GUEST LOG by Sherry Fizdale
Saturday -- March 21, 2020
I did not get the message that the Island was closed on Saturday the 21st for corona virus safety, and biked down for a visit. The afternoon substitute caretaker also did not get the message because he was there to ferry me over. Brand new member Wilson Barmeyer was on duty, warming himself at a fancy metal firepit he carried down for the day. It’s very high tech with a double-hull and ventilation holes top and bottom that circulate air and somehow prevent smoke from getting in your eyes. I think the Club should procure one of its own.
The bare shelves in the super market inspired my visit to forage for greens. This time of year is when nettles emerge from wet and shady ground (Urtica dioica, from the Latin urere “to burn”). If you’re not sure if it’s nettles, grab a few with your bare hands and you will find out. Then proceed with gloves to pinch off the tender tips. I picked a bag full to bring home, and took some into the kitchen to cook and enjoy on the spot. A rinse, a quick boil, and then top with olive oil and salt. Delicious.
As I walked down to the nettle field at the south end of the Island, I spotted a mother goose on her nest looking stunning amidst the bluebells. She was not hard to spot because her mate hissed at me and the nest was very close to the trail. So if we all get back to the Island before the goslings are hatched and gone, Beware!
Saturday -- March 21, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5 Water Temperature:56
The ferry is closed. Due to the Corona Virus the ferry and the Island will be closed until further notice. Thanks.
Friday -- March 20, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7 Water Temperature:52
It hasn't been difficult to achieve my "social distancing" lately, since hardly anyone has been visiting the Island. I'm a little surprised. The kids are out of school so I thought that I might get busy, but I guess it hasn't been real warm yet. Not exactly Sycamore Island weather.
Lucky for me I have my bird friends to keep me company and right now the variety of birds is at it's best. Over the last couple of days I've sighted 37 different species of birds! Not only do we have all of the beautiful, wintering waterfowl here still, but the cormorants, wood ducks and great blue herons are now arriving to begin their mating season. We also had two rare migrants pass though. I saw three hooded grebes, still in their winter plumage, diving around the ferry and there were several red-breasted mergansers treading water out in the middle of the river.
The Canada geese are also preparing to build their nests and one breeding couple has staked out an area near the trail at the bottom of the Island. I may have to erect a detour sign there to direct folks around that menacingly defensive couple.
Friday -- March 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6 Water Temperature:51
It's nice and warm out today but remember folks, you can't use the Club boats until the water temperature is 55 degrees or above. The river is 51 now so maybe we can use the Club boats later this weekend.
Thursday -- March 5, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7 Water Temperature:48
Exciting news! There is an active eagle's nest across the river in Virginia. It's a new nest, but it's in the same large sycamore tree that's downstream near the second mansion. It will be fun to watch the eagles again this year, we haven't had an active eagles nest there since 2017. Seeing the eagles make me think of our neighbor and fellow eagle watcher, Jack Caldwell. Jack lived up the hill where he could see inside the nest and he used to bike by here all the time to give me updates. Sadly, we haven't seen Jack in a couple of years, not a good sign.
Our other nesting raptors, the red-shouldered hawks, have built their nest as well and for the second year in a row, it looks like they will be nesting in the sycamore tree that's right next to our own boardwalk! They had one baby hawk last year and we got to see it as it left the nest and learned to fly.
Most of our bird-feeder birds will be building their nests this month. We saw some bluebirds on the Island so I bought a new bluebird house to encourage them to stay. Soon the pheobes will be building a nest under the tool shed, but the warblers won't arrive until April to build their nests.
Of course, the most dramatic and obvious nesters are the Canada geese. They have been making a lot of noise and doing a lot of chasing around for the last month and now it seems that they are looking for nesting sites.
Thankfully, the beaver are not stealing the spotlight anymore, but we did have the very unusual sighting of a red fox on the Island. The only other time that we've had red foxes on the Island was when the river was frozen and they could walk over. I really didn't expect to see a red fox here, since it would have had to swim over. A grey fox maybe, but not a red fox.
Monday -- February 29, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8 Water Temperature:42
Things are looking a little different down here now, we had to take down a few trees. It's always different this time of year, without the leaves on the trees, but now, without that large, hollow tree by the board walk and without some of the other smaller trees near the ferry cables, things are looking kind of sparse.
Geoff, and his expert gang of tree trimmers, was here on Friday and in no time they began transforming the Island canopy. With their auto-ascender and their super-sharp chainsaws, they made quick work of the dead trees that were near the buildings and the other weed trees and invasive tress that we didn't need. It will be interesting to see what it will look like once the leaves are back and the canopy is full again. I love working with these guys, very efficient and no wasted efforts.
Speaking of efficient workers, I had to have the plumber, Charlie King down here recently as well. Unlike the tree guys, who can't be bothered with driving on the towpath to bring their tools down, Charlie King had to drive down the towpath to bring us our new hot water heater. It all went smoothly and I really appreciate having these professional contractors doing the work down here, unlike some of the fly-by-nighters we've had here in the past. I know, for example, that I don't have to worry about the hot water heater being properly grounded and installed according to code. (Apparently the plumber that installed the last hot water heater, during the renovation, didn't bother with connecting the ground wire and had added a second, unneeded valve to the "send" pipe, causing a potentially dangerous situation.)
It's nice to get things done during this time of year while the Island isn't busy. I also spent a couple afternoons cleaning the steps to the tool shed and deck. Our new captain would like to see some spiffing up so I'm trying out some different methods of cleaning in order to keep the decks and steps clean and free of mold and mildew. Maybe we'll purchase or rent a small power washer.
Thursday -- February 20, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1 Water Temperature:43
I don't talk about bats very much here in this column. We often see them in the summer just before dark but these poor bats don't get any respect. I can name every bird that I see down here but when I see a small bat fluttering around, I just assume that it's a little brown bat,(the most common bat in Maryland), and I move on to something else. I suppose I could be excused for my lack of enthusiasm since small bats don't have any distinguishing field marks and, unless you can hold one in your hand, it is virtually impossible to make a positive ID. That all changed yesterday when I got the chance to look at a small bat up close and personal.
I was up in the tool shed, rooting around next to the shop-vac, when I heard a hissing noise. My automatic reaction was to think "Snake!" and I jumped back. I didn't see a snake but I heard the strange noise again and I thought that maybe the shop-vac was shorting out and making a sparking noise. Of course that was wrong because the shop-vac wasn't even plugged in. I was stumped, until I looked on the floor next to the shop-vac and saw a small bat lying on it's back, with it's wings spread wide, it's mouth wide open, and it was hissing at me. Doing its darndest to scare me away. It's wings spread out to about ten inches wide but it's body was only about three inches total.
The poor thing was obviously in stress. It could spread it's wings and hiss but it seemed unable to fly. My guess was that it got trapped in the tool shed over night and it was now suffering from exposure and hunger. Or maybe it was hurt from flying into the windows trying to escape. It seemed helpless, but it didn't look like it was at deaths door so I tried to help it out. I scooped it up with a snow shovel, never touch a wild animal with your bare hands, and I took it outside to see if it would fly away. I rested the shovel and the bat onto a table but the little guy just kept threatening me with it's tiny fangs. It's little heart was beating a mile a minute so I decided to try to give it some water. I went to get the eye dropper of water and when I came back the bat was still there but it had wrapped it's wings around itself so that it was now just a tiny ball of fluff. So different looking than the menacing beast that I had first encountered.
I grabbed a box and an old table cloth and with gloved hands I put the bat into it's new little bed. I carefully tried to get some water into it's mouth without drowning it. It was amazing to see how readily the water beaded off of its fur, like it was wearing a raincoat. It was also amazing to get a close-up look at the bats wings. Tiny "hand" bones spread out to form wings, making it the only flying mammal. I always thought of bats as flying mice but it turns out, with DNA analysis, that bats are actually more closely related to humans than to mice. Go figure. I got more aggressive with the dropper until I saw it's little tongue moving. I gave her a little more water and then placed the box on a chair in the warm, winter bathroom, maybe she would recover.
There are ten bats species that are native to Maryland. The most common are the large brown bat and the small brown bat. I assumed that my bat was the later but after looking it up and doing some serious examining, I realized that this bat was an Indiana bat, still native to Maryland.
Several hours later I went to check on my patient, and surprisingly, the box was empty. I lifted the box, I moved the chair, I scanned the ceiling, but no sign of a bat. I looked behind the towel rack, I stood on a chair and looked on top of the lockers, but still no bat. I started to wonder if the bat had somehow crawled under the door. There was only one place left to look. I moved the fire extinguisher away from the corner and there she was, doing what bats do, hanging upside down. What I could not believe was that this bat was so small that it could hang from the edge of the three-inch baseboard and not touch the floor! I opened the windows, turned off the light, and shut the door. This morning, the bat was gone. I guess my little bit of nursing was all that it needed.
Friday -- February 14, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8 Water Temperature:43
The ferry is open and it looks like it will be open all of this holiday weekend.
Happy Valentines Day and Happy Presidents Day!
Wednesday -- February 12, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.9 Water Temperature:44
The ferry is open again. The river was nice today and receded just enough for us to use the ferry again. Unfortunately, they say we may have to close again on Friday and Saturday. Fingers crossed.
Monday -- February 10, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.6 Water Temperature:44
The ferry is closed today and with the recent predictions, it looks like it will be closed most of this week.
I'm so glad that I fixed my mailbox last week when the ferry was still operating, it would have been a pain to carry those digging tools across the river in a canoe.
The Club and I share a mailbox up on MacArthur Blvd. and it was in pretty rough shape. I replaced it once, way back in 2004, and I had to replace it again since the door was rusted and it would not stay closed. I also had to replant the support post since the erosion there was causing it to slide downhill and look crooked.
Getting all of the tools up the hill was no small part of the job but the tricky part was to fit the new post in the limited space next to the neighbor's post. I dug a new hole and with the help of a bag of quick-set cement mix I was able to reset it. So now we have a shiny new mailbox, and it's nice and straight, pointing directly up at the noon-day sun!
No time to rest on my laurels though, today we have a new maintenance issue. The hot-water heater seems to be leaking. Always something.
Friday -- February 7, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2 Water Temperature:45
The ferry is open today but it looks like it will be closed all weekend. It took the predictors a while to get it right, but I think we have an accurate forecast now, 5.4-foot crest on Sunday afternoon. Last Wednesday, they were predicting that the river would reach 7.6 feet, but that forecast had to be modified. I guess we didn't get the amount of rain that was expected.
Friday -- January 31, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.6 Water Temperature:41
Last day of January, hard to believe. Overall, it was probably the mildest January that I've ever experienced while living here on Sycamore Island, and it looks like February might be mild as well. They are predicting temperatures in the 60's this weekend, so I guess the X-country skis can stay in the closet, bummer.
I did make a quick run up to Ski Liberty this past Wednesday since the ferry was closed, good fun! The high water kept the ferry shut down for four full days in January. Not a good trend to start the year, closed for four out of 31 days.
I refinished the stairs in my quarters, something that I've been meaning to do for years. There are four stairs that lead from my lower level up to my living room level, and they were in desperate need of sanding and refinishing.
The living room addition was constructed in the mid 90's, so it's been 25 years since the steps were installed, and 25 years of wear and tear have taken their toll. The glossy finish was worn off years ago and the wood underneath, a soft pine, was starting to wear away as well. The look of these steps has been bugging me for a while. I didn't want the steps to wear right through, or get deep wear marks in them like the stairs at the old lockhouses. Plus, the uneven wear made the steps an unsightly two-tone color of dark, varnished wood, and contrasting lighter, raw wood.
I don't consider myself a big procrastinator but if you refinish the only steps to your living room, you can't use your living room until the next day. So that has been my obstacle and my excuse thus far. Until I devised a mini scaffold that is, with a stout board and a step ladder, I made it possible to climb over the freshly finished steps.
These poor steps are nothing beautiful to look at. They have been submerged twice from flooding and they have been rather abused. Someone even drove some 6 penny common nails right into the middle of one of them. Yes, they are rough, but now they have a nice new, shiny coat of varnish, three coats actually. But the most important thing is that I can now walk by them and not think about how I should refinish those steps someday! What a relief!
Thursday -- January 30, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.88 Water Temperature:41
As promised, the ferry is now open.
I'm posting this onto the original caretaker's log but that website, sycamoreisland.org does not seem to be working right now. I'll cut and paste this to the new site, sycamoreisland.clubexpress.com.
Sunday -- January 26, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.3 Water Temperature:36
THE FERRY IS CLOSED!
Lots of rain in the watershed equals high water on our river. Sorry folks.
Tuesday -- January 21, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8 Water Temperature:36
Winter is here! Brrrrrr. I had to winterize the Club kitchen and Bathrooms yesterday. That means I had to shut off the water to the sinks and toilets. You can still use the toilet in the Men's room and you can get potable water from the tap in there too.
I hope it doesn't get so cold that the river freezes but we'll have to wait and see I guess. The good news is that the cold snap has brought the ducks back. We are so lucky. Back before I lived on the river I would have to make a special trip out to Seneca Lake or Black Hill Regional Park to see the over-winter waterfowl but now the ducks are just a few yards away from my front door.
Sunday -- January 19, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9 Water Temperature:40
There is going to be an open house/open Island here today. It will be interesting to see who shows up. I suppose the weather could be worse considering that it's the middle of January but I wish that it wasn't so windy. I'll have to make sure that I time the ferry trips to avoid the 30 MPH gusts that they are predicting. The wind was blowing so hard the other night that the bell started ringing.
I had to carry the 24' ladder over to the mainland. The old copper phone lines were dangling low to the ground from the utility pole. The copper lines were disconnected weeks ago, but I didn't want anybody fooling around with them, so I put up the ladder, coiled them up, and tied them high up on the pole. While I was up there I noticed that the junction box for our new FIOS cable was upside down and full of rain water. I used some zip-ties to secure it better and I let all of the rain water drain out. The fiber optic cable is so tiny, (less than the width of a hair) that I feel like we need to be extra careful with it.
Monday -- January 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0 Water Temperature:50
This brief shot of warm weather is nice but now all the winter ducks are gone. Who knows where they go but last Thursday and Friday there were scores of ducks all around the Island and now there are none. So sad. My favorites, the hooded megansers were here for weeks and were joined recently by other diving ducks, scaups, grebes and buffle heads. I love to watch, and listen to, them take off from the river. Their little feet are moving so fast for take-off, that those little guys sound like they are playing a super-fast drum roll on top of the water.
Wednesday -- January 10, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4 Water Temperature:38
I picked up some fancy, Martha Stewart stencils for our sign-in box. Going upscale!
We had the meeting on Wednesday night. The funny thing was, Amber and Hans had no idea that we were gathering at their house until we started showing up. Amber wasn't even there, but Hans and the kids scrambled and it all worked out. Thanks Hans, for being so flexible and accommodating.
The most important part of the meeting was that Tryon Wells was named an honorary member! He's been a member for 37 years and has filled many of the officer's positions over the years. Plus, he built and managed our website for over twenty years! Tryon has been such a huge part of this Club that it is hard to overstate all that he has done. Thanks Tryon!
BTW, I am now posting this log on the new website for the Club. Go to sycamoreisland.clubexpress.com to follow me there. It's hard to change but the new website allows me to add pictures to my posts. Right now it's only visible to logged-in members but we hope to make the log/blog public in the future.
Wednesday -- January 8, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5 Water Temperature:39
Club meeting tonight at the home of Hans and Amber. Hope to see you there.
I had to remove and refurbish the metal box that houses the sign-in sheet on the ferry. Over the years I have had to fix it up a few times, I've had to fix the hinges, mend the box after a tree fell on it, replace the clip board and I've had to repaint it at least four times. This time I had to replace the rotted wood beneath the clip board. I also replaced the active-member list with new velcro to hold it inside the top of the lid, I added new cordage and refastened the platform that it sits on. Then I repainted it, forest green this time, and finished with the gold stenciled lettering. Next time you're on the ferry, take a minute to admire this simple piece of craft work. This box has been here longer than I know but it represents a different time. This box wasn't made of plastic in some far-away place. My guess is that this box was custom-made by a local tinsmith. Someone with the skills to bend and fabricate galvanized metal into a durable box that has lasted us for decades. Incredible.
While I was in the refurbishing mode I decided to clean and repaint one of the trophies that we have here. This trophy is from a race that was won by our Club at the regatta that took place here way back on September 3, 1928. It's a silver-plated cup, about 7 inches tall, that's cut in half and mounted on a coat-of-arms shaped wooden plaque. I polished the silver and repainted the black plaque. I'll have to devise a new way to reattach the cup to the plaque since the old wires are mostly broken but otherwise, I just need to find a place to hang it.
I also stripped and refinished a small table that I found in someone's trash. It looks great and fits perfectly in my little foyer.