March 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 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.
The 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.
This 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.