A Winter Barely There

Morning Fog, Ice and Geese at Nahant MarshWinter 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.

Trumpeter Swans Walking Across The Ice at Nahant MarshThe 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.

Eagle Over Nahant MarshAll 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.

Mink hunting at Nahant MarshAll 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.

Mallard Pair Takes Flight at Nahant MarshThe 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.

Buffleheads at Nahant Marsh

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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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