Parish Nature Notes for March - John Wright


March proved to be a dramatic contrast to the cold of early February, with soaring temperatures and sunshine, but still little rain. As a consequence, many flowers appeared early and lots of insects, including bumblebees, honey bees, wood ants, wasps, beetles and butterflies were much in evidence within the Parish. Most naturalists eagerly await the arrival of the first spring migrant birds and from the 17th March onwards we were flooded with migrating chiffchaffs, announcing their arrival with their unmistakeable 'chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff' song as they worked their way through the high branches of willows and birches, picking off minute insects.




Chiffchaff

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

Many of our resident birds were also in full song and in walking around Sandford, both song thrushes and blackbirds could be heard. Further afield the stonechats and dartford warblers were singing on heathland, whilst goldcrests were seen and heard in the conifer woodland. From open fields a skylark or two could be heard and the occasional mistle thrush sang from a tall tree. My weekly walk through Morden Bog also took me past the ruins of decoy cottage where cultivated varieties of daffodils still grow in the long-abandoned garden.




Cultivated daffodils

Photograph: John Wright

A similar walk a week later produced a last glimpse of winter and further evidence of spring. In a stubble field north of Great Ovens heath a mixed flock of starlings and fieldare appeared and soon afterwards I had good views of a male merlin perching and then flying from a Scots Pine. It will be moving north, possibly to breed in northern Britain or Scandanavia. As for evidence of spring, long-tailed tits appeared in pairs and I heard a yellowhammer in full song.  As the morning temperature rose, one or two overwintering male brimstone butterflies appeared.In addition, a peregrine on a pylon west of Sherford Bridge took off and found a thermal from which it surveyed Morden Bog below.




Peregrine

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

At Morden Park Lake, the usual mixture of ducks, coots, little grebes and cormorants were present, but in addition, the lone Great Crested Grebe had found a mate! After ignoring each other for five minutes, the two birds came together as mirror images and proceeded to shake their heads at each other and bob their necks up and down. After repeating this two or three times they changed to diving and brought up lumps of pond-weed which they showed each other before dropping the weed and repeating the routine. Then suddenly, it was all over, and they ignored each other again as they returned to catching a fish or two!




Little Grebe

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

Around the middle of the month, warmer temperatures encouraged comma and peacock butterflies to come out of hibernation and primroses started to appear in country lanes. In addition, after spotting some hedgehog droppings on our lawn during the day, we finally saw a hedgehog at 11 pm wandering around the base of our bird feeder, engrossed in checking out the food on offer.




Hedgehog

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

Soon afterwards, the hedgerows started to brighten up with the appearance of the snowy-white blossom of the blackthorn. This spiny bush produces flower before the leaves appear and attracts bumblebees and honey bees as does the male grey willow ('pussy willow') when other flowers are still quite scarce.




Blackthorn

Photograph: John Wright

As temperatures rose on the 24th, my weekly walk through Wareham Forest and Morden Bog produced almost 20 butterflies including brimstones, peacocks, commas, a red admiral and finally a speckled wood butterfly. Unlike the previous species which overwinter as adults, the speckled wood overwinters either as a caterpillar or chrysalis - the first adults to emerge always come from a chrysalis. The speckled wood rarely visits flowers except in spring and autumn, prefering to feed on honeydew from aphids on leaves high in the tree canopy during the summer before descending to look for a mate.




Speckled Wood

Photograph: John Wright

Returning home through Morden Bog I noticed a splendid beetle on the track. With a coppery thorax and head plus emerald green abdomen with six raised lines on it. A quick check on the internet helped me to identify it as the 'heath goldsmith' (Carabus nitens), sometimes described as Britain's most beautiful carabid beetle.It also seemed vaguely familiar and then I remembered that I had photographed one in the Alps several years ago. (See photo).This is by no means a common beetle and is certainly new to the Parish.




The Heath Goldsmith (Carabus nitens)

Photograph: John Wright

A couple of days later I was walking along a track near Organford when I heard the 'tup-tup' of a long-tailed tit behind me and on turning round saw the bird with a feather in its beak before it disappeared into a blackthorn hedge. The almost complete domed nest was plain to see and consists of many hundreds of small feathers, held together with spiders thread and surfaced with grey lichens for camourflage. This miraculous construction will soon become less obvious as the leaves of the blackthorn break bud and the birds become more cautious when egg-laying gets underway.




Long-tailed tits nest

Photograph: John Wright

And finally, on the last day of the month I heard the welcome song of the blackcap, another of our early summer visitors. Once the wind direction proves more favourable, huge numbers of migrants of many species will sweep across the country and enrich the experience of a walk in our own Parish.