Nature Diary March

As spring officially begins this month it's time to check out the hosts of golden daffodils. Timing is variable from year to year but hit it right and wild daffodils can provide a dazzling display. Try Farndale (SE670967), map and Harry's Folly (NZ936017), map.

Hedgerows begin to be decorated with white blackthorn flowers during this month. This pretty shrub is often found in field boundaries, particularly alongside roads as its thorns make an excellent barrier.

Towards the end of this month wood anemones will usually be covering the woodland floor with a carpet of white flowers. They prosper best in undisturbed woods and large spreads make a stunning sight. Castle Eden Walkway (NZ403247), map, just north of Stockton-on-Tees, usually has a good display.

Although brown hares court all year this is often the best time to see them, before vegetation grows up and obscures any view. They favour ploughed fields and lowland pastures. Getting close can be very tricky so you will need to put in a bit of effort, wear muted coloured clothing, and move slowly and quietly while keeping the wind in your face. Boundary hedgerows can be used to break up your silhouette. Alternatively, you can sit patiently in a car hoping for a rejected male to bound by. The breeding season lasts from Jan to Sept, keeping alive the hope of an inquisitive and inexperienced leveret stopping by anytime in this period. If you want to get a mother with her young you will have to be very determined and exceptionally careful. Mothers only visit their young for ten minutes in 24 hours, usually about 40-45 minutes after sunset.

Hedgehogs begin emerging from hibernation and start to establish their foraging pattern for the year. Providing delicious food (cat food or proprietary hedgehog mix) early on can get them hooked. You may be rewarded with regular visits (photo opportunities) throughout the summer. Be sensitive when photographing them for the first time at night, I have found them to be initially disturbed by flash.

By now pregnant foxes will be investigating suitable sites for rearing their young. They will choose one to give birth in and others to move to in case they are disturbed. Fox earths can be newly dug or modified badger and rabbit holes. Look out for freshly worked holes over the next couple of months and monitor for signs of increased activity. This may suggest that cubs are at home.

Male mute swans begin to defend territories. They become very aggressive towards any intruders, including photographers who get too close. Fights between swans can be to the death. While males are "strutting their stuff" females are busy tending to the huge nest, which is built between March and May. These are Britain's largest bird and can be found on all manner of lakes, ponds and slow running rivers.

As the snow starts to melt female ptarmigans begin to moult into their summer plumage, this keeps them well hidden from predators among heather and boulders. The males remain brilliant white for a further few weeks as they try to attract females with their dazzlingly good looks. Once eggs have been laid camouflage becomes their priority and they will deliberately soil their feathers, until they too have moulted into their summer plumage. Being distracted with the twin jobs of mate attraction and holding a territory means that this is the "easiest" time of year to get close to them. You will still need a long telephoto to make the most of this opportunity.

Brimstone butterflies are on the wing on sunny mornings. They have just come out of the ivy or holly bushes where they slept all winter. Brimstones are long-lived butterflies. The nw brood comes out of the chrysalis in July, feeds up on plenty of nectar, overwinters and - as the ones now emerging will do - lives on till the next June or July. Try photographing them in the cool of the day, when they will be least mobile and more willing to pose for frame-filling macro lens shots.

Snakes and lizards begin sunbathing during the first hours of the day. They will each have their own favourite spot, which helps us to get close. Grass snakes prefer damp places around ponds, other species like drier places in heather, rough grass and sandy patches, along stone walls and among piles of rocks. Any approach must be slow and smooth. If your quarry slinks away, get into position and wait without moving and it should return in due course. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust site Allerthorpe Common near the beautiful city of York (SE761475), map, is noted for its lizards and adders.

This is the best time of year to check out the weird and wonderful sights of rock pools. The low tides that follow the spring equinox are usually among the lowest of the year and ideal for rockpooling. Check among the kelps at low water to see creatures that are otherwise out of bounds. Don't forget to keep one eye on your subject and one on the tide.

February  Index  April

The Locations: Where grid references are given they are based on the Ordnance Survey Landranger Grid.
Where possible postcode/map links have been provided to Google Maps showing the exact location.