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MARCH IN CUMBRIA

If January and February are colder than average spring may arrive a little late, although the trend in recent years has been earlier springs. Resident birds are now getting into full voice and the first migrants should arrive in the region later this month. Wheatears usually lead the way, arriving on the coast mid month, before moving onto higher ground and beginning their brief courtship song. From the third week of the month look out for Sandwich Tern and the first Chiffchaff, which should be arriving from Africa (perhaps calling from the same tree it did last year!). Sand Martins and Willow Warblers may just make an appearance before the month is out.

March is the most likely time to see Siskin in the garden on peanut feeders, as they move further north in preparation for breeding. These spirited little birds like to have sole possession of the feeder, chasing off other species and remaining surprisingly tolerant of human activity. Niger seed is put out to attract Goldfinches but Siskin and Redpoll like it just as much.

Eiders begin their courtship display and the sight and sound a many males wooing a single female is one not to be missed - courtship continues through April. This is a good time to see large rafts of Eiders in Morecambe Bay. They float up the estuary in small groups in the two hours before high tide (after the tidal bore) but at this time of the year float out as a huge raft. Best seen off Aldingham or Newbiggin.

Although they are active breeders throughout the year, the Brown Hare is normally associated with March. This retiring species seems to throw caution to the wind at this time of the year, indulging in a bout of spring fever. The famous boxing courtship display involves both "jacks" and "jills" and is most often seen now, perhaps because the grass is shorter. Look out for them in late afternoon (unless you are an early riser!). South Walney is a good place, as Hares currently outnumber Rabbits.

If temperatures rise during the day Adders will emerge from hibernation and bask in the morning sun. They too have a fantastic courtship routine.

It is particularly interesting to check out ponds at this time of year. Toads will be on the move and this is peak spawning time. Male Great-crested Newts and Sticklebacks will be donning their "military dress" to impress potential mates. Please report any sightings of Great-crested Newts - Cumbria is a stronghold for this nationally declining species, which likes the more acidic waters of north-west Britain.

In plants, yellow is the colour of the month and the Wild Daffodil must be the flower of the month. The true wild form has been lost over much of the country but many colonies occur in Cumbria, especially in the southern oak-ash woodland where it is not too dense. The same habitat supports the rare Green Hellebore (a truly green flower), but it is now found at only a handful of sights at the head of Morecambe Bay. Other yellow flowers that might just put in an appearance before the end of the month are Marsh Marigold and Primrose. The white (sometimes pink) glow of the nodding heads of Wood Anemone or Wind Flower should appear late in the month in open woodland and old hedgerows. These plants rarely set seed and multiply slowly in size by spreading rhizomes; clumps may be large and have occupied the site for centuries, even after the trees have been cleared.

With night time temperatures still regularly below freezing, it is hard to think of "butterfly days". With a little luck, however, a mild sunny spell might just tempt Brimstone and Peacock to rouse themselves out of their over-wintering sites. Sallows provide a good source of nectar for them at this time of year.