MARCH 2003

Monday -- March 3, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.5     Water Temperature: 37

Yesterday's warm weather gave me a bit of spring fever and it seems to have sparked a little bird migration. There was a large flock of robins on the island all day yesterday and I watch as red-necked grebes dove in the channel. The red-necked grebes were a treat since they are rare in this area. Today I saw my first warbler of the season, a yellow-rumped warbler. Even the local birds seemed to be jump-started now and their songs can be heard as they busily get ready for the breeding season.

The snow-melt kept the river above five feet so the ferry was closed yesterday. The river is rising slightly but for now I will happily ferry anyone across. Later in the week it may become too high to use the ferry.

Wednesday -- March 5, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.9     Water Temperature: 39

The river level continues to hover over five feet and the forecast says that it will stay that way indefinitly. The rain and snow melt we're getting today will cause the river to rise even further, so it could be a high-water weekend.

There's a noticeable increase in the amount of bird activity down here. The ducks and geese have all paired up and the local song birds are beginning to stake out thier nesting sites. I've also noticed some kind of early-sprouting plant poking it's green shoots through the mud and snow. I guess it won't be long before the island is exploding in green.

I was surprised at how much of the head of the island was under water during the last two semi-floods we had. It was interesting to see what the river had washed down and deposited on the island. There was some salvagable lumber and there's a john boat out there that I want to retrieve. I also found that part of the island slightly devastated and I'm amazed that those young trees can survive at all. Tons of driftwood and whole trees have been left piled on top of them while the soft earth around their roots has been eroded away. Quite a bit of unwanted trash has also come washing down to our island, some of it quite large.

Thursday -- March 6, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.9     Water Temperature: 39

For those of you who didn't hear, our stretch of the potomac here has been designated a "Last Chance Landscape". Scenic America in it's annual report has selected this site, between Point of rocks and Rock Creek, as one of the ten most threatened landscapes. Since there is no strong riverfront protection the biggest threat is from home owners and developers. Remember three years ago when an arrogant developer, without a permit, removed 60 trees from the Virginia shore to build a $100,000 staircase to the river. Lets hope that this designation will bring some attention and legislative protection to this unique natural area.

Friday -- March 7, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.9     Water Temperature: 39

The river's high so it looks like another lonesome weekend for me. Maybe by the end of March things will start picking up around here.

Three pairs of wood ducks have been hanging around this week. Their whistle-like call can be heard every time they're startled and fly off. Besides the red-necked grebe I continue to see, I also saw a pied-billed grebe yesterday.

Monday -- March 10, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.7     Water Temperature: 40

I've never seen so many wood ducks. I don't know if they are just migrating through or if they plan to stay, but about 20 of them, mostly drakes with their colorful plummage, have been hanging around the foot of the island. I never get too excited about seagulls but they deserve mentioning. They sit out there in the river like dozens of little white buoys. I can't see what it is they're eating but they expertly hover over the water and pick tiny things from the water with amazing dexterity.

The ferry was closed all weekend because of high water and will continue to be closed indefinitly while we wait for this snow-melt to work it's way down. Some members came down hoping to get on the island yesterday and were disappointed. It would have been a great day to visit the island but you have to check those river levels. I wonder if there is a way to let everyone know when the ferry is closed. If the river is over five feet, call before you come down.

I took a hike up to swain's lock on Friday. I had no idea how much adventure I could have just backpacking up the towpath for twelve miles but it turned out to be loads of fun. The towpath was covered in ice and snow and was extremely hard to walk on, so I was forced to walk along thre billy goat trail and various deer paths. I spent a cold night at swain's and hiked back in that beautiful weather we had on Saturday.

Tuesday -- March 11, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 8.2     Water Temperature: 42

I'm not totally convinced, but I think there's a racoon living on the island. I've never seen it, but I regularly see it's tracks. I find it hard to imagine a racoon swimming over here every night, especially with the icy waters we've had lately. On the other hand, the island seems a little too small to support a racoon on a full time basis. The other question is where is it during the daytime.

I have three bird houses I'll be putting up today. If I don't put them up soon it will be too late. The important thing with bird houses is the diameter of the hole, one and a half inches for blue birds, one and a quarter for carolina wrens and one and one eighth for a house wren. The location of the bird house is important too, but it's still a matter of luck to get a pair to nest in one of your boxes.

Wednesday -- March 12, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.1     Water Temperature: 40

The WSSC came down yesterday. They replaced the odor sponge in the sewage vent. It's supposed to help with the smell along the trail but it doesn't seem to do a whole lot. This is the temporary solution until they build the odor control system.

I saw three hawks yesterday,all red shouldered. One was on the Island and one I saw along the towpath up by lock eight. It was right at eye level just thirty feet from the trail. It's always amazing to see them up close and realize how big thier eyes, talons and hooked beak really are.

Thursday -- March 13, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.3     Water Temperature: 41

The snow-melt from the upper reaches of the river basin continues to work it's way toward us. This is the second week with the river remaining above the hazardous level. I'm not complaining, even though it is a pain to have the river high for so long, this gradual melt is much preferred to the alternative of a quick melt and a huge flood.

There are so many birds on and around the island, it reminds me of being in the avarian at the zoo. There are scores of ring-billed gulls out in the river. There are dozens of robins and grackles scouring the ground. There are wood ducks, grebes, mallards, geese, and mergansers. Wood peckers, titmice, chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals, mourning doves and house finches at the feeder. Hawks, eagles and owls. And a new arrival of male red-winged black birds.

