Spring At Last

The long, harsh winter has at last been nudged aside by persistent days of spring. As  ice and snow were pushed back, birds of the spring migration pushed in, barely waiting for the ice to melt. Wood ducks have returned to raise families at Nahant Marsh. They’re courting and checking out holes in the still standing dead trees by the beavers’ residence.

The beavers must be pleased that spring has arrived and unlocked the ice from their deeply frozen pond. Perhaps it is more snug, secure and comfortable than I could possibly imagine, but it does seem a hard way to pass the winter, confined in a underground hole in the cold dark. The den under its deep frozen layer of mud and sticks in turn buried by hard ice and deep snow.

The marsh is full of its usual spring visitor and resident birds. The water filled with birds the moment it transformed from ice. I find that the diving ducks and grebes are especially fun to watch. They fling themselves into the surface of the water, disappear, then pop up like a bath tub toy in a slightly different location.

I often watch the pied-billed grebes at Nahant Marsh, but this spring I saw a horned grebe there too. Every year, every spring is different. Although the familiar and reliable does occur nearly every time, you never quite know what surprise may glide out in front of you. Both grebes are quite small and very good underwater swimmers—you have to watch carefully to see one.

They do, of course, have to pop back to the surface eventually. The marsh is host to many interesting birds in the spring. They are easy to spot out on the water or in the leafless woods. For the moment. The buds have broken and the green is rising fast. After being pent up for so long a time, the green of spring is expanding all in a rush.

The time to take a look and look carefully is now. Soon the green will have closed in, and the birds of the marsh will be harder to spot. Others will have followed the edge of snow and ice to pass the season in a more northern place. Now is a good time to be at Nahant Marsh, and don’t forget your binoculars.

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Preparing For Winter’s End

The hard winter is nearly at an end. The equinox will arrive tomorrow, and the ever stronger light and warmer sun has been melting the deep snow and ice at Nahant Marsh. Winter is still very much present, but the open pools are quite large, and much of the snow has gone.

Mallards still come to the expanding pools of open water. The edge of ice with its frosting of snow is marked with their footprints. Each day I visit the edge has changed, sometimes stretching farther over the surface of the water, sometimes not so far, but always printed by the webbed feet of the tough winter ducks. At first it surprised me to find that these birds stayed, but as the winters have gone by, every one with a large group of mallards making themselves at home in the deep winter at the marsh, I’ve come to expect them there. Almost like old friends, enduring the winter with me.

But winter is nearly done, its silence broken by the red-winged blackbirds announcing its ending. The hang-tough-through-winter birds have been joined by the early arrivals of coming spring. Every year as winter grows old, red-wing blackbirds are always among the first to return, trilling kronk-a-rhee!

Hooded mergansers have also returned to the still-fringed-with-ice waters of the marsh. The nearby river has been host to groups of common mergansers now that the ice has given way—they prefer the deeper water. But the hooded mergansers seem to enjoy the quieter shallower water here. I see them every year, often at winter’s end before spring truly arrives.

I have no doubt they will soon be joined by others following the edge of spring. Tomorrow the light will began its pushing back of the night, slowly, steadily, inexorably. No winter ever lasts. But then, no season ever does.

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