April 2016

Monday -- April 4, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 56

It happens every year but it never disappoints. Every year the wildflowers emerge and the trees fill with leaves, but it is always a spectacular show.

The bluebells and redbuds are wonderful of course, but I'm also enjoying this sudden abundance of bird life! I just spotted my first warbler, a yellow rump, and we heard the pheobie making it's distinctive call as well. I lost count of the number of cormorants that flew by last night. They flew by in big "V"s of about twenty birds each. Silently cruising upstream. Last Wednesday morning I saw a bird that I've never seen on the Island. In fact I don't think anyone alive today has ever seen this bird on Sycamore Island.

What I saw when I walked out early Wednesday morning was a pair of wild turkeys! They were on the ground, walking near the shore on the far bank. They scattered when they saw me, and one turkey flew upstream towards me at eye-level, and flew right by the the rope swing!

I ran down to get another look but they were gone and I went up the hill to meet the Pepco Technician. When we returned to the Island, we saw a turkey on the shore, right where I had seen them before! I haven't seen any turkeys since, but keep your eyes peeled, you might see a turkey on the Island.

The eagle's nest has been active and we believe that the chicks have hatch by now. Sadly I haven't gotten any reports from my eagle-watching neighbor up the hill, I hope Jack didn't move away. Speaking of nests, the official total on goose nests is three. We found the last nest at the top of the Island near the stranded dock.

Thursday -- April 7, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6     Water Temperature: 56

It's pouring rain right now but the weather story this week is the fierce wind. The wind was so strong that it pushed my canoe right out of the river and onto the shore! The wind also blew the roof off of the tree house and broke one of our trees in half. Looking downstream I noticed that the wind damaged the "dam ahead" sign. The bottom half is gone and it no longer says "get to shore". They a predicting more vicious wind on Saturday so we've already decided to close the ferry for that day.

Good news, I ran into Jack, our eagle watcher! He was biking on the canal and gave me the update on the eagles and their chicks. Turns out that there is only one chick this year and it hatched about three weeks ago.

We were having some electrical problems in the clubhouse but I figured it out and things are working fine again. It was simply a couple of uninsulated wires inside the box where the switches are. I also went ahead and reinstalled the porch light.

Saturday -- April 9, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6     Water Temperature: 56

The ferry will be closed today due to severe wind conditions.

Sunday -- April 10, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6     Water Temperature: 56

The ferry is open again!

Tuesday -- April 19, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 66

We had a great turn out for the workfest on Sunday. I think there were over 70 people here! Some of those that showed up had just gotten on the waitlist three days before and it was fun meeting all the new people. We got all the docks out, (except for the swim float) and managed to get a lot of cleaning a fixing done as well. Vice president Bertaut even brought down a new hammock!

The baby geese hatched on the morning of the workfest, so we all got to see the tiny puff balls swimming around the Island. Speaking of babies, it turns out that there are now two young eagles in that nest across the river. We also have a pair of chicadees nesting in the bluebird box.

Easterday Well is here today to fill in the abandoned well that I discovered after the last flood. We just carried over 14 wheel barrels of gravel and a ton of concrete. After they seal the well they will cover it with topsoil and you'll never even know it was there. I put a ladder down in the hole yesterday so that I could retrieve some of the old bricks before they got buried forever. I was hoping that the bricks could give us an idea of when that well was dug. I did find out that there was no mortar used to make the well, just bricks stacked on bricks.

I attached my mini dock to the canoe dock and installed the G-bar to make it easier for members to get in and out of their kayaks. Some people were having a lot of trouble with the high deck of the plastic dock.

Friday -- April 22, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 68

Happy Earth Day!

It's Earth day and conditions on the river and on the Island could not be better. The water is a little cold yet for swimming but its really clear and at a good level for paddling. Canoeing season has begun!

I think we can say that the bluebells are now gone. That was pretty good run of three weeks with the bluebells covering the Island. We'll let the plants fade out by themselves before we mow the fields, and then we'll just wait to see them again next year!

