Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Carnivorous Vegetarians?

Is that an oxymoron?   My assignment for the first half of my day at work yesterday was to ‘roam’.  What that means is that I’m supposed to wander along the Swamp Island Wildlife Drive, mingle with the visitors, and provide interpretive services to anyone I encounter along the way.  Since helping the public to enjoy our National Wildlife Refuges and understand what they are seeing is one of my favorite things to do, I was really looking forward to this time.

However, there aren’t very many visitors driving around early on a Tuesday morning in late October on the refuge.  So after my first lonely drive around the loop, I decided to concentrate on finding the carnivorous pitcher plants that are found in this area.  I figured if anyone drove by, noticed the official vehicle, and saw me getting into contortions to take photos, they might ask me what I was looking at.  I could then launch into an explanation of these most interesting plants.

IMG_7679 IMG_7686

I took these photos of the pitcher plants near Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR last April.  There are two different varieties found on this refuge, so I was excited about documenting them.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-135

The first variety I found were the hooded pitcher plants.  Because it was only in the low 40’s, I didn’t have to worry too much about alligators.  It was a bit too chilly for them to be moving about.  These hooded varieties don’t seem to have that frilly top to them that I found in Mississippi.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-134

The second variety I was looking for and found was the parrot pitcher plant.  Last April, a huge tractor was used to mow the wildlife drive roadside for some reason, and most of the pitcher plants were chopped off.  Luckily, they started to grow back, but you can see evidence of the mowing.  These parrot pitchers grow low to the ground and spread out in a circle, rather than standing up straight.  I was quite pleased to find a few growing back.  Pitcher plants are exactly that… plants, but they lure insects into their openings to get trapped and digested.  They can’t get all the nourishment they need from the soil, so they’ve evolved into carnivorous plants. 


                                                            “ALRIGHT RECRUITS… TEN HUT!!”

When I got back to the rig and looked at my photos, I just couldn’t help but think of some subtitles.  Nerd smile


                                    “DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE TRAVELING SALESMAN…?”



This morning, I finally got to meet with Gracie Gooch, the volunteer coordinator, about my time here.  First up on my agenda was to talk about my hip problems.  She was very open to my plans to have it all investigated at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and to support whatever I have to get done to get back to normal.  That was a great relief to me.  I wonder if my brother, Kurt, would consider coming to Okefenokee to help me out if surgery is in my future?  I’ll be calling the Mayo clinic tomorrow to get the ball rolling.

I then spoke with the assistant manager of the refuge about developing some bird tour programs here.  Although the refuge is on the Coastal Birding Route, they’ve never had bird tours here since they’ve never had any volunteers interested or qualified to lead bird tours before.  Color me happy!  I’ll be investigating and developing a proposal for such a program during the next couple of weeks.  I really think I’m going to like it here!  Open-mouthed smile 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Running my non-existant booty off

When I first told my friends who are seasoned runners, that I would run a race with them before they left this spring, I admit that I was just trying to be nice (sorry girls). Granted, I thought it would be fun but I never thought that I would actually build up the guts to go through with it. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. Not for the running factor or even doing a race necessarily. But more so to prove to myself that after years of not running, that I could still get back into the habit. I also have another confession. I really didn't train. Ever since returned from the states on our summer vacation, I just can't get back into the swing of working out. Before we left for vacation, I had just completed the Insanity program and had never felt better. You could actually see my muscles (if you looked really hard), which was a first for me. I came back to Korea with the intention of doing the program again or finding an equally challenging program to work thorough but unfortunately, it never happened. So when I signed up for the 5k, it was also my way of forcing myself to do something again. I ran a few times and tried to get my endurance up which has always been embarrassingly low. I managed to run a very short distance three times a week but by the day of the race, I still didn't feel as prepared as I had hoped to. I had only been able to run about half a mile until I would be forced to stop and walk for a little while, so my expectations of the race were equally low. But when the day of the race came, I got a surge of energy that I can't describe. I’ve heard before that you run a lot longer and faster than you thought possible because of all of the adrenaline of being a part of a race. I give that aspect credit along with giving most credit to the amazing ladies that ran along side me. Knowing it was my first race, they promised to stick by me and I can’t shed enough gratitude for that. They kept me running the whole time, along with the help of the cheerleaders on the sidelines yelling ‘fighting!’ (Korean's way of saying ‘keep working’ ‘you can do it’)

Go Team Sparkle!We ran the Busan Ocean Half Marathon Race which took place on the  Kwangahn Bridge in Busan. It was possibly one of the most crowded events I have ever been to. Once the 5k started, we spent the first twenty minutes of it dodging all of the people just to get ahead to a place where we could run freely. Since this is one of the few times that you can walk along this bridge, there were so many individuals and families there just to be able to do so. People were stopped at various points along the race to take pictures of the scenery and get their picture taken. It was an interesting mix of runners and people there just for the event, not to run.Told you my friends were awesome. When you registered for the race you got to type in the reason you are running. Since my friend's boss registered her, she wasn't able to do this so she wrote her reasons in the day of the race. After the race was over and the feeling of seeing my breakfast a second time subsided, I had an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, pride and accomplishment. It’s safe to say that this will not be my last race and hopefully I will get to squeeze another one in before it gets too cold.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Okefenokee Swamp boat tour

Part of my orientation to the Okefenokee NWR yesterday included a swamp boat tour with Okefenokee Adventures, a concessionaire that partners with the refuge to provide tours and rents canoes, kayaks, and boats. 

_MG_1148 IMG_1113

In case you are ever in the area, these tours are available every day of the year except Christmas Day.  It’s an hour and a half tour, and starts out down the Suwanee Canal.  As a point of interest, any motorboats in the Okefenokee Swamp must have motors under 10 horsepower.  No big motors allowed.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-132

I believe our trip covered about five miles all together, and was very interesting.  This canal was started in 1891 with the objective of draining the swamp.  Thankfully, it was an unsuccessful endeavor!  A short way into our journey we entered the National Wilderness Area, which means any travel into this area is very limited in number of people each day and any travel into it must be registered and reserved ahead of time.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-133

After a couple of miles down the canal we took a side branch down a water trail toward the Chesser prairie.  In my mind, prairie meant dry land with no trees, but in a swamp it means a wetland area with no trees.  The water is shallow and the color of root beer due to all the tannin in the water, but it is very clear. 

One of the major ingredients in this swamp is peat.  Peat is partially decomposed remains of plant matter that accumulates on the bottom of the swamp.  When enough methane gas accumulates in this decomposing peat, it rises to the surface and is called a peat blowup.  It looks like solid mud to the eye, but if you grab a handful of it and squeeze the water out, you end up with a handful of plant matter.  It doesn’t smell bad at all.  If enough of these blowups accumulate, they become a battery, and other plants and trees begin to germinate in these dense mats.  We stopped half way through our trip so our tour guide, Joey, could explain all of this to us.

I especially enjoyed learning about how the swamp changes and evolves and seeing some bladderworts and sundew plants.  They are among the several different varieties of carnivorous plants found in the swamp.  Today I went on a mission to find the two varieties of pitcher plants found on this refuge, but I’ll show those in a separate post.  I was pleased with myself on the boat tour when I was able to identify the yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) that I learned about at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR in MS.  Smile  Those are the red berries in the above collage.


Because of the very chilly and windy temperatures yesterday morning, we really didn’t expect to see any alligators on this tour.  It was a surprise to all five of us on the tour when one of the women on the other side of the boat spotted one in the lily pads.


This fellow/gal was about five feet long, and I really liked the view as we floated past.  All those ridges leading down its spine gave it a rather eerie look to me.  Once the tour was over, I grabbed a quick lunch and then spent the afternoon learning about the operation of the visitors center (VC).  There are a lot more steps opening and closing this VC compared to the other places I’ve volunteered at.  It will take me a few days to get them all down pat.  I think my biggest challenge is going to be unlocking and locking the money vault.  My left and right don’t seem to be the same as the directions are. Confused smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reptile of the month

Many of you know that I spent the last three months at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  While there I didn’t see one solitary alligator.  I did see and photograph lots of black bears.  Well, now I’ve moved to Okefenokee NWR, and I’m guessing I’ll be very lucky to catch a sight of a bear, but alligators will be more than abundant.


When fellow volunteer Barb and I took that drive yesterday in the late afternoon in the electric cart, we saw a couple of alligators along the way.  This one is called ‘Mama’, and she pretty regularly can be found in the same pond/ditch area along the Swamp Island Auto Tour Route.  Because of that fact, the refuge has put up a sign about alligator safety.  I thought it was a hoot that Mama posed for us right next to the sign.


This kind of displaying with the mouth open and the skin bagging under the jaw is usually reserved for the breeding season which is in the early spring.  Mama had a nest near by last year, but none of the young have been seen recently.  Compared to some of the alligators I’ve seen at Anahuac NWR, Mama is not that big (6-7’), but I guess she’s old enough to raise young.


I’ve never had the opportunity to look down the throat of an alligator before!  I expected her teeth to be larger, and it seems to me that she has a slight issue with plaque. Sarcastic smile  I guess she doesn’t use a tooth brush.

Today was my first work day, and half the day was spent with orientation to this refuge.  The highlight of that was a boat tour through the swamp.  Even though the temps were chilly (in the upper 40’s), it was a wonderful experience.  I’ve gone through all of my photos from the tour, but I’ll talk about that trip tomorrow. 

The alligator will probably end up being more than just the reptile of the month for the next several months.  I think it will be a battle between alligators and turkeys as to which species I, and you, see most often. Winking smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Unexpected Cat Lovers

I am very happy to announce that our household just got al little bit bigger recently. No, we didn’t have a baby, but you would think that we might have by the endless discussions we had about having pets overseas. And this wasn’t our intention, but it just so happens that Zeke coming into our lives coincided with our two-year anniversary (perfect timing isn’t it?). Now, the hubs and I are a bit different when it comes to anniversary presents in the fact that we really don’t give them 'per se'. We decided early on that for us, it was an unnecessary pressure to try and find a gift, especially living in Korea where gift finding turns from difficult to impossible. So we decided to do something a little different and try to find a gift together for the both of us. Our aim is to not only relieve any pressure to find the perfect gift (we save that for birthdays) but to also find something that we can enjoy and use together. Last year, for example, we invested in our Eno hammock (which I cannot recommend more) and we have loved being smushed in there together and having late night talks when we're camping. So this year, Zeke came at the perfect time to be our anniversary present to each other and have loved the extra craziness it has added to our little home.

The idea of adding a fur baby to our home started when we decided to stay in Korea for more than a year. We're both huge dog people but cats are just as adorable and are just so much more low maintenance...exactly what we need. We even came close to dognapping a puppy that was chained up and being raised for meat. We had his dog collar already bought and waiting for him at home. But no matter how close we came on several accounts, we always found a reason to back out at the last minute. I feel like getting a pet back home would be a no-brainer. We have plenty of family and friends around who could watch it while we were out of town and we would have a yard that it can go run in. But living in Korea, most people have the same vacations and we live in a small apartment with no outdoor area. A combination of the cost, the responsibility and the slight inability to find someone to watch it over vacations always outweighed our desire to have a pet. Now, I'm not quite sure what it was exactly that changed our minds in the end, maybe it was the fact that our friend's cat produced the most adorable litter or maybe it was the fact that we have already found very enthusiastic caretakers months before our next vacation. Whatever it was, I'm glad that we finally took 'the big' step.

{Us at our anniversary dinner at Trattoria de Fabio. If you’re ever in Geoje (I know it’s on the top of all of your travel lists), I would highly recommend this place. This is now our second anniversary that we have celebrated at this restaurant and hopefully next year will make the third. The owner studied in Italy and seriously makes the best Italian food I’ve ever had. Who’d have thought that I would find it in Korea?}

How do you celebrate momentous occasions? Do you have a favorite spot that you return to?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Settling in

I wanted to be the first person on the wildlife drive this morning, and I think I was.  The chances of seeing wildlife are always better the earlier you get out there.  It wasn’t like I left at the crack of dawn or anything, but seeing as it was a Sunday morning I felt fairly confident that visitors would take a while to get here.  Okefenokee NWR is a bit off of the beaten path.


I think there is a guide to the wildlife drive with about 12 numbered stops along the way.  I just haven’t gotten one of those guides yet.  The first stop for Emma and me was at Alligator Pond.  I didn’t see any alligators, but the cloudiness of the last two days was gone.  There was a pleasant breeze, so the pond reflections weren’t mirror perfect.

IMG_1109I was cruising along at about 5 mph with the front windows down so I could hear as well as see anything that might be out and about.  Here it is almost November, but the swamp was alive with blooming flowers.  Don’t know yet if the blackened portions of the pines are from a prescribed burn or the great swamp fire of 2011. 

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-13

I pulled to the side of the road here and shut off the engine just to enjoy the scenery.  There were at least four different kinds of butterflies enjoying the flower nectar, but I only captured three varieties. 

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-131

This mockingbird was not sure about our intrusion on his/her territory.  There were little birds flitting around all over the place.


Far off in the woods, this pileated woodpecker was going about finding something to eat in this pine tree.  I’ve found that it just never hurts to stop and take the time to look and listen.

I moved on and then parked the car to take Emma for a walk around the Chesser Island Homestead.  That place is worth a post on its own, so I’ll leave that for another time.  I’m hoping maybe I’ll get the chance to be the interpretive host at this location while I’m here.  I think it’s a really cool place.

IMG_0468 IMG_0467

My main goal for this morning’s outing was to see wildlife, so I continued on to the parking area for the Boardwalk Trail.  We didn’t take that trail today, but the surrounding area was alive with birds.  There were several pine warblers gleaning insects from the trees…


as well as a flock of palm warblers under the pines and in the bushes.  I was happy to get any photos because these little guys just don’t sit still for very long.  The place was just bubbling with them.


As I pulled out of the parking area, a small flock of wild turkeys were in the distance.  Two of them made for the woods, but the other two gave me the eye.  As I looked down the road, a coyote was standing in the middle of the road.  As soon as it saw me, and I saw it, it beat a hasty retreat before I could get my camera to my eye. 

I saw another flock of turkeys on the way back to the rig.  It was a very nice drive this morning.  In the late afternoon, fellow volunteer Barb and I took a ride in one of the electric carts down this same drive and saw different wildlife.  I haven’t had a chance to look at those pics yet, so I’ll save them for tomorrow.  The folks here in the volunteer village are going to watch a movie this evening in the theater in the Visitors Center, but I bowed out of that this time.  I’m just not in the mood for “Lion King” tonight.  Confused smile  Instead, I dug out the sewer connection, and finally hooked up my dump hose.  I guess I’m pretty much settled in for the duration now.


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, October 26, 2012

Slid right in to my chosen site. :)

No need to get up early this morning since I only had a drive of about 65 miles today to arrive at Okefenokee NWR.  On top of that, there was a hunt going on this morning at the refuge so the road I needed to drive down to get to the volunteer village was closed until noon.  Since I had scoped out the drive and found an acceptable gas station along the way, I thought I’d sleep like a log last night.  Not so!  I tossed and turned until almost four in the morning before drifting off briefly.  Just don’t understand that.


When I was checking out the available sites yesterday, I had four to choose from.  I chose the one on the far left in this view.  Only problem was, I couldn’t find a sewer hookup.  While I was out doing the wildlife drive, maintenance went over and found the missing hookup.  It was buried under the grass and sand.  I still will have to dig it out a bit, but to me this was the best sight in the village.  My car is parked on another site, and there is one more to the right.


My other choice wasn’t much better.  Notice how close the sites are?  It was obvious that these sites have been here for quite some time, and my guess is they were designed by someone that has never lived fulltime in an RV.  My gosh, there’s barely ten feet between them.  I like people, but really.  With all the acreage available on these refuges, you would think they’d give their volunteers a little breathing space.

IMG_1096 _MG_1097

So I chose the site I did so I wouldn’t have to stare into my neighbor’s RV when I sat outside with Emma.  There are only two sites here where that is possible.


This is my front yard and view.  This side faces the pine and live oak forest.  If and when we get more volunteers, I can put up with them on one side, but considering the amount of time Emma and I spend outside this was the premiere site in my opinion.

I knew it would be a little sticky sneaking into this site, but with the help of Barry, another volunteer who drives a motorhome, spotting for me, I backed into it in between the hookups on both sides on the first try.  I even placed the rig just right so that I can open all the basement bins without banging into the hookup posts.  I was feeling pretty smug when I checked out my backing up job.  Sarcastic smile

IMG_1106Most hookups are usually on the driver’s side, but we also have propane gas hookups here and they are on the passenger’s side at this site.  You can see how tight the squeeze to get in is.  That’s my rear tire on the right on the edge of the cement pad.  I have to go to town tomorrow to get the proper attachment so I can take advantage of the included propane.  My extend-a-stay hose doesn’t have the right couplings.


After spending the entire afternoon getting things set up for an extended stay, I collapsed into my rocker outside.  As usual, the biggest challenge was finding an opening in the forest to get the two satellites for my DISH honed in.  That finally accomplished, I put up the trucker’s antenna and hooked up the Wilson amplifier to see if I could get any internet or phone connections.  It’s not outstanding here in the middle of the boondocks, but I hope I’ll be able to post tonight.

As I was relaxing, I noticed this batch of fungus in the middle of my front yard.  As I lay prone on the grass to get this shot, no one called 911.  Winking smile  I guess I’m home for now…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy