Chris Chappell gives us the lowdown on what to look out for (and listen for) in March.
After a very mixed winter, spring is now on the way, and March is in many ways the most exciting time of year, as the countryside wakes up, and the buds on the trees begin to swell. Blackbirds and song thrushes are now singing loudly, along with robins, and dunnocks can be heard from the top of the hedgerows.
Hazel trees have large yellow catkins, and the alder tree has both male and female, the female being small cones, and the male small hard purple coloured catkins. Watching birds and animals at this time of year has the major advantage of lack of foliage making them easier to see.
By the end of March, many of the early migrants will have arrived in Southern England. The first to appear are usually chiff-chaff and wheatear, followed by swallows and sand martins. You may see huge numbers of newly arrived sand martins high in the sky over the levels. The house martins tend to arrive a week or so later.
The easy way to distinguish the two martins is that the house martin has a white rump, lacking in the sand martin. The swallow has a long ribbon-like tail and a chestnut chin.
Once migratory birds arrive, their main need is to build up their body weight after travelling thousands of miles, and they will linger in the south, avidly feeding prior to dispersing northwards. However, after a largely mild winter, the migrant arrival times may offer a few surprises.
Recognition of the birds calls and song is a major aid to identification. It is well worth getting to know some of the common birds, and there are websites that can help with this.
The warblers in particular can be difficult to name, especially if you cannot see them well, but the song will help to differentiate most of them for you.
But you will soon get to know the calls of the various tits, or the piping call of a nuthatch, before you get a sighting of them. Birds go through a process of building up throat and chest muscles in preparation for the spring, when the song is used to proclaim their territory, and to attract mates.
SWT Catcott Lows Nature Reserve
Catcott Lows Nature Reserve is a very special reserve to visit, providing different habitat depending on the season. In winter the fields are flooded to attract over-wintering wildfowl, and drained in the summer, providing a summer grazing meadow, which maintains the characteristics of the habitat.
During March you will still see a large variety of waterfowl, wigeon, pintail, teal, tufted, shoveler, heron, great and small white egrets and more. However, most of these ducks are winter visitors, and are likely to leave by the end of the month. The reserve is patrolled by marsh harriers, peregrine, kestrel and buzzard.
A good number of lapwing (or peewit) can be seen, and as they come into breeding condition, they are well worth a close look, as what appears as black and white bird is actually a beautiful glossy green.
There is also a chance early or late in the day, to see barn owls hunting. The iconic skylarks rise into the sky with their continual song. Roe deer browse at the fringe of the reserve. There are two hides providing different views over the flooded meadow.
There are good numbers of brown hares in parts of Somerset, and this is the time to spot them chasing each other and boxing, as they pair off to breed.. It is now thought that the scampering around is in fact the females fighting off over-enthusiastic male hares.
They will have their young in a small hollow in grass or reeds, in the open, relying on camouflage to protect them from predators. Now very much part of our countryside, they were introduced by the Romans.
The hare is the fastest mammal in the UK, running at up to 70kph. They rely on their speed to escape predators.
Blackcap - one of our tuneful
warblers to listen out for
Photograph of Hare © Jeff Acreman,
Little Egret, Wigeon and Blackcap © Wikipedia.