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
Here's what else experts Yorkshire Coast Nature say you should be looking for this month.
March is a great month for wildlife watching there is so much happening! No matter what the weather conditions many resident birds will be well on the way with their nesting season. Mistle thrushes nest in late January or February, by the end of March; the juveniles may even have fledged. The nest is often built in the divide or V shape between two trunks or strong branches. It can be fairly high up in a tree. Once the whole brood have flown the nest they often gather and remain in a family group for a while so the adults can teach the youngsters how to find food.
A colloquial name the ‘Stormcock’ relates to their resilience in times of bad weather which may occur during their early nesting season. They are a fabulous bird to look out for because they are so bold and can be common in town parks and gardens.
The most likely newt to find in your garden is the common or smooth newt. Smooth newt juveniles (known as efts) leave their hibernation sites in early spring but don’t breed until they are 2-3 years old. They spend the majority of their life on dry land and even mate outside of a pond. Courtship involves tail slapping and vibration as the males attempt to lure a female. They are great for gardeners because of their taste for eating (amongst many other insects) slugs! They grab their prey with their teeth in contrast to lizards which use their tongue.
To find a common or viviparous lizard you usually need to head out away from home. They are a great subject for photography and often the first reptile to raise its beautiful head from winter slumber. Viviparous is the name given to animals which produce live young rather than eggs. As most lizards produce eggs, the common lizard is unusual in this family. They are the most northerly lizard in Europe, being well adapted to colder temperatures. In 2014 we spotted our first one out of hibernation on 3 March in the North York Moors National Park.
Look out for them on the edge of forests, heath or moorland anywhere in the area. Try to find sunny and warm corners of habitat out of the wind often where branches have collected into a pile or tree trunks have fallen and where the ground is dry.
The North York Moors Coast is a lovely place to be in the spring especially if the wind is from the west and the sun is shining! Rocky shores can be alive with wildlife. Turnstones specialise in feeding on tough food, their sturdy bill can dislodge crustaceans from rocks or overturn small sticks in search for food. Look out for them in amongst seaweed where they love to scramble around. Their winter plumage is fantastic camouflage. They have the honour of being the first wading bird to be fitted with a geo-locater for its complete migration. In 2011 researchers in Australia tracked a Turnstone 27,000 km from its Arctic nesting site to its winter quarters and back again!
Towards the end of March head for your local woods where the first flowers will put a spring in your step! Two of my personal favourites are sweet violet and coltsfoot. Sweet violet is one of our most treasured wild flowers. It has a delicate scent which has been regarded as one of the most beautiful aromas in the plant kingdom and has been used in many perfumes. They are also the caterpillar food plant for many of our most loved butterflies such as fritillaries. Coltsfoot comes into flower before its leaves appear, leading to the nickname 'son before the father'.
The aromatic flowers can be eaten and have been used in salads to add colour. Look out for coltsfoot anywhere there is disturbed ground it loves to grow on thin soils where other flowers fear to tread!
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