Blackwater Valley Countryside

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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.”

Brimstone  - Alan Barnes Butterfly Conservation 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.

Lesser CelandineThe 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.

 
  Seeing yellow >>>

  I spy! >>>
  

Grass snake

  Grass Snake


Did you know...
      

Snakes and lizards are elusive at the best of times and very few people get to see more than a glimpse of them - usually a rapidly disappearing tail! But this is the time of year when you could be lucky.

 

On warm days snakes and lizards will emerge from hibernation and spend time basking in the sun to warm
up their bodies for energy
to hunt and mate.

Because they are still a bit   sluggish and reluctant to move from a good sunbathing spot, you should have more time to watch them, so look carefully as you walk along the Blackwater Valley Path. In particular look in damp areas around ponds for Grass Snakes.

 

There’s an old Isle of Wight saying which says:

 

“On March the fourth the adders come forth.”

 

  Will that be true this year?

  

 Adder

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