Discover the Dee

DeeWatch March 2020

Welcome to the March edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers and other local wildlife enthusiasts who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves and countryside, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.

In March…

The weather can still be quite unpredictable this month, but the equinox brings longer days – soon there will be more day than night. Much of our wildlife probably responds to increases in daylight rather than just to warmer weather, as a reliable sign that Spring is approaching. Remember to check out Aberdeenshire Council Rangers’ Facebook page for more information on what’s going on in nature, and consider helping to make a valuable contribution to our wildlife recordswith any of your sightings, at this website. Look out and listen for:

Birds

Odd as it may sound, many birds can be found ‘attacking’ windows this month. March is the month for defending territories and attracting mates, and if birds see their reflection in a window, they are actually trying to chase off what they see as their competition! Take this male chaffinch - the clattering of his beak against the glass can regularly be heard through both night and daylight hours.

Chaffinch at the window, Ewen Cameron

We mentioned the Great Spotted Woodpecker last month – this month listen out for the Green Woodpecker. Here in northeast Scotland, it’s near the limits of its UK range, but climate change is altering this trend. The green woodpecker has a distinctive call - a cross between a cackle and a laugh, and is often seen on the ground, eating ants.

Many birds that have spent the winter on the coast will now be moving back inland to their breeding areas – birds like lapwings, with their iridescent feathers, will start to appear in grassy fields.

Lapwin, Ewen Cameron

Inland, the call of an oystercatcher flying around at night is a sure sign that Spring has arrived.  Perhaps even more so is the soaring flight and call of the Skylark.

Skylark, Ewen Cameron

 In coastal areas, near the mouth of the Dee, skylarks will be busy prospecting for mates and nesting sites around the golf course at Balnagask, as well as other green spaces around the city.  It’s often a good spot to keep an eye open for birds like this short-eared owl - and of course there are always the dolphins.

Short-eared owl, Ewen Cameron

The thrushes are singing by March – listen out for the distinctive ‘repeat, repeat, repeat…everything, everything’ call of the song thrush. Look skyward and you may catch sight of a flock of whooper swans on their way North, or tits pairing up and dispersing, ready for breeding. Up on Tom’s Cairn in Finzean, you can’t miss tweeting meadow pippits on the open moorland. The first sand martins are back, and feeding over Lochs Kinord and Davan – you might even catch an early osprey in the higher catchment. A great grey shrike has been spotted at Dinnet – these ‘butcher birds’ are territorial so you rarely see more than one at a time, and they’re often mobbed by other birds, which recognise them as dangerous predators.

Great grey shrike, Catriona Reid

Butterflies, moths & insects

Butterflies like Common Tortoiseshell and Peacock that overwinter in garden sheds are waking up and flying about. The first Comma butterflies often appear in March – head for the Old Wood of Drum to see them basking in amongst the bracken debris. Although they’re still not common in Aberdeenshire, their number has increased here in recent years, and early Spring sightings tell us that the Comma butterfly is now well established here, and not just an occasional summer visitor. They will breed in Spring to produce a late summer/autumn generation that will hibernate next winter.

More species of moths are appearing, either coming out of hibernation or hatching from overwintered eggs, such as the Hebrew Character – a very common spring moth named after the curved black mark on its forewing, like a Hebrew alphabet letter:

Hebrew Character Moth, Helen Rowe

 

The Orange Underwing is also around - active by day, and usually seen flying around birch trees that they feed on, occasionally coming to ground:

Orange underwing, Helen Rowe

 

Buff-tailed bumblebees also reappear in March, usually around the end of the month. The large almost square queens are the first to appear on sunny days, feeding and flying low to the ground, searching for nest holes.

Bumblebee, Toni Watt

Larger animals

The first frogs and frogspawn are back  - watch where you tread while out and about! 

Frogs, Helen Rowe

On sunny days, look out for basking male adders, waiting for the females to emerge. In previous years they’ve been spotted around Loch Kinord and broadly within the upper catchment.

Trees, flowers, fruits and fungi

Deeside’s woodlands are gaining a carpet of wood anemone and wood sorrel. Look out for the bright and cheerful celandine, with its shiny, buttercup yellow flowers – these are an important source of early pollen and nectar for insects.The blackthorn will begin to flower this month, and you may also spot the early leaves of elder and honeysuckle.

Blackthorn, Catriona Reid

The False Morel starts to fruit in March. A strange convoluted-shaped fungus, it’s a red-brown colour and looks a bit like a brain on a short stalk. You can spot it at Crathes Castle, under pine trees, but it also crops up in odd places, including the edges of flowerbeds. It’s deadly poisonous but, as with all poisonous fungi,you have to ingest the mushroom to be poisoned so you can still take the time to admire and photograph it.

False morel, Toni Watt

Another morel occasionally found on Deeside isthe Black Morel. This dark fungus has a more pitted surface and seems to be associated with woodchip mulch.You’ll findit on well-rotted woodchip mulch in flowers beds on Lower Deeside.Finding fungi is always fun but remember -  never take any chances with eating them! 

What’s on?

  • 20th-29th March: Climate Week North East with events including talks and tree planting being held across the catchment. For more information visit https://www.climateweekaberdeen.org
  • March is the perfect month to take part in a Nature’s Calendar citizen science survey, when we begin to spot the first signs of Spring – you can choose to survey one or several things – for more information visit https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk
  • Thursday 19th March, 7:30-9:00 pm Aberdeen’s woodlands Talk, by Ian Talboys, Countryside Officer for Aberdeen City Council, Main Lecture Hall,, Zoology Building, Aberdeen University AB24 2TZ. Aberdeen City Council has been creating new woodlands and managing existing woods to benefit both biodiversity and people. In the last decade, the council has created nearly 100 hectares of new woodland across the city with plans for more in the future. In partnership with the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrel project, this has helped the recolonisation of red squirrels throughout the city from the surrounding area. Contact Rodney Payne: 01569 764742
  • Scottish Snowdrop Festival (running from January until March 2020): Crathes Castle and walled Garden: Visit the garden & estate to see beautiful displays of naturalised snowdrops & spring snowflakes on mass. Winter opening hours apply for the walled garden.