Spring is definitely in the air, and there's nothing better than seeing the first lambs gambolling in the dales and the return of three of our iconic wading birds, curlew, golden plover and lapwings to the high moors.
It's the traditional time to see mad March hares 'sparring'. It's actually courting behaviour, as the females fend off the amorous advances of the male. Brown hares can be seen courting any month of the year, but spring is the best time, when hormones are high and green fields and farmland have yet to grow lush and obscure their antics. They can chase at 40mph! You'll have a good chance of seeing them in any of our open areas such as fields, grassland, meadows, moorland and woodland edges across the North York Moors and Howardian Hills.
The aerobatic courting displays of the lapwing are a real treat. Its wide boxy wings give a ‘lapping’ sound as it flies steadily skyward, making its call of ‘p’weet, p’weet’. Eventually it turns to plunge downward and then twists and rolls, seemingly out of control. Head north out of Osmotherley on the Cleveland Way and up onto Scarth Wood Moor for good sightings. It’s a great place to see curlew and golden plover too.
Also look out for:
- Common frogs and toads starting to spawn in ponds and reservoirs. Toads emerge from winter hibernation on the moors and follow the same migration route back to their ancestral ponds each year. In Osmotherley thousands of toads regularly try to make their way to Cod Beck Reservoir, crossing a busy road in the process. Toad crossing signs are set up and dedicated volunteers patrol the road to help the toads cross safely. The toad patrol is part of a national campaign called 'Toads on Roads', coordinated by the national wildlife charity Froglife, and they're always after more willing people to help with the patrol.
- Adders emerging from hibernation as the days warm up, basking in the sun. You may see some frenzied tussles in the undergrowth, with males looking for females and wrestling with other males for supremacy. Adders are protected by law against being killed or injured through human activity. The snakes have a venomous bite, so care must be taken. Respect the snake, admire it from a distance and it won’t feel provoked to defend itself. Good places to see them are in conifer woodlands, including Dalby and Langdale Forests, near Pickering; Harwood Dale; and Wykeham and Broxa forests, near Scarborough. Alternatively join Yorkshire Coast Nature on one of its Forest and Moorland Wildlife safaris.
- Spring migratory birds at Scaling Dam where a bird hide assists viewing of passage migrant and scarce wildfowl, including shoveler, gadwall, goosander and osprey.
Walk of the month
This month why not try a spot of beachcombing at Runswick Bay, the country's top beachcombing beach? Big tides and winter storms at sea can bring lots of beautiful shells to the surface, which are left lying on the shore, along with countless other curious flotsam and jetsam. Driftwood, giant seaweed, odd sponges, ammonite fossils, shiny pieces of jet, and even shark egg cases might turn up.
Plan any visit around the tide. You can buy a copy of the tide timetable at the Gateway Centre in Staithes and various shops up and down the coast. Alternatively, find it in the Bayfair newspaper or check the tide times online. Set out at least an hour before low tide to give yourself enough time to walk out and explore before heading back.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
Whatever the weather is like, March brings with it lengthening days. Snakes alive, it's early spring! A new awakening for nature and for us! Yorkshire Coast Nature's Richard Baines explores what to look out for during the coming month.
North Yorkshire is blessed with so much wildlife and one of the most popular mammals at large is the mad March brown hare. They are now such an integral part of our countryside that many people don’t realise they are not considered a truly native animal. They were once thought to have been introduced to our country by the Romans 2,000 years ago. However, they are likely to have been here even longer, as far back as the Iron Age.
They are famous for their speed but how fast can they actually run? Up to 80km/hr according to a study in the US.
Young hares, or leverets, are born with their eyes open, an unusual adaptation in mammals. Hares need large eyes so they can feed night and day and be constantly on the lookout for predators. The females can have as many as nine young at a time, and as they grow a little older they venture further away from the natal birthplace but still return to suckle milk each evening.
Look out for brown hares in large fields of grass or crops with good field margins where there is plenty of longer grass for breeding.
The first bird migrants to return from the south are often blackcaps, sand martins, wheatears and chiffchaffs. By the time March arrives, the first of these may have often been seen in the south of England but it takes a little longer for them to get into Yorkshire! Many warblers spend the winter in Africa but increasing numbers of blackcaps and chiffchaffs are wintering in Europe and the UK. Early spring is a big rush for these birds as the males try to reach their breeding grounds as soon as possible so they can grab the best habitat. After arriving they quickly start to sing to attract the first females arriving back.
Look out for blackcaps in any woodland or large garden. They love bramble patches or low bushes such as elder where they build their nest above the ground.
Chiffchaffs can also be found in large gardens but they really prefer woodlands, especially with mature trees. In contrast to blackcaps, chiffchaffs nest on the ground. They give themselves away with their onomatopoeic song “chiffchaff”.
One of the strangest plants to appear in early spring is the toothwort. This parasitic plant is dependent for nutrition on the roots of trees and shrubs from which it grows. The Latin name for toothwort comes from the Greek word lathraios, meaning secret, referring to the fact that this plant spends much of its life cycle hidden underground. The best places to look for it are under trees such as hazel, beech, ash or elm, and often in older woods.
So as we go to print, the mild February weather has brought one of the first adders out in our area. Dan Lombard (Wold Ecology ecologist) found one in the North York Moors' forests on the 21st, a week earlier than we found one last year.
Cold weather may send them briefly back underground however, as they need to retain and build up body heat at this time of year. Females breed only once every 2-3 years but they can live up to 30 years old! They are very sensitive to disturbance at this time of year so be very careful not to disturb them.
The milky eyes of the snake in these photos are created by the skin prior to sloughing i.e. when the old skin is shed.
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