End Of Ice

A rising sun glints though the trees as mallards enjoy the open pool in the late winter ice at Nahant MarshMarch at Nahant Marsh brought the end of the ice. Although March began with the deep frozen marsh locked in hard ice and crusty snow, it was inevitable that the ice could not last. The strengthening sunshine softened the snow and melted a skim of water on the ice even on cold days. We have already passed the equinox—again the light lasts longer.

The ice dissolves from the beavers pond at Nahant MarshThe snow was the first to dissolve, as each warmer, sunnier day would eat away a little more. Even with each cold night hardening what was left, there was markedly less. And then there was none. The hard frozen earth was left bare to soak in the welcome sun and in its turn soften.

The ice on the water lasted longer. The big chunk of ice that was the main body of the marsh lingered longest, kept cold by its own size. In pools large and small, the edges were first to melt, where the warming earth met the frozen water. Soon the frozen water was instead slabs of disintegrating ice floating in water. Then, the ice had gone. Even the persistent chunk in the main marsh had vanished.

A hooded merganser catches a crawfish at Nahant MarshThe leading edge of the spring migration arrived before the ice was completely gone. These birds do not seem at all put off by cold water with big chunks of ice in it. They dive right in. They get busy looking for a meal and tending to their grooming. Then they rest awhile before the next big leg of their journey. Some of the travelers, I think, have a long way to go.

A surprising amount of birds do hang tough all winter at the marsh and there are some that have come south to the marsh for their winter. But there are many, many more that do not stay for winter here. No doubt it’s hard to make a living as a diving duck when the marsh is iced over. With the end of ice they are returning, or passing through on their way back home.

A blue-winged teal, a pair of ringneck ducks and a bufflehead at Nahant MarshThis is the best time to see quite a lot of them, including one of my favorite, the bufflehead. I saw at least twenty out on the newly melted marsh, although they are hard to count as they keep diving underwater and popping back to the surface. They won’t stay on here, but will keep heading north.

The first of the plants are showing the first green, buds are swelling and spring is poised to leap up all in a rush. It’s a lovely time to go outside and see who’s visiting.

Buttonbush and willow reflected in the newly melted beaver pond at Nahant Marsh

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Winter Deep and Cold

Mice write on the snow at Nahant MarshAfter a brief January thaw, winter rolled back into Nahant Marsh. February blew in with a major snowstorm followed by more deep, creaking cold. The thick layer of snow, its surface written with the stories of the marsh’s inhabitants, has stayed on, preserved by day after freezing day. The welcome sun has been rising earlier and staying longer, though. The sunny days (the days we had sun anyway) eroded the snow cover to some extent, softening it a bit here and there, only to have the bitter cold freeze it hard again, night after deeply frigid night.

After the snowstorm near Nahant Marsh's beaver pond


Those days when the clouds disappeared were indeed welcome, with skies of wide open blue, unattenuated light pouring down, not soaked in by a single leaf, flooding the land and ice with sun, the snow lit in blazing, blinding white streaked with shadows of blue. And so winter continues.

Before dawn on a sub zero morning at Nahant MarshFebruary in the marsh has been so far a month of deep, harsh winter unrelenting. As always, there is great beauty for those who dare this creaking cold. As the blank cover of snow reflects all the blinding whiteness of full sun, so too does it faithfully show all the colors in the prism tinted light of dawn and dusk.

Coyote's track winds Through Nahant Marsh on a foggy winter morningOn those mornings shrouded with freezing winter fog, that whiteness caught the light too, with whatever color the light happened to be at the moment. The small open pools are steaming again, sometimes in great clouds and sometimes in dainty wisps. Although the deep penetrating cold is hard to bear, I will miss the shifting beauty that only the ice, snow and steam can make on days like these.

Beavers' pond in winter at Nahant Marsh, their home is to the left and center, the dam is bottom center curving to the  rightIt is, after all, approaching the end of February and the light is returning. One day before very much longer, the winter stillness will be broken by the trill of the returning red winged blackbirds. Already black capped chickadees and cardinals, who stay on hanging tough all winter,  are singing to greet the expanding light.

March will be here soon, and while it can still be quite cold and icy, the leading birds of the spring migration arrive in March. They push the edge of the ice, following it as it retreats before the growing light and warmth. The last of the subzero days may have already passed—or most of them anyway. Better bundle up warm and get out there to play in the snow while you can.

A bird hopped up the bank and took to the air, written in the snow


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