March is the first month of spring, and the month when the first wave of spring migrants comes into the UK. It is very much a transitional month; still cold and largely leafless, with wintering birds starting to return to northern breeding grounds. The woodlands are dominated by the songs of Great Tits and the early courtship/nesting activities of our resident birds. Here are five birds to enjoy during the month.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Marsh Harriers would be very tricky to encounter in midwinter. In this age of climate change, though, they regularly spend the whole winter in the country. March is one of the best months for witnessing the incredible skydancing display. You may first become aware of it, when you hear some weird yelping calls coming from above in the early hours of daylight. You look up and strain your eyes, and you may see, high above, a dancing Marsh Harrier, usually a male: with slow-mo rowing wingbeats, throwing itself into crazy dives and vertical recoveries. It is one of the great joys of spring!
A resident finch, the much-declined Greenfinch is still a very common bird around the country, despite recent outbreaks of trichomonosis. Look for the butterfly-like display flight in spring, accompanied with the pleasing twittering song.
One of the earliest returning ‘summer’ visitors, the first Sandwich Terns start appearing along the south coast as early as January. But March is the traditional month for birds passing through, heading north to their breeding grounds. Mostly seen on the coast, but several pass overland, turning up at lakes and gravel pits far inland, if only briefly.
Great Crested Grebe
Almost as soon as Great Crested Grebes start to grow the facial plumes of their breeding plumage, they can be seen doing their famous courtship ‘dances’. The male and female mimic each other’s movements while facing each other in the water, with little mock preens and head shakes and even simultaneous diving, perhaps to come up with weed and a bit of weed- or penguin-dancing.
Gulls are much maligned birds; dismissed as all looking the same and being rubbish-tip-loving, chip-stealing, noisy, ugly birds. None of these accusations could be applied to the lovely Little Gull. It is tiny, looking half the size of even a Black-headed Gull, and more like a marsh tern than a typical gull. They behave like marsh terns, too, floating gracefully over water, and sweeping down to pick morsels from the surface. Adults are like minuscule Mediterranean Gulls, with dark underwings and a tern-like black bill. First-winters resemble small first-winter Kittiwakes. Second-winters are like adults but with a few black spots in the upper primaries.