Sunday, May 23, 2010

My first burn

Got up Friday morning and got to work at 0800. I had to go check a bluebird box on the other side of the WMA, so I hopped in Shrek and took off to go take care of it. Sadly, I only had one box to take care of and the trip took 45 minutes to get there and back. Once back, I was about to load up the four wheeler and begin the exciting task of spraying exotics again. Lucky for me, my boss Tina saved me and asked…well…told me that I was going on my first burn. I was to use one of the technician’s (named Stony) four wheelers and trailer since it had the proper gear on it. I hooked the trailer up to Shrek and drove the Stony’s four wheeler up onto it. It only took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to start it since I’ve never seen a push-start button on a four wheeler.

After getting everything ready, six of us drove off to the area that was supposed to be burned. The section was about 2 miles long and about 1/8 of a mile wide. Since I’ve had no training in burning, it was my job to drive up and down the road on the four wheeler and make sure the fire stayed on the correct side of the road. If it jumped the road, I would get to spray it out and call for help. The fire never jumped the road I was patrolling but did on another road. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to help out since it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. At one point during the burn, as I was video taping some of it, I nearly ran over a 4 ft. Diamondback Rattlesnake. (For some reason I can't upload the video).
I spun the four wheeler around and got a picture before we sprayed it off the road with the hoses. The only other animal I saw that got flushed from the fire was a small raccoon. I certainly enjoyed my first burn and I doubt my clothes will ever get the smoke smell off of them. I guess driving around through smoke for 4 hours will do that.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t too tired to go fishing after work, so I loaded up the kayak and went to try the same ponds again. Since I recently lost my favorite fly to an evil oak, I had switched to a larger grasshopper fly. I only caught a few fish from the pond covered with lilly pads, so I went over to the other one before it got too dark. There, I caught a few decent sized bluegill and 5 small bass. Fished until it was literally dark, then headed back.

Saturday I did a whole lot of nothing. Slept in until almost 1100 since I rarely get the chance to. I played around on the internet for a few hours, then decided I’d try out my crawfish traps. I dropped one at the edge of lake Jackson where I usually fish from the bank, then dropped the other off of road 7 (which was a terrible road, glad I have 4x4) where an old bridge reaches out over the canal. Came home and cooked (a.k.a incinerated) some hamburger steaks then decided I’d go for a run. I underestimated how long the road was that I was running down and a two mile run nearly turned into four. It was dark enough on the way back that I was running by moonlight. I also found a new form of motivation for running. I made the run last night without a shirt on and after turning around and coming back, I decided to walk for a few seconds. Motivation came alive in the form of a few hundred yellow flies. Needless to say, I didn’t stop to walk anymore.

Woke up and checked the crawfish traps this morning to find absolutely nothing. Made a few casts and caught one stump knocker. Driving down road 7 successfully covered my entire jeep in black, stinky mud, so I had to go rinse it off as best I could when I got back. Tomorrow I have to spend the day spraying exotics. Chelsea’s got some surprise for me on Saturday, so I’m excited to find out what that is. I have Wednesday off so that I can pick her up from the airport and we’ll be going by BassPro to buy some more flies.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Move cows....MOVE!

My day yesterday started about 0545. I had to meet one of the technicians that work out here, named Mike, over by Carlton's house at 0620 to do another quail call survey. Shrek and I left the office about 0600 but I miscalculated how long it would take me to get there and I was running late. Couldn't get the gate onto the Three Lakes unit to lock shut so I had to make it look like it was locked and hurry on. About a half mile from where I was supposed to meet Mike, I noticed something in the middle of the road. As I approached, I saw that it was about 40 cows, some of which were laying down in the road. Unlike other WMA's I've been on, Three Lakes allows rachers to keep cows and have them roam around the area. The cows, knowing I was late, mocked me by refusing to budge from the road. I rolled down the window and blared the horn at them. "Move cows! Move! Move!". I inched Shrek closer and closer to them, threatening to bump them should they not get out of the way. Reluctantly, and with what seemed like amused grins, the cows slowly walked off the road and let me pass.

The quail survey actually took a little longer than expected thanks to some completely flooded roads. At one stop I was forced to open the door and crawl onto the tool box in the back to avoid stepping into knee deep water. After the quail survey I checked up on some bluebird boxes that I've been assigned to. After I got back to the office, I got help from Tina, the head biologist out here, and we went to go band a box of bluebird chicks.

I then got the exciting task of spraying herbicides to kill invasive plants. The sprayer is attached to a four wheeler so I pretty much had to just drive down the road, spray the exotics, flag them with orange tape, plot the GPS coordinates, rinse, and repeat.After work, I had enough time to go put the kayak in for some fishing. I tried some ponds near the turnpike that Mike had showed me earlier that morning. I launched in the first one and was having absolutely no success. Just when I was a few casts away from hanging it up and trying the next pond, something pulled my foam spider under. With renewed confidence that I might actually catch something, I switched to the grasshopper fly my dad tied and began getting strikes. I finally managed to hook and land a very nice bluegill. With some continued casts around the area, I soon landed the biggest bluegill I've ever caught on the fly. It actually pulled the kayak around. Luckily, I decided not to keep those two fish because I only caught a few small ones after that. I soon noticed it was getting late, so I loaded up the kayak and tried the other pond before it got too dark. The second pond had lilly pads all over it and within a short period of time, I landed a few small bluegill. Just a
s the sun was setting, I caught two bass in two casts. One of the bass was large enough to keep. I had to quit fishing since the sun had set by then.

Today wasn't exactly spectacular. I went and sprayed exotics for 4.5 hours since I was closing in on my 40 hour/week mark (I get no over time). Finished up work at 1330 and I'm thinking about going fishing again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You put the plug in, right?

0545 came pretty early this morning. Had to meet Carlton to head out to do a quail call survey. It pretty much consists of sitting on the back of a truck, and listening for quails and counting how many calls you here over an eight minute period. There were quite a few stops that had to be listened at so the whole thing took around 2 hours.

After we got back to the office, Carlton and I hooked up the boat and picked up a guy named Ken. Ken works as law enforcement out here but had been placed on light duty due to a four-wheeler injury. We grabbed the floating computer and left to go do the water flow survey. After arriving at the launch, Ken and I got out and started getting the boat ready. It was full of water from yesterday's rain so we let it drain for a few minutes. I told Ken, "We've gotta make sure to put that plug back in before we launch". I then hopped back in the truck to put on my hip waders and finish getting ready. We launched the boat and Ken and I started drifting out into the canal as I tried to crank start the motor. I was focusing on the motor and trying to start it, but the stupid fuel tank in the back kept bumping into my leg. It wasn't until Ken said, "You put the plug in, right?", that I realized the fuel tank was bumping into me because it was floating in the now sinking jon boat. Unable to get the motor cranked, we paddled as fast as humanly possible back to the bank and hauled the boat as far out of the water as we could. I stuck the plug in and we launched off again with only about a foot of water in the bottom of the boat (we had nothing to bail with and Carlton had taken off around the corner with the trailer). After what seemed like forever sitting in the sun, we finished taking tests with the floating computer and loaded everything back up. I hopped in the jon boat alone this time and started trying to motor to the launch point. It was then that I realized I needed another person to help distribute the weight in the front since all the water rushed to the back of the boat and weighed it down even more. It's a good thing I don't weigh any more than I already do. The stern sat so low that the waterline was less than 1 inch from coming over the top of the gunnel to sink me. Luckily the boat held up fine until it was time to load it on the trailer and the stern dipped below the waterline. I was certainly thankful for the hip waders as I jumped from the nearly swamped boat and we hauled it out of the water. We headed for the next area to survey, but thanks to some computer issues, we weren't able to run the tests.

Came home and crashed on the couch for three hours after work which shot my afternoon fishing plans down. I'm looking forward to when Chelsea comes down and we head into Orlando. I've got some things I need to pick up from BassPro while we're there. Tomorrow consists of another quail survey, bluebird chick banding, and possibly getting a chance to monitor scrub jays. Saw a HUGE eagle this morning, a few ospreys, an armadillo and a staggering 18 deer over the course of the day.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Woke up today and got to work at 0800. I knew I was supposed to be doing something different today aside from dealing with RCW's but I wasn't sure what. My morning consisted of "reading" through 280 some odd pages of a PDF file about FWC policies. I was then supposed to start working with a man named Carlton to monitor water flow in Lake Jackson and the Jackson-Kissimmee canal. However, he'd stepped out to take care of another job while I read the never ending list of policies. By the time I had finished, he still hadn't returned so I was assigned trash duty at three different places on the WMA (yay!). To make up for it I was finally given my own set of truck keys and a lifted, green Dodge 2500 with all-terrains that's been beat to pieces. I've named the truck Shrek.

After receiving a radio and GPS, Shrek and I took off for trash duty. The trashcans out here are bear proof which also means they're nearly human proof as well. The design made it so that the cavity that holds the trash is larger than the opening, AND the lid refuses to stay open while you're attempting to remove the swollen bag of garbage. With this combination of things working against me, I successfully tore open the full trash bag and spilled all the contents back into the trashcan (which was also full of mud from the recent rain we had). I had to go through the trash by hand and remove all the beer cans, McDonald's wrappers, and dirty diapers from the can. To top off this adventure, something (probably a spider) bit me on the wrist hard enough to leave a quarter sized welt.

When the trash run was finally done, I came back to the office and met with Carlton. We hooked the Jon Boat up to his truck and loaded all the computer equipment needed to measure water flow. It began to rain a little bit as we went to the first stop, but I stopped by the time we were ready to launch. To monitor the water flow, essentially a floating computer is attached to a rope that stretches to pulleys on either side of the canal. I had just motored the boat to the far side of the canal and hopped out to begin feeding the rope when a bolt of lightning struck WAY too close. It didn't take much convincing on Carlton's part to get me back in the boat and ready to hook it up on the trailer in seconds.

Once back at the office, I met with Cliff's wife, Emily, and we left to go check bluebird boxes and band some chicks. I was able to band my first bluebird chick and was assigned my own series of boxes to watch over. Since it was pouring rain, I wasn't able to get any pictures.

Drove into town after work and bought the KFC I was craving. There was a terrible thunderstorm on the way but it had slacked off by the time I returned to the trailer. Then, after dinner, I took a few minutes to go fish. I (of course) forgot my camera again. I managed to catch two keeper Stumpknockers, but I think it might have been the same fish (or at least his clone). Tomorrow I get to do a quail call survey and have round two with the jon boat.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Day of Fishing

Saturday, May 15, 2010: Drove into Kenansville this morning to get gas and bait, then drove back to pick up the kayak and go fish. Put in at a creek nearby the trailer. I took the creek out to Lake Marion where the wind was blowing 25+ mph out of the south and there were breaking waves on the lake. I turned around and went back to the put in. After loading up everything again, I drove over to Lake Jackson. I paddled along the edge of the lake out of the wind. There were a TON of alligators in lake Jackson. I saw well over 30 and the largest one was 11 ft +. Managed to pull two small bass from the lake and missed two others. Had problems with the wind and Lilly pads. It sounded like there were a lot of bluegill hitting the surface underneath the pads, but I couldn’t get one to ever hit the fly (I did only throw one type at them though). I paddled back (into the wind of course) and loaded up the Jeep again at around 1700. I decided to try the canal by the observation tower before it got dark since I’d had a hit there the other day. While unloading everything at the canal, I found a grasshopper and threw it in. After only a few moments, it swam right back towards me and less that 2 feet from where I was standing, a big bream came up and ate him.
I launched and paddled north up the canal. The wind had switched by now and was coming from the east southeast so I was sheltered by the trees. Only caught two fish north of the launch along with 2 other misses. I then paddled back as it was getting late. Right before calling it quits at the launch, I cast up along the weeds where the bream from earlier had struck. He hit my fly but managed to avoid the hook. I then noticed another area south of the launch that looked just like the one that this bream had been hiding in. I paddled over and lost a huge bluegill under the boat. I kept moving down the bank until it was almost dark then called it quits. I lost two very big bluegill along that one stretch of bank and also missed 4 other strikes. I’ll have to go back there soon. I switched from the commercial popper to a grasshopper fly that my dad had tied. It obviously worked well. Tomorrow I have to work for about 4 hours so should finish up around noon. Cell signal down here (for T-Mobile at least) sucks. Every time I talk to Chelsea I go silent for a few seconds because I'm cut off which gets really annoying and doesn't help with how badly I miss her. She plans to come down Memorial Day weekend which I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully we can hang out in Orlando some and enjoy some civilization :).

Banding Chicks

Friday, May 14, 2010: Went banding RCW chicks today with Cliff and Michelle. Got to see how banding is done but I spent my time trying to properly ID the adult birds with the spotting scope. The colors are what are killing me now. At least I can find the birds in the scope quickly. Also peeped and aged 3 nests. Finished working at 0300 and went fishing the rest of the afternoon. Went down a new road today (road 18) and at the end was a small creek on the edge of lake Jackson. Even with 75% of my back casts landing in the Spanish moss of the oaks, I managed to land a keeper Stumpknocker, a keeper blue gill and about a 12 inch bass. Didn't bring the camera, so it only makes sense that I caught fish. I might try to take the kayak out this weekend weather permitting. I have tomorrow off so I’ll spend the day fishing.

