March is the time when the first true summer migrants appear. Classically, these include Sand Martin, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Little Ringed Plover, Sandwich Tern and Wheatear. These are all great birds to look forward to this month, as are these five alternative birds to catch up with this month.
The Brambling is a bird of the north and east in Europe, with the tiniest possible breeding population in the UK (one or two pairs). It is essentially a winter visitor to the UK, also found on passage. So, we tend to see them in winter plumage, when they are very pretty but not quite as spectacular as the black and orange breeding garb. They start returning to the breeding areas in March, so now is a good time to catch up with them feeding in fields or in Beech woodland, often associating with Chaffinches. Bramblings are roughly the same shape as Chaffinches, but have white rumps, orange shoulders and wing bars, white bellies and a distinctive, nasal ‘dweeb’ call.
Though a very common and widespread bird across the continent, the Black Redstart only has a tenuous foothold in the UK as a breeding bird, with probably fewer than 50 pairs in the country. They are a bit more frequent as passage birds, being early migrants, passing through from March. Unlike Redstarts, Black Redstarts are birds of rocky terrain, which in this country often equates to buildings and other man-made structures. For instance, they can be found, in March, in cities, on house roofs, on farm buildings or at reservoir dams.
Garganeys are unusual among our ducks in that they are essentially summer visitors, migrating here to breed. Most of our ducks are much commoner in the winter time, but not the Garganey. They start to return to their breeding sites in March, but they are scarce, with fewer than 100 pairs in the country. Most are concentrated in the east, particularly East Anglia, and south-east England, but with localised populations elsewhere, including western Wales and the Scottish Borders. They are tiny ducks (about Teal-sized) and males are distinctive and very attractive, with a striking pair of long white supercilia. They are shy and retiring, disappearing with ease into flooded vegetation, in their shallow wetland habitat.
The large, dark pipit which gets ignored around the rocky coasts of the UK, has
a Scandinavian subspecies which regularly passes through the country in the spring and autumn. At least, that is the theory, as out of the spring plumage these littoralis birds can be difficult to separate from our resident petrosus birds. They can turn up at gravel pits and reservoirs or lakes with rocky or gravelly shores, in the spring. Larger and darker than Meadow Pipits, they have dark smudgy streaking on the breast and flanks, rather unstreaked backs, dark legs, dark bills and a harsher ‘feest’ call.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Our tiniest woodpecker is now scarce and localised, with fewer than 2,000 pairs scattered across England and Wales (not Scotland or Ireland). They are only sparrow-sized, with a tiny bill (for a woodpecker), and lack any red on the belly, so are not hard to identify. They can, however, be hard to see, as they are so small and spend a lot of time among the smaller twigs at the top of trees. So, when trees are fully covered in leaves, they can seem to vanish. Now is the time to search for them: there are few leaves and the birds will be drumming and calling in courtship and staking territories. Listen for the even and prolonged rattling drum and the Kestrel-like ‘kee kee kee kee’ call, which has been compared to a high-pitched Green Woodpecker call, at least in its cadence.