I stained the picnic tables this week. Alan and Sandra bleached them at the workfest so they were nice and clean and dry and I wanted to get them coated before it rained again. I used Dave Winer's "Australian Timber Oil" and they turned out looking great. I was actually surprised at how good they looked.

I installed the old rotary phone in the Club kitchen, just for the fun of it. It was the phone that we used to use in the old kitchen before the renovation. It's wall mounted and is at least 40 years old.

Wednesday -- April 27, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 68

The river got over 70 degrees warm yesterday but with the clouds moving in today I suspect it will be much cooler tomorrow. It look like the river level will rise a bit from this rain but nothing major.

The fishing season has begun. The shad have been running for over a month and it looks like you can still catch some shad and other migrants down by Fletcher's cove. The shad don't seem to make it all the way up here in large numbers so we never catch them here. Someone caught the first smallmouth bass here on Sunday and the catfish are being successfully hunted as well.

I was recently reminded about the rules governing invasive catfish. The DNR asks anglers to remove and kill any blue and flathead catfish they catch. Catch and release of these fish is discouraged, as they are invasive top predators and pose a serious long-term threat to our native species.

There is a lot of good information on the DNR website

The problem is, as I learned from our young fishermen, is that killing a 25 pound blue catfish isn't that easy. I suppose you could paddle it to shore and leave it on the bank and hope that it doesn't wiggle back into the river. The guys leaving here the other day carried with them a small hatchet for doing the dirty deed.

The second pair of nesting geese are done incubating their eggs. Sadly most of the young hatchlings did not survive and they have only one chick. The third nesting pair down at the bottom of the Island is still waiting and sitting on the nest.

This is the year of the red-winged blackbird. Never before have we had those birds here at our feeder and now they have been here so long that I believe that they are nesting nearby. I usually associate the blackbirds with wetlands and marshes but this year they seem to have found a home on Sycamore Island. Maybe it's an indicator of how much the canal bed is turning into a swamp.

Saturday -- April 30, 2016
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 60

Wow, the river was 72 degrees last week and now it's back down to sixty, brrrr.

The warm weather of last week has brought out the snakes, and suddenly they seem to be everywhere. You can always count on the snakes being very active during those first days when the temperatures are above 70 degrees. So far I've seen a few black rat snakes and two garter snakes. The black snakes seem to like being around the buildings and one was climbing the stairs to the clubhouse. Another was high up in a small tree.

My two encounters with the garter snakes were much more interesting. I had noticed a two foot-long garter snake by the shed and it was strangely burrowing it's head into the hard dirt and it didn't seem to notice me. Once it finally got spooked off I tried to investigate what it was doing in the dirt. I peeked into the shallow hole that it had made and I saw something that I thought must be some kind of small prey, like a buried grub or something. I grabbed a stick to dig it out with and once I got it out, I was astonished at what I found. It was a big clump of hard dirt with a large frog encrusted inside! I guess that the crafty snake was hoping to catch the frog before the poor thing had a chance to come out of hibernation.

Then on Sunday I came upon another unusual scene. This time the garter snake, (maybe the same one), had a large frog (same frog?) by the leg and it was slowly trying to swallow the frog. The frog was trying to jump away but by then the snake had already swallowed the frogs leg. The tug-of-war continued for a couple of hours until we lost track of them in the tall weeds. I think I would have wagered on the snake.

I bought two new kayak paddles for the Club's use. They are not very special but they are nice and long and they have the drip guards that so many of you club members have been asking for.

Some of the member volunteers dismantled the treehouse during the workfest. It was sad to see it go but it had become unfit for use.

The last goose nest has finished hatching but I have yet to see how many young chicks our last breeders had. We also saw a clutch of mallard chicks swimming by this week, so cute.

The other exciting bird news is that now we can hear the songs of the returning orioles, northern parulas and prothonotary warblers. These migratory birds are all here to breed and nest and will be gone before the summer's end.

There seems to be a lot of beaver activity right now so if you want to see a beaver come down an hour before dark.