Winter arrived late at Nahant Marsh, as autumn lingered much longer than usual. Ice and snow did eventually come. The last of the leaves fell, the last flowers succumbed to the inevitable frosts. But in spite of a few brief stretches of bitter cold, and a few snows that did not last, this winter was not that hard nor cold. A barely there winter that had more rain and fog than snow.
The few bitter cold days did make some ice for the milder days to eat away, but the warmer days outnumbered the cold ones, and each snow event seemed to bring less accumulation than the one before. The last one was a light dusting that did not last the day.
All the winter birds arrived for the winter that was barely there. Although bald eagles can now be seen year round—once not so long ago, they were seen here only in winter—more come to stay the winter. The northern eagles follow iced-up rivers to reach open water and can be seen in great numbers during tough winters. The open river allowed them to spread out this year, but several have been frequenting Nahant.
All the marsh’s winter residents are there, as every year. Without snow to write their footprints in however, the marsh may seem quite empty. It is always surprising to me just how busy the winter marsh is, as proven by the many tracks marking every snowfall. They do a good job of not being seen, snow or not. This year there has been little snow to read about their comings and goings, yet the marsh creatures are there nonetheless.
The mallards have spent even the coldest, harshest winters at Nahant Marsh, so seeing them by the hundreds was not unexpected. Record breaking warm temperatures in February has seemed to jump start the migration though, and in a single day I spotted common and hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, scaup, ringnecks, goldeneyes, gadwalls, wigeons and green winged teals in addition to the mallards, geese and gulls.
The sandhill cranes have returned as well. Winter may not yet be done, and more ice and snow may be waiting to nip any buds lured into showing early green. But the light is returning and spring is just around the corner—even if more winter comes, it still will have been barely a winter at all.