First of all I'd like to thank everyone in the Club for the generous bonus I received and for the nice gifts that the girls received. My daughter put it so well when she saw her gift certificate: "This Club is awesome!" Thanks for another great year and we wish all of you a super 2006.
This month started with a little reminder of the fury of this river when the Little Falls gauge hit 8.2 feet. I had to scramble to get all the picnic tables tied down before the flood and the receding river left tons of slimy mud on the dock, but, besides that, not too much trouble. It did force us to do a little pre-dawn canoeing to get to the bus in the morning but that's a good thing, right?
I have a bit of bad news; our new bell is broken. It happened when a tree, floating by on the flood waters, grabbed hold of the bell rope and pulled it with such force that the cast iron bell-holder broke off where it was bolted to the 6x6 post. I had to reinstall the old bells temporarily until we come up with a new solution.
We've had a full spectrum of weather conditions this past month. We had a beautiful snowfall that tempted me to break out the skis and had me shoveling the snow from the boardwalk and bridge. We had temperatures cold enough to freeze the canal and I even saw some brave souls ice-skating by Lock House Seven. (The canal didn't freeze here by the Island and rarely does because Walhounding Creek flows directly into the canal. Most creeks are diverted under the canal.) We also had some incredibly mild weather. On December 18th the Island was busy with people canoeing in short sleeves.
On a sad note, I saw a deer drown. I was biking home from the community center when I noticed something in the river between the Island and the towpath. It wasn't a giant beaver but a deer. This deer, a young buck with a set of tiny single-point antlers, didn't seem healthy; it was writhing around in the water and sometimes slipping under the surface. It was very close to the mainland shore as I pulled the ferry across and I thought for sure it would get itself out of the freezing water but it just kept struggling and drifted back to the middle of the river. I wanted to get a picture of a deer swimming so I ran to get the camera. By the time I returned, the poor animal was floating motionless with its nose under water. I pulled the ferry out to the animal and watched helplessly as the young deer disappeared.
The winter diving ducks have arrived. It's amazing how they seem to show up right on the first day of winter. I've seen pied-billed grebes, buffleheads and mergansers. I see brown creepers and white-throated sparrows everyday now and the eagles seem to be hanging around again too; but the exciting news is I saw a peregrine falcon! I was paddling around Ruppert's Island when I noticed the large falcon perched on a tree above a group of ducks by the shore. I stopped paddling and tried to drift past the ducks without startling them. The falcon then took off from its perch and swooped right towards me, giving me an excellent view of its distinctive marks. I'd heard reports of peregrines possibly nesting along the river but this is the first time I've seen one here.
I hope to see some of you during these colder months. Let me recommend a winter hike on the Heritage Trail. It's an excellent trail and it's only a short paddle away on the Virginia shore.
-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker