APRIL 2008

Monday-- April 7, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 53

We had a pretty good workfest yesterday even though it was a cloudy and rainy day. We got all the docks out and the people that did show up worked hard at cleaning the clubhouse and ridding the Island of invasive plants. We also protected the trees from the beaver and collected tons of trash, mostly from Ruppert's island. There were some very helpful and fun children here and as usual George Malusky cooked for us all day. Thanks to the dedicated and hardy Islanders that came down that day.

I want everyone to know the sacrifices I make for this Club. Last night I loaded all that stinky, muddy river trash into my van, including the big barrels, and this morning I drove it all to the dump. Happily, the smell didn't linger that long and my van was odor-free by the time I picked Kaylen up from the airport. That's right, my daughter Kaylen is here from Florida for a week.

I saw the baby eagle chick in the nest over the weekend. So far I've only seen the one chick but I'm holding out hope that there are two chicks in the nest.

There are still only three goose nests on the island. The nest that is usually by the shed is not there and the pair that usually builds their nest near the clubhouse are strangely absent as well.

I paddled down from Carderock on Saturday. I still had my boat at the top of the hill from when I did the race last week so instead of carrying it down the hill I took it up to Carderock and floated down. It was a sunny afternoon and it gave me a chance to train for the next race, which is here at Sycamore Island. The highlight of the trip was when I saw a female peregrine falcon perched in a tree near the beltway bridge. There happened to be a bird watcher there with his scope and camera and he pointed out the nesting box that had been installed under the bridge. He said it was too early for chicks in the nest but that there was a pair of falcons using the nest. I also passed the cormorant rookery that is below Minnies Island and there were some twenty or so birds there, all packed into one tree. Later, as I came upon Ruppert's I scared up another 100 lounging cormorants. Soon the shad and herring will be running and the cormorants won't have time to lounge.

Wednesday-- April 9, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 53

I got a report from another avid eagle watcher that there are if fact two eaglets in our nest. That's great news, thanks Jack for the call.

I found another goose nest, so that brings us up to four total on the Island. Thats a big change from my first spring here when we had at least eight canada goose nests. That year we even had a nest on the roof of the canoe shed.

There are a few pairs of cowbirds feeding at my feeder and I'm trying to drive them away. Cowbirds are the parasitic birds that lay their eggs in other birds nests. This is terrible for our locally-nesting warblers, as they are fooled into raising the cowbird chicks at the peril of their own offspring.

Thursday-- April 9, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 60

I repaired the water lines to the toilet in the men's room. Yes the pipes burst despite my efforts to drain all the water from the system before the winter freeze. I got the toilet to work but then the faucet to the sink decided to break so now I have to figure that problem out. It looks like the old faucet just rusted out.

I took out the trash last night at around 11:00 and found a chipping sparrow hanging out in the screen porch. It didn't seem too afraid of me or maybe it was disoriented by the late hour but I got very close to it before it flew out the door and into the darkness. I followed the bird out the virginia-side door of the porch when suddenly I was awe struck by the sight of the moon. It was a golden orange crescent suspended just above the river, perfectly framed by Ruppert's Island on one side and the wooded shores of Virginia on the other side. I stared upriver as it gently sank between the hills to meet its reflection.

Sunday-- April 13, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 63

We saw a common loon on the river yesterday. I had heard a loon the last two days before and, even though their call is very distinctive, I wasn't convinced that I had a migrating loon near the Island. But yesterday, the loon was heard by another birder and we put up the scope to get a good look at the loon in its hard-to-identify winter plumage. Another bird that we had trouble identifying in its winter plumage was the horned grebe that was bobbing past the Island. We knew it was a grebe but it was pretty drab except for a bright red patch on its head. We decided that the red was the beginning of the breeding plumage coming in.

I haven't mentioned the bluebells for a few days but make no mistake, they are as spectacular as ever. Don't miss them!

I found another canada goose nest. That brings us up to five nests on the island.

I managed to get the sink in the mens room from leaking all over the place. It was so rusted I couldn't bet a cap on it so I just used a big wad of epoxy putty.

Something is going haywire, we had two relief caretakers yesterday morning and none on yesterday afternoon. C'mon people, get with the program! SIGN UP THEN SHOW UP!

Monday-- April 14, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 60

My one visitor of the day has left so now its just me and the bluebells, and all the nesting birds of course. Besides the geese, we have the phoebes nesting under the tool shed and I heard a northern parula, so hopefully they will nest here again this year. I also saw a pair of chickadees in Gerry Barton's nest box, not sure if they took up residence there. There are wood ducks here as well, nesting in the trunks of the big, hollowed out, sycamore trees.

