Glories of marsh are always in season

On the Outdoors

November 09, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

By 9 a.m., the creek a quarter-mile west was filling, spreading over its low, eastern bank and channels, and the water level was rising in the softer pockets of the marsh.

The rain had been persistent, heavy at times, though little more than a thick mist at others, and the weather had invaded the old, once-weatherproof parka, seeping in along the collar and wicking up the cuffs.

The shotgun had been unloaded, locked, sacked and slung an hour or so after first light, during an especially heavy downpour, and since then Trapper had led an exuberant exploration of the marsh in Dorchester County.

The Labrador was muddy from flanks to snout, strands of soft rush were caught in its collar and there was delight to be taken in its mannerisms.

The prospects of ducks -- mallard, teals or pintail -- had brought us to the marsh, but it was the variety of life that kept us there, working through wader-sucking mud and slipping across hummocks of what, in the best of times, passed for hard ground.

Along the creek-side edges, where sloughs or small channels broke the edge of the marsh, fish dimpled the surface of the water as, one supposed, largemouth bass or chain pickerel rose from ambush to feed on bait fish or young of the year.

From atop the taller, firmer hummocks, looking across the marsh top, red-winged blackbirds swept among the stands of millet, rice, sedges and rushes.

Atop a single piling sat an osprey nest, abandoned for the season weeks before, and on the front of a stand of loblolly at the upland edge of the mire, obscure in the distance, was perhaps the aerie of a bald eagle.

Rummaging along after the scent of a muskrat, nose to the mud and tail erect, Trapper found the end of the runway and slid stiff-legged down the run into the chest-deep water of a spatterdock field.

A great blue heron, until that moment fishing contentedly in the rain a few yards away, rose with hoarse commotion, its long wings struggling as it folded back its neck and settled into flight.

Almost in unison, a pair of teal jumped from a pocket in the marsh and winged away, low and fast until they banked westward on the wind.

In the warmer months, frogs, turtles and water snakes would have been evident, but as fall works its way through November the more noticeable activity in the fresh to brackish marsh is that of raccoons, voles, aquatic mammals, ducks, rails, coots, yellow legs and perching birds, such as the red-winged blackbird.

By winter, once the bulk of marsh plant life dies off, even the birds will become scarce -- save for resident mallards, late migrating ducks and geese or swans that rest on open water at the edge of the marsh. For the most part, the marsh will die away until spring, when the cycle begins anew, peaking in late summer, when seeds and cover are at their optimum.

By midmorning, the marsh was filling fast and the old parka had given up the ghost, allowing water to wick to the elbows and to run freely along the spine and trickle down past the back band of the waders.

Trapper, again off on the scent of vole, raccoon or muskrat, was whistled into range, and we headed up through the rushes, sedges and cattails, working our way out of the marsh.

In a zone of small, tidal ponds, between where the marsh ends and the upland begins, a dozen or so mallards congregated -- two, four, six to an area -- at rest and tucked close to cover.

On another visit to the marsh, perhaps we would catch them getting up and flying through a cold, drier dawn.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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