Wetland wildlife to watch in early spring

The spring equinox is on Wednesday 20 March but spring behaviours start much earlier with the weather setting the timetable: warmer days bring things forward while cooler temperatures slow them down.

By the time March goes out like a lamb, spring will definitely be underway with wildlife awakening throughout the wetlands.

Kingfishers and Sand martins

Kingfishers are onsite all year around but in early March the males chase each other to define their territories. Visit the Discovery hide to watch these beautiful birds try out nesting holes at the Kingfisher Nesting bank on the Arun River lagoon. A pair has been using Nest Hole number 5 on nesting banks, like in this photo by Mike Jerome. We expect them to be on eggs mid-late March with a first brood hatching in May. Check the Sand martin hide as well – a second kingfisher pair nested there in April last year.

In late March and early April watch for swirls of sand martins moving through the site. In mixed flocks with house martins and swallows, the birds on their way northwards, returning from winter homes in Africa and Europe. We expect at least 13 pairs of Sand martins to remain onsite in our Sand martin hide nest bank again this year. The amount of birds in this small colony has been increasing for the past four years so we hope this number will build again this year.

Sand Martins on speaker.jpg

We hope to see at least 13 pairs of sand martins nesting again this year!

Where are the Water Voles?

We did our first water vole survey in February. Numbers were good with 32% of the artificial latrines dotted about showed use by water voles. Best news was that there was more activity in the Wetland Discovery area along the boat channels than there has been the last few years. In early spring water voles dive for phragmites reed shoots underwater - look for their feeding piles in the reedbed along the boardwalk.

Barn Owls pair

We have spotted a pair of barn owls onsite already this month. They have been perching on one of our nest boxes. The owls use the roof beams in the Lapwing and Ramsar as hunting roosts, leaving tell-tale owl whitewash and pellets. We will check our owl nest boxes in June for owlets when it’s ringing time.

March is ducky

Look out for clutches of newly hatched mallard ducklings along the edges of most waterways. Pochards will have paired up with the females disappearing looking for nesting spots. Shoveler ducks do the same with males predominately on the water.

Greylag and Canada geese started holding territory in February so look for them on nests in March. Keep an eye out for the two pairs of oyster catchers who nest here each spring. They will be testing out nesting spots in March - one pair has used the pond in front of the Coastal Creek aviary for past two years.


Look our for mallard ducklings along the edges of the waterways.

March chorus

Listen for spring singing from chiffchaffs and black caps - the loudest song and from all over the site will be the Cetti’s warblers. Great-spotted woodpecker often drum in Woodland Loop.

In early march listen for the ‘slide-whistle’ calls of male lapwings on their tumbling display flights. They make shallow scrape nests in short vegetation offering them good sight lines to watch for predators. They lay four to five eggs, mottled to look like small stones. Later in spring lapwing call loudly to warn their chicks of danger and to mob intruders.

Huge numbers of gulls move through the reserve in March – common gulls, Mediterranean gulls and black-headed gulls. Most of these gulls will move on leaving us with about 100 black-headed gulls that nest here each spring and raise their chicks before departing mid-July.


Cettis warbler - hard to see, easy to hear - they are very loud!

Bees & Butterflies

Watch for peacock, brimstone and red admiral butterflies emerging on warmer days in March. They spend the winter as adult butterflies in a dormant state, tucked into the cracks in trees and buildings. Many other butterflies winter as caterpillars, a chrysalis or an egg, hatching or transforming into butterflies later in spring and summer.

Hairy-footed flowers bees hatch in early spring. These solitary bees nest in groups – look for them around the Sand martin hide. The females are all black and the males are red-brown with a whitish face.

Buff-tailed bumblebee and common carder bumble bees are early bees. They will be looking for looking for nectar on early flowering tree catkins. Other early spring flowers that are vital nectar sources for insects are marsh marigolds, red dead nettle, colt’s foot, lady smock and primroses.

Warm sunshine days will also bring out newly hatched bee flies – these striped furry flies with pretty patterned wings use a long nose for nectar.

It's Toad Time

Wet and warm temperatures above 7 degrees signal to the common toad that it is time to migrate back to the waters from whence they spawned to mate. Toads can travel up to three miles to reach their ponds and they move at night to avoid predators. They need the damp weather to keep their skins moist while they travel Look for toad spawn in the water ways. The toad breeding season has been in February in recent years but cold weather this year has tipped toad migration into March.

Grass snakes emerge from hibernation and take to the water in March, likely hunting the influx of toads.

Ready to Visit?

If you've been inspired to discover wetland wildlife at WWT Arundel this spring, find out more and plan your visit online.

Plan your visit

  • Share this article