At The End of a Long and Balmy Autumn

Autumn morning birds at Nahant MarshEvery year is different at Nahant Marsh. This year brought an autumn that stretched out long and balmy, day after golden day. The bright fall colors were underpainted with rich browns almost from their onset, but the colors were brilliant all the same, and remained, lingering, fading with exquisite slowness into tawny autumn brown and gray.

Autumn reflection in high water at Nahant MarshWith great precision the sunrises came later and the sunsets earlier with each passing day. Yet unlike most years, hard freezes did not come until November was well underway. A few cold nights during the slow motion autumn kissed the meadows lightly with frost, but flowers still bloomed in the warmth of the shortening days.Fishing pelicans at Nahant Marsh

A wet year kept the marsh lush and brimming full this year. Water was abundant, and included an uncommon autumn flood. As the high water dropped back to a more ordinary level, groups of pelicans stopped by to fill up on fish. For days many pelicans could be seen at Nahant, fishing, cruising, napping or fussing with their feathers.

A pelican glides by on its own reflection at Nahant MarshThe marsh is a common stopover for the pelicans. When they do decide to visit, it can be for days at a time. Watching them glide on autumn colored water never gets old, either. If you watch for a while you will eventually see one or more of them scoop up a meal. If you watch the autumn colored water of the marsh long enough, you will see many, many birds of all kinds.

A wood duck takes a splash bath at Nahant MarshThe variety of birds that visit during their journey along the Mississippi flyway is a delight. All the long balmy autumn I carefully glassed the marsh with each visit to see which birds might be stopping by that day. Some seemed like old friends, I would see them so frequently. Some days the marsh was filled with “the usual crowd” in huge numbers.

The otter family visits Nahant Marsh in autumnOther times I caught glimpses of more rarely seen birds, or those that, although not uncommon, usually prefer the deeper river nearby. A common goldeneye visited the marsh a few times while I watched the autumn bird show. The otter family did, too. In the warm, shortening autumn days the creatures are taking care of their autumn business.

The long lasting balmy days are past, though, and winter snow waits just over the horizon. Killing frosts have finally stopped the flowers, and skims of ice have formed for the ducks to walk on. Late autumn is here, and winter will be soon.

Geese and ducks fill Nahant Marsh in autumn

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Enter Autumn

Orange sulfur butterfly visits Nahant Marsh autumn prairieSummer has passed by and autumn has come to Nahant Marsh. Glimpses of gold show in the summer weary green of the trees, and great swaths of gold spread through the prairie meadows. Many of the end of season blooms are yellow, gold and silver, with an occasional purple. The thick, flower filled meadows continue to draw in butterflies of all kinds.

Goldenrod and boneset at Nahant MarshThe summer was good to the meadows, the plants have grown tall, and the spiders fat. The flowers have bloomed profusely—and still are, still will be until the frosts take them. Although many have completed the arc of their season and now stand brown, even these plants are interesting. They are bursting with seeds and their browns are warm and golden.

Male pondhawk resting at Nahant MarshThose of the insect predators that have avoided being eaten themselves, are plump after a season of good hunting. Early autumn is a great time to look for dragonflies, mantises and spiders. Small and savage, these ruthless little hunters are surprisingly varied and colorful, and easier to spot now that they’ve grown about as large as they can feasting on the marsh’s bounty.

Bullfrog at Nahant MarshThe marsh is full of creatures living a fine edge between predator and prey—they are both. As the frogs grow larger, they can gobble up larger and larger meals of most anything they are big enough to swallow, but they must be cautious for they make good eating for other, larger predators. There are plenty of larger animals and birds hunting for a tasty big frog.

A tiny frog riding on the duckweed at Nahant MarshAnd so it goes at the marsh, the smaller predators falling prey to the larger ones, and a fine and fat summer becomes a fine and fat autumn. The very waters of the marsh are alive, full of tiny living things, providing for the web of life. Life feeding life, and so the marsh has created and supported a great many creatures this year.

There are still plenty of golden days ahead as Nahant Marsh heads toward the winter solstice. The time between the end of summer and the first frost seems to intensify the beauty that can be found out there. Be sure to enjoy it while you can.

Sunrise at Nahant Marsh

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