Tipping Point

First light on the mist rising from Nahant MarshThe fine, warm days of summer at Nahant Marsh seemed to stretch in endless perfection, full of sun, full of fish, full of prairies bursting with flowers and seeds. But all summer the light has been arriving a few minutes later and departing a few minutes earlier. The tipping point to autumn has come, and the dark will now outlast the daylight. A few minutes more of night will be added each day forward.

TPelicans in the morning light at Nahant Marshhe change is slow and subtle. The days are still so fine and warm, who would notice just a few minutes less light? Yet the change is undeniable. The gold of this year’s autumn is already peeking out from under the veil of this year’s green. Already the nights have been cool, even chilly. A reminder of cold nights to come.

Swallows rest after flying acrobatics over Nahant MarshIn these fine, warm days, a great many birds have been coming to the marsh. Not all of them are youngsters raised at Nahant, there are far too many for them to have all been born here. They come for the food and rest. They come singly, in pairs, in flocks to stay awhile then depart. The migration along the Mississippi flyway has begun. What you will see at any given time is hard to say, and can change daily, even hourly.

Two young tree swallowsThis year’s babies have grown into adult size and learned intricacies of flight and food catching. Swallows and swifts fly dizzying acrobatics over the water snatching insects out of the air. A young heron who caught a fish too large to swallow quickly, took his prize into cover, where he could maneuver it into swallowing position with less chance of being noticed by potential thieves.

These are fine, warm days, with bluebird skies and heat still in the forecast. But the tipping point has come, and a few minutes at a time, dark will take the daylight. Soak up the warm and light while you can, and keep an eye out for bird travelers making their rest stop at Nahant Marsh. Late summer morning with pelicans visiting Nahant Marsh

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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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