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CARETAKER'S LOG

 Caretakers Log                          


Tuesday -- August 4, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature:89


It looks like we dodged a bullet with that recent hurricane. It moved through here so fast that it didn't seem to cause much flooding. The river is muddy brown but the river is still low enough to run the ferry, so we're open.

Wednesday -- July 29, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature:89


The zip line is back up! Reinstalling the zip line was going to be a fun project for our new members to do at the Spring workfest but since that never happened I decided that I'd better get it back into operation. There has been a bit of clamoring from our younger members about when the zip line might be back in action.

Of all the many projects that I tackled this month, putting up the zip line has to have been the most gratifying. It is so fun to hear the kids shouting "ZIP LINE!" as they race across the Island. I remember the first zip line that I put up back in 2004. I bought it at the toy store for my kids and it ran from my front door down the hill to a platform by the river. It was a lot of fun but not like the industrial-sized one that we have now.

We now have three working paddle boards! I ordered a fin for the red Oxbow sup, so now we have two of those as well as the wide blue one. They are very popular, we could probably use two more.

I had to do some work on the Club canoe too. The thwarts keep breaking and rotting out. Gerry Baron and I replaced many of the broken thwarts a couple of year ago but folks keep sitting on them and snapping them. This time I wasn't messing around. Instead of the expensive store-bought thwarts that seem to rot out rather quickly, I used stout 2"x 4"s of treated lumber. I hope I get a bit more life out of these boards, and they will not break if you sit on them. But please, don't sit on the thwarts.

Some other jobs that got done this month; I finished patching and painting the knots on the new plywood docks. I had to pad the post at the ferry landing to keep it from getting bashed up. I reinforced the captains float to make it more sturdy. I built a makeshift ramp out of an extension ladder and some lumber for the small captain's dock. I installed new exit signs in the Clubhouse. I remounted the swimming safety sign that was damaged last year and I rehung it by the swim float. I did another shift of clearing debris and trash from the fallen sycamore in the river, (watch out for the poison ivy!) And I organized and cleaned the inside of the tool shed. All while I was running the ferry as well.

Tuesday -- July 28, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature:89


Last week I had the pleasure of ferrying long-time members Bill Banta and his wife Rochelle across the river. They've been members since 1982 and I gues that it's getting harder for them to make it down the hill to the Island. It's been years since I've seen them here. What a treat.

Speaking of long-time members, It was great to see Abigail Weibenson down here with her family. She's been a member since 1975 and still going strong!

The Club seems to have adopted a family of mallards, or should I say the mallards have adopted us. I first met these ducks one evening while standing by the river gazing at the view and the wildlife, like I often do. When these four female mallards came walking right up to me, just as tame as can be. I didn't understand what was going on with these "wild " ducks until a day or two later I saw some members feeding them.

Now, for better of worse, you can find these ducks here any given day walking from one picnic table to the next, looking for handouts. One of our regular members even gave them a name, "the girlfriends", though I'm pretty certain that its a mother and her recent offspring. Sadly, one of the young ducks injured it's foot and can be seen limping behind its siblings trying to keep up.

Speaking of injured birds, I rescued a baby humming bird from the river yesterday! It was buzzing around on the surface of the water next to my dock. I scooped it up with my gloved hand and took it up to the house. It didn't try to fly away and it seemed very happy to have a drink of my CountryTime lemonade that I fed it with a dropper. It was so amazing to hold that tiny creature and hear it cheep for more lemonade. After it dried off it tried to fly again but it only seemed to go in circles. It looks like its right wing is damaged, so there is not much hope for that little guy.

Monday -- July 27, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature:87


I finished painting the tool shed roof! What a job! And in the killer heat as well. I'm so glad that it's done and I'm very pleased with the results, a long-lasting paint job and the perfect color too! I really liked using that Direct-To-Metal paint. One unexpected benefit was that when I cleaned the roof, I also cleaned the "sky lights", so now there is much more light in the tool shed!

I guess that the other big news is that we finally got the last of the docks launched last Sunday. Having the docks out is a big improvement toward normalcy, and everyone has been enjoying having them out in the river.

It took a while but once we decided to use volunteer help instead of using our contractors, I quickly organized a work crew of club volunteers. It was a hot day but we all met at 10 and we were all done by 11:30, so we were able to out race the hottest part of the day.

I was really impressed with how the new members and old all worked together and made the group decisions. What helped us tremendously in getting the job done quickly was my idea to use extension ladders as tracks to drag the heavy docks across the mud and into the river. We will definitely be deploying the ladder trick in the future.

Once we got the easier, canoe dock, into the river we moved across the Island to tackle the captains float, (named after long-time club captain John Matthews). This year, to promote distancing, I decided to break that giant dock into two parts. Instead of one giant dock with two tables, we have one small dock with a small table and one bigger dock with a big table. Then we had to bolt the sections together, install the access panels and tie the cables to the tree on the shore.

On a sad note. When we moved the ramp for the canoe dock, we found a dead adult osprey stuck under the ramp. I hope it wasn't one of the pair that has been nesting up by lock 8.

Sunday -- July 26, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature:87


The river temperature went up to 92 last week but mercifully, the temperature dropped back down into the eighties. The river has been nice a low though, just the way we like it.

This Club has some of the nicest people! I can't believe how kind and considerate everyone is. Not only is everyone pitching in to help keep the ferry running smoothly but people are actually bringing me gifts! It was such a nice gesture when two separate members brought me bottles of wine. Another member baked me some awesome chocolate chip brownies. Another, new member has brought me girl scout cookies, twice! And the icing on the cake was when a long-time member sent me a generous donation toward replacing my bike that was stolen from the Island while I was in the hospital back in March! I am so impressed how everyone has pulled together like family, Thanks y'all!

Sunday -- July 12, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature:85


It's been another busy week down here. I'm getting lots of help with the ferry so I've been freed up to take on some bigger projects. This week it's been the tool shed roof. I painted it once before, about 15 years ago. I have a picture of myself on that roof that my daughter took back when she was still living here.

Before painting the roof I had to clean it, of course, and our new power washes was the perfect tool for the job. It wasn't easy rigging up the ladders and getting myself, and the spray gun, up on the roof, but once in place the power washer was very efficient. I'll be spreading the paint next week, weather and time permitting.

With Mary's help I was able to find a new and hopefully, improved, lock for the ferry. This new lock has bigger numbers and a button to push to open it. It wasn't easy to find the right lock that still had four numbers for the combination. I hope it works out and makes it easier to unlock. Now if we could only figure out a way to keep it from falling into the river.

I made some improvements to the ramp at the canoe dock. I used that ramp last week and noticed that it was steep and sliding into the river. I was going to brag about how the simple ramp is better than the canoe dock but with the low water, the situation has changed.

First, I had to move the canoe dock out of the way to make it easier to reach the ramp and the river. I used the come-a-long, and brute strength, to inch the dock over just enough to be able to pass by to the ramp. Then I used the come-a-long to pull the heavy metal ramp back up the slope to where I wanted it.

Then came the tricky part. I wanted to put one of our flotation blocks under the ramp to give it some buoyancy and make it easier to use. So, with some members standing on one side, I was able to slip the floatation under the ramp and secure it with ropes. It seems to be a big improvement and it makes it much easier to launch your water craft.

I'm not sure yet what the plan is but hopefully we will either hire someone or organize a work day to get the last two docks out in the river.

I fixed two of the plastic chairs. They seem to break pretty easily, but, as long as they don't lose a leg, I can fix them and get some more life out of them. I spent half a day organizing the tool shed. Last night I restrung the bell rope across the river reinstalled the bell. I might take some time to get used to hearing the bell again. It's been over three months since it rang.

Sunday -- July 5, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature:80


It was a pretty quiet Fourth of July this year. Not a lot of picnicing or large crowds. I didn't see any fireworks but at around 9:20, we could hear them exploding all around the Island.

Everyone seems to be enjoying our new system of ferrying people over and signing up for slots. I've been busy doing a lot of upkeep. I used the pressure washer to clean the walks around my quarters but I had to clean the dock ramps by hand. I stained the ramp to the captains float, I finished painting the casement windows that I've been working on and I repainted the wood-cut logo that's on the clubhouse.

I also trenched around the new steps landing, fixed the hinge on a screen door, patched the new railing and touched up the stain, painted the old stanchions on the ferry, met with the tree expert again, this time about the insurance work. And I built a new auxiliary dock the sits just upstream of the ferry. This dock will give me easy access to the river and will enable me to more easily retrieve the ferry if it ends up on th wrong side of the river. My plan is to use the canoe to help me to stay distant from all the members riding on the ferry.

And I cut all of the grass one more time, takes about eight hours to do the whole field and trails.

Sunday -- June 28, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8    Water Temperature: 80

That was quite a storm that we got on Thursday night! I heard that there were power outages and even some hail. The storm kept some of the members away, but not all. After the worst of the storm had passed, one family braved the clouds and went for a long paddle. On their way back they noticed the huge amount of trash and debris pouring out into the river from the flooded waters of Cabin John Creek. Cabin John Creek drains all of Rockville, and judging by the amount of trash, there must have been at least a couple of inches of rain up there.

The trash kept piling up all night and by Friday morning, thanks to that fallen tree next to the ferry, and by morning, the ferry was completely encased in driftwood and crud. I then spent the entire morning trying to clear out the crud and trying to free the ferry.

Thanks to all of the members that were here to help me to launch the swim float on Friday. It was fun to work together and get the float out in the river. It's also a relief and a joy to get the float out again, since there was no workfest this year, we had to get creative.

Finally, starting next week, I will begin to help with running the ferry on a limited basis. My hope is, even though I am here to facilitate, that the members will continue to work together to coordinate getting each other back and forth on the ferry. I'm here to keep things going smoothly but I also want to try to avoid too many unnecessary ferry trips.

Sunday -- June 21, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5 Water Temperature: 80


Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!! It looks like it’s going to be a nice day.

It has been an exciting week down here with lots of new improvements to brag about. The weather cooperated too, giving us just enough time for the contractors to come down and make improvements.

First we removed all of the old plywood from the docks and installed all new 3/4 inch plywood to the swim dock, swim float and the Captain John Matthews memorial dock.

We also removed the old railing from the ferry and installed a fancy new railing designed by Stan Fowler. Dave Winer was instrumental in getting the new railings stained and helping me to get the new stanchions painted, then the contractors did the rest.

Another fancy new development is the addition of stairs leading down the bank at the swim float and a new dock ramp there too (see photo at top). The contractors even helped me to launch the swim dock when it was all done. It is going to be a big improvement over last year when we had to slip and slide down the bank to get to the river.

There is never a dull moment while the workers are here. I was always busy getting things ready for them or doing the detail work like installing ladder to the swim dock, adding the hinges for the ramp, and assembling Stan's one-of-a-kind railing. I also had to repaint all of the stanchions and help Dave with staining the boards.

It was also my job to waterproof the frames of the docks while the decks were off. Plus, I painted two casement windows (see photo at start of log). I did not get much grass cut this week.

Saturday -- June 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7     Water Temperature:80


The temperature of the river is now up to 80 degrees. It just might be warm enough for me to take a dip. And the weather today is perfect too!

As predicted, the tree that fell downstream of the ferry is starting to trap a lot of driftwood, litter and foamy slim. I had to paddle out there yesterday and spend a couple of hours trying to clear some of that stuff out. It's amazing just how tightly packed all of that debris becomes. I felt like I was trying to break up a beaver dam. It wasn't an easy job, and it was a very messy job as well but I was able to free a lot of the crap and send it down river. The warm water made it a little less miserable.

Exciting news, we're hoping to get all of the docks resurfaced this week and soon we hope to be able to push them out into the river. I know everyone is looking forward to that. The even more exciting development is that we are also getting steps installed at the swim float area. It has long been a problem getting down that muddy back to the swim float and I've been trying to come up with solutions. Then one day it hit me. I'd like to say that it was my idea but in truth it was something I saw in an old photo of the Island. Apparently, back in the forties maybe, there was something known as the "swim steps". From the old picture I saw it looked like the steps were removable and were probably taken in every winter. It seems like the perfect solution, let's hope they work out.

Saturday -- June 6, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature:76


We've had some strong downpours recently but the river is not expected to go up too much. Four and half feet is predicted for the rest of the week, not so high that we have to close but not a fun level for using the ferry.

Our resident red-shouldered hawk has left the nest. I think I heard it calling for it's parents down by the bottom of the Island, but I'll probably never see it again.

Good news about the eagles nest. I spied not one, but two young eagles in the nest this week. I even heard one call out with it's high pitched screech!

I never did mention the howling, banshee sounds that I heard last month. I guessed that it was a group of coyotes across the river at Turkey Run Park. From the sound of it I would say that there were at least three, probably four animals yelping. And the moon was full too!

I ordered the patching material that I'm going to need to patch up one of the Club canoes and one Club kayak. Both craft are suffering with holes in the hull. It's nice to have a supplier, Sweet Composite, tight here in the neighborhood and within our Club as well!

I also ordered a pressure washer for the Club. We've never had a pressure washer here before but I think it is going to be a welcome addition. Unlike all the other pressure washers that I've used, this one is electric for easy use and convenience, yet still powerful, 2050 PSI! The Club captain, Alec, encouraged me to buy it so that we can keep the decks, and walkways looking clean and mildew-free, and also to make them less slippery.

Another purchase that I made recently was a new set of block and tackle for the ferry rope. It's vital to have the mechanical advantage of the pulley system to tighten the rope across the river, and the old gear that we have now is broken, rusty and unreliable.

Monday -- May 11, 2020 
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8     Water Temperature:59


Wednesday -- May 6, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.9     Water Temperature:59




It looks like I'll be coming and going in a canoe for a while. It's been a whole week since the dock went under water and it looks as though it will be at least another week before we see it again. The river crested at nearly 9 feet on Saturday (90,000 CFS) and right now it's 33,500 CFS.

There wasn't any damage from the high water, except piles of gooey mud on the boardwalk. The rising water didn't cause any problems but sometimes the timing of the receding waters can give me headaches. Usually, I try to monitor the river as it's going down so that I can push the docks out with the water. Otherwise, they get beached, high and dry, on the Island. This past weekend, the water went down overnight, while I was sleeping. I woke up to find that the Captain's float, and it's many heavy segments, had drifted inland and was left a little further from the river. It could mean that we're in for some extra labor at the workday, unless, that is, the river goes up again and I can float them back out over to the river.

The other, more important issue during these river-drops, is the ferry. It's really a big problem if the ferry gets hung up on the posts for the dock. If the ferry gets stuck on the post and the river goes down enough, it could be near impossible to lift it up to get it off of the post. That's what happened the other day but in this case it wasn't too extreme.

The ferry was hung up, but there was only a small, six-inch, drop in the river. I was so glad that I got out there when I did and I was able to use my weight at the opposite end of the ferry, (leaning way out like in a racing catamaran), to lift the lip of the ferry off of the post, whew! Luckily, my little bit of weight was enough. I don't know what I would have done otherwise.

It's not looking too good for our hopes of reopening the Club. As of yesterday, 27,117 confirmed cases of the virus in Maryland, the most yet. 6 persons per 1000 in Montgomery County have contracted the virus. Major bummer

Friday -- April 24, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature:53


We're still adjusting to this new normal. Life on the river just ain't what it used to be. It's kinda weird to have so many people on the towpath and on the Sycamore trail everyday of the week. People in masks hiking, biking, running, and walking their dogs, but nobody on the Island or on the ferry. The ferry landing is a popular place though. Lots of people like to stand there and look at the river. Some folks even laid out a blanket and spent the afternoon camped out on the stairs.

Thankfully, it's considered essential to go outside for exercise and I've gotten off the Island and taken a couple of great hikes along the Great Seneca Greenway Trail. I'll have to write a trail description about it so that you guys can go check it out. Lot's of history.

It's too bad to have the Island closed during the Springtime, but so far we haven't missed too many nice-weather days. The weather has been mostly cold, rainy and very windy, not exactly paddling weather. And the temperature of the river actually went down! Brrr!

The weather hasn't been great, but it has been favorable for pulling weeds and invasive plants. I've been busy pulling up the lesser celandine and the knotweed, but overall I'm so proud of us and the great job that we've done at keeping the aggressive plants in check. There are hardly any oriental bittersweet or wisteria vines on the Island. The Japanese knotweed is coming up now but there are only a fraction of the number of plants that we've had in the past, and, it's being out-competed but one of our local favorites, the false Solomon's seal with it's subtle white blossoms. Also, there are very few garlic mustard. Sadly, the lesser celandine will be a constant battle for years to come.

Wednesday -- April 22, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.4     Water Temperature:53


Happy Earth Day!!

I am so bummed that we were not able to have our first annual Bluebell Bash Music Performance that was scheduled for last Sunday. It would have been so great, the river was low enough, and weather-wise it was one of the warmer days that we have had so far this year. I was really looking forward to a fun-filled day with lots of new and old members, and waitlisters, all getting together. And of course, I was looking forward to the chance to sing and play guitar for everyone. We'll just have to have an extra-special event next year at the Second Annual Bluebell Bash!

There are two newly hatched goslings on/near the Island now, two puffy little tennis balls with beaks, bobbing in the waves with their parents. They are from the first nest down at the bottom of the Island. Three of the five eggs in that nest did not hatch and were abandoned in the nest.

Monday -- April 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8     Water Temperature:58


That was a pretty good rain that we had last night. I see that Seneca creek shot way up and is high enough to paddle today, in case anyone out there wants some high creek excitement this morning.

Normally, I'd be talking about the river going up and about the ferry closing, (it's predicted to crest tomorrow at 6.2 feet at the Little Falls gauge), but sadly, the ferry is already closed on account of the virus. Boo Whoo.

I've been managing pretty well during this "stay at home" order. I'm only going out for essentials, which means I'm not doing my regular trips to the hardware for materials and supplies. Luckily, I do have enough bleach cleaner to clean the decks and steps, most of them anyway. I also had enough transparent stain to stain the steps of the shed that I had already cleaned last month. Next on my list are a couple of painting projects, casement windows, shed roof, etc. It's good to have chores to do, it keeps me from staring out the window all day. Although, staring out the window is not a bad thing, it keeps me from staring at the ubiquitous computer screen all day, whew.

Typically, I'm not too worried about thieves or vandals trespassing on the Island and doing damage, but I do think that it is important that I maintain a presence here on the Island during this shut-down. Especially since my mountain bike was stolen from the Island while I was laid up at Mary's last month. The ferry had been left unlocked accidentally, (maybe by me), and some jerk took advantage and pulled themselves over on the ferry and took my bike. The bike was not locked and was stored under the shed. Thankfully, nothing else was stolen or damaged. The bike was not expensive, a 2009 Gary Fischer, "Whahoo", silver. If you happen to see it.

Thursday -- April 9, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature:62


I found another new goose nest on the Island. This one is only ten feet from my front door?! Those darn geese built their nest right next to the walkway that runs under my living room. I had to place some chairs across the path just so I wouldn't accidentally walk there and risk the wrath of the male goose that is always ready to pounce.

I discovered two more goose nests up at Ruppert's Island. One silly goose built her nest right in the middle of an old tire that was washed up there.

There is a lot of activity down at the eagle's nest too. I was concerned about that nest since it had been weeks since I had seen both of the adults together. The chick, or chicks should be about a month old now and there should be more activity around the nest as the adults work to keep the young ones fed. It was fun to watch through the spotting scope as the male eagle tried to swoop down on a group of female hooded megansers. The eagle was totally outmatched by the foxy ducks who simply dove underwater every time the eagle passed over. I realize that the eagles have more mouths to feed now, but maybe they should stick with catching fish.

The Carolina wrens seem to be on the same nesting schedule as the eagles and I was surprised to see that a brood of young wrens has already been fledged. Those cute little guys were perching on my windows yesterday with their baby downy feathers still sticking out of the tops of their heads.

Monday -- April 6, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature:58


The ferry, and the Island are closed, and will be closed until further notice.

Below is the link to the Governor's order.

https://governor.maryland.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Gatherings-FOURTH-AMENDED-3.30.20.pdf

Saturday -- April 4, 2020

Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1    Water Temperature: 56

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted anything so I figured I should try to get everyone up to date.

Sadly, like everything else, we had to close the Island. But even though the ferry is locked up, I have been going down there periodically to check on things. I'm staying at Mary's while I recuperate and while we wait for this pandemic to subside. It just make sense for us to stay on the mainland and pool our resources while we wait it out. Plus, until my weak heart is at full strength again, we thought that it would be smart for me to be close to the main road and have easy access to the hospital. You know, just in case.

We made the trip down there last week so that I could gather some clothes and things, and to look at the bluebells of course. I wanted to update the answering machine and to put up the "Ferry Closed " sign. We also had to go down there to raise the ferry rope and the bell rope since the river was predicted to go above five feet.

Strangely, getting to the Island while trying to maintain social distancing has been a challenge. Normally, walking down to the island on a Monday morning would be a solitary experience, but since no one is working and everyone wants to get outside, the trail to the Island is one of the busiest places around. Mary and I had to plan our visits accordingly and we were careful to sneak down there early in the morning, or after dark.

It was fun to be back on the Island after being away for so long. We walked around to say hi to all of our bird friends and we tried to drink in the beauty of all of those bluebells and other wildflowers.

We also wanted to check on the Canada Geese that nest on the Island every year at this time. It may be too early to know for sure but sadly there seems to be only one pair of geese nesting on the Island so far. I said this last year, but we seem to be coming to and the end of an era. We could be drawing nearer to the time when there will no longer be geese nesting on Sycamore Island. Last year there were only three nests on the Island, this year only one. So sad. During my first Spring on the Island there were close to twenty active goose nests on the Island. There was even a nest on the roof of the canoe shed!

While we were there we saw some migrating warblers, several yellow-rumped warblers and one palm warbler. They may have been migrating through, but let's hope they stick around and nest on the Island! No sign yet of anyone nesting in the birdhouse that I bought.

My doctor has given me the green light to resume most of my normal activities so I will be going down to the Island more regularly now. My heart needs time to heal but part of that healing is doing the cardiac rehab and slowly increasing my tolerance for strenuous activity. With the ferry being closed for the virus, there won't be a need for me to ferry the members back and forth, but there are a few chores that I can do and some other maintenance-type things that I will need to keep up with. Another reason to be there is so that I can update the log on the old website since I am unable to do that remotely, like I can with the new club express site.


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.

Fire Pit

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.

Island Nettles   Bowl of Nettles

Cooking nettles   Serving nettles

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.