First day of work

Wednesday, May 12, 2010: Woke up at 0500 to start the day. 0500 still feels like 0400 as I just about got used to the time difference while I was up in Pensacola. Met Michelle at the FWC office just down the road at 0530 and loaded up the truck to leave. Michelle works as a Biologist I here on the WMA and is also the other person living in the trailer/cabin with me. Today’s job was to go monitor RWC nests to see if any eggs had been laid. The RWC’s live in what’s referred to as clusters. A cluster consists usually of only two birds (a mated pair) and sometimes three with a helper male from a previous year’s hatch. What’s startling about these birds is that they require approx. 300 acres of pine flat woods per cluster. They also are the only woodpeckers to dig out holes in live trees (some birds take advantage of these holes and make their nests in them as well. Flying squirrels do the same). We had a total of five clusters that needed to be checked. I drove the truck out to the first cluster while it was still dark and dragged a spotting scope and tripod out to the trees that the birds were roosted in. About 20 minutes after light, the birds came out of their holes and began foraging. Every bird has been banded with a specific combination of colors on their legs. It was our job to spot the color sequence to find out which birds were roosting in these trees and to find out if a bird from another cluster had moved in. Spotting the birds with the spotting scope sucks. Not only is it hard to just make sure you’re looking at the right tree, but 90% of the time the scope is zoomed in to far or is out of focus. By the time you get the bird into focus and start looking at his legs, he zooms over to another tree so that you must repeat the process. After chasing the birds through palmetto thickets and finally getting band combinations, it was time to look inside the roosts. For this we used what’s known as the “peeper”. It’s essentially a retractable PVC pipe that can extend to about 60 ft. On the end is mounted a camera at a 90 degree angle and at the bottom is a camera. The pole is extended up a tree to the hole and then the camera is pushed inside. From there it is possible to tell what’s inside the roost. Over the course of the day we found about 7 eggs inside roosts (2 roosts with 3 eggs each and 1 with only 1 egg). One of the nests that were checked already had chicks inside. On the way back to the trailer, we ran into two people banding blue bird chicks. I was able to watch as the last of five chicks were banded and put back in the nest.
Once back at the office, I essentially had nothing else to do but had only worked for about 5.5 hours. I was offered the keys to the truck and asked if I wanted to drive around to learn the WMA and get paid for it. I gladly accepted. I drove around the WMA for about two hours before my stomach decided it was time to stop. After returning the truck, I hopped in the Jeep and headed back to St. Cloud for groceries. They farm sod of all things out here so there are always sod trucks coming down the two lane highway. On the way back, I passed one of these semi’s coming from the other direction. The wind of us passing each other was strong enough that it snapped the rubber hood clamp on the Jeep clean off. With the hood threatening to pay me a visit through the windshield, I was forced to limp back to the trailer at 45 mph. After I got back I grabbed a quick bite, and headed out fishing. Took the fly rod and fished a creek nearby as well as a canal on the other side of the WMA. The creek had nothing but gar in it and I missed a big bluegill in the canal. I fished till dark and then came back. Over the course of the day I saw: 3 deer, 2 rabbits, 8 quail, 3 Osceola turkey, 1 gator, 1 turtle, 1 Sandhill Crane, 1 Swallowtailed Kite, 9 RCW’s, 3 Hawks (of some sort), 2 armadillos and 5 bluebird chicks. Gotta be up at 0500 again tomorrow

A long trip

Note: The following few posts are dated back to last week. Limited internet access has made it difficult to get a blog rolling.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010: Drove the grueling drive from Pensacola to Gainesville, then Gainesville to Kenansville today. Kenansville is about an hour south of Orlando and is the closest “town” to the Prairie Lakes WMA. I’m currently working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as an intern here at the Prairie Lakes WMA. I’m currently staying in a trailer/cabin here on the WMA itself. The entire area out here looks almost like the everglades except instead of saw grass as far as you can see, it’s palmetto. I’ve pretty much dragged everything I could think of plus the kitchen sink down here in the Jeep. Tomorrow should be exciting as I get to go out in the field and start my job. Over the course of the summer I will be able to do many different things such as assisting on controlled burns and spotlighting deer at night. Tomorrow, however, I will be dealing with Red Cockaded Woodpeckers (RWC’s), a federally endangered bird which is found in this area.