As regiments of daffodils light up our countryside, who’s the first visitor to be greeted by their uplifting sight?
Andy Williams was wrong. The most wonderful time of the year is surely spring.
An array of flowers bursting into bloom, Mother Nature’s orchestra tuning up for the dawn chorus, all manner of creatures embarking on a pilgrimage back to breeding grounds, lighter evenings, and even the odd helping of warmer weather (although it’s just started to snow at the time of writing!). There really is nothing to beat the excitement of spring. So let’s take a quick snapshot of what to look and listen out for.
No more singing in the dead of night. As the clocks go forward, heralding longer days, it’s the glossy blackbird who gets in there early with his sweet serenade. March is when we get to reacquaint ourselves with the rich dulcet tones of the blackbird, their flutey notes a timely reminder that warm summer nights will soon be with us. They’re one of the first birds to break out the tunes on a morning, up and at it before smaller birds like finches and tits.
The male’s singing signals the start of breeding season, which for a blackbird lasts from early March to late July. The UK weather can change things, with warm weather bringing breeding forward, and cold spells delaying it if needs be. But in a good year they can raise four broods.
The nests are built by the female and are usually in trees, shrubs and climbers. But blackbirds are resourceful birds and will nest inside buildings or sheds and even on the ground if a suitable spot is found.
But don’t just look up for signs of spring in our fauna. In fact it’s well worth keeping a close eye on the road ahead when it’s wet; right now we’re entering the annual migration period for our toads who’ll be making their way back to their birthplace to spawn.
While frogs in the UK spend most of their lives near water, toads can be found in damp areas of woodland, parks, fields, ditches and many other scrubby areas with places to hide. They spend winter hibernating in log piles, burrows or leaf litter. And when they wake, they wait for mild wet weather to move en masse back to ponds and lakes, which often involves crossing roads. So do keep a good look out on wet days so as to avoid these wonderful amphibians.
When it comes to migration, however, it’s those on the wing who draw the most plaudits. Sand martins are currently warming up to cross the Sahara en route back to Britain - a feat no less incredible as we consider their journey every year.
House martins, swifts and swallows return every summer with similar tales of endurance, but first back from Africa is invariably the wheatear, pictured above. The male is a striking bird, with a pale orange chest and black and white eye stripes, a bit like a feathery bandit.
Although wheatears breed in our uplands, and occasionally exposed rocky coasts, in early March you can spot migrants almost anywhere as they travel through, with their white behind becoming more prominent in flight. Best places to spot them include open areas such as fields and perching on vantage points looking out for insects.
One of the best locations in Wales to see wheatears is RSPB Dee Estuary, Point of Ayr. Tucked away at the mouth of the estuary in Flintshire, North Wales, this coastal site is also home to a wide range of waders and wildfowl, with wheatears arriving in good numbers from early spring.
But wherever you go in the country at this time of year, you’re sure for an inspiring time.
For more information about RSPB Dee Estuary, visit www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events