Boxing hares, basking adders and bird song exploding – March is the month spring really takes hold as RSPB England's, Lucy Hodson, explains...

This will be the first of our monthly blogs exploring seasonal wildlife highlights, and celebrating the brilliant places giving it a home in England. Each month, we’ll bring you a spectacle not-to-be-missed, as well as exploring a weird and wonderful sighting that may often slip under the radar. Learn about the reserves hosting all of this spectacular wildlife, and the ways you can take part in events and getting stuck in!

Mega March spectacle: behold the boom!

March is the month many early-nesting birds really get down to business. It’s in this window of early activity that you might encounter one of our more secretive birds; the elusive bittern. This master of camouflage spends most of its time deep in reedbeds skulking for fish. In breeding season, however, the activity of bitterns increases.

If you go down to the reedbeds this March, be sure to keep an ear out! Male bitterns work hard to woo a female with a deep, travelling ‘boom’ call – not unlike the noise you make when you blow across the top of a bottle.

Thanks to wetland restoration and planting of vital reedbeds, our bittern numbers have been booming back! Last year saw (or heard) nearly 200 booming males in the UK – recovering from a low of just 11 birds remaining in the UK in the 1990s.  

So, where can you hear bitterns booming?

In the North of England, some bittern-boasting reedbeds can be found in places like RSPB Leighton Moss (Lancashire) or RSPB Fairburn Ings and RSPB Dearne Valley (Yorkshire). Head over to the East coast of England, and you’ll find some of the largest expanses of this rare habitat. An early morning walk around RSPB Minsmere (Suffolk), Titchwell or Strumpshaw Fen (Norfolk), might treat your ears to the boom of this mysterious bird reverberating through the reeds.

If you fear your boom-locating skills are lacking, some of our reserves hold bittern themed events! Join a member of the reserve team at RSPB Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk) on a bittern survey, enjoy a ‘bittern breakfast’ at RSPB Dungeness (Kent) or head to RSPB Ham Wall (Somerset) for one of their early morning guided walks in search of this iconic bird.

Spotting the weird and wonderful; oil beetles emerge!

March 6 to 15 is British Science Week, this year celebrating the theme of ‘Our Diverse Planet’. As well as the big and beautiful, we also like to look at the small, weird and wonderful diversity living on our reserves! Although March is early in the insect season, there are a gang of minibeasts that will be on the move. Early spring, adult oil beetles emerge from their burrows, where they’ve pupated over winter. The five species we have here (black, violet, rugged, Mediterranean and short-necked) look relatively similar, being chunky black beetles with swollen abdomens.

As well as being hefty, handsome beasties, oil beetles bring with them an amazing life cycle story! All five species are parasitic of solitary bees – specifically mining ones. The adults emerging in spring will look for a mate, and then dig a deep burrow to lay their eggs. Their tiny young, called triangulins, (yes, that’s a real name), emerge and climb up on top of the nearest flower. Here they lie in wait for a visiting bee and will hitch a ride back to the unsuspecting bee’s burrow. The young disembark, then unashamedly devour the bee’s eggs and food store! Here, they will pupate, ready to emerge next spring as adults and start the cycle again.

Keep an eye out for these wandering beetles in areas of sandy soil this month. Coastal reserves, like RSPB Bempton Cliffs (Yorkshire), RSPB Wallasea Island (Essex) or RSPB Arne (Dorset) can be great places to spy them, but inland heathlands like RSPB Budby South Forest are other good places to look.

Brew with a view

A walk at a beautiful reserve is never complete without a rewarding brew at the end! Our brew with a view this month is the stunning RSPB Rainham Marshes in Greater London. With big views and big skies, the visitor centre and café overlook water, reedbeds and the estuary. Even better, mums go free this Mother's day!

Get stuck in - what’s on in England this month?

As always, there are a huge variety of events happening on reserves throughout the country. Wherever you’re based, you can find events - from walks to forest bathing - on our events page.

Watching Wildlife

Get up to speed on your bird knowledge before the breeding season! Events this month include Birdwatching for Beginners at RSPB Radipole Lake (Dorset), Introduction to birdwatching by Wokingham & Bracknell Local Group, and garden birds and learning birdsong at RSPB Pulborough brooks (Sussex).

Something Different

If you’re looking for something special to do this month, March is a brilliant time of year to look upwards. RSPB Pulborough Brooks are inviting you to do just that at their stargazing party on March 20.

If you’re feeling a bit creative, RSPB Titchwell (Norfolk) are hosting sketching masterclasses, covering both wildlife and landscapes. With the incredible views and diverse wildlife on this reserve, – we’re sure you won’t be short of inspiration!

One for the kids!

Nothing beats getting the little ones outside to let off some steam. Reserves are a great place to stretch the legs and connect kids with nature. Join family Wild Challenge trails at RSPB Leighton Moss, or enjoy an afternoon on an urban nature reserve at RSPB Sandwell Valley (West Midlands).

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