Tag Archive: outdoors


As a follow-up to our previous post, I think it’s appropriate to give a little lesson on what to do if you find lightningyourself stuck in a lightning storm. Which is exactly where my husband and I, along with another couple, found ourselves a couple of weekends ago.

We were canoeing the Little Manatee River. It was a beautiful day, and everyone seemed to actually be interested in me talking about wetland inundation and pointing out various tree species. But then it started to sprinkle. That was nice because it was HOT. But then it started to pour. And then we saw some flashes with some rumbling in the distance. We started to get a little nervous when all hell broke loose with STRIKES and BOOMS right on top of us! Just our luck, we were in a METAL canoe in the middle of nowhere.

We decided it would be safer to be out of the canoe than in it. We pulled up onto a bank, and I remembered some safety training we had once had regarding what to do if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere during a lightning storm. Basically you bend over with your butt up in the air and grab your ankles from behind. Obviously this sounds and looks ridiculous, but the idea is that if lightning hits you it will travel through your butt and down your legs rather than through your heart. So with that comforting piece of information, the four of us were hunched with our bums in the air! If only I had a picture…

It was probably the scariest outdoor experience I have ever had (up there with almost stepping on an

We survived!

We survived!

alligator). After each strike we would count the seconds to the thunder, and sometimes we didn’t even get to one. It was over us for what seemed like forever, and our legs were getting so sore from hunching over, but it was the only sense of security we had to get us through the horror! Eventually the clashes grew further apart and it was safe enough to get back into the canoe and haul bum to our pick-up point. There were others who also survived the storm, even though they didn’t know about the sticking the butt up in the air thing. That’s what we get for paddling on a summer afternoon in Florida. The canoe rental place sure must think we are all a bunch of idiots, but at least they are making some money off of us!

Cool *dry* shirt we bought from the Outpost

Cool *dry* shirt we bought from the Outpost

We can’t wait to go back since we didn’t get a chance to try out the rope swing. If you’re interested in paddling the Little Manatee, the Canoe Outpost was a great outfitter. You can visit their website here: http://www.canoeoutpost.com/littlemanateeriver.html

Dusty Dusk

Kristen suited up!

Kristen suited up!

The sun sets on another day in the field and it’s time to get back to the office. Tomorrow we will backpack electrofish. I love electrofishing but this time Kristen isn’t going to be there. WHAT? You might say! Sadly, more often than not Kristen has been in the office doing what project managers do – OFFICE WORK.

For those who have no idea what electrofishing is – or think it’s like fishing with dynamite – well, it’s not. We use a Halltech backpack unit. It sends out an electrical impulse that we adjust according to different parameters. For instance, some water is more conductive, and therefore we lower the settings so that we don’t harm the fish.

The idea is to lightly stun the fish just long enough to scoop them gently into the net. Once captured, they are bucketed, sorted, weighed, measured, and counted – then photographed! That’s a rough day for small fish so we handle them as carefully as possible.

Of course fish aren’t the only things in the water! Frogs are terribly sensitive to electricity and react immediately by jumping out of the water. Snakes and sirens hide in the mud. Crayfish get stunned rather easily as well. The one thing that doesn’t seem to respond at all to our shocking is ALLIGATORS!! We have come across a small gator that had been in a shallow pool that stuck to the bottom the entire time without any indication that it was affected.

The neat part is seeing what you caught. You might be surprised to find ten different species of beautiful fish in a nasty mud puddle. So before you think of shrinking puddles as nothing more than yesterday’s creek, take a look at some of the things we find!

Spotted sunfish

Greater Siren – Florida’s largest amphibian

Everglades pygmy sunfish

Golden topminnow

Sailfin Molly

That’s right – we find greater sirens!

Well, in the beginning, we really had no idea what we were doing. At least not as it related to surveying. We understood the basic principle but hadn’t really done it right in the field. John wanted to survey a particular stream that he had worked on for another project. Can’t say the name here so we will call it Moon Bay.

John was in a very good mood (at least for now). We parked, and proceeded to the stream to find a reach to survey that represented the “natural” system. Funny thing about Florida, there probably aren’t any truly natural systems left. It’s actually a sad thing. You go miles into the wilderness and voila’ there’s a balloon on a nylon ribbon – deflated and sad-looking – ruining the wildness – making fun of it.

Anyway, John found what he wanted and we began moving up and down the system flagging each place for survey. John has a back issue sometimes. We were ducking under a lot of trees that had fallen over the stream in the last big round of hurricanes in 2004. He began to lose his sense of humor – this same sense of humor which has us in stitches most of the time.

We finished flagging the reach and went to get the survey equipment. Kristen and I had practiced and thought we pretty much knew what to do. We set up our temporary benchmarks (we are not surveyors so it’s all temporary). We began to shoot the stream survey. John continued to lose his sense of humor. It was hot, uncomfortably messy, vine ridden and lots of ducking and climbing. I remember Kristen and I thought how awful this site was. There was so much to go through, vines, palmettos, and underbrush. This was hell!

Somewhere near the end of the reach, John checked the survey data. There was a problem. A serious problem. At some point someone had made a mistake and now the whole thing was useless basically. John was not happy. I was not happy. Kristen was not happy. This meant that, at some point, we would have to come back. The very thought of fighting this mess of vegetation was too much to bear.

It made me wonder if i could really do this. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I would never want to come and do this with just Kristen and me. This place was too wild. There were too many dangers. I wouldn’t be able to see her at some points in the survey. Would we ever get this right? It was all too much to even think about. We were mortified.

I would and will never forget this day. I was sweaty and scratched to heck. I was upset and doubted myself. I felt like I had let the team down in some way by feeling this way too. I felt that I had wasted a chance to make an impression on John and Kristen too. How could this had gone so wrong? Now, it had to be done all over again. The fear, the stress, the pain, the risk of busting the survey again…..it just seemed impossible to bear.

It was going to be hard to make myself do this again. This was horrid. I hated the way I felt – DEFEATED.

 

What’s that gator doing in that tiny stream!?

That’s right! We have written about bombing ranges before. I know, I know, everyone has heard the one about how I drove across a 6 foot bomb and never knew it until after a flood….but you can imagine how Josh and I felt when….

So, Josh and I needed to visit our Avon Park Bombing Range sites. This is fun! We got our radio with some critical information – they were detonating unexploded ordnance (like the ones we have driven over and found all over) on one of the tracts we needed to get to. CRAP!! They let us on anyway as we would call on and off and only be a short while.

We exited said tract and got stuck in the middle of two sites by other military activities on our other site of interest. So, knowing us as well as you might by now – you know what we did next! We took the buckets and nets and went into the ditches to catch fish to identify!! NERDS….I heard you scream!

So – then we watched as two of the detonations went off without much ado and proceeded to our second site. You can well imagine the looks on our faces when detonation number three went off……KABOOM – shaking the very ground!! I am standing there with my mouth hanging open.

So we were working with that feeling you get when you escape just in time or just miss a bad situation. The feeling that something horrible COULD have happened. What if one of those were the pieces we have found? We will never know.

As if that’s not enough – we are working in a tiny clear creek that is less than 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep. It’s so cute. There is a little pool just upstream of our gage. I told Josh that it was a great place to catch cool fish while I downloaded the logger.

Josh headed through the palmettos 12 feet away to the waterfall pool……how lovely! He came crashing through the palmettos with a strange look on his face….I said – “What did you catch?” thinking it must be something really amazing. He hollers out….big gator!!

He said there was a huge gator hiding in the pool less that 12 feet away. I went up to look and CRAP!! An 8 1/2 foot alligator was snuggled up in that tiny pool! Josh had noticed it when he dipped his net in to see what fish were in there…..imagine how surprised he was when he realized it was an alligator tail.

I took photos and we both gathered our nerves and finished. We left property feeling like we needed to increase our life insurance! We also felt pretty lucky to be able to see such amazing things while working. Needless to say, we will never look at that creek the same.

Yes we follow safety protocols, yes we have JSAs, yes we do a site inspection – but where we work – you can’t see everything! If you could – it would be boring!! We haven’t had a

This is in the palmettos near the gator hole!

lost time incident and we are happy and healthy. We do, however, occasionally have near misses!

Go Anywhere!

As adventurous gals, we like to go to new and exciting places. Sometimes, it’s a lake right behind the office, and others, it’s a remote stream after a miles long hike. What we really like to do is encourage others to take time to go outdoors and see something or experience something that gives you that sense of adventure.

Sometimes, it’s just a walk in a local preserve or park. Some of us are trapped in a concrete jungle and a plastic cube and that’s about as adventurous as it gets. Others of us will take it to the limits and climb rocky peaks or dive the deepest rifts. The important thing is, get out there and see what we see.

The wild isn’t all filled with danger and mystery. There’s a beauty in nature that we can’t fake, print, pixellate or 3-D. The only way to know what tar flower smells like when it’s sticky and blooming is to see it and smell it in the air.

So, as Spring is springing – let’s remember to get out the and GO ANYWHERE!

Then, tell us about your adventures…the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Wild Women

Co-Creator Jacqueline Levine expressing her excitement as Chicks go live

Raging River

Raging River.

With spring fast approaching, I thought to let you all re-absorb this one!

You all know by now that ticks are nasty little buggers. They hang stealthily (it is so a word) on the tips of leaves waiting for warm-blooded hard workers like me and you to wander close enough that they can sink their nasty little claws onto you. Once aboard, they creep their nasty little way into the darkest reaches of your warm sweaty body where they  nibble until they find a juicy bit – then they sink their vicious head into your skin and begin to feast on your blood (yeah – I could lie but that’s what they do).

Some of you are concerned that I am a tick hater – that I am biased against these little fellas and am only helping give them a bad rap and making it hard for those who are FOR ticks. I don’t care! Ticks care nothing for their reputation or my opinion or they would dine politely on something other than my ass!

I thought it would be helpful to list a few good ways I have learned to remove them:

  1. While holding a beer in one hand, heat a needle with a lighter and pierce the tick while spewing some comforting  bull crap to the victim. This piercing will cause the tick to remove head and later die. The victim will be traumatized forever unless said victim is our puppy Bella who could care less if you rub her belly.

    Nasty Little Buggers.....

  2. If you cannot find a needle, skip the piercing and go straight for burning it. Hold the lighter close enough to heat and scare it out – be careful not to singe or totally burn up the victim – if the burning up of victim occurs – refer to first aid manual.
  3. Carefully grab the tick firmly and gently twist while pulling softly. This will cause it to release its jaws and you can pull it out safely – unless of course the victim is freaking out because they don’t think that is a very good way and are wiggling.
  4. Various viscous fluids can be used to smother, choke or otherwise make the damn thing let loose (oil, vaseline, rubbing alcohol, fingernail polish) This all sounds great but takes a long time – you might as well-knit the darned thing a sweater!
  5. Tick Remover tool….sounds good right – ha ha – you try that one!

Whatever method you use, the victim will be grossed out, uncomfortable, and probably not happy. Be prepared with candy if under 21 or beer if over….if the victim has four legs just feed or pet it. Ticks suck….REALLY!

(((This is for entertainment purposes only – please don’t inundate me with proper tick removal methods. That is no fun)))

(((And “YES” that is a close up of a tick – don’t you hate them worse now....)))

If you thought hard hats were just for construction workers, you thought wrong! Chicks with Ticks have also been known to sport them from time to time (along with our snake boots and waders). “Why?” you might ask. Because sometimes we just plain have to. Simple as that. Some of the places we work require everyone on the property to wear a hard hat for protection against overhead hazards. No exceptions. Not even for geeky ecologists collecting data out in the middle of the woods! For awhile this perplexed us, because what kind of overhead hazards could we possibly come across in the freaking woods?? Well, it turns out there are more than you might think…. and if they exist, Jacque or I have probably encountered them! Here are some examples of pesky overhead hazards:
1) Tree limbs – I swear they just appear out of nowhere and WHACK you right in the head! And trust me, it HURTS. Hard hats definitely lesson the blow, and therefore are the #1 reason to wear a hard hat in the woods.
2) Spider webs – Have you ever walked straight into a spider web? We have, and it’s gross. Usually if you’re wearing a hard hat the stickiness (and the creepy crawly living on it) will end up there rather than all over your face.
3) Spiders, grasshoppers, ticks, etc. – While related to #2, these get their own hazard category. Think of it this way… would you rather have these things in your hair or on your hard hat? I think the answer is pretty simple.
4) Survey rods gone wild – Some field partners have been known to drop long metal rods and WHACK (see #1 above)!
5) Trips and falls – It’s a jungle out there, and even though we are careful, we do sometimes trip. Like falling off a bike with a helmet on, it’s always safer to trip over a root with a hard hat on!
6) Bird poop – Bombs away! Look out below! Does this really need an explanation?
7) Sunburns – This might be stretching it…
8) Cold weather – I know this isn’t technically an overhead hazard, but hard hats are nice for keeping your head warm on cold days (like today.. brrrrrr).
Needless to say, we have grown to embrace wearing our hard hats in the woods!

Family With Ticks!

I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present this year– an unforgettable  paddle trip with the family down Fisheating Creek! Actually, I did ask (beg) for it, and finally got my family (including my 83-year old grandfather) to reluctantly leave the comforts of home for the wilds of Florida. They were skeptical at first, but as soon as they layed eyes on the droopy cypress trees and hot pink spoonbills, they were smitten. They were so enraptured with the beautfy of the creek that having to portage kayaks, sneak by unhappy gators, and sacrifice iphones/cameras (next time my brother and his fiance will use a dry bag) didn’t phase them! It’s hard to explain how special it was to share my love for the great outdoors with my family, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story. Get out there!

Most of you think that this is a page for women by women. Sure, it can be. I am definitely a woman! But we work and play with and around men also. In fact, we have a following that is strictly male and they are The Honorary Members of Chicks with Ticks. They even have their own logo! That’s right – they rock. We love our men!

Anyway – Tyler, my field partner for the day, and I were headed down south to Grasshopper Slough. Nothing special about that, except that we LOVE Grasshopper Slough. It’s on private land that is maintained about as well as any conservationist could ask, even though it’s a working cattle ranch – we love the way they alternate fields, manage forestry, and generally have a love of the land. It makes our job easier.

We got to the stream and it was about 2 feet deep. Now, I had been coming to this spot on this stream for years….mostly alone. I had Tyler today which is sweet because he is like my ninja man….studies budhism, meditates, is smiley, and an amazing friend. We got to the stream bank and I put my junk down where I always do. Then…something wasn’t right.

I told Ty (yeah – sometimes I call him Ty) that something wasn’t right. I scanned the area and make sure nothing is gonna eat us and then go about my business. I felt like I was being watched. I’ll tell ya it really creeped me out because there are some very large gators upstream from our site. Anyway, I laughed it off and then asked Ty if he minded being my ninja guardian and walk through the water to the gauge with me – which is sooooo not me because the water is only 2 feet deep and I go there all the time alone. Silly girl.

So, he remarked that was weird but that he would, of course – after all he is my ninja guardian. And he did. We came back with the logger (measures the level of the stream) and I sat on that bank and just looked at that 18 foot wide, 2 foot deep brown tannic stream and thought that I was crazy for feeling the way I did. I was being unreasonable. I told Ty I was being girlie! So, we did our thing and left.

We returned a week later to the same spot to do the same thing. I felt the same way. I might have even felt a bit worse. Something was there. I told Ty that I thought it might be a turtle or otter and I was just sensitive. We started work and I continually scanned the stream (spotted) as Ty went into the stream to measure flow. I still felt uncomfortable. I can’t explain it. I asked Ty to be careful.

I turned to scan the stream one more time. I saw something in the deeper pool just upstream of our site. I couldn’t say what it was so I asked Ty to stay out of the water until I could identify it. This is one of my safety protocols! I hoped to see a large fish or piece of wood floating. I turned away to set up planning to figure it out once I was finished.

Tyler - Honorary Member of Chicks with Ticks & Ninja

I started opening my laptop and setting up the equipment as usual. For some reason, I looked back over my shoulder at the stream just where I had seen the “something”. Headed straight for Ty was a huge gator. It was moving fast and even making a wake. I bent back and grabbed a stick as I yelled to Ty, “Gator, big gator, out of the water!” I splashed the stick around and the gator turned toward me and slowed.

Oh my. At this point, I have to tell you how bad it was. Ty was supposed to be out of the water, right, because I asked him to. Instead, he was bent over pulling grass so he could use the doplar equipment we use to measure flow. This meant that his head was at the surface of the water and the gator was about 5 feet away when I spotted her. You can imagine how we both felt. Now Ty is on the other side of that stream. We had to get him back on the side with me and the truck with a gator in the middle! I tell you what. That gator was every bit of 9 feet and the stream only 18 feet across.

That gator followed us as we walked up and down the stream trying to find a good place for Ty to cross. It snapped at anything we threw. We decided that the marsh upstream was our best bet as I could swamp the truck halfway and at least he wouldn’t be stranded, just the truck would be. He hiked down and I drove. I didn’t see Ty. He didn’t come. I started to panic. I had driven the truck deep into the mucky maidencane marsh. I climbed out the window and stood on top of the truck. Where the hell was he?

I didn’t see him for what seemed like forever. All of the sudden, I see a figure in white (Ty) crouched down sneaking through the grass. Well, let me tell you, he looked like gator bait all bent over and easy to eat. I yelled for him to make himself big and run to the truck. I realized how close we had come when he collapsed in the bed of the truck next to me.

We laid there for a long time cursing and reliving the moment he almost got eaten. We still relive it. It was the most intense experience I had ever had and it changed me for a long time – changed us for a long time. Hell, it even changed the way we worked for a long time. I was afraid. Afraid that every pool had a gator in it ready to eat my field partners. I had never been afraid. Wary, cautious, yes, but not afraid.

Actual photo of gator that almost ate Ty!

That feeling passed, at least mostly. I still think about it when I stand next to that creek. The gator? Oh, a trapper came back a few weeks later and shot it after he roped it. He said the gator didn’t act right. He though it was crazy. I don’t know much about that – I only know that its not there anymore.

I only know that I haven’t felt that same feeling I felt the week before the gator almost ate Tyler! I do get that feeling every now and then at other sites. Sometimes it’s everything I can do to make myself go where I need to go. Sometimes, I don’t go at all.

You hear about sixth sense. You talk about intuition. I trust mine. Sometimes I look into that murky water and think I am going somewhere I know I shouldn’t go. I am entering a world that doesn’t belong to me. I am intruding. Most days I know I will be forgiven. I know I can pass without paying a toll. Some days I wonder when my time will run out.

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