Rising Tide of Green

White-tailed deer at Nahant Marsh's beaver pondApril at Nahant Marsh was a time of great change. April began with a few tentative wisps of delicate green rising from the recently thawed earth, and the first vanguard of returning birds. It ended with green bursting out everywhere, wrapping the marsh in a thickening green haze, and a crescendo of multiple layers of birdsong.

Returning sandhill crane peers through the willows at Nahant MarshThe fog of green, still golden and airy in April, grew denser as May moved in. April and May are the most amazing months in the marsh as it comes back to life in a rising tide of green. The reawakening green is filled with a rush of creatures who by all appearances are pleased with the new, milder season. A season of life and joy.

Red-winged blackbird bathes in a beaver pond at Nahant MarshThe pools and ponds of water at Nahant Marsh are a magnet for the creatures. The water itself is bursting with life, producing and attracting an amazing variety of living things. Many of them are not obvious, even now. The birds are pretty easy to observe if you are quiet, though. The more northern species have gone on by, but those that plan to stay are staking their claims, singing their spring songs.

Mallard Drake at Nahant MarshApril and May are the best times to see the birds, while they are loudly announcing their presence and before the rising green closes over them. Later, as spring arches into summer, they will become quieter and the fully leaved out vegetation will conceal much that lives there.

A wood duck drake on a green reflection in Nahant Marsh's beaver pondWood ducks were among the earliest arrivals, chasing the very edge of the ice, coming to Nahant before April even started. I can’t tell if those early birds moved on farther north and different wood ducks moved in, but the marsh once again is host to quite a number of wood duck pairs clearly checking out likely nesting spots. Nahant Marsh will once again host a new generation of these striking birds.

The front lawn of the Education Center, once torn up and muddy from construction work for the expansion, is also sprouting a fresh new rising tide of green. It is a beautiful, hopeful season full of promise and new beginnings. Be sure to take some time to enjoy it, don’t let it get away!

Blue-winged teal pair rests and grooms at Nahant Marsh

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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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