Club member Maria S. was here on Saturday and collected another canoe full of trash from Ruppert's Island. She and her friends carried up some of the bags but she left some of the collected trash on the towpath in the hope that other members of the Sycamore Island Club would carry them up later. Unfortunately, we didn't have many visitors yesterday and nobody was able, apparently, to carry those bags out. Today I noticed that my trashy burden was growing, dog walkers were now using our heap of collected garbage as a public dump. I was really hoping that it wasn't going to be me that carried those dripping, smelly bags up the hill but I'd better do it before my "local dump" grows any more.

The first of the goslings have hatched! I went to count the eggs in the respective nests at the foot of the Island and, to my surprise, the nest by the Frank Davis Memorial Grill, had already produced chicks. If fact the chicks were being hatched at the exact time that I happened to be walking by. When the protective mother goose stood up I could see six goslings in various stages of the hatching process. The oldest was almost completely dry and fluffy while most of the others were still just soaking wet hatchelings. The youngest chick was still only halfway out of its shell. The agressive gander soon arrived and I ran off to get my camera. I tried to get a good picture of the goslings but the female wouldn't budge and the menacing male made it impossible to get a clear photo. I realized that I'd stressed them out enough and gave up on getting a picture. Soon we'll have baby geese strutting around the Island.

Friday-- April 18, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 65

Today felt like the beginning of the season. The weather was warm and sunny and many members took advantage of the conditions to make their first trip of the spring to the Island. I saw my first snakes today and, if there was any doubt that it was Sycamore time, Whitney came down for a swim in the river. I was inspired to take my first dip as well, after seeing her and her friend in the water. My swim however, was a very cold and short dip.

The other exciting news of the day was that our new leader of the grounds committee, Carol Cavanaugh, came down with her horticulture teacher, Betsy Washington, who specializes in locally native plants. They walked around and did an assessment of the plants on the island, native and otherwise. Thanks Betsy, and I think we all owe a thank you to Carol for volunteering to fill this very important position in the club. If anyone out there wants to give Carol assistance, I'm sure she would welcome the help. I saw her diligently digging up invasives the other day.

Saturday-- April 19, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 65

Today started off badly. I take pride in trying to be a patient and courteous caretaker, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. Its not always easy to live where you work and on Saturday morning at 8:00 A.M. my worlds collided. I knew there was going to be a bird-watchers paddle taking place on the Island at 8:00 on Saturday, but I had forgotten all about it. I've never thought that the sound of the bell was something hideous until today, at that hour, it sounded like the hounds of hell. I tried to ignore it but then, in anger, I stuck my head out the door and yelled at the incredibly inconsiderate bell ringers. Finally, I realized that my righteousness was mistaken and with lowered head I walked out to the ferry. My kind friends on the other side clapped in their appreciation that I was able to get out of bed but I was embarrassed beyond belief. How could I forget about the birder's paddle.

Why doesn't the relief caretaker show up at 9:00 A.M in April? I was surprised to see they don't come until 10:00 in April. And why wasn't the April meeting on the Island?

Sunday-- April 20, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 65

A big tree came down today. one minute it was there and then when I came out to check the grill, the monster had come down. It was the old silver maple at the corner of the deck that finally gave out. It creamed the bench but luckily it narrowly missed my canoe. We're going to have to rally the troops and do a volunteer lumberjack day. See you here Sunday

Lots of rain. I loved laying in bed this morning and listening to the rain. I guess the bluebells are now on their way out.

I was surprised to hear the bell on this rainy day but I was happy to see who it was. New club member Chris White had arrived with his bees. Earlier Chris had sent me this message;

Every year about this time, I bring my bees out of the fridge and put them outside. I have been keeping Orchard Mason bees, (Osmia Lignaria) in my yard for the last eight years. If you would like some for the island, I would be more than happy to bring by complete solution, (bees in tubes, empty tubes, 2x tube holders(6" by 4" PVC) to hold the tubes and a small wooden shelter) that we can just attach to something on the island. In September, I can come and get them back, as they do better if they winter over in the fridge.

Tuesday-- April 22, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 8.0     Water Temperature: 65

The ferry is closed and will be closed most of the week due to high water. I'm looking at a muddy brown river that has reached 8 feet and seems to be whizzing by at about 5 miles an hour. The river has inundated the Island and tragically, the river has taken our swim float. I didn't expect the float to get lost but I guess I should have tied a line to it before the river got so high. I looked at the float last night, just before dark, and it seemed fine, Tryon's new anchor was holding.

Lots of warblers, vireos, gnat catches and the like. The trees seem to be filled with them but I only get passing glimpses.

Wednesday-- April 23, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.1     Water Temperature: 65

I'm surrounded by a river. Now that may seem obvious, like saying that the sky is blue, but some days the sky is bluer than others, and today I really sense the river around me. I see its menacing color, I feel its velocity, I hear it rushing against the trees through the Island and I can even smell its grittiness permeating the air.

I had to get out and wrestle with the docks this morning. I wanted to make sure that I pushed the floats out as the water receded, once the floats are on dry ground they're like beached whales. The problem was that old canoe float had crossed lines with the captains float. standing thigh deep in the muddy river I managed to pry the two floats apart and drag the old one up stream, out of the way. Then I realized that the cable for the captains float was stuck on a tree under water. I walked the cable down-stream to get a better angle and tried to yank it free. I was loosing hope that I would have enough strength to get the cable free when suddenly it let go and I went sailing backwards into the sloppy mud. Yuck!, but at least the float was free now and I pulled it into position.

I just got through cleaning out one of the club canoes. I can't understand how it got so incredibly muddy! We'll have to do better about cleaning the canoes on a regular basis. This canoe also needed a new thwart, the old one rotted out. I found an old yoke that fit and to prevent it from rotting so quickly like the last one I painted it green. I also painted the other yoke that was on the boat.

Thursday-- April 24, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.1     Water Temperature: 65

It was very hard to leave the Island this morning, not only was the weather perfect but the air was filed with the most amazing chorus of bird song. The sound was overwhelming as I stepped out of my door this morning. I stopped in my tracks and immediately reached back for my binoculars, like reaching for my musket, hanging by the door. I trained the glasses to my eyes and every time I focused on a bird it was the same, a gold finch. There must have been dozens, possibly hundreds, of these striking yellow and black birds feeding on the seed balls that were still hanging from the sycamore trees. I also saw prothonotary warblers. Needless to say, I was late to report to my duties at The Children's Inn at NIH. In fact, between the flooding and the explosion of flowers and wildlife, I've been late to work everyday this week.

Incredible news, our swim float has not been lost after all. When I didn't see it on the surface of the river on last Tuesday I assumed the worst and imagined it rolling over the dam, but thankfully I was wrong and our float was only submerged under the potomac's gargantuan current.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in an episode of "Most Dangerous Jobs", thigh-deep in the river at 10:30 at night, in the dark, with a drill in one hand and a floating dock in the other. The river was dropping fast and I was determined to not let the docks get beached overnight. I had to attach a new line to the captains float to keep it up river. I also wanted to get the ferry in place before I went to bed so that it wouldn't get stranded either.

I stacked all the paint cans on a new shelf in the mens locker room and I hosed out the whole men's locker room and the other dungeon locker area. Where does all that dirt come from?

The ground hog now lives under the stump of the fallen sycamore by the canoe shed. It seems to like to eat bluebells.

Friday-- April 25, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.1     Water Temperature: 65

A friend and I paddled over to Turkey run today to join in on a wild flower walk. It was a little tricky getting across the swollen river but the day was perfect and the flowers did not disappoint. The best part was that I met a couple of local historians who have done extensive research into the navigation of the potomac river before the days of the C & O canal. He sent this to me, "Very good to hear from you. I think 11 June would be a great date for a presentation. This will give you some good info you can use in making the presentation announcement. In a nutshell, the briefing covers Potomac Company in-river navigation structures and fish weirs found in the Gorge during our 2007 foot and aerial reconnaissance. The presentation has great aerial and river-level photos of each of the structures. Does the Club have a projector?"

Looks like we need a projector if anyone has one.

Saturday-- April 26, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.3     Water Temperature: 65

The Island is closed today but the river went down just enough for the cub scouts and all their parents to camp out here last night. They got rained on a little bit but it looks like they had a good time.

Wednesday-- April 30, 2008
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.4     Water Temperature: 65

More high water, the second time this month that the river has risen above seven feet. I'm getting used to canoeing back and forth, sometimes standing up so I don't get my pants dirty.

I woke up with poison Ivy on my wrist this morning. I guess you have to take the bad with the good when the warm weather arrives.

Our new bees have hatched and seem to have adapted to life on the Island. The only flowers I see in bloom right now are the meadow rue and the blue phlox, but the bees always return to their holes covered with pollen.

Today it was a flock of cedar waxwings that descended upon the Island. I also got a good look at a northern parula and we now hear orioles and prothonotary warblers on a regular basis. Today a prothonotary was trapped in the screen porch and I got a good look at it before I herded it out the door.

Now that the river is over its banks, the catfish can venture into the shallows of the Island and can forage on some otherwise unreachable vegetation.