Notes from the Island
One of the white geese is missing. Earlier this Spring it was
ostracized by its fellow fowl. I had to feed it separately, because the
others chased it away. After the corn ran out at the beginning of the
summer, the geese wandered off and occasionally I would see them foraging
on the Virginia shore or swimming down by the dam. About two months ago I
stopped seeing the lone white goose. It was a little bolder than its
compatriots. One time when our cat Fred sneaked up on the geese, the
others waddled towards the river, but the lone white goose stood still and
stared Fred down. The cat stopped six feet away and didn't dare go any
closer. Maybe the goose will return when I start feeding corn again, but
I suspect it died or moved on to greener marshes.
There appear to be half a dozen adolescent wood ducks that have stayed
in the area. They are remarkably stupid and fearless for birds that are
usually quite skittish. We have saved two from out of Fred's jaws.
Yesterday Holly was having breakfast when the cat came trotting up the
brick walk with a live wood duck between its teeth. Holly, wearing her
nightgown, grabbed a broom and chased Fred through cobwebs and nettles
down to the riverbank. As soon as the cat dropped the duck, it scampered
into the water and out of harm's way.
There are a number of water birds this time of year. Of course there
are plenty of great blue herons and green herons, but we have also seen a
great egret, a snowy egret and a black-crowned night heron. Yesterday I
watched a cormorant as it sat low in the river and then disappeared,
diving underwater for five to ten seconds before resurfacing. Eventually
it shook the water off its wings and flew away just barely skimming the
surface of the river.
Today I watched an osprey feeding upstream from Ruppert's. It hovered
in the air fifty feet above the Potomac and then dove for a fish in the
river. The bird was not having much luck, so repeatedly it would shake
off the water, rise into the air and try again.
Over the Labor Day Weekend Greg Super groomed the Sycamore Island
Nature Trail at the northern end of the Island. If you start at the
swimming float you pass Joe-Pye weed, blue Asiatic dayflower, bright
purple iron weed, and yellow-flowered Jerusalem Artichoke. After stepping
over a few fallen logs which washed up in the last flood you'll be in a
patch of red cardinal flowers. Look around and you'll see black walnuts
and hickory nuts which have fallen from nearby trees. On the riverbank
there is a pile of freshwater clam shells that a raccoon has discarded. A
little farther along you'll see pink swamp mallows blooming in the
At the tip of the Island there is a stand of purple ageratum. The
shrubs with the bright red berries are called spice bushes because the
crushed leaves give off a pleasant fragrance. There are clusters of wild
grapes on the vines climbing a dead sycamore tree here. If you look out
into the northeast swamp you can see a wasp's nest the size of a
volleyball hanging from a lowlying branch over the water. This is the
nest the Nobles canoed into last month.
As you come down the eastern side of the Island you'll walk through a
patch of Paw Paw trees. The green fruit is getting ripe and you can find
some soft edible ones on the ground. The inside of the paw paw is yellow
with black seeds and the fruit is very tasty. Kudzu vines are taking over
the Maryland side of the Island, but the blue and purple flower is
gorgeous. You can see the fallen petals on the ground and you can get a
close view of the flower where the kudzu crosses the path near the fallen
Immediately beyond the kudzu there is a patch of spotted touch-me-not
or jewelweed. The Island has a lot of the pale touch-me-not, but this is
the only stand of the spotted. The name derives from the seedpod which
explodes when touched, ejecting the seed. The juice of the jewelweed is
supposed to counteract the sting of nettles and the itch of poison ivy.
As the trail skirts the riverbank you'll see an animal track which emerges
from the undergrowth to your right and slides down the bank into the
river. I don't know which animal it is, but the track is fairly recent.
The rest of the Island is also beautiful. Virgin's bower, bouncing
bet, jewelweed, rose of sharon, and sweet pea are flowering near the
volleyball court. Bleeding hearts, blue lobelia and fall crocuses are
blooming in the wildflower garden near the screen porch. The weedpatch by
the ferry landing boasts pink swamp mallows, jimsonweed, purple ageratum
and yellow sneezeweed.
Summer is coming to an end. The vegetation is starting to die back;
leaves have started to fall. The weather is beautiful today, but the blue
skies and cool dry air hint of the autumn to come. If you want to get one
last swim in, you better hurry.
-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker