January 2013

Friday -- January 4, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 37

I bought the songbirds a Christmas present, I finally went out and got them some birdseed. I was resisting, partly because of the expense but also because last year I think the easy- access food attracted a rat. The feeder has been full for the past week and so far no rats but it has been great watching the woodpeckers and titmice coming and going at the feeder. One downy woodpecker was under my living room pecking away, and it sounded so much like someone knocking that I had to go see if someone was at the door.

It's truly winter now and there are some new birds in town. Lately, I've seen a common merganser, a bufflehead and pied-billed grebes, all from the Island. Last Sunday, as the sun was beginning to set, Mary and I took a walk along the tow path toward the dam and we saw four tundra swans flying in tight formation. First, they flew up river, then we saw them fly back downstream again, very cool.

I finished up the carpentry work that had to be done around the new windows on the tool shed and last night I made a fire to burn all of the wood scraps. While I was out there, our twenty some resident Canada geese came swimming by. I'm not sure how I know that these were the same geese I see all of the time, but they just seemed to act like they lived here. I think they wanted to hang out on the Island but once they saw me and my fire they continued up towards Rupperts. I watched as they silently went by, their dark shapes silhouetted against the reflection of the sky on the water. Then, KA-SPLASH, a fat beaver broke the silence with a big tail-slap and made my heart jump. Damn beaver.

Tuesday -- January 8, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 37

So I never turned off the water to the clubhouse and now that we're headed for a long stretch of warmer weather, I'm glad I didn't. It's just easier, if we have a lot of visitors over the weekend, to have all the toilets and faucets working.

The expected warm weather may slow down the arrival of the winter waterfowl but yesterday I had an excellent look at a small group of lesser scaups. The males are very striking with black head and tail and a solid white center, it's easy to tell that they are not the ducks that we usually see down here. The females are cool too, dark brown with a clear-cut white patch at the base of the bill. They were so close that I could even see their orangeish eyes, contrasting nicely against their black feathers.

Ann Boneau was down here on Sunday. She and her husband, Alan, have decide to end their membership at Sycamore Island. She came down here with some friends to pick up the canoe that they had stored here since 1979! I did not know Ann and Alan very well, they haven't been regular visitors during my tenure but I'm sure it was different 33 years ago when their kids were teenagers and their old Lincoln Canoe was new. Its sad, in a way, to see old members leave the club. I know that it means more room for newer families but every time a member leaves, a little part of the history of the Club is lost. Gone now is the old canoe from rack F5, it will probably be replaced by one of those new-fangled stand-up paddle boards, how sad is that?

All the best to Ann and Alan, we'll miss you on the Island.

I'm still puttsing around with the new windows in the tool shed. I replaced one of the broken panes and today I will trim out the inside of the windows with the 1" X 2" pieces of wood. Next, we have to decide on the best way to latch the windows shut.

Last Saturday Mary and I hiked the Potomac Heritage Trail. Its a trail that runs along the Virginia shore from Roosevelt Island all the way up to the American Legion Bridge,(formerly known as the Cabin John Bridge, or beltway bridge). We jumped on the trail right here across from Sycamore Island. After paddling across the river, we had the most enjoyable four hours of hiking. The scenery is awesome, especially in winter, and once you get to Georgetown, it's easy to find a cold beer and a sandwich as a reward. Lucky for us, we got a ride back up river, but there is a bus that will take you from Georgetown back up to Brookmont.

Wednesday -- January 9, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 39

This past Sunday, one of the new wait-list members came down to the Island. It was good to see a new face, but what was cool was that he didn't come down to use the club, he came down exclusively to have a one on one orientation with the caretaker. I thought that this was a great idea for all members, new and old alike. I think that it was very helpful for Fred to walk around the island with me and have me talk about where everything is and how everything works.

Monday -- January 14, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 41

I was a little surprised to see that the river is on the rise. I didn't think we had enough rain to make it shoot up like it did yesterday. Plus, they are predicting the river to get over five feet by Wednesday. I thought that maybe there had been a large dam release upstream, but then I realized what was going on. My first clue came was when I went to look at the conditions at White Grass, the X-country ski resort. That's right, we didn't have much rain but the warm weather has melted all of the snow in the mountains and all of that snow is now river water.

The other weather story is the fog. I can't remember a time when the Island has been so socked in for so long. The fog descended upon us on Saturday night and stayed all the way until Sunday night. The fog was so thick that I couldn't see the Virginia at all, and Ruppert's island was just a hint of trees in the distance. The fog was so bad at one point that even the landing on the Maryland shore was obscured. Mary and I decided that we didn't want to miss the chance at being on the river in such a thick fog. I thought it would be cool to be on the river in a cloud and not be able to see land at all. We paddled out to the middle of the river and when the Virginia shore came into view, Sycamore Island was so shrouded in mist that we couldn't even see the clubhouse.

I did some more cleaning and organizing in the tool shed and I have enough junk now, old cables, curtain rods, and the metal from the ping-pong table, to warrant a trip to the scrap yard. I repaired two broken thwarts on the club canoes and had to scrub the mud from the inside of another. I think I need to put my foot down in regards to how the members and their guests leave the canoes they borrow. Listen people, if you don't want to be responsible for cleaning the mud from the canoe you use, don't use a canoe. Simple as that.

Wednesday -- January 16, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 41


It's too bad that all of this rain isn't snow. If it was snowing I could go skiing and the river wouldn't be flooding. Oh well, that's how life is. The river is expected to get up to seven feet by Friday so I think the ferry will be closed until Monday at the earliest, but you never know. I do wish the sun would come out. I haven't seen the sun since it was out very briefly on Saturday.

Monday -- January 21, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 41

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Happy Inauguration Day! How fitting to have the second swearing-in of the first black President to be on MLK's birthday. When I was four-years-old my parents took the family to a Martin Luther King Rally in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, after moving to D.C., I can remember the tragic day that he was killed.

The ferry will be closed all day today, but first thing tomorrow, we'll be back in business.

I will be winterizing the bathrooms and Club kitchen today, so the only running water will be in the men's bathroom.

I was away on Friday and Saturday and when I returned yesterday the ferry was high and dry. It had become stuck on the dock after the river receded. Usually, if I put a long leash on the ferry it will drift away from the dock but this time there must have been a breeze that pushed it up on the Island. I wasn't too optimistic about my chances of getting the ferry free. The tip of one end of the ferry was slightly in the water but the other end was resting on top of one of the vertical posts of the dock so that the deck of the ferry was at waist height. I tried to use a long 2X6 to pry it free but the ferry was just too heavy. I had one more trick to try before I had to call in some help. I moved all of the roofing shingles, cinder blocks and other counter weights to the opposite end of the ferry. This was a little dicey as it made the ferry pitch dramatically toward the river. The ferry was at a very steep angle then, with the island-side sticking up in the air. I climbed back off of the ferry and to my surprise, I was able to lift the ferry free.

Tuesday -- January 22, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.9     Water Temperature: 38

It looks like we may get some ice on the river this week.

The eagles have been spotted at the nest so it won't be long before they lay their eggs again.

Wednesday -- January 23, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.5     Water Temperature: 35

I have the water running again. I had to open the modular walls in order to heat the entire men's bathroom, but the pipes are thawed and running again.

The pipes froze last night and there is no longer running water in the winter bathroom. It never got real cold for very long last winter, so this is the first chance we've had to test our new system of insulating and delivering water to the winter bath, it failed. I guess that the low voltage wire that we have snuggled up against the pipe just wasn't enough to keep the pipes from freezing while they cross the locker room.

Thursday -- January 24, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 35

Stone Soup Films did a short documentary about Potomac Riverkeeper featuring Whit Overstreet and myself. Check it out at

It's kind of nice to have a little snow on the ground this morning. So far the river hasn't frozen. I'm afraid that once the wind stops blowing, the river is going to instantly freeze. I've got my fingers crossed that I won't have to face an icy crossing this week.

Saturday -- January 26, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 33

The river hasn't frozen yet but it may freeze tonight. It's been quite wintry on the Island lately. I was crossing the river the other day with the snow blowing and the whitecaps crashing and it occurred to me that the Island looked like a remote fishing village in Alaska. The only thing that was missing were the sled dogs. Thankfully, it's supposed to get warmer on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Snow on the ground means animal tracks, and its fun to go out in the morning and play nature detective. I did find some tracks but they seem to have posed more questions than they answered. Like, I have squirrel tracks but I haven't seen a squirrel on the Island in months. Also, There were dog-like prints in the snow by the tree house. My first thought was that they were fox tracks but the fox usually don't swim over. Was it a coyote? Is it still on the Island? Very strange.

I saw a ruddy duck! Actually there were three of them, one male and two females, feeding near the ferry yesterday morning. I've never seen one in the wild, not that I recall. I do remember seeing a pair of stuffed ruddy ducks hanging on the wall at the Jefferson Island Club but it was much better seeing them live with their pudgy bodies and over-sized bills. They were not in breeding plumage, of course, so the males lacked their bright-colored feathers and looked almost identical to the females.

I had to add a chain to the telephone pole on the mainland. I called it a telephone pole but it is actually the pole that holds the cable that holds the pulleys that are chained to the ferry. It's an important part of our ferry system and the other day I noticed that it was wobbling quite a bit. My solution may not work for the long term but I was able to stabilize the pole but using the come-along and chaining it to another tree upstream.

Thursday -- January 31, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 8.1     Water Temperature: 33


I had a rude awakening this morning. I got out of bed and looked out the window to see that the river had flooded over night and that the dock was under water!

The river had gone up four feet while I was sleeping! I realized it was going to be another Sycamore Island, day of adventure. I rushed out to rescue my canoe that was upside down and half submerged next to the board walk. I tried to raise the rope for the bell but I couldn't pull it from the tight jaws of the river, and I had to cut it. There was another canoe on the Virginia-side shore but it was already floating upside down and out of reach. Luckily I had it tied off.

Unfortunately though, the ferry was on the mainland side of the river and was taking the brunt of the river's force. I paddled over and worked on getting all of the logs, branches and debris free from the ferry chains. I put both chains on the front of the ferry and tied it to the mainland with a long leash. It was still getting battered against the sycamore tree but there was nothing I could do about it. There was no way I was going to try to pull the ferry to the Island in 7.5 feet of rushing river.

I'm off to tour the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant this morning. Then, since the ferry is closed, I'm headed to White Grass Ski Touring Center for the weekend! See you next week!