Smile as the days get longer, and hopefully warmer. The 20th of March brings the spring equinox, when the Earth is tilted neither away from nor toward the sun. Then at the end of the month the clocks return us to British Summer Time.
Trees/shrubs… The winter snows may be behind us (we hope) but blackthorn creates its own wintery scene. Its white blossoms adorn many hedgerows, its emergence is often linked to a cold snap in early spring. Not to be confused with hawthorn; blackthorn flowers appear before the leaves, but hawthorn leaves come before the flowers. Elder is another one to get its leaves this month, and wild cherry should grace us with its delicate white blooms. The purple tinged flowers of ash trees may also be spied.
Plants… Bluebells slowly take over from the snowdrops and over the next couple of months will turn the ground to a woodland sea, the timing does depend on your location and the temperature. Nature’s Calendar has a map to show records of when and where they are coming into flower. Click here to find out how to tell if they are our treasured natives or Spanish invaders. Charming pinkish flowers of red campion are most usually seen from now until November, but sometimes earlier in milder winters. Cuckooflower can be found on boggier ground. Keep an eye out for yellow wood spurge, elegant wood anemones, dogs mercury, ox lip and dog violet. Many early flowering plants take advantage of the light and warmth of the sun, before the woodland floor is shaded out by leafy canopies. The berries of ivy ripen to black this month to give a highly nutritious and much needed source of food to wildlife.
Fungi/lichens/moss… Scarlet elf cup is a colourful delight. Found in clusters of cups, it grows on deadwood on the forest floor. Look out for tasty morels in woods and many other habitats. Sulphur tufts can be seen all year, their yellow fruits can be found on fallen branches and old tree stumps. A good lichen to spot is Devil’s matchstick. This is a cup lichen with bright red caps on top, it likes logs and tree stumps. Star moss has the shape its name suggests and can be found in wet/damp areas.
Birds… The chattering green chiff-chaff returns to our woods this month. The song of this migrant warbler is one of the first signs that spring has returned. Listen out for its cheerful ‘chiff chaff chiff chaff’. Blue tits will be searching for a suitable nesting site.
Mammals… The warmer weather brings more insects, and with them the bats rise from their winter slumber. Noctule bats love to hibernate in tree hollows and woodpecker holes make very desirable roosts. Mad March hares may be seen darting in and out of the woodland edge. Their boxing talents come from the feisty females fending off unwanted advances.
Amphibians… Toads are later starters than frogs, but now is their time to return to the pond of their birth and spawn. Wheras frogspawn may already be hatching this month, so keep a look out for tadpoles.
Reptiles… If it is warm enough then reptiles such as adders, common lizards and grass snakes may awake from their winter dormancy to hunt for prey.
Insects… Comma and small tortoiseshell may join the other pioneering butterflies, like brimstone and peacock, out early this year. Unlike other mayflies that favour the summer months, the March brown mayfly can be seen from March to early April. Keep an eye out for it appearing around midday from large, clean rivers, where it has spent the winter as a larva.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser