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.
Dark Crone of the Woods
Exploding white flowers from bare black branches, blossom before leaf, March belongs to blackthorn. Every winter I look forward to that first spring bloom, and then as if by magic an amazing carpet of white covers the whole tree. The darkness of winter transformed and my spirit is lifted.
Look out for bumblebees around the flowers. Early spring blossoming trees such as blackthorn and willow are important sources of food for queens emerging from hibernation. The buff-tailed bumblebee is a good one to look out for early in the spring.
They have one of the most varied diets of any bee visiting a diverse range of flowering plants.
Buff-tailed bumblebees are eusocial animals meaning the live in a cooperative group composed of one female, several reproductively active males whilst non-breeding bees look after the colony.
A host of other flying insects also benefit from this surge in food including bristly flies and solitary bees. So, if Sloe Gin is your favourite tipple, love your flies and bees, without them there would be no pollination or fruit for your gin.
Blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose conjure up images of dense scrub, an impenetrable tangle of thorns, full of life and fantastic places to nest if you’re a bird looking for a safe haven. A large range of our best loved birds’ nest in scrub or large high and wide hedges. Listen out for the amazingly rich song of a song thrush, the males often perch up high above their territory, belting out their staccato tunes.
The dark wood and thorns of blackthorn have a long history of myth and folklore. In Ireland the tree is thought to be inhabited by moon fairies, the ‘Lunantisidhe’.
The best time to harvest sloes is said to be after the fairies have left the tree at full moon when they worship the moon goddess.
The wood has long been associated with primordial powers. It was used by witches as a cursing rod symbolising a two-faced god, used in defence as well as attack, for good and evil. A crone is a dark goddess who can be wise or sinister…
In the north of England, we have to wait a little longer for the first snow white flowers of blackthorn than further south but when they arrive, the north blooms. If you are lucky enough to have flowering blackthorn in your garden, tend it with care, not only for birds and bees but also for the crone that lives inside!
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