the day. Who me?

IMG_1824Our first destination after making it through Billy’s Lake was to arrive at Billy’s Island.  There’s a nice docking area there, and I wanted to do a little exploring since I’d never been there before.

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Back in the early 1900’s, there was a town with 800 inhabitants on this third largest island in the swamp.  They were all there to harvest the old growth cypress trees.  After harvesting just about all of the old trees, they had to leave once the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937.  Some old rusty machine things remain along with the Lee Family Cemetery.  The Lee’s were early homesteaders on the island.  Mother Nature has done a good job reclaiming this area.  Most of the island is off limits to visitors except for the half mile trail.

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Before we reached Billy’s Island, we were in for a few great sightings.  Because of the cold temperatures, all of the tree swallows in the area were flying low in massive formations.  You’ll have to enlarge the above pics, but on the left there are at least 15 tree swallows in that one frame coursing over the lily pads.  The pic on the right shows just a little snapshot of them resting in the short trees and hunting over the water.  I’ve never seen so many of these swallows in such masses.  There were literally thousands of them wheeling around.  Their iridescent blue bodies were just glistening in the cold rays of the sun.


Then, we were able to get pretty close up and personal with a little blue heron.  I like that little ‘pony tail’ it develops for the breeding season.  I sure wish I could have shown this side of the swamp to my brother, Nurse Ratchet (Kurt), while he was here in January.

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After Billy’s Island, we began to make our way deeper into the cypress swamp towards Minnie Lake.  I’ll post about that tomorrow, but I wanted to point out that the boat driving was more challenging down this trail.  Sometimes you really have to weave the boat slowly through closely spaced cypress trees.  This is where Jack proved to be a Navy man at heart.  He guided our little boat through a particularly tricky maneuver through the closely growing cypress.  I was impressed, and told him so.  Then, in a rather wide open area, he whacked us into a cypress tree.  What’s up with that?  Hmm… I wonder what rank he reached in the Navy?  Confused smile

IMG_2187                                                                                 THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, March 25, 2013

Enough is enough!

Sorry to say, I’ve had to ban anonymous comments to the blog.  I have been getting 20-30 of those disgusting comments each day, and the Blogger filter wasn’t up to the deluge.  As other bloggers have said, it’s too bad for people that want to comment that aren’t scuzzballs, but enough is truly enough!  I turned off anonymous comments last night, and it was an unbelievable relief to not have to deal with them today.  I suppose they’ll find some other way to gain access, but for now, that’s the way it is.

Even though it was my day off today, I had to attend a staff meeting this morning because of a special event occurring on Thursday.  After that, I just decided to spend the day relaxing.  I’ve been dealing with a messy head cold the last ten days that I hope is abating.  Simply said, between still recuperating from surgery, the cold, and working the last five days, I was worn out.

I also wanted to gather strength for my adventure tomorrow.  My friend Jack, intern Kathy, and I will drive to the west entrance to rent a boat and enjoy that side of the swamp at our own speed.  The skies will be sunny, but the polar air from the north that is gripping the east will be a challenge to bundle up enough for.  Besides several layers of clothes including gloves, I’m bringing my rain pants and poncho to wear over everything to help combat the forecasted winds.  It’s always colder out on the water.  We’ll pack a lunch to take with us.  I’m excited about the prospects of what me might see, but I’m a little apprehensive about Jack’s boat driving abilities.  I believe he was in the Navy at some point, so that should make me feel better, right?  Disappointed smile 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Plan B for this summer

The rain continued to pour down this morning as I was assigned to rove.  I must say that unlike yesterday afternoon, there weren’t any people on Swamp Island Drive this morning in the rain.  We’ve had enough rain in the last two days that I was reluctant to drive down any of the sandy unpaved roads.  There were deep puddles everywhere. 

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You can tell by these two pictures of a turkey vulture just how dark and overcast it was.  This bird was trying to dry off its feathers, but wasn’t having much success.  I figured my rove time would be pretty much a flop as far as seeing any wildlife at all, but I was wrong.


As I made my way around the loop and back to where I had started, a bunch of little birds flew across the road.  One stuck around, so I lowered the passenger’s window and got my camera into my hands.  Low and behold, it was a brown-headed nuthatch sitting on the branch of a dead tree.  If you look carefully, you can see an old woodpecker hole to the left of the nuthatch.  I noticed this hole early on in my time here, and wondered if a chickadee or titmouse might use it to nest in once spring arrived.

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I never expected a brown-headed nuthatch might use it.  They are usually so high up in the pine trees.  As I sat there, this little bird hopped in and out of the hole and was giving me a vocal thrashing for not moving on. 

I know the pics are a little dark, but that’s the best I can do under low light circumstances.  I have to use a shutter setting of 1/1000 of a second to be able to hold the camera still enough to get a shot.  I have tremors in my hands, and holding the camera still is a real challenge.  That means I generally need sunny days in order to use the telephoto lens.  It made my day to make this discovery!  I moved on quickly, and won’t bother this bird very often, as I don’t want it to abandon the nest.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-1348The rain stopped for a bit, and I noticed a short shrub beginning to bloom.  I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I sure was wishing I had Jack’s macro lens to capture the raindrops on the blossoms.


The candy roots are also beginning to bloom.  The color of the flower is determined by the acidity of the soil, I believe.  These blooms look like they’ll be yellow, while I’ve found others that are orange.  The orange ones were next to those sundews that I posted on a previous post.

