March means one very exciting thing in the world of wildlife – spring has arrived! To celebrate this most marvellous month of the year, here’s my whistle-stop tour of the best March sights and sounds - and the RSPB reserves where you can see them. I hope it will whet your appetite!
Welcoming in the big fiveMarch marks the start of spring migration, the arrival of some top travelers and the completion of some epic journeys. Some migrants just can’t wait to get here, including the traditional, early “big five”: chiffchaff, little ringed plover, wheatear, sand martin and garganey. Another March regular is also one of our most sought-after birds: the fantastic fish-eating osprey. Ospreys pass through the UK and return to their breeding sites this month, particularly towards the month's end, so keep an eye out for them on your visits to any RSPB wetland reserves. You might even be lucky enough to catch sight of one pausing to fish. Catch a glimpse of an osprey diving in to the water, emerging with a fish in its talons would get your spring off to a flying start. The world’s most famous pair of ospreys should be back at Loch Garten by the end of the month. You can keep up to date with their adventures on our osprey blog, or go and see them yourself.
Plain brown wings, a yellow eye ring and a "pee-oo" call are a sure sign you have a little ringed (rather than ringed) plover (Ben Hall rspb-images.com)
Watery wondersBlack-tailed godwits are on their way to their breeding grounds in Iceland. These birds are a different subspecies to the birds that breed on RSPB Nene and Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. As the month progresses, more and more gain their beautiful tomato soup-coloured breeding plumage, which is a little more extensive and brighter than the godwits that breed in the UK. Icelandic birds mass in their thousands at favoured sites such as the Ouse Washes where they pack onto the shallow floodwaters alongside the last of the trumpeting wintering whooper swans and water pipits coming into their pink and blue breeding plumage. Keep an eye out for newly-arrived garganey – our only truly summer-visiting duck.
Belfast's Window on Wildlife (WoW) provides stunning point blank views of Icelandic black-tailed godwits right outside the very comfortable viewing facilities - a unique viewing experience.
Flocks of Iceland-bound black-tailed godwits assemble at sites such as RSPB Ouse Washes and Belfast WoW in March (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
Migrants are also returning to their coastal colonies as the seabird season swings into action. Visit Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire to enjoy its spectacular gannet colony alongside the noisy kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots crowding onto the cliffs. South Stack, Anglesey has the added bonus of choughs and at Rathlin Island, Co.Antrim, you can also enjoy “golden” Irish hares. The Seabird Centre on Rathlin reopens on 24 March 2018.
Gannets return to their clifftop colonies, including Bempton Cliffs (Michael Harvey - rspb-images.com)
Soaking up the raysThe rising temperatures and hazy March sunshine also brings some of our most elusive creatures out. After a winter spent hibernating out of sight, beautiful adders come out to soak up the rays under heather and open areas on south-facing banks and slopes where they can catch the full force of the sun. This is the best time of year to search for adders. Remember to watch from a sensible distance – use binoculars – and do not stray from paths in case you accidentally surprise one. Minsmere in Suffolk has a special adder trail and it, and the adjacent heathland, is excellent for them, as is Arne in Dorset - the RSPB's reptile capital with every native species present! While you're at a heathland site on a sunny day, listen out for my favourite songster, the woodlark. It has a beautiful lilting song, delivered in the air.
The weak March sunshine is perfect for basking adders. You might even find a ball of them basking together! (cMark Ward)
Time to danceDon't forget to look up as well. There are skydancing marsh harriers galore at Minsmere in March – a sight you can also enjoy at several other RSPB wetland sites including Leighton Moss in Lancashire, as well as the wonderful sound of booming bitterns (and a good chance of seeing an otter fishing in the water). A visit to Somerset's Ham Wall will provide you with a very high chances of hearing, and seeing several of these shy reedbed skulkers with the added bonus of all three UK egrets – great, cattle and little!
Great crested grebes are now sporting chestnut head plumes and March is the best month to watch their weed dance mating display. Pairs rise up together on the surface of the water with weird guttural calls, with weed in their beaks, before pattering across the surface like ballerinas. Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire is a great place to watch this captivating performance.
RSPB reedbed reserves are hotspots for marsh harriers. In March, you can see pairs skydancing and food passing (Ben Hall rpsb-images.com)
Spring is a time for new colour of course with wildflowers of all sorts coming into bloom everywhere many birds are at their finest and shelducks are looking super smart. Visit Conwy to enjoy its big springtime gathering of these unusual ducks and the chance of Clarke’s mining bees, spring wildflowers and migrant white wagtails.
Shelducks are our most colourful duck and they look particularly gorgeous in March (Ben Hall rspb-images.com)
Of course there is much, much more going on in March and each and every RSPB reserve, that you can visit free as an RSPB member, has its own special sights, sounds and smells. Many of my favourites are included above, but what are yours? Let us know by leaving a comment below, or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Take a break and get closer to the actionPlanning a visit to an RSPB reserve this spring to enjoy all the best wildlife action? Why not extend your stay with www.uknaturebreaks.co.uk? 10% of every accommodation booking will be donated to the RSPB by Hoseasons and cottages.com so you can enjoy a great break, be close to all the action and help the RSPB's conservation work.
Yesterday, Anna posted about those nature spectacles that sit on our bucket lists waiting for the big tick. Thanks to inspiration from her blog post and Simon Barnes’ column in the latest Nature’s Home, I started thinking about how often I sit here at HQ and say “that would be amazing to see”.
There is one bird that seems to be mentioned repetitively through those words. The puffin. A pint-sized beauty.
Hanging out on The Farne Islands (photo courtesy of Nature's Home reader Kevin Brown)
I love a good puffin photo. They bring me such a sense of joy. That’s why this week I’ve chosen Kevin Brown’s photo from The Farne Islands. There are so many friendly puffin faces sat upon those rocks and I want to say hello to all of them!
I’m hoping that I can get up to RSPB Bempton Cliffs this year and tick puffins off my ever expanding list of wildlife wonders and maybe get some shots myself.
What’s on your nature bucket list this year?
In the current issue of Nature’s Home (page 49), our regular columnist Simon Barnes urges us to make some ‘nature resolutions’ for 2018, to get out there and see the wildlife, or natural spectacles, that we’ve always wanted to see.
Simon gives us advice on seeing three of the UK’s most-wanted birds (gannet, avocet and puffin), pointing out that it’s easy enough if you’re prepared to travel. But is there something else on your wish list?
Life is full of new surprises; new sights and experiences; even when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s plenty left to go out and grab.
So now’s a good time to look at your nature wish-list, and make 2018 the year to make one or two more wishes come true.
I’m lucky enough to have stumbled upon some amazing birds on my travels: scarlet ibis flying above me in the mangroves of Trinidad, massive royal albatross wheeling in from the ocean to feed their fluffy, boulder-shaped chicks on New Zealand’s cliffs; a satin bowerbird earnestly and proudly showing off the blue plastic treasures he’d decorated his bower with, deep in the Australian bush. They’re all seared into my memory.
But perhaps I should also be setting my sights on some of the more local spectacles, which are no less inspiring. I’ve still never seen a chough, or a wild boar, for example. Or the northern lights.
Here on Nature’s Home, we spend a good deal of time looking at computer screens, so we all have a wildlife dream - something we’re keen to make the effort to go and see. Here are some:
ANNA S, STARLING MURMURATION
“Somehow, I’ve still never seen a starling murmuration. I’ve got a mini one in my garden; some 10 or 15 starlings regularly form a feeding frenzy on the mealworms, and shout loudly from their roost in a huge horse-chestnut tree near my house. But I’ve never seen those swirling millions in the dusk sky, above the marshes. Emma P saw one a couple of weeks ago and said the noise was incredible. My nearest murmuration is over an hours’ drive away, but I hope to bundle the kids into the car and make the trip before the year’s out.”
EMMA P, NIGHTJAR
“Having covered heathlands and the mysterious nightjar in Nature’s Home last year, I’m determined now to see a nightjar in the flesh. There’s a nightjar hotspot near my family home in the New Forest, so I’m embarrassed that I haven’t seen one yet! I’m hoping regular trips home over the summer will give me the chance. Their strange little faces, curious habits and distinctive churring call fascinate me, and hunting for them is the perfect excuse to spend a few summer evenings out on the heath.”
ALUN H, LOCAL HARE
“When we first moved into our home, my wife and I took the dogs for a walk and spotted our first hare. We spotted its two ears protruding from a farm meadow of long grass and stopped to watch. We all - including the two dogs - remained motionless, watching for several minutes. Then, without warning, he leapt up and shot away across the field, giving us a clear view. We assumed we’d keep seeing hares in the area, but that was our lot - that was nearly 20 years ago and we’ve never seen another one in our area. Top of my wish-list for 2018 is to spot another hare on my local patch.”
So the year is underway - what’s on your 2018 wildlife wish list? Log in to comment below, or email us at Nature’s Home and share your dreams - and success stories!