Your Garden in March

Great TItThe end of winter is in sight now and nature’s pulse quickens as the days grow longer and warmer.  Spring generally advances northwards at a walking pace, so frog spawn will be appearing in more and more areas, and later this month we will see the annual migration of toads to their breeding ponds, sometimes in such numbers that local volunteers have to shepherd them across the roads.

Newts also undertake small scale migrations to breeding ponds, but usually over a longer period than either frogs or toads so it’s much less obvious.  If you quietly shine a torch into your pond on a mild night later this month you may well see that the newts have quietly returned!

Over the coming month we can expect to see an ever increasing range of flowers and emerging leaves, and the handover of migrant bird species as Redwings, Fieldfares and Bramblings leave and are replaced by Sand Martins, Chiffchaffs and Swallows.  Chiffchaffs are warblers, a group that some people find daunting, but the Chiffchaff helpfully announces itself with a two-tone “chiff chaff” song that is more melodic to most ears than the similar song of the Great Tit. 

A good rule of thumb if you hear an unfamiliar two-tone song in broadleaved woodland is that it’s probably a Great Tit, as the song can vary from the oft quoted “tea-cher, tea-cher”, but the best way to learn bird song is to look for the bird that’s making the noise.  If it sounds a bit like a Great Tit but it’s an olivey-green little bird, you’ve found a Chiffchaff!  Within a very short time the song is likely to “stick” and you’ll have added another bird to the list that you know by ear. 

Our Teach Yourself Bird Sounds double CD is an excellent tool to help you become more familiar with the songs and calls of garden and woodland birds. The expert guidance on the CDs makes it the next best thing to having your own resident expert on hand to point out the differences between similar species! 

Blackcaps are another warbler species and will often use feeders throughout the winter, but these birds will soon be returning to Austria and Germany for the summer, as “our” breeding birds return from a winter spent near Mediterranean coast.  Newly arrived Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sometimes have tarry staining on the feathers at the base of the beak from where the birds have been feeding on orange blossom as they make their way along the Iberian Peninsula. 

Resident birds will be preparing to nest, in fact Tawny Owls, Ravens and Crossbills are probably already feeding young, so high energy foods, live foods and fat products can provide valuable extra nutrition for the adults, helping them to concentrate on natural foods for their young.  Live foods such as mealworms can also be a valuable supplement for hungry nestlings.

To make gardens friendly for amphibians and other wildlife it helps to reduce chemical use to a minimum, to have areas of long grass that are left undisturbed, and to have log piles or other shelters such as our Frog and Toad Houses. Migrating wildlife can be at risk of seemingly innocent traps such as steep sided ponds swimming pools, drain gulleys or cattle grids, but a Frog Ramp will help amphibians and small mammals including hedgehogs to escape safely.

Newly emerged hedgehogs may not have fed since the autumn so will be in desperate need of good quality food to recover from their long hibernation, and bats should start to become more noticeable on mild evenings.  It’s been a long six months, but the countryside is slowly coming back to life!

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