Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Real squirrels don't go "woof"

The week following the truck drowning incident consisted of even MORE photopoints!
The heat became unbearable from the four wheeler so I took Shrek out again. If figured it would be OK since I wasn't going near any wet areas on this particular part of the management area. I worked till around noon and decided that I'd take a break and eat some lunch. I turned down a road and found some shade. I then turned the truck around in a fire break and went to park it underneath the shade. As I approached the shady area, I noticed something sitting in the middle of the road about 60 yards away.
Wow, that's one goofy looking fox squirrel, I thought to myself as I drove the truck toward it. Why is it sitting like that? There's not even any oaks for it around here. It's...oh...What the?

My thoughts drifted as I realized what it was as it ran right to the truck. A dog! I really small dog. It hopped up in my lap when I opened the door.
A yorkie. WAY out in the management area (over 5 miles in). He looked quite hot, so I poured some water that I had in my cooler out for him and gave him a drink. I had no idea how long he'd been in the wild, so I also gave him a dog's natural food of choice: Cheetos.

Not knowing what to do with the dog, I drove back to the office to see if I could dump the responsibility off to someone else. Naturally, no one was at the office when I returned. I had no choice but to lock him in my bathroom with some water and a bowl of Cheetos. I then returned to work for the day. When the end of the day rolled around, I took the dog back to the office and told my boss (as I held the dog out with one hand): "I found this out in the woods today...What should I do with him?"

Luckily he was cute, so my boss took him home and some of my fellow employees set about looking for the owners. The next day, we discovered the owners had lost the dog up on Highway 441 about 6 or 7 miles away. Why the dog ran all the way out there, and how he didn't get eaten by eagles/hawks/bobcats/coyotes/gators/a big snake or crushed by cows/trucks/cars will remain a mystery.
Goes to show that not every animal you find in the wild is considered "wildlife".

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I can drive a tractor...How convenient

Going back to work after the Glades trip wasn't easy. I got rather spoiled by getting to eat out, watch TV, use the computer from my room, and, of course, fishing all day every day.
As I work down here, I try to notice things that I've never done and pounce all over the chance to do them/learn them. Since July begins the month where dove trapping and deer spotlighting begins, some of the dove fields need to be tilled. This obviously requires some tractor use and I asked if I could be shown how to drive the tractor. Sure enough, Tuesday morning I got my wish.
The tractor was actually more complicated than I had originally thought. One actually needs four feet, three hands, and an extra set of eyes on the back of the head. The tractor has a clutch, two brakes (one for each side), and a gas pedal. It then has a hand throttle, and two gear shifters along with various other levers that deal with the disks behind the tractor and the bucket in the front. After a crash course lesson on how to drive it, I was given the keys and told where to go disk. The tractor reaches an astounding 20 mph on the highway and doesn't exactly fit in the lanes. This made going by sod trucks and other semi's kind of scary.
I had to go disk a field on Lucky L ranch just down the road. This property was recently purchased by the state and isn't part of the WMA yet. Disking took very little time and I actually got the hang of driving the tractor around by the time I made it back to the office.

The rest of the week I got the task of continuing photo points. I had started doing them before I went down to the glades but forgot to mention them. Yes, they're that much fun.

A photo point is a tiny pole buried in the ground. These are scattered all around the 62000 acres of Three Lakes. With a map and a GPS, it's my job to go out and find these poles in the palmettos. The posts are never where the GPS says and it usually takes anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to find the stupid thing in the bushes. Once I've found the pole, I take another pole with a camera mount and attach it. I then take pictures in a 360 degree rotation. The pictures are used to determine how high the vegetation has grown so that they can decide what areas need to be burned and when.

Prior to going down to the glades, I got stranded on the prairie for about 2.5 hours. Shrek decided that he was sick of the constant physical and verbal abuse I put him through every day while off road so he just decided to quit working. I radioed in for help and the only person available was Michelle. Since I picked a spot on the other side of the WMA to get stranded, it took a while for the rescue truck to come. After about 30 minutes of baking in the sun and drinking ALL of my water, the rescue truck came to give me a jump. I hooked up the jumper cables and...Nothing. Shrek was dead. I then crawled underneath the truck and hooked up the tow straps. All was going according to plan until the rescue truck hit a giant mud hole/pond on the way to the main road. The rescue truck then sunk in the mud. I managed to get the truck unstuck after only a few minutes and tried to pull Shrek myself. I was surprised that the V10 rescue truck was having so much trouble. I was even more surprised when I smelled smoke.

I jumped out of the truck like it was on fire. Which was good news because...well...IT WAS. The truck was dripping flames into the mud. Luckily, the fire stopped shortly after I cut the engine. I could hear both Shrek and the V10 snickering as I sloshed through the shin deep mud to go find my radio.
By this time, the lone and unsuspecting tech, Murray, was about to end his shift. I can picture him now leaping for joy when he heard me on the radio stating that there were now TWO trucks stranded out on the prairie.
Murray arrived fairly quickly and somehow got Shrek to cooperate for about 100 yards. Turned out the battery was completely dead. So dead that if I didn't keep the gas on, it died. He finally towed me all the way back to the office and the V10 limped behind.

Fast forward to the week following the glades trip: The Wednesday following my tractor lesson found my doing more photo points on the prairie. Shrek decided that he really did enjoy his job and decided to work properly. I drove down to the Highway 60 entrance and went along a firebreak paralleling private property. About 1/2 mile down the firebreak, I came across a mud hole. Ah, I can make it through this easy, I thought to myself. 45 minutes later I was eating that thought as I waded out of the pond.
I radioed for help and unfortunately, no truck with a winch was available (they were all out burning). I walked back to the main road and hitched a ride back to the office. I spent the whole day doing photo points from the four wheeler which was a nightmare. Around 1500, I went back to the office to see if someone could help me yank Shrek from the lake (yes, it was upgraded from mud hole, to pond, to lake). Emily's truck had a winch, so we drove down to the lake and got ready to winch the truck out. The winch's free spool was jammed, so we had to back the line all the way out. The process managed to suck ALL of the battery from Emily's truck and...of course...the rescue truck died. Apparently, when I get stuck, it takes at LEAST two trucks to pull me out. Carlton drove down to help us after we radioed in. He managed to give Emily's truck a jump and we decided that Shrek was too far gone for today and that it would take the tractor the following morning. Convenient that I just learned how to drive it.

The next morning Carlton and I drove back down to the small bay to rescue Shrek. I managed to bottom out both front and rear axles and it took quite a bit of pulling (and the help of two more techs, Murray and Stony) to finally free the truck. The rest of the week was more, uneventful, photo points from the four wheeler.