Since I turned down the opportunity to volunteer at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming for the summer because they were looking for someone to work four days a week in the visitors center, I did send out my resume and letter of interest to another refuge.  That was plan B for the summer.  I will have a phone interview for this position this coming week.  It is at Tamarac NWR in northwest Minnesota.  Quite a change from the mountains, but I do love the northern woods and haven’t been there in seven years.  It’s the land of lakes and loons.  I miss hearing the eerie call of the loons.

I’ll let you know how that goes.  If I get the position, I’ll fill in the pluses of this location.  If I don’t get it, I’m just going to be a bum for the summer.  One way or the other, I’m going to enjoy myself.


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Two more work days done

I had enough work and fun yesterday that the result was I was too pooped to post. 


I was assigned to man the Chesser Island Homestead all day, and give tours to visitors.  The day started off with a bang as I had three visitors in the first ten minutes.  Then it calmed down to the usual trickle through here on a week day.  It’s been several months since I’ve had the rocking chair assignment on the porch of the homestead, so I relaxed and enjoyed myself.


As I rocked away waiting for the next visitor, my ears just couldn’t ignore the songs and chips of the little warblers in the surrounding trees.  It wasn’t long before I grabbed my camera to see if I could get some pictures of these beauties that were working the trees for insects. 

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A whole bunch of one of my favorite warblers was moving through…the Northern Parula.  I think it is one of the prettiest warblers with its blue/grey wings, yellow upper breast, throat and back, and the reddish necklace around its throat.  They nest here at Okefenokee, but for a girl from the north, they are a real treat to see.


This isn’t the best shot, but if you look closely you can see that this little guy has gleaned a spider to eat from among the branches.  I love that they almost continually sing their rising buzzing song as they constantly hop from here to there to thwart the lowly photographer. 

Once I closed up the homestead, I had to buzz my way back to the rig, at a whopping 15 mph, to get ready for the cookout we were having at the Volunteer Village to honor Jack’s visit.  It was not without drama, however, as we kept our radios near to listen for news from the group out on the water.  Besides the RV volunteers, occasionally we have other volunteers that stay a few days at the village in the double-wide trailer to do work on the canoe trails out in the swamp.  The group that was here yesterday went out in two boats on the orange trail to do some trimming. The motor on one of the boats died while they were out, and the other engine was having problems towing the broken boat.  We lost radio contact with them, and began to worry for their safety.  Being that it was a Friday evening, there was no staff around.  You sure don’t want to be stranded overnight out on the swamp if you are not near a shelter! 

None of us are certified to drive the refuge boats to go out and find them, so we had a dilemma.  Eventually, we notified the staff Law Enforcement Officer, and called Russell, who drove the boat for Wednesday’s adventure, to come help.  Just as the troops gathered, the group limped in with both boats.  That was a close call.  They were wet and tired, and we shared whatever we had left from our cookout with them.  Thankfully, everything turned out well.

Today, a couple of people showed up for my morning bird tour.  We went out, but there wasn’t much birdlife to be seen as it was overcast and beginning to rain.  After the tour, the skies opened up and a deluge began that hasn’t ended yet.  It is supposed to continue through tomorrow.

IMG_2143I went out to rove for about an hour this afternoon, and was able to document the first lily pad bloom of the season through the rain.  As you can tell, it was pretty dark and dreary out, but that didn’t seem to stop folks from driving the Swamp Island Drive.  I spoke with more people in one hour along the drive in the rain than any other time I’ve been roving.  Go figure!


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Holy Macro !

After our adventure out in the swamp yesterday, it was back to reality for me as I headed into work this morning.  I was scheduled to rove this morning, and then work the VC this afternoon.  Jack came along for the roving part of my day.  It was a little chilly, so not much was out and moving about this morning.  After an hour or so, we headed for the secret pond.  I often see something good in this secluded area, and today was not a disappointment.


As we rounded the corner that leads to the field surrounding the pond, there was a group of wild turkeys there.  Spring is definitely in the air, as a couple of tom turkeys were displaying for the hens.  Cool beans!  It seems I always find something of interest when I visit the pond.  I shut off the engine, and we made our way by foot to see if we could a little closer without spooking them.

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They only let us approach so far before they ‘headed for the woods’.  Only us turkeys out here this morning.  Winking smile  This was the first time I’ve been witness to the mating ritual of this species, so I was thrilled.  There was a whole lot of gobbling going on, and the males fanned out their feathers in an effort to show their best sides and bright blue heads to the ladies.  It seemed to me that the hens were rather ambivalent to all this show casing.  I thought that was rather wise on their account.  All that bluster and chest puffing out doesn’t mean they’ll be a good mate…Thinking smile

Remember those sundew plants that I’ve been wanting to get a good picture of?  Well, Jack brought along his macro lens today, and I asked him to take some pictures for me using that lens.  I’ve never had or used one, so I wanted to see what it could do. 

_MG_1802Those sundews are across a watery ditch on the way out from the secret pond, and I am not allowed to go into these kind of contortions yet to get a good picture of them.  He was up for the challenge, and put his macro lens on my camera.

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This was the result.  These carnivorous plants are only about an inch or two across, and the macro lens captured the dewy sticky globs that bugs get stuck on very well I thought.  Once the bugs are stuck, the pads fold up to digest them.  Holy cow!  I’m thinking a macro lens might be in my future as soon as I’m able to fold down and get up close and personal with little things.  Thanks, Jack.

This afternoon, I had a brainstorm while working the VC, and asked Jack if he would like to extend his visit for a few days so we could do a boat trip into the swamp from the west entrance.  I just found out he is up for that adventure, so we’ll rent a motorboat out of Stephen Foster State Park and slowly investigate the dark cypress part of the refuge next Monday.  I’m really excited about that, and hope we have wonderful weather.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy