Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8: Morning on the Marsh

Starting in early August each summer I try to make regular visits to Weskeag Marsh, a significant salt marsh in South Thomaston, to observe the shorebirds on their migration. Believe it or not, this southward movement is already underway.

Weskeag is an experience for the senses. On this still, sultry morning, the salt pannes were low, with fragrant marsh mud exposed around the near-dry pools. Mosquitoes swarmed each time I paused, but not enough to distract me. Cicadas whined in the trees, and crickets chirped in the grass. The marsh is a dynamic place always, thanks to the cycles of tides and the movement of birds. Although relatively quiet today bird-wise, it never disappoints. In the pannes closest to the parking lot, several killdeer milled in the reeds, occasionally calling with strident voices. Further out, tiny fish called mummichugs churned in the deeper channels cut through the mud. I was thankful for my knee-high rubber boots after stepping off the path at one point and sinking into about six inches of the mucky black silt. Bird tracks were etched onto the drying surface of the pannes, ranging from what looked like turkey tracks to webbed duck tracks to the tracks of little sandpipers almost too light to make an impression.

In the wide pannes, yellowlegs moved through the shallow water, feeding. Their three-note "too too too" call never fails to stir my heart a little, as it evokes this special place so well. These larger sandpipers are absent from the marsh only a few months a year, as they pass through heading north to their Arctic breeding grounds in early spring through late June, and can be seen on their journey back south in late July through November.

Swarming around the feet of the yellowlegs were several dozen least sandpipers--adults on their return trip and young birds on their first migration. You can tell them apart because the adult's feathers are worn, making the bird look faded next to the "freshly minted copper penny" plumage of this summer's youngster. These tiny birds have a journey still ahead of them, which accounts for their near ceaseless feeding as they fatten up for the long haul. In the back of the marsh a few dozen shining white snowy egrets and a handful of  great blue herons stood amid the higher marsh grass. Every now and then one would rise up and fly to a new spot, reminding me that these beauties were tucked away back there.

As I paused with my spotting scope to check out some sandpipers, I heard something crashing in the woods beyond. I looked up from the scope, and to my surprise three deer walked out into the marsh--two sleek does in their warm brown summer coats and one spotted fawn. I tried to be still as they picked their way along the edge of the marsh and looked up repeatedly. Even the fawn had already learned to be on heightened alert. One doe calmly turned and went back into the trees, but the other doe with fawn moved along until I lost sight of them in the tall cattails. Beautiful animals. May they remain wary and survive.

Just for being there
I was blessed with this: three deer,
unafraid, and birds.

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