Thursday, June 24, 2010

Everglades 2010

Spent Monday through Thursday of last week spraying exotics. I despise them now and I cringe every time I see Cogan grass, even when it's not on state land.
My dad came down Tuesday evening to stay through the week. He fished during the day while I worked and then we both fished in the evening. I was able to show him around the WMA too.
Thursday after work we took off for the Everglades. We made the horrible mistake of trusting the GPS navigation to get us to the Tamiami trail quickly and it took us down I-95 directly into Miami. The interstate was 12 lanes of chaos and a trip that would have taken between 2.5-3 hours on the Turnpike ended up taking 5. We fished the Tamiami for a short time then drove down to Homestead to the hotel.The next morning we went back to the Tamiami to put the kayaks in a canal. I fly fished for a few but had little to no luck. I then switched to a good ol' fashioned worm. We were worried that the Cichlids had all died over the winter fish kills and I broke out the worm rod just to check. After only a short period of time, I landed a Mayan Cichlid. Soon after I got a Jaguar Guapote and these other Cichlids (Honestly not sure of their name. They look like a cross between a convict and a discus). We noticed some storms heading our direction so we paddled back. I didn't have a cooler on the yak so I put my fish on a stringer. Once at the launch, I tied the stringer off to a bush to keep the fish alive in the canal. We loaded up the kayaks and put everything up in the bed. I walked down to the water's edge and began untying the stringer from the bush. Suddenly, there was a flash and I felt a shock run up my arms to my elbows. A lightning bolt had struck the water VERY close by. WAY too close if you ask me. My hands tingled for about 10 minutes afterwards.
We then drove down to the Everglades National Park to do some fishing in ponds we'd had luck in during previous years. We launched the kayaks and quickly got to fishing. I used strictly top water and soon had tarpon exploding underneath the lure. None, however, could hook themselves. It was the perfect fishing evening...The kind fishing dreams are made of. Not a breath of wind, cool weather, the water was like a mirror, and HUGE fish chasing your lure. If only I could have hooked one. I counted during the trip and missed a total of 15 strikes from both Tarpon and Snook. I landed one bass and my dad landed a nice Snook.
Went back the next morning to the same pond. I paddled right back to where I had so many strikes and after about 10 casts, hooked up on a fish. It dragged me around the pond for over 15 minutes. I figured it was a juvenile Tarpon, but had never seen it jump. I finally got the fish up to the boat and had the best surprise of the trip. It was a monster Snook. I pulled the fish to the boat's edge, reached down to lip him, the fish shook, and lodged the hook right into my finger. The thought of having myself attached by the hand to such a big fish made me rip the hook out instantly, ignoring the barbs (ouch). My second lipping attempt worked and I hefted the ogre into the yak. Before this fish, my biggest Snook may have been 18 inches. I was grateful for bringing my camera for this 40 inch, 30lbs fish.
My dad caught a small tarpon later (which I didn't get a picture of) and that was that. We drove back to the Tamiami trail and there were a ton of people fishing it. We didn't launch the kayaks again. Sunday morning we went back to the Everglades National Park again, but caught no fish in the ponds. On the way out, we stopped to look in a canal. To my surprise, it had cichlids in it. Lots of them. We launched the kayaks and I was determined to catch one on a fly. It took over 30 minutes of casting and maneuvering the boat in 20 mile/hour winds but I finally had a fish on. It turned out to be an Oscar (my favorite Cichlid by far).
A few casts later landed myself a very nice Mayan...
Ended the day with 4 Mayans and an Oscar on the fly. I'd never caught Cichlids on the fly before so the combination of a huge snook and cichlids on the fly definitely made my trip.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Snakes on a plane!...err...Truck!

Note: I've successfully not caught up like I planned. Everything from last week seems to have blended into one big work day so I'll hit the high points.

I had to deal with more RCW stuff last week. As I was driving to meet Cliff, I noticed two Black Racers in the middle of the road. Not wishing to run them both over, I hopped out of the truck and began prodding them along with my boot. One slithered off into the bushes, while the other one went under my truck. I then watched in shock, as the snake lifted itself up and wrapped itself around the rear axle and up under the truck frame. I quickly produced a stick and rolled underneath the truck to start trying to remove the snake. Only moments later, I looked over to see the second snake had returned and had begun climbing up the front tire. I rolled out from underneath the truck and grabbed the second snake by the tail as it started to go into the engine. We were then at a stalemate. I couldn't pull the snake any harder since he would probably pop in half and I couldn't give in since he'd just go deeper into the truck. I snapped a picture because I knew no one would believe me.
After about 10 minutes I decided to let him go inside the engine. I popped the hood, and successfully chased him out. About that time, the first snake plopped out of the back and slithered off into the bushes to join his friend.

I had water monitoring to do last week as well. It seems that only on the days I wear dark colored shirts that I have to do water monitoring. There isn't an ounce of shade and I therefore melt. After water monitoring, I had to take the four wheeler out to check a few more wood duck boxes. I managed to check only two of them before a storm brewed up and the bottom fell out. I got soaked and had to drive the four wheeler a few miles back in the rain.
Once the rain stopped. I dried off and hopped in Shrek to go make sure I knew where the transect was for the quail survey I had to do the next morning. On the way there, I had the usual herd of cattle in the road. One cow stuck out in particular and I deemed it picture worthy.
Had to do several quail surveys as well last week so I woke up early and got off early. I was too tired, however, on those days to fish so I came home and fell asleep. Thursday was a hoot. My four wheeler stopped working completely then the one I was given quite working as well. The following day I had to spray (yay) and I spent most of the morning taking the herbicide tank off of the old four wheeler and putting it on the new one. One thing was wrong after another and four hours later I had the pump working so that I could spray. I fished the Jackson-Kissimmie canal after work on Friday and had a good bit of luck. 3 bass and about 10 Stumpknockers made the evening.Saturday I traveled into Orlando to meet with friends to watch the World Cup. I'm rooting for Argentina so I made sure to catch their game. I unfortunately missed the first (and only) goal in the 8th minute of the game so I watched close to an hour and a half of nothing. I later got to watch the US vs. England game and I was surprised to see a tie at 1:1.

Sunday I waded a borrow pit close to the WMA entrance. I forgot the camera and therefore had a great afternoon of fishing. I landed about 8 bass, one of which was my biggest on the fly. I also lost one that was even bigger. I landed a few keeper bluegill as well.

And there you have it. (Nearly) caught up. I'm just a day behind now :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hmm...I might want to see a doctor

Note: I'm running low on pictures at the moment. I haven't uploaded them to the computer yet. I've also, obviously, fallen behind in postings since I'm usually too tired to do much of anything after work.

Pulled the crawfish traps back in last week and had quite a surprise. I actually caught some! Well, by some, I mean two. But it's more than I've ever caught. The picture is blurry, but I swear it's a crawfish (the camera died right after I took the picture so I couldn't get a better one).
As I was pulling in the traps, I was being eaten alive by flies. I didn't pay them too much attention and focused mainly on getting out of the dome and back to the jeep. I got back to the trailer and sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat some dinner. I noticed then, that my hand had two giant welts on it. One on the top next to my index finger, and the other on the underside of my wrist. The welts had swollen and were close to the size of a paintball welt. I was rather surprised about how big they were, but couldn't really do anything about it so I finished eating and went to take a nap. Upon waking, it felt like my hand was asleep. I looked down to see my entire right hand smooth and swollen. I immediately took an antihistamine to try to make the swelling go down.

I played around with the idea of going to see a doctor. But it seemed the swelling was slowly (very slowly) going down over the course of a few days. This picture was taken two days after I was bitten. I'll let you use your imagination to figure out how I took the picture by myself.
Wednesday was a blast. I nearly put in 12 hours of work. I had to do a sex check on an RCW tree and after (sorta) getting the band combination of one adult, I went to peep the tree. The peeper, however, was broken and wouldn't display a picture. I drove the four wheeler over to meet Cliff to see if he could fix it (which he couldn't) and then drove back to the office. I had some bluebird stuff to take care of while I waited for Cliff to finish up with the good peeper and after he was done, I got to essentially start work (at 1:00pm). I had taken the four wheeler that morning because most of the places couldn't be accessed by truck. Unfortunately, the good peeper can't be put on the four wheeler so I had to take Shrek along with me which he was pleased about. I once again willed the truck through more places than I can remember and finally called it quits at 1830.

