JUNE 2000

Thursday -- June 1, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.06     Water Temperature: 68

Today Grounds Supervisor Trip Reid arranged for Lou Aronica of the Maryland Natural Plant Society to visit the Island and bring five black willow trees to plant at the up river end of the Island for erosion control. It seems that black willow are the only type of willow natural to our local river habitat and almost impossible to find commercially. Lou was the fabled treasure trove of information regarding invasive plants and how we might best work toward re-establishing the Island as a natural part of the of the river basin eco-system, worthy of stewardship and preservation.

This afternoon we were called by Peter Pae of the Washington Post who was seeking permission to do an article on Sycamore Island in the context of Potomac River Islands and the people who live on them. We declined, politely we hope, after observing that some Members believe that certain cherished aspects of the Club were ruined the last time the Washington Post did an article on the Island. He persisted, as he is paid to, pointing out that if the damage were already done there would be no reason not to do an article. It was suggested that if he were to submit a request by e-mail outlining the purpose and scope of the article it would be forwarded to the appropriate club officials.

Friday -- June 2, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.94     Water Temperature: 71

Last Tuesday Anna Sofaer came down with a baby bird she had found on the trail. Near as we can tell, it looks like a baby morning dove. The daily schedule down here has been dictated since by the tummy holding capacity of this little one, who is vocal in her nourishment needs and too cute to be denied. Unfortunately, she pecks but does not seem to have learned that an open mouth will get filled, so it has been an exercise in tough love, prying that beak open and filling it one grain of cooked rice at a time. We did graduate to bread cylinders mimicking worms, and that was good because during the swallowing time we could get the water dropper in. The bird, now named fuzzy, is held a lot to keep her warm, and we can almost imagine she is getting bigger. Thus we were starting to feel cocky until....

Today we were visited by a fifth grade class from the Langley school, guests of our own esteemed Captain, John Matthews. Fuzzy and the feeding of Fuzzy was a big hit. More importantly, one of the teachers knew of a web site for the care and rescue of birds, including baby birds, and let me tell you... it is great: There was a wealth of info about the care and feeding of baby birds... and of course we are doing it all wrong. "No bread" is repeated, for instance. And as we are now informed how daunting the effort must be to be successful, we will probably try to pass her on to experts. Stay tuned.

Saturday -- June 3, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.81     Water Temperature:

Morning joggers should know that tomorrow morning between 4 AM and 6 AM there will be a large police presence along the towpath. They have taken several days to assemble K-9 units from around the area and these will be let loose tomorrow morning to look for Alison Thresher, who disappeared a week ago and whose car was found abandoned near the towpath. Anyone frequenting the towpath this last week would have seen one of the many posters with picture posted at most entry points that ask for information regarding her disappearance.

And regarding Fuzzy... we did call Second Chance Wildlife Center (301-926-9453) and talked to Polly and Mira, who seemed to know everything important about lost and rescued fledglings, especially the low success rate when bumbling amateurs try to feed and care for them. So yesterday afternoon Fuzzy went for a ride and is now among competent friends at their facility. They have a neat web site at

Monday -- June 5, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.52     Water Temperature: 72

The first daylilies are blooming all over the Island. Some desultory attempts at weeding during the last three years are paying off, and walking the paths you will note the beds are now extensive. This morning we saw goslings that could not have been more than a few days old, and now believe that some of the couples that lost their nests to high waters about six weeks ago managed to have another brood. Peter Winkler will have a large group from the Edmund Burke School here through mid-day.

Tuesday -- June 6, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.38     Water Temperature: 69

Summer but dreary and wet and cloudy and only 60 degrees today because of the Northeaster. Notice the plunging water temperature. The river will be rising and murky the next few days... disappointing for the fisherpersons... but the next few days on the Island should be sparkling.

The kitchen floor was wet from two leaks in the ceiling this morning. The Captain had surveyed the roof when this happened last week and it was thought the problem had been identified and temporarily solved. It was his opinion that sooner rather than later a new main roof would be required for the Clubhouse and it does appear this event advances the timing for this improvement.

Wednesday -- June 7, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.43     Water Temperature: 67

Last night your Grounds Supervisor (Trip Reid) and your Caretaker attended a meeting of the Botanical Society of Washington at the invitation of Member Susan Richardson of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History. The speaker was Chris Lea who spoke on the fluvial (river) influences on plant communities in the Potomac Gorge. You may recall last year there was some consternation when what was believed to be surveyor's markers were found on Ruppert's Island, and then later Holly Syrrakos accosted a stranger on Ruppert's and discovered it was Chris Lea of the National Park Service who was marking study sites for his investigation into how river hydrology and geomorphology affect plant distribution. Well, the study is complete and it was fascinating... allowing us to understand some observations about the plant life and distribution on Sycamore that had been a mystery. For instance, the recovery period from the '96 floods has been longer because the second flood happened in August, whereas there would have been minimal impact from the December flood.

Thursday -- June 8, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.43     Water Temperature: 67

Yesterday Joe Cecil brought son Jaime and a group of cub scouts to the Island to transplant some trees to the upper end of the Island for erosion control. Because of the difficulty and iffyness of obtaining trees specifically recommended by the Maryland Natural Plant Society, it was decided to dig up several of the sassafras seedlings that were parented by the Island's only sassafras tree, and four of these were transplanted. It was great to see parents working with their kids specifically to inculcate awareness of the natural world and the principles of conservation now necessary to preserve the natural order.

Today we called Second Chance Wildlife Center (301-926-9453) to see how Fuzzy was doing. You will recall that Fuzzy is the fledgling morning dove rescued by Anna Sofaer and brought to the Island. So to the several of you that have inquired... Fuzzy is doing great and is well enough that it is expected she will be released into the wild when old enough.

Friday -- June 9, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature: 72

Please be reminded that Margaret Berry will bring a large group of 4th graders from 1530 hrs until dark.

We have been reading this terrific book about the disappearing natural landscape and attempts at restoration of forests and woodlands generally and metro-forests specifically. The Once and Future Forest, by Leslie Sauer, is a famous guidebook for restoring and managing natural landscapes, something that very much fits in with what our Club embodies... to your Caretaker at least. Originally the book was checked out because it is authoritative on the subject of restoring riparian habitats for erosion control, and seemed a good text to consult about slowing the up-Island erosion that has become so pronounced since the '96 floods. But we have learned so much more, and you will surely see tidbits from this book in subsequent log entries. For instance, it has been documented that Dutchman's breeches appears to advance by the slow spread of its seeds at a rate of only a hundred yards a millennium !! When one considers how many of these plants we have on the Island... and how rapidly they are disappearing from the natural landscape... and thus how long it might take for them to naturally re-introduce themselves into their natural habitat... it becomes all the more crucial how important it is that we maintain our stewardship of the natural landscape of the Island.

Saturday -- June 10, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.70     Water Temperature: 74

Club President Tryon Wells arrived with friend Brian and a surveyor's transit and took a series of sightings to verify the river level gauge one sees walking up the wooden walkway, the gauge at the base of the iron bridge (which most of you do not see because it is in the direction away from the ferry landing), and then record observations about how high certain Island landmarks are... such as the floor in the Caretaker's quarters. Certainly we will get a full report, but we do know that both river gauges seem to be two feet out of sync with the river gauge at Little Falls, which as the last downriver gauge on the fall line is the baseline against which all other river gauges are compared.

The Captain (John Matthews) was down to make repairs to the roof above the Clubhouse kitchen, to repair the outdoor shower that was broken yesterday, and to help clean the Clubhouse gutters. Tin sheeting was used to cover boundary between the edge of the rubber roofing and the asphalt shingles on the main roof.

Monday -- June 12, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 80

Before 0800 hrs this morning it was positively sultry down here... no breeze and the temp and the dew point must have been close... and thoughts of air conditioning were followed by the conviction it would be a terrible day if such thoughts came so early. Yet barely an hour and a half later the wind had picked up and switched to the Northwest, dropping the humidity noticeably. Living close to the out of doors causes one to become finely tuned to subtleties of the wind... just another of those things our DNA is programmed to notice but has become lost in our recently urbanized culture as we race from air conditioned box to air conditioned box. We have severed our cultural ties to the wind and hardly ever notice it unless it is dramatically "in our face" in some way. I also wonder the extent to which this is increasing a generational thing. In West Texas the wind is an ever present component of the environmental and cultural landscape, and it seems to me that every time my Mother walks outside she instinctively takes note of the wind direction. Yet I suspect that even in West Texas the only people who have been born after air conditioning who are personally attuned to the wind are either farmers or ranchers or someone who has recently gotten dust in their eye. Yesterday the Membrinos were substitute caretakers and rhapsodized about the Island breezes as they left, which was interesting because just the day before the Cunningham family did the same. As Nature increasingly disappears from our daily lives we are required to make ever greater efforts in order to connect with it and appreciate it. Hence the "specialness" of Sycamore Island and the important responsibility of "stewardship" all Members share.

One great thing about a job that allows one to be out of doors at all hours, is that one may observe all sorts of amusing early morning antics and mischief among the "wildlife." There are now early morning swimmers at the rope swing area... and elsewhere.

Tuesday -- June 13, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.36     Water Temperature: 81

We have seen the first black squirrel on the Island. I believe these are Norway squirrels, an invasive species that is reputed to be more aggressive than our native greys, and certainly this fellow did not feel obliged to get out of our way. Not that this is so unusual with the wildlife on the Island these days, although we are still trying to figure out if it means we are being accepted, tolerated, ignored, or disparaged. We have seen these black fellows on the hill trail, and I suppose it was just a matter of time, as I recall the time I saw a grey squirrel traipse across the rope from the towpath to the Island one day as though it were a daily commute.

Wednesday -- June 14, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.32     Water Temperature: 77

Do not forget the grills will be ready to cook on at 1900 hrs before tonight's meeting. The weather is expected to clear out before then... but of course, as Islanders are famous for their hardiness... this is of small consequence as last month proved bad weather to be no deterrence.

There is an unexpected result from the evening Trip Reid and I attended a presentation of Chris Lea at the Washington Botanical Society in the form of a letter from Chris:

I enjoyed meeting and talking with you and other members of the Sycamore Island Canoe Club the other evening and appreciate your interest in my research. Enclosed is a copy of my thesis on which the talk was based. I have also enclosed a list of plants found in plots on Ruppert's island and their present cover, by plot. In all, 165 species were found in these plots. I would expect this to be, roughly, on the order of about half the number that might be expected from a complete inventory of the island. Five of the species seen in plots are considered rare or of conservation concern in Maryland. These are Scarlet Ammania, Clasping-leaved dogbane, White trout lily, Dwarf Bulrush, and Coville's Phacelia.... Additionally, I observed a sixth rare species, the star-flowered False Solomon's-Seal, elsewhere on the island....

Ruppert's Island possesses some good examples of relatively intact natural plant communities that occur in Maryland and is an important natural area. I appreciate the Club's interest in this study. Later in the summer, I should get some time to visit Sycamore and Ruppert's and discuss some conservation work that may be of interest to the Club and will contact you.