Notes from the Island
June 1991


The hot humid summer weather has arrived and the temperature has been in the nineties for a week. Swimming in the cool, relatively clear river is a wonderful relief and many members have trudged down the hill with their bathing suits and towels to inflate the inner tubes and float in the current.

Some intrepid anglers have gone out fishing and I receive scattered reports of people catching bass, catfish and bluegill. Although most members paddle upriver to the first set of rapids, others swear they land the best fish right off the canoe float.

The water birds are plentiful. Great blue heron are everywhere, green heron fly up and down the slough, and night heron appear in the evening. Dozens of cormorants sit on rocks or perch in the sycamore at the upper end of Ruppert's while osprey soar overhead hunting for fish.

On small islands nearby, Canada geese have built nests of downy feathers on the ground. Their eggs have now hatched and the yellow goslings can be seen with their parents on the towpath, on the island or in the river.

Jack Colwell commented that the wood ducks which were above Ruppert's earlier in the year have now disappeared. I haven't seen any young mallards or wood ducks at all, but Holly spotted a wood duckling riding on its mother's back in the canal in Georgetown.

Birds do not always build their nests in the safest places. This morning Holly and I saw a wet and bedraggled fledgling downy woodpecker which had clearly fallen from a nest into the river before fighting its way to shore.

This year I am more aware of the fantastic array of birdsong on the Island. I see an occasional prothonotary warbler or Baltimore Oriole, but more often I hear them and other birds singing in the tops of trees hidden by foliage.

I have also noticed more ruby-throated hummingbirds this year. They seemed to be particularly fond of the flowers of the Solomon's Seal.

With the warm weather the reptiles and amphibians are emerging. Painted turtles sun themselves on logs in the canal, tough-looking snapping turtles swagger down the towpath, and five-lined skinks dart across bridges and walkways.

None of the snakes on the Island are poisonous, although copperheads are found in the area. The black snakes are the longest and most sociable. Sometimes you'll see them near the ferry or climbing up a tree looking for bird's nests. The water snake stays near shore basking in the sun and feeding on minnows. Although more skittish than the black snake, it can bite viciously if grabbed. There are also garter snakes on the Island.

Some early summer flowers are blooming. The jimsonweed is already out on Ruppert's; and thistle, water hemlock and common vetch can be found alongside the canal. On the Island broadleaf waterleaf is blooming in shady areas and water parsnip grows at the upper end of Sycamore. The purple lilies have come and gone, but the lemon lilies are blooming and the daylilies should flower by the time you receive this. The air is fragrant with the smell of wild rose, honeysuckle and ripe mulberries.

Be sure to come down and enjoy the Island before you go away on vacation, but remember that a number of large parties are scheduled in June. If you are looking for peace and quiet, you might take your picnic lunch and go for a long canoe ride.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker