Thursday 1 March 2012

Wildlife Watching in March

What can you expect to see in March in the Claise Valley and the Brenne? Spring comes early to this area, so flowers will be blooming and as a consequence early emerging bees will be foraging. Look out for frogspawn on ponds and in ditches. Even a few hardy butterflies who managed to survive the big February freeze tucked away under the ivy or in your barn will flit about if the days are warm.

Female Nomada fabriciana foraging on a dandelion in our orchard last March.
Some species of solitary bees such as Mining Bees Andrena spp, Sweat Bees Halictus spp and Nomada spp will be out. Several of the early emerging species of Andrena depend greatly on the Sallow catkins that appear in March, and the Nomadas will be out because they parasitise the Andrena. Several Andrena spp are also important early pollinators of fruit trees (they look like small Honeybees). Honeybees Apis mellifera themselves will become active at this time too, visiting what ever they can - fruit tree blossom, daisies in the lawn and the shiny yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria. The odd bumblebee queen will cruise about looking for suitable nesting sites.

The most anticipated wildflower at this time must surely be the Cowslip Primula veris, and the first flowers normally open in March, on roadsides, meadows and woodland clearings. If you are in the Brenne, keep an eye out for the earliest orchid species, the Tongue Orchid Serapias lingua. Wild Pansy Viola tricolor is common on waste ground and almost always has a few flowers at this time of year. The first of the Common Dog Violets V. riviniana will be out too, in the grass under trees. I noticed the first one in our orchard at the end of February, under the sour cherries.

Pine Processionary nests.
Take care around conifers, as the notorious Pine Processionary Thaumetopoea pityocampa caterpillars will be active. They are clearly spreading and we got our first infestation ever in the single Scots Pine in our orchard over the winter. Remember that their irritant hairs float in the air and you and your pets will pick them up even if you don't touch the caterpillars. For more information about them, see my species account on Loire Valley Nature.

If you are digging in the garden you may well disturb larval or even adult ground beetles and chafers which are semi-active. The adults dig themselves into the earth and emerge on sunny days for a bit of foraging.

Male Orange Tip.
One of the cheeriest butterflies you could see this month is the Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines. The males emerge very early (late March or early April) and have to hang around for the females for a week or so . In this time they can be seen purposefully flying up and down ditches and hedges, in the hope of bumping into a female.

Expect the weather to be cool and changeable, with lots of windy rainy episodes interspersed with sun which brings out the insects.

Happy early spring wildlife watching!



Tim said...

Susan... isn't March a bit soon for Tongue Orchid? Les Orchidees Sauvage de la Region Centre gives May to mid June as the time... and when they are all out at the reserve at Rosnay is end May/early June... my pix are dated June 2nd...

WV is "rmpur"?.. "edambum" definitely

Colin and Elizabeth said...

Susan; What do you use for your weather forecasting. My grandfather (the gamekeeper) used several weird contraptions as I remember...

Susan said...

Tim: agreed it's stretching it a bit. They will be flowering further south in March, and if it is warm here it is possible a few precocious ones would flower - hence you need to keep your eyes open. June is rather late for them to be flowering here and May is definitely their peak (like most of the orchids here).

C&E: what I ought to use is our neighbour Edouard's pronouncements on the subject. If I had I wouldn't have got February so disasterously wrong...

Tim said...

Edouard of course is probably basing his forecast on a lifetime of living here?
Or is he not local born & bred?
We bought the local almanac one year [in a box somewhere] that has a whole load of weather sayings... one or two a month... and most old sayings are based on accumulated knowledge.

Susan said...

Tim: yes, Edouard grew up here.

Jean said...

I hope the processionary caterpillars will have gone by Easter. Lulu had a brief encounter with them two years ago. We had never heard of them until afterwards and fortunately she was fine, but since then I am a nervous wreck when they are active.

Susan said...

Jean: I'm afraid they are likely to still be active.

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