CARETAKER'S LOG


Thursday -- March 23, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.4     Water Temperature: 48


Things are really picking up in terms of the bird activity. Partly because of the season and partly due to having bird feeders kept full of sunflower seeds, I've seen twenty-one different species of birds today and about 75 individuals! That's not even counting the shore birds or ducks.

I also counted three squirrels at the feeder.

Tuesday -- March 21, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.9     Water Temperature: 48


The river shot up yesterday, somewhat surprisingly. I guess that there was some melting of what little snowpack there was in the mountains. The river got very close to five feet but it's leveled off now. Pretty mellow for a Spring freshet (flood).

Monday -- March 20, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 48


Happy first day of Spring!

It seems appropriate that one of our resident geese pairs would lay their eggs precisely on the first day of Spring. That means that we'll have some baby goslings running around here by Easter Sunday!The not-so-good thing is that they built their nest very near the house, directly under the outside corner of the deck. This is a high traffic area on the Island so I hope we don't disturb their nest too much. I discovered the nest by chance the other day. I happened to be walking near the corner of the deck when all of the sudden two adult geese began honking and hissing and charging at me. I retreated quickly wondering what I had done. It wasn't until later, when I peaked from the safety of the screen porch, that I realized I had walked too close to the new nest. The geese always seem to bring a lot of drama to the nesting season.

There are goldfinches nesting nearby as well and it's cool to see the males now with their splotchy color pattern as they molt from dull olive to bright yellow.

Wednesday -- March 15, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 38


Yikes, it looks like winter wasn't quite over yet. The bluebells and daffodils thought that it was safe to come out and I thought it was safe to turn the water on in the clubhouse but this crazy weather had other plans. Now the ground is covered with four inches of ice, its 20 degrees and the wind is blowing at 20 miles an hour! Now, I have to leave the faucets in the Clubhouse dripping so that the pipes don't freeze! I hope the bluebells will recover ok. They have had snow on them before but I'm not sure I've ever seen them completely buried.

The temperature of the water is dropping as well and the river went from 52 degrees down to 38 degrees in four days! I guess I unlocked the club boats to early as well.

The weather is cold but the birdlife on the Island has become very active. The geese have paired up and are now looking for nesting spots. The eaglets across the river have hatched and are now keeping the adult eagles very busy. The wintering water fowl are passing through on their way back north and we've seen scaups, grebes and mergansers. Our island nesters are arriving as well, and now the call of the red-winged blackbird is common, and I just saw my first Phoebe. The most unusual sighting I've had for this late winter time of year was a great egret. What a treat to have this majestic bird of white framed with a background of snow.

One of the new members was here the other day. She had brought her kids and some friends down to enjoy the Island on a warm weekday. The funny and sad thing was that they had no idea about how to ring the bell for the caretaker. I saw them standing there on the stairs, but having groups of people on our landing is an hourly occurrence so I did not pay any attention to them. They did not leave right away and eventually got my attention. Normally, I don't respond well to someone on the opposite shore yelling "you-who" but luckily for them I went over and picked them up and taught them the most fundamental rule of The Sycamore Island Club, how to ring the bell.

I fixed the ping-pong table. I had ordered the new caster bars to replace the ones that had broken and finally got around to installing them. It was a very tricky job to do alone but I figured it out and now the ping-pong is back in action. So PLEASE, don't sit on the ping-pong table.

I installed some new blinds to go with the new windows that I installed in my quarters. They are two-inch faux wood blinds and they match very nicely with my furnishings and the faux wood paint job that I did on the window trim and baseboard. They provide privacy yet allow the light to come through. They really add a lot to my quarters and I think the next caretaker will appreciate them.

BTW, the CCA, Down River Race is on May 13, not the 18th or 19th as stated in the Islander.

Friday -- March 3, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 50


The Virginia bluebells are starting to bloom. When the temperatures went into the eighties last week, we knew we were going to get an early Spring. We saw the first open bluebell blossoms on Sunday. Last year it was on this date that the bluebells were just beginning to break through the ground, so it looks like the bluebells are blooming a full two weeks ahead of last year. Isn't it great to have this log to annually record how the plants and animals are responding to a changing climate.

There are some other signs of this early Spring. I've seen wood ducks, and cormorants and red-winged blackbirds and the sprouts on the long willow branches, hanging like green beads on a dangling string. These are all welcome signs of the coming season but this year I don't seem to have the same glee about Spring as I have had in the past. This past winter was so mild that I never got a chance to really miss the warm weather or the sound of the birds singing or the leaves on the trees. The short winter meant that I never got to see a frozen canal or a towpath covered in deep snow. Spring is such an exciting time but somehow this year it seems tainted.

Sunday -- February 26, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 55


We got an email from a neighbor down in Brookmont. They wanted to alert us about a canoe they saw stuck in the trees about a mile downstream by lock five. We aren't missing any canoes but I rode my bike down there anyway to check it out. I didn't see the canoe but I was surprised to find one of the big "Dam AHEAD" buoys by the river bank. The buoy was in the feeder canal about a half mile below the dam. That leaves us only one buoy left above the dam to warn boaters. Originally there were at least six warning buoys above the dam.

One of the new waitlisters, Steve S., was here today and he brought down his Grumman canoe which now occupies rack number B5. It's cool to think that the aluminum canoes are still the choice of many Islanders. Steve also brought me a gift, some fancy, gourmet salt flakes, mmmmm. Thanks Steve!

Friday -- February 24, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 52


This warm weather is warming up the river but the water is still below 55 degrees so the canoes will have to stay locked-up for now.

One of the two support post for the Island-side dock has rotted out and broken in two. I was preparing to replace the post yesterday when Club Captain, Stan, showed up. He was here to work on shoring up the utility pole that supports our ferry cables. I dropped what I was doing in order to give him a hand. He drove in a new anchor for the pole and strung a new guy wire to keep the pole from falling over. The work went fast since he had previously delivered most of the tools and materials that he needed.

Before he left I borrowed his 16 pound sledge hammer to help me drive a new post for the dock. The sledge really came in handy when it came time to drive that 10-foot 4X4 into the hard clay of the river bottom. I bolted the post to the horizontal beams and the dock is sturdy again. While I was working on the dock it occurred to me that we should seriously consider extending the Island-side dock so that the ferry can avoid the shallow waters by the shore. The Island is obviously growing on that side. The dock extension that John Matthews an I built in 2002 is no longer sufficient and the area in front of the dock is too shallow for the ferry. I was forced to do a lot of dredging last summer, which is back-breaking work. I think a dock extension would be a great solution.

Thursday -- February 23, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 48


Big news! The eagles have laid their eggs and are now sitting on the nest! I broke out the spotting scope on Monday afternoon and to my delight there were two eagles in the nesting tree, one in the nest and another on a branch nearby. The cool thing is that our birds started incubating their eggs on the same day as the famous eagles down at the National Arboretum. That pair, dubbed George and Martha, began nesting at the Arboretum back in 2014 and were the first pair of eagles to nest within the D.C. limits since 1947. There is a camera on that pair and you can watch them at, http://www.dceaglecam.org/. This is the 15th year that our eagle nest will have a breeding pair!

It was stunningly nice this past weekend and the Island was pretty busy, for February. Monday was Presidents day and the Island was hopping. It was great to see all of the waitlisters taking advantage of the strangely warm weather, and since it was a holiday the dads were able to be here too! Most were disappointed that the canoes were off limits because of the cold water but all seemed to enjoy just being here and letting the kids run around.

We also had the annual bird walk on Saturday and I heard that that was a big success, with lots of members showing up just after dawn. Paul Hagen, as usual, led a great outing, and his knowledge of all of the birds and their voices helped to make it truly special.

On Sunday we got a visit from Fraser Brewer, she is the daughter of long-time member Charlotte Brewer. Charlotte died last fall and Fraser was in town to settle her affairs. She came down to the Island to ask if the Club would accept the old Brewer canoe as a donation to the Club. I gladly accepted the offer and began to ask her about her memories on the Island. Fraser said that she first came down to the Island when she was 12 years old, now she is 61 so we figured that Charlotte's Grumman canoe has probably been here on Sycamore Island for close to fifty years! What's even more amusing is that a fifty year old canoe is not that rare on Sycamore Island, some, I'm sure, are even older. Thanks to all of the Brewer Clan for the boat and for all of the support that they've given the Club over the last five decades!

Yesterday was George Washington's birthday and I would like to point out that George Washington probably slept here. Think about it. His pet skirting canal and his Potomac river gateway to the west started just downstream from here and I'm sure he spent a lot of time supervising the building of his feeder dam and bypass canal around little falls. What better place to crash after a hard day of slave driving than among the still waters just above the dam. It's possible, however, that he may have preferred to cross the river and sleep in his home country of Virginia.

I finished gathering up all of the fallen branches and I've been busy raking up all of the leaves that are piled up around the canoe shed and behind all of the picnic tables and other structures. I want to move the leave to allow the bluebells to come up. I've also been busy cutting down the limbs that are leaning on the phone lines and power lines.

Wednesday -- February 15, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.35     Water Temperature: 40


The river shot up over night. I guess there was a bit of snow melting up stream somewhere. I can tell you first hand that there was a lot of snow melting at the Savage River State Forest last week.

I spent the last hours of daylight yesterday picking up all of the fallen branches and sticks that fell during that windy day on Monday. There were so many branches strewn across the Island in fact, that I was surprised that there were any branches left on the trees above.

As I was raking up the leaves and sticks I noticed that the first of the bluebells are starting to pock their heads up out of the ground, just two months until they bloom!

I also noticed the bluebells arch rival, the evil invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). The celandine can potentially out-compete our bluebells so they are on my kill list. The good news is that there were not that many lesser celandines emerging. It looks like my one-man five-year crusade to eliminate these invasive plants is actually making a difference!

I scrubbed the floors in the Clubhouse, and then applied the protective linseed oil. I say it every year but I sure wish we would sand and finish those floors properly, with some polyurethane. It sure would be easier to maintain them and keep them in good shape.

Tuesday -- February 14, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 42


There is nothing quite like a large body of water when it comes to dramatizing the immense power of a gail-force wind. The wind was blowing hard yesterday morning, and the two foot waves and whitecaps were rolling by the Island like a giant conveyor belt headed downstream. Every time a wave happened upon a log or a rock, the wind would send the water exploding into the air only to be wisked away as if gravity had momentarily lost it's pull.

You can't actually see the wind, of course, but looking out my window at the river yesterday, I knew that the wind was blowing, and hard. I suppose that during the summer months the leaf-filled trees would be my first clue about the wind. But now, with the trees bare, like masts without sails, it was the churning, white-capped waters that stirred my excitement and caught my attention.

Last year at this time we noticed that our resident geese were beginning their mating rituals, but so far today, no signs of any Canada goose romance on the Island. Happy Valentine's day!

Monday -- January 30, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.7     Water Temperature: 42


The ferry is open again. It took a while for the river to go back down but we are finally open again, too bad that the weekend is over.

We had a little bit of snow last night so I had to go out early this morning to look for animal tracks again. This time I did see some beaver tracks, or trails rather. With the way they drag their tail, they leave a big swath through the shallow snow. Interestingly, there were two obvious trails that originated from opposite sides of the Island yet both trails led to the same spice bush near the deck. Weird. The snow was pretty wet and we found the muddy imprint of the beaver's tail, scales and all, preserved in the snow.

I can't tell if the eagles have started to sit on any eggs yet but I have been seeing the eagles more frequently lately.

Friday -- January 27, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.79     Water Temperature: 45


The river crested last night. The gauge at Little Falls reached 6.94 feet. Translation, the water would have been over your knees if you were standing at the ferry landing on the Island.

The river level is falling now but the ferry will not be running again until Sunday. I already emailed tomorrow's relief caretaker about the saturation situation.

I just learned that this has been D.C.'s longest run of days above freezing in the month of January, ever. Maybe not ever, but at least since they started to keep records, back in the 1870's.

I counted 16 mourning doves below the bird feeders today.

Wednesday -- January 25, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.53     Water Temperature: 43


It's been a long time since I had to say this but the FERRY IS CLOSED.

The river is above five feet and that means that we have to close the ferry. the good news is that we haven't had to shut her down for about seven months. It was back in May and then very briefly in June the last time that the river was this high.

The rising river should crest overnight tonight, but the ferry may not be running again for a while, maybe not until Sunday or Monday. We'll have to wait and see.

I did all of the flood preparation last night. I secured the ferry and raised up all of the ropes and cables. It's been a while but I still remembered how to get ready for a flood. It was nice that all of the docks are already on shore so I didn't have to fuss with them.

There is a new and very important film about our beloved Potomac and it features the work of our friends at Potomac Riverkeeper. It aired on MPT last night and it will be shown again on Saturday at 4:30! Watch the trailer: http://keepingthepotomacfilm.com

Monday -- January 16, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.68     Water Temperature: 32


Today is the day that we honor that brave American, Martin Luther King Jr. May he rest in peace.

The schools, banks and post offices are closed but Sycamore Island is open and ready for visitors. Sadly, no one has been down all day. Maybe they all left town for the long holiday.

I breathed new life into the old dishwasher here in my quarters. It wasn't cleaning the dishes very well and I thought that, since it's about twenty years old, maybe it was time for a new one. I decided to take a closer look and ended up taking apart the insides and cleaning off all of the built up grease and dirt that was clogging some of the parts. I also ran the dishwasher with some vinegar and a degreaser to clean it out and I'm going to replace the screen for the water filter. The machine works much better now and the Club's budget didn't have to take an unexpected hit for a new dishwasher.

Tuesday -- January 10, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 32


There has been a little bit of ice on the river yesterday and also today, but thankfully it isn't very thick.

I ventured out yesterday morning and braved the stinging wind to check for animal tracks in the new snow. I found only the tiny tracks of a white-footed mouse and the Woodstock-like birdie tracks around the bird feeders. I guess the cold kept the night prowlers safely snuggled in their burrows. Even the perpetually busy beaver decided that it was too cold to go out.

Likewise, I did most of my bird watching from my living room, which is not as bad as it may sound. The feeders were busy with the usual suspects but we also had a brown creeper at the feeder and I also saw a red-necked grebe, a hooded merganser and the common merganser.

The steady wind has helped me to find the drafty spots in my quarters and I deployed the foam insulation and caulk. I also performed the annual duty of replacing the ultra-violet lamp in the water filtration system. It's a bit of a tricky job.

Wednesday -- January 4, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature: 43


The river is still going up but it isn't as muddy as it was yesterday right after the rain. It's funny, the muddy water seemed to come only from the Maryland shore, just one hundred feet off of Sycamore Island the river was totally clear making for a two-toned river.

Mary and I watched the eagles do their courtship acrobatics while we were standing in the upper parking lot yesterday. I guess it's time to start keeping an eye on the nest.

I was away on leave for a week at Christmas and as far as I know there was no one serving as caretaker while I was gone. I hope everything worked out OK and that no one was cursing my name because I wasn't here. There doesn't seem to be a good way to let the members know when I'm on leave. I really didn't want to announce it here on the world wide web.