I rode my bike downtown yesterday. I took the cresent trail to Georgetown and then followed K street. I was amazed, in forty minutes I was in the middle of downtown without the hassles of parking. I'm excited about living here on the island this coming spring, I can bike for less than an hour and get to either the heart of the action downtown or the wild environs of Great Falls. How awesome is that?

Friday -- March 14, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.0     Water Temperature: 42

I just saw something interesting. Two canada geese fighting over by the canoe float. They were in the water with thier beaks locked as they violently flapped their wings and twisted their necks, kicking up alot of water and making alot of noise. It went on for a couple of minutes until one of the geese retreated. Must be two competing males.

The ferry continues to be closed until further notice because of high river levels.

Sunday -- March 16, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.7     Water Temperature: 44

Monday -- March 17, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.3     Water Temperature: 49

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I really don't like to turn people away from the island but if the river is too high I don't have a choice. So please call me or check this site or call the weather service before you make plans to come down to the island, especially now during these wet spring months.

This morning I watched four magnificent piliated woodpeckers all pounding on the same rotted tree. I've never seen so many piliated woodpeckers in my life! I've been hearing reports of woodcocks doing their night-time mating display so I think I'll take advantage of the full moon tomorrow night and go out to see if I can't get a glimps of this incredible display before it's too late.

FYI, if Bush and Co. start bombing Bagdad I won't be on the island, I'll be sad and angry in front of the White House voicing my opposition.


Wednesday -- March 19, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.0     Water Temperature: 44

I have some rather disgusting news to report. I'm sure everyone is aware of the 72" sewer pipe that runs along the canal sending sewage from virginia down to the Blue Plains treatment plant near Hains Point. Well, from what I understand, it's not uncommon for this pipe to overflow. Sometimes there's a blockage but usually when there is an overflow it's due to excess volume in the pipe caused by large amounts of run off like we had recently when all the snow melted. So when the volume excedes the capacity of the pipe, raw sewage is forced out of the pipe and flows directly into the canal. Thats exactly what happened about two weeks ago. We didn't realize what had happening at first but we did notice that the canal was turning very green from algae, an indication that large amounts of nutrients are present in the water. The canal became thick with algae and as this algae died and decomposed it sucked all the oxygen from the water. If there is no oxygen, the fish die and on last Friday we noticed many dead fish floating in the canal. I called the director of natural resources for the park, Diane Ingram, and she confirmed my suspicions. The evidence of where the overflow occurred can be seen just below lock 7 at a man-hole cover there. The canal between lock 7 and lock 6 is now in very sorry shape, slimy green with sludge, grease, and dead fish floating on the surface. Ms. Ingram said she would contact the maintainence dept. of the park to see if they can open some locks and flush, like a toilet, the canal.

This morning I was able to look down into the conduit that runs under MacArthur Blvd. carrying municiple water from Great Falls down to the reservior. They are doing an inspection of the conduit so it had been drained, but normally this ten-foot wide pipe is full of river water. It's amazing that that much water is constantly rushing by, right under our feet.

Thursday -- March 20, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.7     Water Temperature: 48

This war is madness, to bring a country to it's knees and then, with total disregard for the innocent people that will be hurt, unleash the most powerful military in the world. I'm ashamed, the image of the U.S. as a powerful and benevolent country has been ruined and it's motives will forever be questioned.

Friday -- March 21, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.8     Water Temperature: 48

Happy Spring!

The trees are budding and the annuals and perrenials are sprouting up all over the lawn. The high-water season is with us as well, and the three inches of rain we had yesterday is having a dramatic effect on the river. It's not going to reach flood stage but it will get pretty close. The ferry, unfortunatly, will be closed all weekend, again.

The Environmental Film Fest has been here in D.C. this past week with the final shows coming up this weekend,, most of the shows are free and are always very good.

A public notice was posted at the trail head yesterday,"Sewage Spill, canal contaminated from lock 8 down to Fletcher's". All this rain should help that situation.

Monday -- March 24, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.0     Water Temperature: 50

Yet another weekend of high water and mud, but I'm hopeful that the worst is behind us and we can begin to enjoy this great spring weather. The signs of spring are everywhere! The first of the bluebells have bloomed and as I look up towards Rupperts island in the early morning light, I notice a subtle wash of green and red as the trees flower and bud.

Another sign of spring is mating geese and this morning we saw how rough that can be, especially for the females. The roucus sound of honking geese greeted me as I walked down the boardwalk this morning and I looked up to see a female goose running onto the island with a male close on her heels. She was completely coated in wet mud looking like a mud wrestler or the victim of an oil spill. He was trying to mount her and managed to stand on her wing to keep her from running as he violently bit her neck and jumped on her back. She, on the otherhand, was doing everything possible to not make it easy for him. All this going on while another male hovered close by, taking shots at the first male at every opportunity.

Tuesday -- March 25, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.2     Water Temperature: 50

The cormorants have returned, there was a group of fifty over by Rupperts.The ospreys have not yet returned to start their nesting and strangely all the sea gulls are gone.

Wednesday -- March 26, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.7     Water Temperature: 51

Finally, it looks like I'll be able to run the ferry and soon the Island will be open again. After a month of high water it will be strange to see the visitors return.

I saw an eastern pheobe flycatcher outside my window and a piliated woodpecker now visits the feeder.

Thursday -- March 27, 2003
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.4     Water Temperature: 53

Hooray! The Island is open so come on down.

The geese have staked out their nesting sites and now spend the day sitting and guarding.