Thursday had me back out at a few places I couldn't get to the day before. It nearly took all morning to find the different places (+ a few new ones that had been tacked on). The last cluster I had to check (cluster 45) actually required the four wheeler. It's not that it was too muddy or wet, it was that the tree is literally close to a mile from the road through thick palmettos and cypress domes. I started to hoof it out there, following a small creek when a thunderstorm rolled in. I decided that holding a 30ft pole in a lightning storm wouldn't be the best idea, so I turned back to the truck before I even made it there. Since I'd put so many hours in the day before, I just left work early.

Friday was yet again, another RCW day. I had to help Cliff do a fledge check in a specific cluster. The fledge check is just to see if the chick that hatched has successfully left the nest. This requires getting all of the band combinations of ALL birds in the area. I really wasn't too much help, but I did help Cliff follow the birds all over creation for a few hours before we finally found the fledged chick. I then was lucky enough to go back to cluster 45 to find the tree. I made the mile hike through shoulder high palmetto, cypress swamps, and bogs. It took forever. I went all the way out there to look inside the tree, just to see....Nothing. It was empty. I trudged my way back and finished out the day by checking 3 more clusters.

Drove into town on Saturday to get groceries and a haircut. I finally got paid, so I was able to treat myself to the Wendy's I was craving. I bought some fishing supplies that I wanted to trying to catch catfish and went back to the WMA to see what I could do. I set some limb lines and got chased off by another storm. The storm had passed before it got dark so I drove back out to check the lines. As I walked down to the canal, I noticed that one of my lines had been dragged up under some weeds. I started pulling on it only to find it hung up underneath the weeds. I walked out onto some stumps to find the leader and discovered about a 20 inch catfish on the end of it. Sadly, as I pulled on the line, the knot broke and the fish got away. I reset the lines and called it a day.

Sunday I tried catfishing again but with no luck whatsoever. I did learn a valuable lesson though. As I was fishing, I had two old women come up and start bream fishing literally on top of my lines. Close enough that when one of them accidentally caught a catfish (that I'd been fishing for over an hour for), her line got tangled around mine. I walked down and started to try to get the bird's nest undone. She had hooked about a 14 inch Bullhead catfish. I lipped him and started to pull the hook out when it suddenly felt like someone had stomped on my thumb. The catfish had bitten me. Hard! Not wishing to hold the thing around the body, I kept my finger in its mouth as I desperately tried to remove the hook between his munches. I finally freed the fish and the women said they wanted to keep it. I threw the catfish at them in frustration and stalked back to my seat. (And no, I didn't hit them with it. That certainly would be an interesting story to tell the police officer why I threw a catfish at some old ladies).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Never send a 4x4 to do a boat's job

Sunday, May 30th: Had to take Chelsea to the airport in Orlando today so that she could fly back. I certainly had a great time getting to see her. I decided that since I was about half way there, I'd head up to Gainesville for the night and pay my rent. I dragged a TV and my old Xbox down to save me on the days that it rains. I managed to forget the important things, however, like the Crockpot I'd been dying to use down here and an extra pillow.
Tuesday, June 1st: Took advantage of the day off in Gainesville yesterday to sleep entirely too much. I finally headed back to Kenansville around 1500. Today, I got to go check Wood duck boxes. This usually means going out on an airboat. However, right before I got back to the office after checking bluebird boxes, the law enforcement guys came and took our airboat as usual. Grrr...This meant that I got to drive my trustworthy four wheeler to the boxes. The box locations were loaded onto my GPS and I was given a mirror to look inside. Most of the boxes are only about 7ft tall and have a hinged door to peek inside. The first box I was to check was right on Jackson slough next to the water's edge. I plowed a path through the bushes and reeds to get to in via the four wheeler. Upon arriving at the box, I noticed that it wasn't 7ft tall, but closer to 11 or 12. To make matters worse, the box's door was on top, not on the side. I cut down a small tree, and went about tying the mirror onto the end of it so that I could peer inside to check for eggs. My choices for material to tie with were limited to spanish moss and orange marking tape. I chose the marking tape and sure enough, the mirror came off as I was trying to peek inside and sat precariously on the edge of the box, threatening to fall inside and crush whatever was below. I decided to head back to the office and figure something out.
I'm sure I looked quite ridiculous riding down the road on a four wheeler, carrying a cut down tree and a ladder, but I needed them both to do this job. I hauled the ladder up to the box and after only an eternity of looking for a place that wouldn't tip the ladder over in the mud, I retrieved the mirror and looked inside to find 3 duck eggs. It's a good thing the mirror didn't fall in.
The rest of the day didn't go much smoother. The second box was even more difficult to get to than the first. It required me to cross a bog, losing the GPS again in the process. I'm either getting very lucky or more skilled at finding the GPS in the four wheeler tracks. I found it after about 40 minutes. The brush approaching the second box was actually so thick that I couldn't drive the four wheeler any farther and had to walk it in my hip waders. The box was of course, the same brilliant design as the first with the top-opening door, and it was a chore to balance the ladder in the reeds to peek inside. Overall, the second box took close to 2 hours to take care of... only to find nothing inside.

Later in the day, I opened a box to find a screech owl staring back at me. He seemed rather upset that I'd disturbed him.
The box numbered "Box 3" was rather interesting. I got within about 30 yards from it before I looked at it and just turned back to the four wheeler, laughing to myself.
The final box I checked today was yet another pleasant nightmare. It was in a creek surrounded by cypresses, literally in the water. The person designing these boxes was obviously some evil genius as it was, again, another top opening box with a latch securely placed on the side facing the deeper water. Climbing a ladder in thigh deep water is something I certainly don't do every day and I hope not to again.

After work, I drove over to a cypress dome and hiked out to it to set my crawfish traps. They're placed pretty deep inside, but I'm hoping to at least catch something. I'm using some old, shriveled Vienna sausages for bait, the crawfish's natural food of choice.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thank God for 4x4

Thursday, May 27th: Woke up early and had to go do sex checks on two different areas this morning. This was particularly interesting as it was my first time getting to do it on my own. All I needed to do was get the band combinations on the adult birds, and sex the chicks. Easy stuff...right?

I arrived at the first cluster and looked at my map to find where the nest tree was. According to the map, I was to park right where I had stopped the truck, and walk 1/2 mile north to where the tree was. I wouldn't usually complain about this, but I was by myself and had to carry a spotting scope, a tripod (that doesn't retract), the peeper (which only weighs about as much as a small child), the camera battery, and a notebook (the straw that broke the camel's back sort-of-thing). The reasoning behind this walk was that the tree was inaccessible from the road since the firebreak right in front of me was impassable and the other way was blocked by a swamp. Laziness set in, and I decided to go for it.

Thanks to some 4x4 low, a steady hand, countless prayers, and my pride (getting stuck would require me to call for help on the radio and therefore everyone would know I flubbed up), I willed the truck through the bog and out the other side onto dry ground. Feeling immensely proud of myself, I consulted the map to see how far I had to go before turning to reach the nest tree. It was then that I realized the road to the tree was actually blocked on both the east AND west sides by swamp and there literally was no way to get to it since the road connected to nothing. Perfect. Now to just drive back through the bog and walk the 1/2 mile.

I made it through and trudged the distance to the nest. Since nothing is ever easy for me, there was a new adult bird present in the area which meant I was responsible for getting its band combination. I usually have the cheat sheet with me for when I see birds in the area that have been seen before. That way if I see: Yellow, Silver; Yellow, Blue, Yellow and there's a bird that's been seen in the area as: Orange, Silver; Orange, Blue, Orange, I can usually guess that's what I saw. Since this bird had never been seen before, there was no way for me to check. It amazes me how a bird can manage to show you only one of its legs for over an hour. I finally packed everything up, frustrated, after only getting two of five colors.
The next area wasn't any better. There was, yet again, another new bird in the area and after chasing it around for nearly a mile over the course of an hour and a half, I only got two colors again. I did, however, get to watch that new bird nearly get eaten by a Swallow Tailed Kite. I watched quietly and waited until the Kite finally gave up chasing it and soared off. Not much of a point in getting combinations if the bird is trying to get itself eaten.
The last area to check was in the far north section of the WMA. To my surprise, I found pitcher plants all over the area, many of which were blooming.
After looking inside the tree, I headed back for the office. Not wishing to go the long way around, I decided to go through a mud hole that recently got an ATV stuck. Shrek and I somehow plowed through it and I made it to the road. Using the 4x4 is becoming so commonplace that I'm surprised at the end of the day if I don't require it at least 8 times during work hours.

Finally got a (blurry) picture of two Osceola Turkeys!
After work, Chelsea and I headed into St. Cloud to pick up groceries since I had literally run out of food on Tuesday. Chelsea finally told me what the big surprise is: I'm going to Sea World! I'm extremely excited and I know that work will probably feel like it's taking forever tomorrow. We'll be spending the whole day there so I've gotta be sure to charge my camera. I'll have lots of pictures.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Suicidal Wildlife

Tuesday, May 25th: Headed out with Cliff this morning to do a sex check on some RCW's. After properly identifying the adult birds present in the area, we took the "peeper" camera and looked inside the next to determine the sex of the chicks. Male RCW's have a white/red circle on the tops of their heads when their young and females just have a white stripe. Once we finished with the check, we left to go take care of banding chicks at other nests.
As Cliff and I drove off to the next area, something occurred to me. Whenever Cliff is behind the wheel of a vehicle (and I don't think it matters what kind of vehicle), animals seem to get a death wish and literally dart out in front of the truck. I never seem to have this problem but I witnessed it first hand as countless animals of all shapes and sizes attempted (and sometimes succeeded) in committing suicide under the truck. After a while, we passed a herd of cattle. I made the smart comment, "Careful, one of these cows might try and dart out". No sooner had the words gotten out of my mouth then a cow darted in front of us. Luckily, Cliff had been working on his brake and pray technique all morning and we stopped before hitting the suicidal beef.

Tomorrow I have the day off. I get to drive into Orlando and pick Chelsea up from the airport. We're going to go meet with some friends for lunch and dinner and shop around. I need to pick up a few things from BassPro while we're there. Chelsea is staying until Sunday so I'll get to spend time with her all weekend too.

You know about the reserve tank, right?

Note: I'm way off on postings. I'll be trying to catch up this week/weekend.

Monday, May 24th: Went to go take care of bluebird boxes this morning. It was rather uneventful and I made it back to the office in under two hours. That gave me the rest of the day to spray exotics (hooray!). I had to finish up on road 5 and 19 today so I loaded up the four wheeler and took off to look for more Kogan grass. Finally got a picture of Sandhill Cranes as well as a Gopher Tourtise that was trying to cross the road.

After about 3 hours of spraying and searching for exotics, I reached the northern check station on the property. I shut off the four wheeler and took a short break to drink some water. The thought then occurred to me: I wonder how much gas I have in this thing...I haven't looked since Friday. The brilliant engineer who designed my Polaris four wheeler put all the gadgets he could think on it: Bright lights, an electronically displayed odometer, RPM gauge, and a (broken) speedometer. However, he failed to put the only thing one really needs to look at on the ATV...oh yes...that would be the fuel gauge. I unscrewed the cap only to see the bottom of the fuel tank, dry as a bone. My radio had died, and I didn't have cell signal, so I started it back up and floored it to get back to the office. About two miles away from the office, the four wheeler started to sputter and backfire. I gunned it even faster in hopes that I might get at least a little closer before it died. I made it to the service road that the office is located before the four wheeler finally died. I then proceeded to push it the few hundred yards down the road and to the back of the office where the fuel tank is located.

After recovering from the push in 90 degree weather, I hopped back on and took off to continue the futile war against exotic plants. While spraying, Cliff rode by on his ATV and he stopped to talk. I told him the whole story about running out of gas. He laughed, looked at the four wheeler and pointed next to my feet, saying "You know about the reserve tank, right? It's right there next to your foot. Just switch it to 'on' and you'll be good to go next time, no need to push". Thanks Cliff...

Only a few minutes after Cliff left, my wonderful ATV decided it would like to overheat and I was forced to let it cool and limp it back to finish off my day.