Bedfordshire Birding in March
March sees the change of the season in the county as bird song begins in earnest and the first summer visiting species start to appear. This is a good month for finding some scarce species as they pass through the county or become less elusive as they begin breeding activity.
The first natural signs of spring become visible with early flowering plants, new leaves, bird song and longer evenings but for many birders the spring begins with the first records of summer visiting species. Most likely this will be a singing Chiffchaff which will have wintered in Europe or a Sand Martin making the longer journey from Africa but also likely to be recorded before the end of March will be the first Swallow, Wheatear, Little Ringed Plover and maybe Garganey, Willow Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and Ring Ouzel.
One scarce summer visitor that is regular on passage in March is the Black Redstart. This species favours rough open areas around industrial complexes and farms. The most regular place in recent years has been the well-watched paddocks at Blows Downs in Dunstable but birds could appear anywhere in the county and will very occasionally stay to breed maybe in a town centre or an old farmyard. Dartford Warbler has also been found in March in some recent years and with a couple of recent mild winters, there must be a chance of more birds and maybe a breeding attempt. Another heathland species, Woodlark is as likely to be found in March as any other period should a bird set up a territory; The Lodge being the most favoured site for this species in recent years..
A very similar pair of species that are most frequently found in March is the Water Pipit and Rock Pipit, both favouring the areas around our gravel pits. The journeys of these two species are quite different. The Water Pipit is presumed to be moving south-east to spend the summer in the mountain pastures of central Europe while the Rock Pipits that pass through the county are of the Scandanavian subspecies and moving north-east. These can prove an identification challenge as they are distinctly different from the more familiar Rock Pipit resident on the rocky coasts of the UK, indeed they more closely resemble the Water Pipit in winter plumage.
Favourite places to search for this pair are the complex of pits around Broom and Willington / Meadow Lane east of Bedford.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are scarce residents in Bedfordshire and for most of the year they feed quietly and elusively in the top branches of trees, occasionally becoming more visible in winter if they join a feeding flock of other species. Towards the middle of March, however, they will begin to drum and call and for a few weeks they are significantly easier to find before the canopy closes in and they once more become silent.
Displaying raptors may be observed on any fine warm day with developed thermals and Sparrowhawk and Buzzard numbers are at their highest numbers in living memory while Red Kites are now beginning to be more widely recorded as a breeding species and Marsh Harrier sightings in spring and summer continue to increase. Unfortunately, Goshawk is very rare in the county but if there is one around then March is probably the best time to find it. As with any scarce breeding species, sightings of any any rare raptors should be shared with the county recorder but publication elsewhere should be restricted.
The first waders are also on the move in March as they aim to reach their summering areas as early as they become suitable for occupation; many of these may be UK breeders. We are likely to see Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Redshank at potential breeding sites with passage of these species and Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, maybe Ruff and, more unusually, Avocet.
Rarer birds found during March in recent years include Green-winged Teal (2012), Crane (a party of five staying for a few days in 2003 and another in 2010), Stone Curlew (2012), Knot (1994 and 1999), Ring-billed Gull (2005), Red-rumped Swallow (2007) and Arctic Redpoll (1991).