Bright yellow daffodil

Nature's Calendar: March

We have made it to Spring! Expect a month of hope as spring flowers start to bloom, and birds burst into brilliant song.

Look out for a white rump

The wheatear arrives in March back from its African winter home. The male in particular is a striking bird, with a pale orange chest and black and white eye stripes, a bit like a feathery bandit. It is therefore a little unfortunate that they are named after another feature, with ‘wheat’ meaning ‘white’ and ‘ear’ meaning ‘arse’ in Old English.

Although they breed in our uplands, and occasionally exposed rocky coasts, in early March you can spot them almost anywhere as they travel through, with their white behind becoming more prominent in flight. Best places to spot them include open areas such as fields and perching on a vantage point looking out for insects.

Chiffchaff perched on branch, looking towards the camera

Return of the Chiffchaff

More and more hardy chiffchaffs are staying with us throughout the winter, but in March larger numbers begin to arrive as one of our first summer migrants. They compete with the great tit for the best two-syllable song, but theirs is softer and more rounded in style. They can be heard singing high up in the canopies of trees in woodland, parks and gardens, but their nests are usually on or close to the ground, hidden away in shrubs or brambles. 

Sand martin perched at nest hole, looking at camera

Spot the sand martin

Soaring back over the Sahara, the sand martin also begins to return to the UK this month.  This bird can really dig it, burrowing into sandy riverbanks, coastal cliffs and manmade gravel pits to build tunnels for them to nest in.   They live in noisy ‘sand cities’ of up to 100 birds, with both parents taking responsibility for catching insects on the wing to feed their chicks. They are browner than house martins, with a brown breast band as if they have strapped their wings on like a mini hang glider. 

Top reserves to visit this month...

Keep your eyes peeled for early sand martins at our coastal reserves this month!

Greatt tit perched on a branch among leaves

Give it up for the great tit

As the mornings get slowly lighter, the great tit is one of our first resident birds to decide it’s time to chirp. The UK’s largest tit has a very simple song of two syllables, sounding a little like a squeaky bike pump. Its cheerful call is common in parks and gardens where they quickly dart from tree to tree and bush to bush, looking for food. They have adapted well from their original woodland home – so much so that research shows since the 1970s their beaks have become longer, possibly to help them take food from feeders.

Song thrush pulling a worm from the grass

Hush for the Song Thrush

Like the great tit, the song thrush also begins to sing in March. But unlike the great tit, its song writing skills are a little more developed. Males master up to 100 different phrases, ‘borrowing’ some from their neighbours, to create a chain of melody sung brightly and proudly from a high branch. They are great mimics, with some males including man made sounds within their repertoire. Take a moment to listen out for them in your garden, local park or nearby woodland.

Small tortoiseshell perched on dandelion

Beam for the Butterflies

It may seem a little early for butterflies, but on sunny March days their appearance is a welcome sign that warmer days are on their way. Red admirals, small tortoiseshells and peacocks all hibernate in the UK as adults, so are among the first appear in gardens and parks looking for early flowering plants to feed. Good flowers for them include crocuses, narcissus (not deep trumpeted daffodils) and the humble dandelion – let the weeds grow for an early butterfly show!

Ladybird on purple flower

Plan your planting

The brief glimpse of early spring sunshine is often all it takes to ignite the desire to plant. But if you’re planning a vegetable garden this year, why not have a go at companion planting – nature’s way of helping you get a healthy crop of fantastic fodder. Many plants are attractive to beneficial insects, such as lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies. By planting these among food crops, the predators control unwanted guests and eliminate the need for pesticides. Other plants are beneficial to each other when they are planted close together – such as carrots and leeks and clover and apple trees.

Hedgehog peeling around a stone | The RSPB

Hungry hedgehogs

Watch out for hungry hedgehogs beginning to emerge from their winter slumber. Some of them have been asleep since mid-December so will have lost up to a third of their bodyweight! With the numbers of hedgehogs in decline, you can help put a spring in their step by offering them a drink of water or snack or two – cat or dog food is best. If you don’t want your neighbour’s cat to eat it, you can make a hedgehog café.