Bird Paddle from Sycamore Island

by David Winer

Sycamore Islander, November 1999


This annual hosting by our club of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is set to coincide with a seasonal phenomenon: cold air over a warm river. The result, when it happens just right, is a magic mist for paddling in the dawn. We were not disappointed at 7:30 a.m. this October 2nd. Twenty birders quietly loaded their gear and launched upstream into the very splendor we had hoped for.

Recent hard rains in the Potomac watershed had swollen the river. We opted to bird in the quieter waters near the Maryland shore and near the islands on that side of the river. Immediately, river birds showed. Kingfishers, herons, cormorants, and ducks were abundant. A few warblers flitted in nearby trees, along with a good showing of woodpecker species. Everyone was on the alert for an Osprey, which eluded us for over an hour, but a beauty finally paraded overhead. Out in the main stream, after struggling against the current for a few minutes, we rafted-up the canoes in an eddy. Resting quietly with gunwales together, we could turn our binoculars in unison on sightings to be had. Here, we found something of special interest to the group, a number of Cedar Waxwings in a tree on Rupperts Island behaving as fly-catchers. These birds ordinarily flock together stripping berries from trees, but these were busy rushing out and back for flying insects.

Coffee and biscotti back at the clubhouse provided a welcome break from our exertions. After a search for more birds on the island itself, we tallied our finds: 37 species.