Tuesday, August 30, 2016

signs of fall

The Great Marsh
All the beaches and parking lots opened on Friday. The plover chicks are all fledged.  Bio staff roped off the areas with the late blooming least tern chicks. I figure the least tern air defense command can easily convince any visitors who get too close that it's really not a good idea. The swallows are doing their amazing gathering into huge flocks ballet over the dunes and the road and the parking lots. Shorebird migration is happening. It looks like the fall hawk migration is starting too. It's amazing how fall really kind of starts in August.

Shed Horseshoe Crab Shells -- Lots of Them
I took a side trip over to the Nelson Island part of the refuge in the hopes of spotting some shorebirds. In the past I've encountered loads of least and semipalmated sandpipers as well as greater and lesser yellowlegs feeding in the mudflats around this time. Alas, I spotted exactly one semipalmated sandpiper and one greater yellowlegs. Mostly what I found was lots of cast off horseshoe crab shells, really tiny ones. I know they molt a lot when they're juveniles, so maybe some of the shells of different tiny sizes were shed by the same individual over the course of the summer. Who knows? Anyway, they're cool looking and they lead me to believe that the marsh was a happening place this summer. It's still a happening place as I could see lots of small silvery fishes just under the surface of the water along both sides of the trail.
Two Horseshoe Crab Shells Closeup
Signs of fall were evident in the marsh as well. I spotted patches of glasswort starting to turn red, although most of it is still green. Glasswort is a really cool succulent as it loves salt, doesn't need much water to survive, turns vivid crimson in fall, and is edible. Oddly I've never tasted it. It stores whatever water it needs in its stems and is the first plant to establish itself in bare spots in really salty marshes. The reason it's called glasswort because its ashes were used in glass making. Evidently burnt glasswort contains lots of potash. I've heard it's also used in soap making.

Fall Already? -- Glasswort is Turning Red
Visitors, except for duck hunters, often miss this side of Parker River NWR, which is too bad because it's gorgeous. I know salt marshes are not as appealing as beaches, but I love to visit this spot and the adjacent Rough Meadows Mass Audubon sanctuary. 
Nelson Island

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