This is probably your last chance to see the range of overwintering water birds that the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve is rightly famous for, before some leave for their breeding grounds further up the Tees and north of the UK. As part of our guided walks programme, knowledgeable volunteers from the Teesmouth Field Centre are leading a Wildlife Discovery Walk on 12th March around the Greatham Creek area; more details are in the events section. Our estuary is an internationally important area for water birds, especially for such species such as knot and redshank.

Some of the easiest birds to spot around the estuary include the handsome shelduck, marked with white , chestnut and glossy dark green with a brilliant scarlet beak. Not quite a duck and not quite a goose, the shelduck sits in a family of its own and nests underground. You can also expect to see good numbers of the noisy pied piper of the coast, the oystercatcher, with the fastest growing beak in the bird world. Individual birds have adopted different feeding strategies to extract their favoured food from local shellfish such as cockles and mussels; some are stabbers, trying to sever the internal muscle when the shell is open, others hammer at cockle shells. I remember seeing them for the first time along the River South Tyne as a child when they were starting to colonise inland sites, foraging for earthworms and other invertebrates in fields. They looked and sounded so exotic flying overhead with their striking plumage and loud piping calls.

Sallow catkins start to flower towards the end of this month (though I spotted the grey pussy willow catkins starting to show their yellow pollen last month) and are quickly found by hungry queen bumblebees and early miner bees, desperate to feed after the long winter hibernation. Keep an eye out for the first butterflies too, such as peacocks and red admirals which hibernate as adults. Orange Tip butterflies hibernate as caterpillars/chrysalis and so emerge a bit later, usually in April. Blackthorn blossom and the humble dandelion all provide food for these early insects so relax and resist the urge to dig out dandelions in your garden, they are vital at this time of the year for all sorts of insects.

Ivy berries will be ripening during this month, helping to fill a wild food gap for birds and mammals. Ivy is important for sheltering hibernating insects and provides useful nest sites for birds as well as pollen and nectar early in the autumn when little else is flowering. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t parasitic on trees, it merely uses them for support.