Early March can be a tough time in the birding calendar, because while we are more than ready for spring, spring is not quite ready for us. We seek flowers and songbirds, but March mainly offers mud. The first wave of migrants – the blackbirds, vultures, and woodcocks – have long-since settled in, and not much else is happening. While the coming weeks will bring the first real influx of Ospreys and Piping Plovers, migration for most birds doesn’t really get hopping again until late April. But there are still some critters to be on the lookout for in this time of mud, and many of them aren’t birds.
Some are, of course. Killdeer, a big plover of open areas start arriving in early March, and they don’t sneak in quietly. Their Latin species name is “vociferous” for a reason. These resourceful plovers will happily nest at the edge of a gravel pit or school soccer field, where you might find them doing their famous “broken wing” display to lure you away from their nest. Look and listen for them now at grassy airports, muddy farm fields, and the edges of salt marshes. Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth has been hosting up to four.
Eastern Phoebes have also begun turning up, though it’s hard to tell a new arrival from a bird that stayed the winter. These guys are tough as nails, arriving up to three months earlier than other, more delicate species of flycatcher. Listen for the cheerful, eponymous call of these avian optimists while keeping an eye out for their habitual tail wagging and sallying forth from perches to snag insects.
In our woodlands, vernal pools are coming online with a full cast of crawling, cold-blooded critters. These temporary pools support a wide range of species, many of which are dependent of these fishless wetlands to complete their life cycle, and some of the best known have already started breeding. Listen for choruses of Wood Frogs in a pool near you – they sound like a roomful of arguing ducks. More quietly, Spotted Salamanders are also making their way into the pools to breed. While they are up to 9” long with bright yellow spots, their subterranean lifestyle means they are all but impossible to find except when they are breeding. Males rush to the pools first, and can often be seen swimming around under the ice in cold years. If you don’t catch the actual breeding event, you can still look for the delightfully gelatinous egg masses of both Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders for many weeks afterwards.
So while we’re in a bit of a doldrums for bird migration, March clearly has plenty to offer the natural history enthusiast. So grab some wellies and a flashlight, and your binoculars, of course, and take some time to revel in the natural wonders of March, the month of mud.