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. Yorkshire Coast Nature's Richard Baines explores what to look out for during the coming month.
The first month of spring is blossoming under our feet! This is the month I get really excited in wildflowers as the first vivid colours break out. I am not an expert botanist so when there are fewer species emerging, it gives me an opportunity to start learning again before we are awash with diversity later in the summer.
One of the commonest woodland flowers to look out for is Lesser Celandine. This small bright yellow flower grows in both young and old woods. It can be confused with Winter Aconite but count the petals; Celandine has eight whilst Aconite has six.
If you really want to immerse yourself in colour, it’s really worth seeking out ancient woodlands, woods which have been more or less constantly under tree cover for hundreds of years.
These are marked as woods on present-day maps and on maps dating back to 1600 in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland. If they are on these older maps they could even be prehistoric in age!
In these amazing woodlands there are far more flowers, and they are more likely to be full of colour in early spring.
Look out for Lesser Celandine growing close to Wood Anemone especially where there is lots of sun penetrating through the tree canopy or around woodland glades.
Wood Anemone is a classic Ancient woodland species, it spreads very slowly, often only six feet in a hundred years!
So every patch of this beautiful flower is precious.
Amongst the yellow and white of Celandine and Anemone, the last piece of the early spring colour jigsaw are the purple violets. Common Dog Violet and Sweet Violet can be found in older and some more recent woodlands.
Sweet Violet is often the first to emerge towards the end of March. It has a sweet aroma unlike the Dog Violets which have no smell.
In damper places in older woodland look out for Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage. This moisture loving plant is sometimes called creeping Jenny or buttered eggs which is a great way of remembering the characteristic waxy feel and butter colour of the leaves and flowers.
The more ancient woodland indicator plants you find, the more valuable and more likely your woodland is to be ancient. See a list of ancient woodland indicator species here.
There are many older and some ancient woodlands in our area, especially in the North York Moors National Park. Two of my favourites are the Oak and Hazel woods of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Ashberry Pasture Reserve, and the National Trust managed Bridestones on the edge of Dalby Forest. Many of the flowers mentioned above can be found in late March/April within a couple of hundred meters of the car park at Bridestones making it an ideal place to start on your wildflower journey this year.
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