Notes from the Island
January 1992


The winter has been mild - no snow, only thin layers of ice on the canal, and tiny yellow blossoms on the forsythia. While out canoeing Holly and I startled four mergansers, diving ducks which usually appear only in early spring.

I am feeding the fowl again. David Lyles carried down enough cracked corn to fill a fifty-five gallon barrel and every morning I sprinkle a canful along the shoreline for our three domestic geese and for a Canada goose with a broken wing. Occasionally a pair of wild geese or mallards will join the festivities, but the Island birds are protective of their food and larger than their migrating brethren, so the unwelcome visitors rarely stay long.

I witnessed another nature drama recently. A small gray and white hawk plummeted out of the sky and nabbed a chickadee on the wing in a spray of gray feathers. The raptor transported its prey to a nearby stump to finish off the meal.

The beavers continue to be very active chopping down maple saplings in preparation for winter. Doc Taliaferro and I have wrapped five rolls of chicken wire around trees we want to save. Unfortunately, instead of clearing out our view of the river and the Virginia shore, the rodents are concentrating on the Maryland side of the Island exposing us to view from the towpath.

Winter is a good time to explore Rupperts Island. The nettles and poison ivy have died down and the snakes and insects have crawled back into their holes. Beavers from a huge colony on the Virginia side of Rupperts have beaten well-worn paths from the banks of the Potomac to the interior of the island where they have chopped down many trees, some of them a foot or two in diameter.

I enjoy birdwatching this time of the year. There are fewer birds around, but they are easier to see. The great blue heron, Canada geese and mallards are here as well as kingfishers, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Some of you may have seen the article in the Washington Post about member Steve Paley who coordinated the Christmas bird count on this section of the towpath. Apparently he didn't include our domestic geese in the total.

Even though the weather has been mild until now, I am sharpening my skates and waxing my skis in preparation for colder temperatures and snow. If you come to enjoy the beauty of winter on the Island, be sure to bring warm clothes and a thermos of hot chocolate.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker