A series of loud honks announced the arrival of Canada geese to the Essex Woods wetlands on the morning of Sept. 12, a sunny day with an unmistakable crispness of autumn in the air. The geese were flying south, and the wetlands were just a pitstop. I watched as they circled the marsh three times, lower each time, then landed in a pool with a splash, disturbing a group of resident mallards.
The geese reminded me that Maine migratory birds would soon be gone, driven south by the cold, and the marsh would freeze over for the winter. The chickadees and beaver would remain, but as for all the fishing birds, they would depart for open water.
A belted kingfisher perched on a dead tree in the marsh, and now and again, it would swoop down to the water after a fish, sometimes giving a loud, rattling call. To me, the bird looks like a bit of a punk, with its bluish-grey head feathers sticking out in a mohawk. The kingfisher, along with other fishing birds of the marsh, will spend the winter in an area where the water doesn’t freeze so it will have access to aquatic food. They’d all leave — the sandpipers wading in the shallows, the two green herons creeping through the tall grasses, and the great egret I watched fly overhead, its dark, long legs trailing behind its stark white body.
A few days later, I was walking by the marsh and I spied a merlin — a small hawklike bird with black eyes, yellow beak and brown and white patterned body — perched on a dead tree stump at the edge of the water, likely hunting. The fierce raptor uses surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds, of which there were plenty in the marsh. With its fate tied to its prey, the merlin will likely also migrate south or to the coast for Maine’s long winter. (Yes, I believe it will be a long one this year, my friends.)