March, a time of change
A month of transition, March is usually a change from winter to spring, but this year also a change in lifestyle. For us we managed two trips out in March, before the garden and local cycle track become our focus for wildlife.
The 7th March saw a trip to Slimbridge where winter was clearly at an end and the numbers of wildfowl had dropped, with the Bewick’s Swans having all left. The exceptions were the White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, with 110 and over 200 respectively. Waders were yet to pick up, with Black-tailed Godwit (300+), Curlew (about 50), Dunlin (only 20 or so) and a few Lapwing being seen. Great views of Peregrines though, drifting in half-hearted hunts across the saltmarsh and perched on driftwood.
We drove on to near Saul and found the egret flock. There has been a flock of Little Egret here for some time and this had been joined by a lovely Cattle Egret, which we quickly found. Good job as the strong winds were making the flock quite flighty and after 5 minutes they flew further away and views were less favourable. The Cattle Egret was nearly in breeding plumage, with the lovely pinkish-yellow wash to the top of its head and mantle, and bright yellow beak. This was the first I’d seen for a few years, despite the species being quite common now in the UK, breeding widely on the Somerset levels for example.
Then, on the 22nd March we visited the Goldcliff lagoons and had a very successful trip. Chiffchaffs were everywhere, the first singing as soon as we got out the car, but best of all, on entering the reserve, three Sand Martin flew over. It must be spring! Other highlights were Flossie the Glossy Ibis, the over-wintering bird still present and showing very well in front of the first viewing platform, as well as two (immature male and a female) Marsh Harriers hunting over the reserve and scaring the ducks and waders. Waders were still a little low in numbers, although a female Ruff was great to see. Otherwise Avocets (61), Black-tailed Godwits (30+), Redshank (50+), Dunlin (20+), Lapwing (30+) and four Ringed Plover were the only waders seen. However singing Skylark, displaying Meadow Pipit and breeding plumage Little Egrets (3) were lovely to watch.
That was our last trip, likely for a while and we have been making the most of the garden wildlife and cycle track nearby since. Winter birds have faded out, and from a flock of over 30 to now just a pair, the Siskins have declined in numbers, matched by the Goldfinch, also just a pair visiting the feeders by the end of the month. However breeding is in full flow, with Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit and Coal tit all breeding. We also have our Marsh tit which has been coming to the garden for almost 5 years now. Every year we wonder if he breeds as he sings and collects food, but we can’t prove it for sure. He has been chasing off the Coal Tits and Long-tailed tits a lot, singing and calling and carrying a few sunflower seeds off in the same direction frequently. But he also seems to associate with a Coal tit and we wondered whether they were interbreeding. There are a couple of bulky and odd-looking Coal Tits in the garden from last year.
The moth trap has been out twice, recording March Moth, Small and Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and Early Grey. Sadly the bulb has gone and we are waiting for a replacement! It’s beautiful to see these lovely moths close at hand though. Butterflies have started, with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell coming out from hibernation. We have had 4 of each in the garden and on the cycle track. However it turned cooler towards the end of the month and sightings became less frequent. However we have a single bluebell in flower and one Peacock made the most of it. I had no idea that the proboscis was long enough to reach the nectaries, having only seen the likes of Orange Tip crawling into a bell to feed before. However this peacock seemed to cope very well!
The month ended with a lovely walk along the cycle path one evening. The Chiffchaffs seem quieter in the cooler weather, but a Red Kite drifted over which was stunning to watch. Best of all though, we stood quietly in a small wooded area and watched a Treecreeper collecting food. No doubt a nest nearby, as it busily collected caterpillars from the trees. It allowed incredibly close views, but still eluded the camera for even a record shot and to be honest we just watched it and enjoyed the amazing beauty of the intricate feather patterns. When you are lucky enough to have this nearby, social distancing isn’t that bad, and we do truly appreciate being so fortunate, and appreciate the wildlife even more!