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PMcS 2006




Brown hare


This month look out for:

Returning summer visitors (birds)
Song birds singing
First woodland flowers
'Mad' March hares
Blackthorn in flower
Frog and toad spawn in ponds

Although there can be warm days, March can often remain in the grip of the winter weather.  However it is impossible not to feel the mounting anticipation of Spring and notice the new emergent life.  As the nights get longer, and at last the clocks change ("spring forward"), there is a renewed optimism for the new season ahead.

This month is famous for mad-March-hares which are in fact the female hares resisting the optimistic advances of amorous  males!  With the arable crops still short, where hares can often be seen feeding, this is a good time of year to spot these beautiful and charismatic native animals.

The earliest of the summer bird migrants start to arrive.  The wheatear is amongst the first to arrive.  Another bird returning at this time is the chiff-chaff with its repetitive and distinctive song.  The chiff-chaff is a small green warbler found in woodlands and scrubby areas.

In the woodland the ground is green with shoots and many woodland plant species are starting to come into flower.  Early lesser celandines have already shown their yellow petals to the sun, however when its dull the flowers remain closed.  Other woodland species such as the wood anemone, town hall clock and the sweet violet, with its small purple flowers, also appear.  If you are lucky you may find the large and extravagant looking stinking hellebore, with its smelly green and red flowers.  Dog's mercury, and ramsons where the ground is damp, can totally carpet the woodland floor with a sea of fresh green leaves.


In the hedgerows towards the end of the month the blackthorn (also known as sloe) flowers.  Bushes are covered in clouds of white blossom borne on its dark, thorn laden branches.  This shrub is sometimes confused with hawthorn, but the hawthorn does not flower until May and comes into leaf before the blossom opens.  A sure sign of spring are the furry looking catkins of the 'pussy' willow, found in damp places.

Habitats and species
Parks and gardens: The mounting bird chorus can even wake you in the morning if you live in the suburbs.  To help workout which bird is singing go to the bird song page.

Along the edges of paths and at the foot of shady walls, the diminutive wavy bittercress can be found in small bushy rosettes with white flowers.  The first round and shiny leaves of Jack-by-the-hedge (or garlic mustard) start emerging at this time at the foot of walls and hedgerows.

wavy bittercress

On some stone walls the ivy-leaved toadflax is starting to sprout.  It quickly forms large hanging clumps with its fleshy, ivy like leaves.  It later supports multiple miniature mauve and yellow snapdragon type flowers.

Woodlands (including wood pasture)See introduction above.    In some woodlands if you are lucky you may find clumps of the truly wild wild daffodil. Its yellow trumpet flowers are delicate and small, but look stunning in their natural woodland setting.
Arable and hedgerowsSkylarks may be heard from January onwards singing their hearts out over arable.  They sing whist in mid air often seemingly aiming for the clouds!

Lapwings (also known as peewits) start to establish territories over arable farm land in March.  They have a swirling, tumbling display dropping from the sky only to rise up again at the last minute, whilst calling 'peewit' .  Their normal flight is rather laboured and 'floppy', with black wing tips obvious against the white body.

Road verges: The road verges are greening up again, as the fresh new grass growth replaces the dirty winter herbage.  Patches of the rather odd looking coltsfoot spring up in hedgerows at this time.



It has a yellow daisy like flower on a thick stem and round, furry leaves.  White and red dead nettle are also starting to flower.

Along roadsides the temperature may be slightly above the surrounding countryside and this seems to encourage the earlier breaking of buds such as horse chestnut, elder and hawthorn.

One easily missed plant emerging at this time of year is chivesWild chives grow in straggly clumps, often in amongst grass stems.


wild chives



Chalk and limestone grasslands:
Meadows (neutral) and flood plain grasslands:
Acidic grasslands:
Heathlands: On heathland gorse bears its bright yellow flowers and attracts early insects.

flowering gorse



Mountain and Moorlands (uplands):
Rivers and ponds (including bogs and mires):  The pussy willow (below), which is so synonymous with spring, can be seen with its bursting catkins in March, particularly in wet areas.  The catkins are male pollen bearing flowers which offer up their pollen to the wind to seek our female flowers. The pussy willow is actually usually a name given to the goat willow.

pussy willow 'flowers'

Sea and the sea shore (including estuaries): The sea bird colonies are reassembling.  Gannets chose their patch of rock amongst their neighbours on which to raise their single offspring in the forthcoming summer.  Bass Rock is a famous gannet breeding site.
Mammals: In March and April bats emerge from their winter hibernation, to hunt out flying insects on which they feed.  In towns the small pipistrelle is the most common species.  Bats are very particular in their hibernating sites requiring a stable temperature and humidity. 
Birds: As more summer migrants arrive in late March, the woodland dawn chorus will swell.  However the resident birds are already in full song proclaiming their territories to all comers.  Song thrushes, blackbird, greenfinch, great tit and robin are amongst the most noticeable of these.  This is therefore a good time to start learning bird song of the more common species, before the summer migrants get in on the act.

Towards the end of the month the likelihood of seeing summer migrants in number starts to grow.  You may be lucky enough to see a swallow swooping over fields.  However the old saying of "one swallow does not a summer make" is never truer.  The weather can turn cold again and quickly disappoint!

Amphibians & Reptiles: Toads start to emerge from their wintering hiding places and move towards their chosen breeding ponds.

common toad


The frogs are mating with vigour, having risen from the pond bottom where they spent the winter.  The amorous males cling on to the females for dear life in large numbers.  It is surprising that the females can survive.  They are all trying to ensure that the eggs laid are fertilised by them.  The adults stay in the pond until the weather is warmer in April.

Insects: The first butterfly of the year to emerge from hibernation is the beautiful lemon yellow male and greenish white female brimstone.  It is possible that the word butterfly is derived from the yellow butter colour of this species - who knows?  The adult is an important pollinator of the yellow primroses flowering at this time, whereas its caterpillars feed only on buckthorn.

Bumble bees start to emerge and can be seen buzzing around on the warmer days.  Ladybirds also start to appear from their communal hibernation nooks and crannies.

Plants: Woodlands offer the most interesting places to visit for early flowering plants.


All images and text are copyright PMcS 2006