February 2017

Tuesday -- February 14, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 42

There is nothing quite like a large body of water when it comes to dramatizing the immense power of a gail-force wind. The wind was blowing hard yesterday morning, and the two foot waves and whitecaps were rolling by the Island like a giant conveyor belt headed downstream. Every time a wave happened upon a log or a rock, the wind would send the water exploding into the air only to be wisked away as if gravity had momentarily lost it's pull.

You can't actually see the wind, of course, but looking out my window at the river yesterday, I knew that the wind was blowing, and hard. I suppose that during the summer months the leaf-filled trees would be my first clue about the wind. But now, with the trees bare, like masts without sails, it was the churning, white-capped waters that stirred my excitement and caught my attention.

Last year at this time we noticed that our resident geese were beginning their mating rituals, but so far today, no signs of any Canada goose romance on the Island. Happy Valentine's day!

Wednesday -- February 15, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.35     Water Temperature: 40

The river shot up over night. I guess there was a bit of snow melting up stream somewhere. I can tell you first hand that there was a lot of snow melting at the Savage River State Forest last week.

I spent the last hours of daylight yesterday picking up all of the fallen branches and sticks that fell during that windy day on Monday. There were so many branches strewn across the Island in fact, that I was surprised that there were any branches left on the trees above.

As I was raking up the leaves and sticks I noticed that the first of the bluebells are starting to pock their heads up out of the ground, just two months until they bloom!

I also noticed the bluebells arch rival, the evil invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). The celandine can potentially out-compete our bluebells so they are on my kill list. The good news is that there were not that many lesser celandines emerging. It looks like my one-man five-year crusade to eliminate these invasive plants is actually making a difference!

I scrubbed the floors in the Clubhouse, and then applied the protective linseed oil. I say it every year but I sure wish we would sand and finish those floors properly, with some polyurethane. It sure would be easier to maintain them and keep them in good shape.

Thursday -- February 23, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 48

Big news! The eagles have laid their eggs and are now sitting on the nest! I broke out the spotting scope on Monday afternoon and to my delight there were two eagles in the nesting tree, one in the nest and another on a branch nearby. The cool thing is that our birds started incubating their eggs on the same day as the famous eagles down at the National Arboretum. That pair, dubbed George and Martha, began nesting at the Arboretum back in 2014 and were the first pair of eagles to nest within the D.C. limits since 1947. There is a camera on that pair and you can watch them at, This is the 15th year that our eagle nest will have a breeding pair!

It was stunningly nice this past weekend and the Island was pretty busy, for February. Monday was Presidents day and the Island was hopping. It was great to see all of the waitlisters taking advantage of the strangely warm weather, and since it was a holiday the dads were able to be here too! Most were disappointed that the canoes were off limits because of the cold water but all seemed to enjoy just being here and letting the kids run around.

We also had the annual bird walk on Saturday and I heard that that was a big success, with lots of members showing up just after dawn. Paul Hagen, as usual, led a great outing, and his knowledge of all of the birds and their voices helped to make it truly special.

On Sunday we got a visit from Fraser Brewer, she is the daughter of long-time member Charlotte Brewer. Charlotte died last fall and Fraser was in town to settle her affairs. She came down to the Island to ask if the Club would accept the old Brewer canoe as a donation to the Club. I gladly accepted the offer and began to ask her about her memories on the Island. Fraser said that she first came down to the Island when she was 12 years old, now she is 61 so we figured that Charlotte's Grumman canoe has probably been here on Sycamore Island for close to fifty years! What's even more amusing is that a fifty year old canoe is not that rare on Sycamore Island, some, I'm sure, are even older. Thanks to all of the Brewer Clan for the boat and for all of the support that they've given the Club over the last five decades!

Yesterday was George Washington's birthday and I would like to point out that George Washington probably slept here. Think about it. His pet skirting canal and his Potomac river gateway to the west started just downstream from here and I'm sure he spent a lot of time supervising the building of his feeder dam and bypass canal around little falls. What better place to crash after a hard day of slave driving than among the still waters just above the dam. It's possible, however, that he may have preferred to cross the river and sleep in his home country of Virginia.

I finished gathering up all of the fallen branches and I've been busy raking up all of the leaves that are piled up around the canoe shed and behind all of the picnic tables and other structures. I want to move the leave to allow the bluebells to come up. I've also been busy cutting down the limbs that are leaning on the phone lines and power lines.

Friday -- February 24, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 52

This warm weather is warming up the river but the water is still below 55 degrees so the canoes will have to stay locked-up for now.

One of the two support post for the Island-side dock has rotted out and broken in two. I was preparing to replace the post yesterday when Club Captain, Stan, showed up. He was here to work on shoring up the utility pole that supports our ferry cables. I dropped what I was doing in order to give him a hand. He drove in a new anchor for the pole and strung a new guy wire to keep the pole from falling over. The work went fast since he had previously delivered most of the tools and materials that he needed.

Before he left I borrowed his 16 pound sledge hammer to help me drive a new post for the dock. The sledge really came in handy when it came time to drive that 10-foot 4X4 into the hard clay of the river bottom. I bolted the post to the horizontal beams and the dock is sturdy again. While I was working on the dock it occurred to me that we should seriously consider extending the Island-side dock so that the ferry can avoid the shallow waters by the shore. The Island is obviously growing on that side. The dock extension that John Matthews an I built in 2002 is no longer sufficient and the area in front of the dock is too shallow for the ferry. I was forced to do a lot of dredging last summer, which is back-breaking work. I think a dock extension would be a great solution.

Sunday -- February 26, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 55

We got an email from a neighbor down in Brookmont. They wanted to alert us about a canoe they saw stuck in the trees about a mile downstream by lock five. We aren't missing any canoes but I rode my bike down there anyway to check it out. I didn't see the canoe but I was surprised to find one of the big "Dam AHEAD" buoys by the river bank. The buoy was in the feeder canal about a half mile below the dam. That leaves us only one buoy left above the dam to warn boaters. Originally there were at least six warning buoys above the dam.

One of the new waitlisters, Steve S., was here today and he brought down his Grumman canoe which now occupies rack number B5. It's cool to think that the aluminum canoes are still the choice of many Islanders. Steve also brought me a gift, some fancy, gourmet salt flakes, mmmmm. Thanks Steve!