Best British wildlife to spot in March

From boxing hares to the joyful sound of the dawn chorus, here is selection of the month's best wildlife spectacles from around the British countryside in March.

Boxing mountain hares

Celebrate the month ahead with our photo gallery of beautiful wildlife photographs from around the UK in March.

Mountain hare

Mountain hare in snow, Scotland
March spells breeding season for Scotland’s mountain hares. © Getty

The first of March heralds spring, meteorologically speaking, with astronomical spring (the vernal equinox) falling on Friday 20 March. Yet this changeable month is usually snowier than December – remember 2018’s Beast from the East?

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Undeterred, hares are already breeding, so that their first litter of the season will be born in time for the sudden flush of fresh greenery. All three species found in the British Isles – the mountain, Irish and brown – are preoccupied with bringing the next generation into the world. And that means fur will fly.

Despite controversial culls of mountain hares in the Scottish Highlands, which have led to drastic population declines, to see them boxing in snow is still
a unique spectacle.

March hares: why do they box and best places to see them in the UK

Witness a fascinating wildlife spectacle of boxing hares this spring with countryfile.com guide to mad March hares, which explains why they box and the best places to see them in the British countryside.

 

Mountain Hare,Lepus timidus Close up portrait of an adult in its white winter coat trying to conceal itself in the snow. February. Scotish Mountains, Scotland, UK.

“The onset of breeding is dictated by the male hares,” says Benjamin Jones, a naturalist at Aigas Field Centre. “How can I put this nicely? In January, their testes start to grow, and then everything kicks off.” The hares chase each other up and down slopes as if possessed – they have such thick fur on the soles of their feet that their grip is amazing. “It looks chaotic when multiple males pursue a doe, but she’s in control and gives them what for,” Benjamin says. “The males have to demonstrate they’re persistent and can put up with a serious beating.”

For the full list of British mammals, visit: mammal.org.uk/species-hub


Gannet

Northern gannets (Morus bassanus), Bass Rock, Scotland, UK
Gannets return to their breeding colonies around Britain and Ireland in February. © Getty

After several months out at sea, wherever the fishing is best, gannets begin returning to their 20 or so breeding colonies around Britain and Ireland in February. Now the trickle turns into a torrent, as pairs (which mate for life) rush to reoccupy their own small piece of gannet real estate, a patch of rock just out of bill-stabbing range of their neighbours. However desolate our coasts feel in March, this month also sees many other seabirds, from fulmars to puffins, turn up at their nesting cliffs and islands.

 More on gannets and other seabirds, visit: seabirds.org


Blackthorn

Blackthorn
Blackthorn in flower. © Getty

“Without hedges, England would not be England,” the nature writer Richard Jefferies declared in 1884, adding, “I love their very thorns.” Thorniness is, of course, highly desirable in a hedge, which is why two of the most widespread hedgerow trees are blackthorn and hawthorn. Their leafing and flowering patterns are reversed. Blackthorn flowers first, then unfurls its leaves; hawthorn greens up well before it blossoms. The Nature’s Calendar citizen-science project run by the Woodland Trust records these and many other signs of seasonal change.

How to tell the difference between hawthorn and blackthorn


Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer on branch, close-up
Yellowhammer thrive in overground hedges, wildflowers margins and weedy arable fields. © Getty

Untidiness suits farmland birds such as the yellowhammer, just coming into breeding plumage. For decades, however, the prevailing mantra has been to neaten up our countryside – something that author Ben Macdonald diagnoses as Ecological Tidiness Disorder. To help the yellowhammer, we need more weedy arable fields, scuffed-up pasture, spilt seeds and unruly wildflower margins, preferably with rewilded, overgrown hedges, at the bottom of which the female will soon be nestbuilding. Close by, her gaudy mate sings his short but sweet song, over and over.

For more information on rewilding, visit: rewildingbritain.org.uk


Smooth newt

Lissotriton vulgaris – smooth newt
Smooth newt underwater. © Getty

Britain’s exceptionally mild spring in 2019, including the warmest February day on record, saw a sharp rise in early sightings of smooth newts in the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey (which records other wildlife, too).

The March reporting rate was comparable to a typical April. But stirring too soon can be risky if temperatures dip again. Will this year see the trend for early emergence continue? On wet evenings, look out for newts on the move – whereas frogs hibernate in ponds, newts have to migrate there.

Here is how to create your own wildlife pond


Drone fly

Drone fly (Eristalis tenax), a bee mimic, on leaf. England, UK.
Drone fly – an often overlooked but important pollinator. © Getty

Compared to bees, hoverflies tend to get overlooked, yet they’re important pollinators, too. Of Britain’s 280-odd species, one found in almost every garden is the drone fly, named for its resemblance to a big-eyed male honeybee, or drone. In this species, adult females hibernate over winter, meaning they’re among the first hoverflies on the wing in spring. One reason for their abundance is that their aquatic larvae can cope with oxygen-deprivation, flourishing anywhere from dirty ditches to buckets of stagnant water.


Song thrush

A Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing perched on the top of a flowering hawthorn bush.
A singing song thrush perched on the top of a flowering hawthorn bush. © Getty

Song thrushes have been in full voice for several weeks now, as have mistle thrushes, blackbirds, robins and dunnocks. As the dawn chorus in all its rich complexity is still a way off, they really stand out. So, it’s the ideal time to learn these common songs. A good way of doing this is to ascribe characters to each one. “Whereas the blackbird and robin are musical,” writes Stephen Moss in 2017’s Wonderland, “the song thrush is chatty and loquacious, almost as if he is having a good gossip.”

Listen to a vast online library of birdsong, xeno-canto.org

Find out how to experience the dawn chorus


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Main image. Boxing mountain hares in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. © Getty