Silence reigns over the marsh

Last spring and summer our marsh was a center of avian activity. Male red-winged blackbirds had divided the area into territories and called their rasping ok-a-lees from dawn to dusk while perched on the cattails or the willows along one side of the marsh. The tree swallows that nested in cavities in the willows, the barn swallows that nested in our barn, both swirling over the marsh and the pasture added their twittering to the calls of the redwings. I heard a song sparrow frequently and occasionally the call of a sora.

Small flocks of Canada geese visited our marsh last spring and one pair appeared to try to establish a territory, to nest, but were molested by the swans, gave up and left after a few days. Other Canada geese landed on the marsh last spring now and then but none stayed long. A great blue heron, or maybe two or more but only one at a time, sometimes landed in the shallow water along the shore and added its guttural quork to the other bird calls once in a while.

Birds weren’t the only singers in the medley of sound in our marsh. Spring peepers and chorus frogs added their calls in the spring, almost as soon as the ice was gone from the surface of the water. And they called both day and night. Toads chimed in with their trills. Still later, when the weather and the water became suitably warm for them, bullfrogs their deep chug-a-rums.

Mosquitoes hummed both day and night. Flies and other insects buzzed. The mosquitoes became so abundant when the weather was quite warm that they drove me to wear a long-sleeved shirt even on the warmest days and to spray my face, neck, ears and hands with insect repellent. I have even resorted to a head net sometimes when I visited our marsh though not last summer.

Now the birds are gone and won’t return until spring. The frogs and toads are buried in the mud beneath the water or hidden in logs or debris in woodlands. And the insects are over-wintering, however the various insects do.

There is still life in the marsh and not just the frogs and toads and insects buried in the mud but that life is silent. As I stood by the marsh recently I saw the nose, the top of the head and eyes of a muskrat, steering a V across the water. Muskrats will be active, or at least semi-active through the winter though they’ll spend most of their time in dens and out of sight. But, even when ice and snow covers the water a muskrat will come out on the surface once in a while.

There will be birds in the cattails and in the brush around the shore too. Flocks of goldfinches and dark-eyed juncos and tree sparrows will be there occasionally. And whenever the wind blows there will be sound, a whisper from the branches of the willows and the rustling of dry, brown cattails.

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