Notes from the Island
April 2006

I have a bit of bad news; the old metal bridge across the canal is rusting out and has been condemned. I don't know what we'll do without that bridge.*

Groundhog picture
Say it ain't so, Joe            Photo by Joe Hage
The good news is that I managed to catch all the ground hogs that were living under my bathroom. There were no marmots living on the Island when I moved here in 2002 and my theory is that they were washed up here during that very wet spring of 2003. At first, I naively thought that I had only one ground hog and I really didn't have a problem sharing the Island with it. My feelings began to change when in the spring of 2004 I was shocked to see an adult with three tiny baby ground hogs. Despite this evidence, I still wasn't positive that I had a breeding pair of whistle pigs on the Island; I never saw two adults at the same time, and maybe she was pregnant when she got here. That mystery was cleared up the following year when the female emerged with another batch of pups. I definitely had a pair of breeding ground hogs. I didn't know if I should do anything about the ground hogs. Live and let live is the usual saying down here, but I was afraid of what a colony of ground hogs might do to the Island. Soon, I was getting complaints from my daughters about the crawling and digging sounds coming from under the floor, and when my brick walkways started to cave-in from their tunnels, I decided that the ground hogs had to go. During the winter, while all the ground hogs were hibernating I used cinder blocks to close off all the exits from under the house. All exits that is, except one. At this exit I put a Havahart animal trap. My plan worked like a dream. After catching a curious squirrel (I let it go), I soon caught four ground hogs, two adults and two younger ones, maybe yearlings. I released them all on the other side of the canal where I hope they found a happy new home.

I spent one hot March afternoon exploring High Island. It's the first Island downstream from the dam and I had never been there before. I had heard that there was once a canoe club there and the topographical map in our clubhouse shows three buildings there; so, I just had to check it out. To get there, I decided to paddle down the canal, rather than take the direct route over the dam. I made an easy portage at lock six and paddled across the feeder canal to a nice harbor I dubbed High Island Lagoon. High Island is very different from Sycamore Island. It's very rocky and has almost no Sycamores. Instead, it has many hardwoods and other trees more commonly found in the highlands like Virginia pine, cedar, and hemlock; there was a big black cherry there, too. I hiked to the top of the ridge and found a well-built chimney, the remains of a house built here a hundred years ago or so. I also saw the remains of another house down near what I think was an old quarry but the best part of the trip was looking up river at the view of Sycamore Island.

I have to mention the excellent birding we've had here this past migration season. Besides the hundreds of cormorants that are flocking here, I've also had snow geese and we even had a flock of fifty tundra swans pass through. I've seen ring-necked and golden-eye ducks, two kinds of grebes, two types of mergansers and lots of other bird activity.

The Virginia bluebells are out. Now's the time to visit the Island!

* Happy (Belated) April Fools Day!

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker