|Watching Wildlife||Hillhouse Wood|
Now the nature year is really springing into life with the return of some of our summer resident and breeding birds and the nesting and territorial activities of native species such as song thrushes, blackbirds, dunnocks, robins, wrens and titmice.
One of the March pleasures is logging the first chiffchaffs back in the local woods and spinneys. These slim little warblers are usually here from their winter quarters in sunnier climes from mid-March onwards, the males making their familiar double notes from which they get their name as they search for insects and larvae among the catkins of sallow bushes or in the expanding tender young leaves. By the end of the month and in April chiffchaffs will be joined by returning willow warblers, so similar in appearance but the males singing their sweet falling cadences from the, as yet, bare branches of trees and shrubs.
It's the time, too, for birdwatchers to log their first returning wheatears in coastal areas and the edges of reservoirs as they head north from their southerly winter quarters to nest site on heaths and moors to the north. Good places to look for them are Walton Naze, Colne Point, Mersea Island and Tollesbury. In March the first sand martins can be seen at Abberton Reservoir and lakes and estuaries where there are insects on which to feed after their long flights from African winter areas. They then return to their nest holes in sand cliffs and quarry faces.
One of the most spectacular bird colonies in NE Essex is that of cormorants at Abberton Reservoir where there are hundreds of pairs in the waterside willows. This is one of the largest inland colonies in Britain.
One of the most spectacular of the early spring wild flowers is the marsh marigold or kingcup. These days colonies are harder to find as many of their former sites have been drained or polluted, but when you do come across their big, golden blooms in marshy spots and damp woodland corners they really strike a cheering note.
Everyone knows the old saying “Mad as a March Hare” and there
Of course March is when frogs and toads are back in their breeding ponds
and lakes and those marvellous folk who go out after dark to gather toads
trekking along roads to reach ponds and lakes to save them from certain
death under car wheels deserve a big pat on the back. Unfortunately frogs
are increasingly threatened by various diseases and this is giving cause
for alarm as these threats are worldwide and in some
When there are warm days of sunshine, we will also see brimstone butterflies out of their hibernation hideaways in evergreen bushes and it’s wonderful to see the bright yellow males seeking the nectar from early spring flowers. Also possible on post hibernation flights are peacock, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies which often jostle with bees to get the nectar from the expanding golden catkins of sallow (pussy willow).
Our growing band of moth lamp operators will be "lighting up" in March and there are several species on the wing including the Quakers, oak beauty (pictured below), early thorn and brindled beauty.
If you'd like to learn more about moths then why not come to Essex
Moth Group's annual meeting at the Venture Centre 2000,
Lawford, on Saturday, March 21st (10.30am-5pm) when there is
a full day's programme of illustrated talks, exhibits, discussions with
lunch and refreshments for a modest entry charge. Non-members welcome.
I'd be pleased to hear from attenders, as chairman of the day. Ring me
on 01206 241389.
One of the butterflies out of hibernation in March is the peacock, seeking nectar from sallow bloom and early garden flowers.
Look out for male brimstone butterflies out of hibernation on warm sunny March days. I saw one at Langham on Febriary 17 which is an early date. The pale greenish white female brimstone can be mistaken at first glance for a white butterfly.
Marsh marigolds (kingcups) are in bloom in wet spots in March and April but colonies are scarcer because of drainage and pollution.
Abberton Reservoir has one of the largest inland nesting colonies of cormorants in Britain. They build their bulky stick nests in waterside willows.
Back in local woods from winter quarters in Africa is the chiffchaff. Listen out for its double note from mid March.
Wheatears can be seen in coastal areas in March as they head north for breeding heaths and moors from their wintering places in Africa and the Mediterranean.
Among the earliest returning breeding birds are sand martins. Look for them at Abberton Reservoir and lakes where they are hunting for insects after their long flights from Africa.
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