APRIL 2011

Monday -- April 4, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 50

It's a warm and sunny day and the bluebells are quickly unfurling their petals toward the sun. After all of the cold and rain that we have had lately, the sun is an especially welcome sight.

Speaking of cold and rain, we had quite the little tempest here on Saturday. I was innocently riding on the ferry with the relief caretaker Gordon Phillips pulling me across when all of the sudden the wind picked up and we had trouble holding on. We got to The Maryland shore where Jim Snow was waiting and that was when all heck broke loose. The sky was black and the intensifying wind threw whitecaps all over the river. Gordon was having difficulty managing the ferry so I aborted my trip to 7-11 and decided to head back to the safety of the clubhouse. I jumped back onto the ferry, which was still pointed straight upriver, and we struggled to pull her back to the Island. Then, the driving rain turned into driving sleet and hail and we all got pummeled, sitting ducks on the ferry, totally exposed to the elements. Adventure on the high seas!! Five minutes later, the wind had stopped and the sun was shining again, and I made my way to the store unimpeded.

Good birding yesterday. I saw one of the eagle chicks for the first time as it stuck its little head above the edge of the nest. I got a great look at a common loon too. That was only the second time that I've seen a loon here near the Island. Not to say that they are not here, passing through every year, I just haven't seen them. I was also watching a small group of maybe six mergansers as they preened and floated on the river. I was sure that they were mergansers but their plumage had me confused. Some had black eye patches and some had more black on their heads, like a mohawk. The field marks did not make sense but I could tell by the shape of their beaks and the color of their feet that they were some kind of mergansers. My only explanation is that they were red-breasted mergansers that were in the middle of shedding their breeding plumage.

Tuesday -- April 5, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 53

The water temperature of the river is now above 50 degrees, and with yesterday's warm sunny, weather, I was contemplating a quick dip, but I don't think it's quite swimming weather yet.

A very strong front came through here this morning. The rain and wind were so load that it woke me up. Of course I had left all of my windows open because the day before was so warm and I had to jump out of bed at 4:30 A.M. to rush around and close them all. When I got upstairs, my kitchen floor and table were already soaked.

Friday -- April 8, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 53

Big weekend ahead. The annual river clean-up is tomorrow morning, meet here at Island, and on Sunday there is a wildflower walk, meeting at Carderock on Sunday at 10:00.

Speaking of wildflowers, we have a bunch. The bluebells are everywhere and the dutchman's breeches are very plentiful as well. The trout lilies are in bloom and interestingly, most of the trout lilies on the Island are white, not the usual yellow. The big surprise this year is the number of toadshades (trillium sessile) we have. They grow in little groups around the Island and I counted over fifty of these nice purply trilliums.

I heard that the shad are running so I went down below little falls to see if I could see any but no luck. i did see two yellow warblers though.

We are down to three of the warning buoys that are just down river from us. I think there were six of the big barrels across the river when I first moved here but periodic floods have taken some away. One of the buoys is just below the dam, stuck in the hydraulic.

Tuesday -- April 12, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.7     Water Temperature: 58

The park service picked up all the trash from the River Clean-up today. The trash was piled up on the towpath and, judging by the size of the pile, I guess it was a pretty successful clean-up day.

The Island has it's clean-up day on Sunday. I'm looking forward to getting the docks out and getting this place ready for a big summer. I hope the rain today doesn't cause the river to flood. I really don't want to postpone the workfest.

Special Club meeting on Wednesday, tomorrow, night here on the Island. Hedrick Belin of the Potomac Conservancy will be here!

Wednesday -- April 13, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.3     Water Temperature: 58

The river is a little high but the meeting is planned to go on as scheduled, on the Island!

Thursday -- April 14, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.5     Water Temperature: 58

The river is rising and the ferry will be closed for the weekend. Bummer! We have also been forced to postpone the workfest that was scheduled for Sunday. The new date for the workfest is May 1, 2011. I hope everyone can rearrange their plans and make it down here for that big day.

I just saw the biggest snapping turtle that I've ever seen! I was crossing the canal and when I looked down from the bridge I saw this monster swimming downstream. The canal was low and clear and I watched as it made it way down steam, completely submerged. The thing was over two feet from head to tail and it's head and neck were bigger then my arm and fist!

The Club's monthly meeting was here on the Island last night and we had a wonderful guest speaker, Hedrick Belin, who talked to us about the Potomac Conservancy. It was a really good turnout for the meeting, close to thirty people, which is awesome, but the river was at 5.5 feet and getting all those people across the river was a real chore.

Walked out this morning and there was a huge red-tailed hawk sitting on the bow of the canoe that I had left by the bank the night before. Maybe it was a sign?

I've been having great luck birding lately, yesterday, besides all the common birds that I see everyday, I saw a very pretty, green-winged teal, male. I had spooked it out of an eddie as I paddled through the islands near Rupperts. Yesterday was also a record day for yellow-rumped warblers. These warblers are probably the most common warblers that migrate through here every year, but that doesn't make them any less attractive. It was so cool to have them swarming in the trees as I launched my Kayak, and then to have dozens of them flitting along the shore as I paddled upstream.

