Woodland Highlights: March

Comma butterfly

Along with temperatures, wildlife activities really start hotting up in March. The mind turns to wandering through trees alive with their fresh leafy flush, butterflies alighting on delicate petals, birds crooning to their lovers and deep earthy scents intoxicating the air as soils warm.

What should you look for while out on your woodland adventures?

Trees… Pussy willow catkins bursting forth in a delicate show of white fluff, offering insects an early nectar feast. Look for new leaves appearing on silver birches and petal-less purple flowers on ash trees. Blackthorn winter may fall upon us this month. During early spring there tends to be a cold snap which triggers the flood of elder’s tiny white blossoms.

Lesser celandine

Plants… Early spring flowers take advantage of the leafless canopy to bloom in the sun reaching the woodland floor. Dog’s mercury, lesser celandine, wood anemone, dog violet, ox lip and wild native daffodils should grace us with their presence. While bluebells will begin to carpet woodlands in vibrant colour.
 
The life cycle of (often misunderstood) ivy is out step with other plants. Its berries ripen in March, offering high fat content food to hungry birds, at a time when there can be little else about. Ivy is not an evil tree killer, but it does offer welcome food and shelter to many species.

Fungi… The hunt for mushrooms starts in earnest this month. Morels, which look like sponges, are early fruiters. These opportunists can be found in woodland and many other habitats. 

Chiff chaff

Birds… The olive-brown chiff chaff’s distinctive call, which gives the bird its name, should soon be heard. Toward the end of the month this warbler returns to the UK from its warm winter haunts, in the Mediterranean and western Africa. Other early summer migrants may return to breed, you may even be lucky enough to hear a cuckoo.

Mammals… Nocturnal bats rouse from their winter hibernation, flying out on warm evenings to feed up after their winter fast. ‘Mad March hares’ can be seen boxing, the females fending off early or unwanted advances. Although not strictly woodland mammals, hares sometimes inhabit hedgerows at the edge of woods.

Common toads

Amphibians… Frogs have already been breeding, but now toads emerge from their ‘brumation’ to release their own spawn into ponds. Brumation is the term used for amphibian hibernation, a state of semi-dormancy. Their bodily functions cease or slow, such as feeding, digestion, and heart and respiratory rates, but they are still aware.

Insects… Bumblebees will appear and hunt out early flowering plants to feed from. Comma butterflies are likely to be seen on the wing in woodland this month. Blackthorn blossoms offer a great post-hibernation nectar source, while tree trunks and wood piles are among their favourite basking places.

Bluebell

Have any of these been spotted already this year? Nature’s Calendar can tell you some of the species seen around the UK and where those sightings are.

Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser

About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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