The birds are now rising to the challenge of the start of the dawn chorus. Great tits call noisily, their see-saw call echoing through the woods. Blue tits grumble everywhere, and long-tailed-tits call tsi-tsi-tsi to each other. The robins and blackbirds are singing loudly now, and the song thrushes call from the top of a tree. Goldfinches, greenfinches and chaffinches are still singing in large noisy groups, soon to disperse into breeding pairs.
Rooks are repairing their nests after the winter winds, in readiness for a clutch of eggs usually laid towards the end of the month. Unlike other crows, rooks are gregarious and nest in a colony usually in the crown of a large tree. However, within the rookery each pair defends an area around their nest and their noisy squabbling is characteristic. They are prone to stealing sticks from a neighbours nest when its back is turned. Rooks comb the fields for worms, insects and seeds. An individual is fascinating to watch, with the bare white beak, and thick thigh feathers, giving it a comical ‘baggy breeches’ look.
On the Somerset Levels
Now (as ever) is a good time to visit Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves. At Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve you will hear bitterns booming, the shrill call of the little grebes, the squeal of alarm from the water rail, and the noisy chatter of Cetti’s warbler. However, you will be lucky see any of these four, as they usually remain hidden in the reeds. You will however see numerous others, including marsh harrier and great white egret, if you are lucky. The great crested grebes have built their nests, and are starting to brood.
Primroses are now in flower (at Thurlbear Wood and Beer Wood Nature Reserves) soon to be followed by wood anemone. Blackthorn will soon fill the hedgerows with a shower of white. Catkins are fully developed on hazel, alder, and willow. Common daisy will carpet lawns and grassy banks. Deadnettle makes an early appearance in the hedgerows. Lesser Celandine will reveal yellow petals on sunny days, contrasting with the pretty sweet violet.
March is proverbially the time for the male brown hares to woo the females and whilst the grasses are still short, it is easier to watch their antics, as they chase each other around the fields, and come face to face for a bit of sparring. They are beautiful and strange creatures and fascinating to watch. The doe will have her young, or leverets, in a small hollow in an open field.
Early Returning migrants
Look out for wheatear and chiff-chaff returning in March. The male wheatear is a striking bird with an upright stance and shows a flash of white rump on take-off. The chiff-chaff is more heard than seen, but easy to identify from the call from which it gets its name. With patience you will see this pretty olive and cream bird feeding high in a birch tree
Goldfinch © Ben Simmonds
Boxing hares © Eve Tigwell