I paddled all the way up to rupperts and discovered that what used to be a cormorant rookery is now a great blue heron rookery. I spied one tree with eight nests with one attened by one adult bird. The nests seem very small for such a gangly bird, only as wide as the bird's featherless leg was long.

Friday -- April 15, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 8.0     Water Temperature: 58

The river crested at 2:30 this morning, the high-mark was 8.3 but we're not out of the woods yet. We are in store for another storm that's coming through tomorrow and they think the river will be back up over 8 feet on Monday. Sorry folks, it's really too bad you can't get over here while the bluebells are at their peak.

Monday -- April 18, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 11.4     Water Temperature: 58

Holy cow, we have another flood on our hands! I'm kind of surprised at how much the river is going up and it is definitely going up a lot sooner then I thought it would. I underestimated the river and I think it is going to cost me when it comes time to clean up.

The ferry was closed yesterday, of course, and I took advantage of the fact that I didn't have to be here on a Sunday and I went out to Front Royal for a day of rock climbing at buzzard rock. On the way out there we had to cross the North Fork of the Shenandoah and I was shocked to see how high it was. The river was completely out of its banks and it had inundated all of the pastures on either side. The water was brown and chuck full of floating trees and other debris and the sight of it made me worry about my decision to leave the Island for the day. What made me even more anxious was the fact that every little stream and rivulet that we passed was still gushing from the rains of the day before, so not only was the Shenandoah out of it's banks but it was still going up! Passage creek was so high that they closed the low water bridge that crosses it and we had to make a detour to get to the trail head!

After an amazing day of climbing I returned home a few minutes before dark. The first thing I noticed as I looked across from the bridge to the Island was that the river was already creeping into the canoe shed. The next thing I noticed was the loud honking of two canada geese. I thought maybe they were sounding the alarm about the rising waters, but then I realized that they may be mourning the loss of their nest. The tragedy was that they had built their nest on a lower portion of the Island and when the river got above 9 feet, their nest, with it's precious contents, got swept away by the river. The other tragedy that I discovered when I got home was that all the bluebells were being mercilessly submerged by the flood waters, right at the peak of their brilliance.

Two minutes of frantic paddling got me across the river and I quickly put on my waders on and went to work. I checked on-line for the river level and the river was predicted to crest at around 11.2,(the river actually crested on Monday afternoon at 11.7)this meant that I had to empty all the canoes out of the bottom row of the canoe shed. I also had to secure all of the club canoes and the numerable stray boats that we have here. Sloshing around in cold, thigh-high river water was the last thing I wanted to do after climbing all day but I worked for a couple of hours and got all (well, almost all) of the canoes and kayaks out into the open field.

Thursday -- April 21, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 8.0     Water Temperature: 58

Usually after a flood the river recedes very quickly but not this time. The river dropped from 11 feet to 8 feet pretty fast but it looks like we will be hovering between 6 and 8 feet for the next couple of days. It looks like the ferry will be closed again this weekend.

Monday -- April 25, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.0     Water Temperature: 58

The ferry is still closed but the river seems to be going down. Not sure when things will get back to normal but hopefully we'll be able to have the Workfest on the Island this Sunday.

We are going to have some extra work to do at the workfest. Since the river went up a little higher then expected some of the canoes got swamped and were filled with river mud. Also there is a lot of debris that has been trapped under the canoe shed. I've been working on some of the canoes but a job like that is easier with help.

Eagle report; there is but one chick in the nest and it is growing rapidly. It's wingspan is close to two feet wide!

Don't forget, the Club is planning a big summer solstice party. On June 25th the Club will be hosting a Dance on the Island featuring the great local rock, blues and swing band, BG and the Mojo Hands. Be there or be square!

Wednesday -- April 27, 2011
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.6     Water Temperature: 64

The dock is still under water and there continues to be rain in the forecast. I really hope we don't have to postpone the workfest again, keep your fingers crossed.

It's so sad, there are no baby geese on the Island this year. The timing of the flood was such that almost all of the geese nests got washed away before the little chicks could hatch. We did have one successful nest on the Island which produced four chicks but the other three nests floated away. Many geese built their nests on Rupperts Island and since that Island is even lower then this Island the destruction there was complete. Now, the pairs of adult geese that are hanging around seem to be at a loss as to what to do next.

The canal is drained again. Apparently it was damaged in the last flood and had to be drained for inspection. So now what we have resembles a mud-filled swamp not a body of water.

The swampy canal is good for some creatures though. The muddy pools are perfect breeding grounds for the American toad and all this week the night air has been filled with the loud chorus of these amphibians as they perform their annual ritual. If you want to hear what this music sounds like you can go to and watch a video of a field trip I did with Reptiles Alive. Or you could go for a night hike along the canal.

I saw another snapping turtle, speaking of reptiles. This one was no where near as big as the one I saw in the canal last week but it was a lot closer. When I arrived at the ferry landing last night in the dark, I was unlocking the canoe when I noticed something on the ferry landing steps. One of the steps was under about four inches of water and when I moved the canoe, the light from my headlamp revealed the plate-sized snapper happily perched there.