Wildlife in March

Spring is now truly upon us and there is plenty of wildlife appearing. The spring blossom begins to unfold and many of the water and woodland birds begin to prepare for their new families.

Our resident mallards will have paired up during October and November but only begin to build their nests in March. They like to nest near the water at the edge of the lake well covered by vegetation or in a natural hole in a tree. The female builds the nest from leaves and grasses and lines it with downy feathers plucked from her own chest.

The eggs are laid between mid-March and the end of July. The normal clutch is made up of about 12 eggs, laid at one to two days intervals. After each egg is laid, the clutch is covered to protect it from predators. This laying period is very stressful for the female as she lays more than half her body weight in eggs in a couple of weeks. She needs a lot of rest and depends heavily on her mate for protection.

In early March our resident mute swans will have chased off last years cygnets before starting work building their nest for this year’s brood. They will make a large nest by the side of the lake from dried grasses and assorted vegetation, sticks and rushes. The nest is built by the female, while the male supplies the materials.

The female will lay up to seven eggs between late April and early May. Both the male and female will keep the eggs warm and they will hatch after around just over a month.

Woodland birds including blue tits, great tits, nuthatches and robins amongst many others are also making their nests this month. Keep an eye out for them near one of our nestboxes near the Visitor Centre.

Take a walk along the footpath by the railway line towards the end of the month and see the blackthorn (also known as sloe) bushes covered in white blossom on the dark, thorny branches. This shrub is sometimes confused with hawthorn, but the hawthorn does not flower until May and comes into leaf before the blossom opens. Another sure sign of spring is the furry looking catkins of the willow trees found in the damp soil along the edges of the lakes and rivers.

Other things to look out for:

  • Toads now start to emerge from their wintering hiding places and move towards their chosen ponds to breed. Toad spawn can be easily distinguished from frogspawn as it is laid in long chains instead of clumps.
  • Adders coming out of hibernation, warming themselves on the edges of forest tracks – remember to look not touch as adders are poisonous!
  • Grey squirrel dreys where the mother squirrels are giving birth to their young.
  • Bumble bees and ladybirds start to emerge and can be seen buzzing around on warmer days.
  • Buzzards can be seen flying on the thermals created by some warmer weather.
  • A variety of wild spring flowers will also be opening their buds including the white and red dead nettles, primroses and daffodils.
  • The first butterfly of the year to emerge from hibernation is the beautiful lemon yellow brimstone (the female is greenish white); it is thought the word butterfly is derived from the yellow butter colour of this butterfly.