Winter drained away during March, with the last three snipe seen on the 21st, and not a single meadow pipit found all month. In their place, though, we now have a couple of pairs of reed buntings, one of which is actually showing an interest in the willow maze! 

For some species the breeding season is already well under way, but the mallard eggshells I found recently had small holes, indicating predation by crows rather than successful hatching.

Up to six coot and 29 tufted duck were present on Tonford lake, and a pair of great crested grebes (left) returned there in the second half of the month, raising hopes that they will nest. Small groups of greylag geese occasionally fly up and down the valley, but on the 7th, two were actually feeding on the Marshes, for the first time in eight years.

There was considerable activity on the old railway embankment; the stock doves don’t seem to have been unduly put off by the severe tree surgery that had to be carried out on their nesthole tree last autumn, so they may settle down to nest there. At the other end of the embankment the collared doves are also still around.

Nearby the same day there was much interaction amongst up to five dunnocks. This self-effacing, dull-coloured bird has a well-kept secret. Many bird species are polygynous (males attempt to mate with several females), and a few are polyandrous (where a female chooses to mate with several males). But the dunnock takes infidelity to a new level, and is classed as being polygynandrous, where both the male and female of a pair mate with others. None of this was evidently known by the Victorian clergyman who wrote:

“Unobtrusive, quiet and retiring, without being shy; humble and homely in its deportment and habits, sober and unpretending in its dress, while still neat and graceful, the dunnock exhibits a pattern which many of a higher grade might imitate, with advantage to themselves and benefit to others through an improved example.”

Photos by Dave Smith