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Lapwing display Credit Paul HarrisLapwing display Credit Paul Harris

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.

Our tip

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. Yorkshire Coast Nature's Richard Baines explores what to look out for during the coming month.

The Hollow Oak

Think about your favourite nature walk for a moment. Is there a special place on the walk that you always look forward to visiting?  No matter how much I try to focus on a new area I may not know very well, I will be looking forward to that special place, which if I remember correctly, is just around the next corner…

This sense of anticipation is exactly what I felt on a recent winter walk in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Trudging through the mud across windswept arable fields, my mind was focused on visiting the mighty oak trees on the Castle Howard estate. I don’t take this walk very often, so really did forget which corner the trees were around!

Remnants of an oak tree among grassland. Credit Richard Baines

Close-up of an oak tree. Credit Richard Baines

When I arrived, I was greeted by the song of a male Mistle Thrush. It was the last day of 2021 in the middle of winter, but this bird was ready to start nesting - I was amazed! The strength of his song was magnificent, carrying far and wide across a silent landscape. I tried in vain to find him, but then realised the beauty of the moment was in the sound, there was no need for me to see anything. I zoned out of the world and into the power of the song.

Behind me the old oak trees remained still and silent, a completely different experience to the Mistle Thrush still singing in my ear. The huge structure of the trees always makes me stop - they demand my attention. As I ponder this, a group of walkers pass by, they are chatting but not seeing. I wanted to jump out and grab them, thankfully I just smiled and turned back to the trees.

So much of each tree was either dead or dying. At this time of year, I couldn’t work out which bits were still alive. Thankfully the estate has left all the dead timber where it has fallen creating a wonderfully wild scene. Tall grasses weave beautifully amongst the branches. The grass looked so delicate, dwarfed by the massive trunks but these wavy strands will eventually swallow the whole structure as plant succession turns death into decay and then new life.

Richard Baines in a hollow oak tree. Credit Richard BainesThe intricate shape and colour of every piece of wood could hold my attention for hours. Inside every cavity were unique forms and a multitude of niches for fauna or flora. These tiny hidden worlds going about their business inside the mother oak.

After my senses had been drawn into this other world, I had to put my whole self into a big hollow Oak. Maybe this was the real reason I was looking forward to visiting the Oaks. I stood inside beaming with glee in the same way I used to play in the woods as a small child. Never turn down an opportunity to be a big kid again!