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What To Look Out For - March 2017

  • Thu 23rd Feb, 2017

Whatever the weather is like, March brings with it lengthening days. Snakes alive, its early spring! A new awakening for nature and for us! YCN’s Richard Baines explores what to look out for during the coming month.

Brown Hare © Dan Lombard Brown Hare © Dan Lombard  

North and East Yorkshire is blessed with so much wildlife and one of the most popular mammals at large is the mad March Brown Hare. They are now such an integral part of our countryside that many people don’t realise they are not considered  a truly native animal. They were once thought to have been introduced to our country by the Romans 2,000 years ago. However, they are likely to have been here even longer, as far back as the Iron Age. They are famous for their speed but how fast can they actually run? Up to 80km/hr according to a study in the U.S.

Brown Hare © Steve Race Brown Hare © Steve Race  

Young hares are called leverets and they are born with their eyes open, an unusual adaptation in mammals. Hares need large eyes so they can feed night and day and be constantly on the lookout for predators. The females can have as many as nine young at a time, and as they grow a little older they venture further away from the natal birth place but still return for to suckle milk each evening. Look out for Brown Hares in large fields of grass or crops with good field margins where there is plenty of longer grass for breeding.

Chiffchaff © Dan Lombard Chiffchaff © Dan Lombard  

The first bird migrants to return from the south are often Blackcaps, Sand Martins, Wheatears and Chiffchaffs. By the time March arrives the first of these may have often been seen in the south of England but it takes a little longer for them to get into Yorkshire! Many warblers spend the winter in Africa but increasing numbers of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs are wintering in Europe and the UK. Early spring is a big rush for these birds as the males try to reach their breeding grounds as soon as possible so they can grab the best habitat. After arriving they quickly start to sing to attract the first females arriving back.

Blackcap (male) © Dan Lombard Blackcap (male) © Dan Lombard

Blackcap (female) © Dan Lombard Blackcap (female) © Dan Lombard   

Look out for Blackcaps in any woodland or large garden. They love bramble patches or low bushes such as Elder where they build their nest above the ground. Chiffchaffs can also be found in large gardens but they really prefer woodlands, especially with mature trees. In contrast to Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs nest on the ground. They give themselves away with their onomatopoeic song “chiffchaff”

Toothwort © Richard Baines Toothwort © Richard Baines  

One of the strangest plants to appear in early spring is the Toothwort. This parasitic plant is dependent for nutrition on the roots of trees and shrubs from which it grows. The Latin name for Toothwort comes from the Greek word lathraios, meaning secret, referring to the fact that this plant spends much of its life cycle hidden underground. The best places to look for it are under trees such as Hazel, Beech, Ash or Elm and often in older woods.

Adder © Richard Baines Adder © Richard Baines  

So as we go to print the mild February weather has brought one of the first Adders out in our area. Dan Lombard (Wold Ecology ecologist) found one in the North Yorkshire Forests on the 21st, a week earlier than we found one last year. Cold weather may send them briefly back underground however as they need to retain and build up body heat at this time of year. Females breed only once every 2-3 years but they can live up to 30 years old! They are very sensitive to disturbance at this time of year so be very careful not to disturb them. The milky eyes of the snake in these photos are created by the skin prior to sloughing i.e. when the old skin is shed.

Richard Baines YCN