Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – March

Loddon Lily aka Summer Snowflake(Leucojum aestivum)

Dear Readers, March is an inbetween month – it can be mild, it can be windy, it can pour with rain, it can even snow. But underneath the earth, all kinds of things are stirring, including these lovely Loddon lilies, which look superficially like giant snowdrops. I spotted these in our local cemetery in mid March a few years ago, so clearly the designation ‘summer’ doesn’t apply in the milder parts of the country.

March is also when you might first notice that the nights really are getting shorter – the first time that I used to leave work at 5 p.m. to find that it was still daylight was normally in early March, even before the clocks go forward by an hour on 26th March.

But what else should be going on? Let’s see.

Things to Do

  • The Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens this year features the orchids of Cameroon, and it actually starts on 4th February, so make a note if this is something that you fancy – the last date is 5th March.
  • On Sunday 12th March, the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham (part of the London Wildlife Trust) is holding a Toad Day, which looks as if it’s lots of fun for all the family.
  • On Thursday 9th March, the London Natural History Society is holding a free virtual talk on ‘Bees and Garden Plants’ by Rosi Rollings – these talks have been of a consistently high quality, and certainly kept me from getting bored during lockdown. Rosi Rollings runs the nursery from which I get all my bee-friendly plants, Rosybee, and has been studying bees for six years. Well worth a look, and a good date for the diary.

Plants for Pollinators

The RHS’s featured plant for March is lungwort, or Pulmonaria, and very popular with the bees it is too – you might spot an Early bumblebee (Bombus praetorum) which is one of the first bumblebees to set up its nest and start to produce workers. Early bumblebees have two yellow stripes, one on the thorax and one on the top of the abdomen, and a rusty tail. However, in my garden the first bees to really appear in any numbers are the hairy-footed flower bees – the females are jet black, the males gingery with a yellow face, and both are very, very speedy. I would really recommend flowering currant for these guys, they don’t seem to be able to get enough of it. The other plants mentioned include hellebores (though not the fancy double-flowered ones) and good old-fashioned dandelion, which I always tolerate because it’s such a good source of nectar.

Male hairy-footed flower bee on flowering currant

Bird Behaviour

  • March is the kick-off month for many birds to start breeding in earnest. In most populations, the older, more experienced birds will already be paired and will have sorted out a territory, but the timing of producing youngsters is a tricky one – there will need to be food available, otherwise the whole thing will have been in vain. The advantage of early breeding is that if it fails, there will be time for a second brood.
  • Birds that may be laying eggs and starting to incubate in March include tawny owls (as many small rodents are becoming more active now), mistle thrushes (the theory is that by starting early they avoid predation by crows, sparrowhawks etc who might be busy elsewhere and have not yet gotten into nest and fledgling robbing) and rooks. Rooks feed their young mostly on earthworms, and by later in the year the earth will (in a ‘normal’ year) be too hard for them to find them, so rookeries will be abuzz with excitement.

A Somerset rookery in spring, close to my late Aunt Hilary’s house

  • Long-tailed tits, who have been seen in little gangs all through the winter, pair up in March and build their beautiful nests, constructed of moss and spiders’ webs, lichen and feathers. In his book ‘The Secret Life of Garden Birds’, Dominic Couzens points out that those feathers are often taken from chicken coops or even from the carcasses of roadkill, so it’s worth keeping an eye open for long-tailed tits doing peculiar things.
  • Wrens will be singing their heads off – the males build a number of ‘starter homes’ in their territories, and hope that they can entice females to come along, mate with them, finish off the nests and then do all of the chick-rearing. I guess that after all that loud singing, the males haven’t got much energy left for domestic duties.

Long-tailed tit building its nest (Photo by Alan Shearman)

Plants in Flower

In my garden, the first of the fritillaries and grape hyacinths, some shy daffodils, wallflowers, and possibly some scillas. Elsewhere, magnolias spread their magnificence for a few days, the green flowers of stinking hellebore are out, and there might even be some cherry blossom.

Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

Other Things to Watch/Listen Out For

  • Frogs should be mating by now, and you might hear them singing in earnest in the evening (though you have to sneak up on them because the frogs in my garden are very shy). With any luck, there will be the first frogspawn and even the first tadpoles if it’s mild enough. The first pondskaters will be floating on the surface, hoping to spear a stray tadpole before it gets too big. Plants will be growing and insect life will be resurrecting itself. Yay!
  • Fox cubs are usually born in mid-March – as they are born blind and helpless, the vixen won’t leave them, and will be provisioned by the dog fox and any ‘helpers’ that the couple might have (sometimes a son or daughter who hasn’t found a territory of their own).
  • Full moon is on 7th March, and is known as the Chaste Moon, Plough Moon or Lenten Moon.

Holidays and Celebrations

6th March – the Hindu festival of Holi starts at sundown

8th March – International Women’s Day

19th March – Mothering Sunday

20th March – Vernal Equinox – at 21.24, days and nights are exactly the same length, wherever you are in the world, in a rare moment of balance. Moments after this, days in Norway will start to lengthen towards the ‘white nights’ of high summer, while the days in New Zealand will shrink towards autumn and winter. The pagan festival of Ostara, also on 20th March, marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. You can almost feel nature breathing a sigh of relief, as those who have survived realise that they’ve come through winter, and are still here.


3 thoughts on “Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – March

  1. Rosalind Atkins

    I love this almanac idea, and this March entry has a lovely positive note. Most uplifting, madame! Thanks


Leave a Reply