Fish Soup

Pelicans arrive at Nahant Marsh

The summer is high at Nahant Marsh and the living is easy. Unless you’re a fish. A wide variety of birds have been hunting for fish in the marsh, and have been having quite a bit of success. Each of these fine summer mornings many fish have become breakfast. Every day fish-loving birds have been flying, swimming, stalking and dive-bombing after the fish of Nahant Marsh.

Young blue heron at Nahant Marsh

Blue herons by the dozens have been stationing themselves around the marsh daily. Some appear to be younger birds with streaked fronts and without the long plumes they will one day have. The ones I watched seemed to have no difficulty in catching very nice breakfasts for themselves. Along with the ever present blue herons, egrets, pelicans, cormorants and terns have been returning frequently to the marsh in search of a fish breakfast.

Cormorant catches a fish

Cormorants chase their prey underwater, sometimes for a surprisingly long way. Fairly large groups of them have come, slipping headfirst underwater then surfacing, shining wetly, over and over, up and down the length and breadth of the marsh. Some especially good-fishing mornings, more often than not a wiggling fish, gleaming in the sun, was gripped tightly in their beak each time a cormorant popped to the surface.

2014augTern&FishThe fish have to fear from the sky, too. Terns have been coming to claim a share. While the cormorants dive and fly underwater to chase after the fish, the terns plunge in from above. Dropping like a stone, the tern punches through the waters surface sending up a splash longer than its wingspan. Then it flaps wetly up and away bearing its prize.

Blue heron catches a fish for breakfast

The water creatures had it good when the flood favored them. The whole world was a watery place then—or so it must have seemed. Nahant Marsh is very shallow for the most part, and a huge amount of water has gone. Less water left for each remaining fish and perhaps the shrinking pool thus becomes fish soup.

Summer mornings are beautiful all by themselves, and are even more so when the birds’ breakfast show is so lively, varied and entertaining. Unless you’re a fish.

Pelicans at Nahant Marsh

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After The Flood

Thunderstorms were intense and frequent during late spring and early summer, and the great river gathered the water together, rising steadily. The Mississippi River is inexorable when it swells, and nothing can be done but stand aside or go under.  As it always does in times of flood, the river poured into Nahant Marsh.

Nahant Marsh is a safety valve of sorts, allowing a place for a huge amount of flood water to be held for a while, waiting for the river level to go back down in its own good time. The road to the marsh is under water during a major flood. The Education Center is sandbagged and the dock tied down before access is lost.

Nahant Marsh itself and the creatures who live there take no such flood preparations. But the marsh is resilient and fluctuating water levels are, in fact, part of the reason that wetlands are as productive as they are. As the flood passed, the high water mark illustrated clearly just how great the volume of water was.

After the flood, the broad, brown strip of once-under-water looks drear and dead. The leaves and greenery have been replaced by drying mud and slime. No doubt some did not survive the flood and were drowned. For those whose nests were not built above the crest of the water it was a cruel  time with little chance of escape.

Still, the flood tolerant plants are already greening out, and all that water allowed water creatures to be very productive while it lasted. A great number of frogs and crawfish were born and thrived. After the flood hundreds of egrets came to the feast, joined by herons and rafts of pelicans scooping up fish.

The Mississippi river is back in its banks, and access is once again open for people to visit Nahant Marsh. As ever, no two years, no two seasons, no two days are ever alike, so be sure to pay attention. Whether in flood or in drought, there is always something beautiful and remarkable going on in this wetland environment.

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