Europe is blessed with many larks yet Britain has but two. Unlike our more common skylark, this one is found mainly in south England, East Anglia and the Midlands. The name is misleading, for it’s a bird of heaths and bushy clearings, not woods. But its beautiful song is a match for that of its close cousin – a lilting affair delivered from treetops and looping display flights in early spring.
Dedicated vole-watchers such as the author Kate Long can’t wait for March, because that’s when these endearing rodents reappear after several months in their burrows. “Winter seems interminable, but you’ve got to have faith!” Kate says.“Now I can restart my quest.” Signs that water voles are in the area include star-shaped footprints, droppings (shaped like Tic Tacs; olive when fresh) and nibbled sedge and rush stems. Later this month the breeding season begins in earnest.
It’s easy to forget that in the mid-1800s these streamlined birds teetered on the brink in Britain, due to slaughter for the feather trade. Nowadays they’re ubiquitous on open water, even city-centre lakes, and in March you can marvel at their synchronised courtship. Pairs spend a lot of time swimming together, shaking their tufted heads at each other. Sometimes one bird will surge forwards just below the surface and suddenly rise up in front of its partner. Be patient and you might be treated to the grand finale – the ‘weed’ display, in which a pair rear up, belly to belly, and swing beakfuls of waterweed from side to side.
The loudest bird in the wood, the nuthatch’s far-carrying vocalisations belie its size. And its repertoire is tremendously varied too, from frequent volleys of shrill ‘tuit’ calls to plaintive whistles and trills. This month also listen for the male’s song, a repeated ‘pee pee pee’. The nuthatch is doing well in Britain: its spread north into Scotland continues (it has recently reached Dundee), and reports to the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme suggest that numbers are at their second-highest since 1995.