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.
Panning for Plovers
Wide open spaces and big landscapes free the mind and our spirits can fly, but without the birds, butterflies and beetles we have no jewels, the sparkle is gone. On our doorstep is a goldmine, the big heather dominated landscapes of the North York Moors National Park and these hills hide treasures worthy of any pioneer.
March is a great month to hit this rolling space with your ear pans aimed at the sky. European golden plovers arrive from their wintering grounds and start singing on high, the males fly to great heights above their prospective territory and sing their hearts out. It’s an eerily beautiful sound carrying far and wide on the breeze.
Trying to spot the highest birds can be tricky so if you can’t see them don’t get frustrated, just stretch your ears and listen, immerse yourself in this very special sound. Below the singing birds are goldies on the ground, listen out for their plaintive call which can help you find them amongst the heather.
European golden plovers choose places to nest and feed with very short tundra like vegetation. This tiny micro habitat, rich in mosses, plants such as sundew and open ground, not only gives these long-legged birds space to run it also harbours their invertebrate food.
Look out for the brightest most precious of insect jewels, the heath goldsmith beetle. I was very excited to find one whilst watching goldies a few years ago. It was stuck inside a red grouse gravel tray, the sun hit its wings and splintered into a rainbow of colour. I was immediately in awe of its beauty.
Alongside the European golden plovers and goldsmiths are the emerald jewels, the peewits. Shining bright and green, northern lapwings are much more in your face than the goldies. You really can’t miss their tumbling display flight, flashing black and white across the sky. In a similar way to goldies they love to nest on open, sparsely vegetated ground.
When their chicks are born in early summer, they need to be able to see above the vegetation for danger. This can however bring them into habitat which is closer to roads and traffic hazards. These grassy and often wetter strips of land are ideal for lapwings so please be careful when driving across the moors in the nesting season March-July.
March 2018 will be remembered for the ‘beast from the east’ freezing temperatures and snow on the hills just when goldies and peewits arrived back to nest. Let’s hope this March brings more settled weather to allow this rich vein of birdlife time to settle down and breed. If things go well by early May you may be lucky enough to see the next generation of jewels. Tiny goldie chicks or wee peewits hiding under their parents’ wings.
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