March is my favourite time of year and a walk across the RSPB’s Somerset nature reserves at Ham Wall is a great way to connect to nature and get the sense that a change is coming. The first butterflies of the year wake from their hibernations – look out for Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, and Brimstone and the first Bumblebees can be spotted too, searching for early flowering plants.

You’ll notice an increase in birdsong, with birds such as Dunnock, Great Tit, Goldfinch, and Robin singing from their perches and the Song Thrushes belting out their familiar rhythmic tunes, along with the more melodic Blackbird. The Great Spotted Woodpeckers will be drumming against trees to make their presence known to establish territories and as a top- tip when you arrive to our car park you may hear the yaffle of the Green Woodpecker – it is frequently seen and heard from this busier spot.

Great British Life: The call of the male Bittern can be heard 'booming' across Avalon Marshes. The call of the male Bittern can be heard 'booming' across Avalon Marshes. (Image: John Crispin)

The chorus of song will only increase as the month progresses into April. Our native birds are joined, as time progresses, by migrating warblers – many from sub-Saharan regions such as the Willow Warbler. Blackcaps and Chiffchaff will also be present – many of these are now overwintering in Britain and may be regular visitors to your gardens. RSPB Ham Wall is a great place to take in the dawn chorus – thanks to the lines of hedgerows and trees, as well as the sprawling reedbeds and open water. But, perhaps the most iconic sound of the RSPB Ham Wall reedbeds is the call of the male Bittern – a member of the heron family. “Booming”, as it is known, is already well underway by March. This wonderful sound resonates across nature reserves of the Avalon Marshes, of which RSPB Ham Wall is a part, and can carry for up to 5km! It’s sound is like somebody blowing over the top of a very large milk bottle. It is particularly atmospheric on early mornings (they are more vocal at this time of day) with the mist hanging over the reedbeds of this ancient looking landscape. Males will keep booming to attract females all the way into June, so you have plenty of opportunity to visit and take in this unique sound.

Other heron species are also present at this time of year. Grey Herons can be seen carrying sticks and other vegetation to build their nesting platforms within the reedbeds. Grey Herons are often associated with nesting in colonies in large stands of trees, but the lack of suitable groups of trees in this old industrial landscape reformed after peat extraction, means they take readily to nesting in the reedbeds. The Waltons section of RSPB Ham Wall is a favoured area. Nesting normally takes place from February onwards.

The very elegant looking Great White Egrets can also be spotted daily across the nature reserve. These birds are recent colonisers to Britain and have been breeding in the Avalon Marshes since 2012. Their breeding success has been phenomenal, and they are now commonplace in Somerset and have spread their range far and wide. Another elegant bird to look out for is the Great Crested Grebe. Pairs perform an amazing courtship display involving head bobbing and shaking and the wonderful “weed dance” as pairs rise in the water to meet each other carrying weeds in their beaks as a gift. This reinforces pair bonds as they ready themselves for the upcoming breeding season.

Great British Life: Our native birds are joined by the Willow Warbler as the month of March progresses. Our native birds are joined by the Willow Warbler as the month of March progresses. (Image: Mike Pearce)Marsh Harriers too, perform their own rituals, with acrobatic interactions in the air known as “sky dancing”. The male will also perform food passes to females to show his prowess as a hunter and a suitable mate. Several pairs breed on Ham Wall these days with the Avalon Hide a great place to sit a while and watch these birds at work.

Of course, with all this activity going on, it’s easy to overlook some of the species that have been with us over winter and have not yet left. Out on the water you may still see the wintering ducks such as Wigeon and Teal – as the weather improves further, they will feel compelled themselves to travel north to their breeding grounds. Wintering thrushes (Fieldfare and Redwing) are still present in small numbers as the wintering birds and some of the new spring arrivals overlap and allows a keen bird watcher to create an extensive species list on a visit. Other arrivals will include the Sand Martins after a long journey northward. House Martins and Swallows won’t be too far behind them, but you may have to wait a few more weeks for the first Swifts and the calls of the incredible Cuckoo – a bird sadly disappearing from our countryside but happily, RSPB Ham Wall still acts as a stronghold for these birds each year. To find out more about RSPB Ham Wall and its seasonal highlights, visit: