March in the Valley
With the arrival of March we will see the end of winter and the start of spring, which is probably the best season to be out and about in the Valley. But expect the weather this month to be mixed - one day warm, sunny and spring-like, the next back cold and dull - and this changing weather is reflected in the behaviour of the wildlife. Let’s see if this saying applies:
“If March comes in like a lamb
it will go out like a lion.”
During the month, as the days get warmer and sunnier, insects will be more active. Butterflies that have hibernated as adults, such as Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Brimstones (pictured) are very often
the first to be seen.
The clear yellow wings of the Brimstone are a particularly cheerful announcement that Spring
is on its way.
Wintering wildfowl are still here but their numbers slowly dwindle through March and April as the weather improves. On a good day our resident bird species can be observed in courtship and territorial display. A Sparrowhawk for instance will ascend over its territory in a circular corkscrew flight that is visible from a distance, very different to its normally secretive behaviour. Whilst the Great Crested Grebe has a fascinating courtship routine, which culminates in the ‘weed’ dance, where both birds collect waterweed in their beaks, tread water and rise breast to breast with their offerings. Do let us know
if you see any courting Grebes on the Valley lakes
Look for native Blackbirds and Starlings as they enter their breeding season, their numbers increased over the winter due to the many winter visitors that will now return to their Continental breeding grounds. You can tell the difference between residents and visitors by looking at their beaks. Native male Blackbirds have bills that area a bright golden-yellow, whilst visiting birds have beaks that are mostly brown or at least brown stained. Visiting Starlings have dull beaks, whilst those of the residents are brighter yellow with a coloured flush at the base of the lower mandible - pinky-yellow for females, blue for males.
The first signs of life always bring hope that it will be a good year for wildlife. Willow and Alder catkins have been out since January, but there should be many more signs of life in the hedgerows: look out for the fresh green Hawthorn leaves and the frothy white flowers of the Blackthorn. You may also see the first woodland flowers. One of the most welcome sights is Lesser Celandine (pictured), with its shiny heart-shaped leaves and bright yellow flowers, found in hedgerows, open woodland and bare ground. But the flowers only open in sunshine.
Now is the time to start looking for frog spawn. It is easily found in the weedy margins of many of the shallow pools. Toad and newt spawn, attached to water reeds below the water, are much harder to see.