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March 2014

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Daffodil mile at Honing 
Mike Sims
Daffodil mile at Honing, Mike Sims

Last spring’s daffodils were rather late due to the cold, wet conditions. Although we have certainly had some ‘weather’ this year, let’s hope that we see these lovely flowers this month; they will be such a welcome sight. The daffodil is said to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans – where would we be without them – and is the birth flower for March. Its Latin name is Narcissus and, according to Greek mythology, was named after a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. When he died and disappeared into the underworld, a daffodil sprung up in his place. (Come on! It has to be true!)

The recent fierce winds and high tides have breached many of the sea defences along the North Norfolk coast, Cley Marshes amongst them. This beautiful place is designated as a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and is an important nature reserve. To let nature take its course would change the fresh water habitat into a salt water one and much of the existing flora and fauna would disappear. There are discussions in progress about whether or not to repair and improve the shingle bank that held back the sea during calmer times.

Glossy Ibises have been seen at Cley and Martham, thought to be wanderers from the Mediterranean. It is hoped that they may be the next exotic to nest in Norfolk.  Also, Parrot Crossbills were at Holt Country Park, causing a lot of excitement amongst birdwatchers. These birds come from north and east Europe. As the name suggests, the tips of their beaks are crossed enabling them to winkle out the seeds from pine cones.

The first toads will be emerging from hibernation this month and slow-worms and adders can be found basking on warm, sunny days. All amphibians and reptiles are cold-blooded and need the warmth of the sun to increase their metabolic rate – without it they would remain very sluggish.

Brown Hare 
Nicki Dixon
Brown Hare, Nicki Dixon

Was that a hare or a rabbit? Although they are closely related, the hare is bigger than the rabbit, has much longer legs and large, black-tipped ears. He will also carry his tail down when running but the rabbit’s is up, showing the white underside. Another difference between the two is that the rabbit will dig a burrow for its home, whereas the hare lives entirely above ground. There are two types of hares in Britain, the Mountain hare, which is confined to Scotland, Ireland and some parts of northern England and the Brown hare, which is the one we see in Norfolk.

This is the month of the ‘mad’ March hares, so called because at this time of the year we often see them in pairs, up on their hind legs, boxing each other. It used to be thought that these were two males fighting for dominance but in fact, although males do fight, it is usually a female (doe) objecting to the male (buck) making advances, because she is not yet ready to mate. The mating season lasts from January to August, but now is the peak time and although the female comes into season every six weeks, she will only be receptive to mating for a very short time in each cycle. Often several males will chase her around but the strongest will win her hand (or paw) when she is ready.

The doe will carry her young for 41 – 42 days then give birth in a depression on the ground known as a form. There are usually 1 – 4 babies, called leverets, which, unlike rabbits, are born fully furred with their eyes open. The mother will not leave them all together but will put them in different forms and will visit them at sundown to suckle. This instinctive behaviour helps avoid attracting the attention of predators such as foxes, stoats, weasels and birds of prey and separating them also lowers the risk of losing the whole litter.

Hares are animals of open country, preferring pasture and crop fields. Apart from when they are being ‘mad’ during the mating season, they are generally solitary and nocturnal and will lie up in their forms during the day, unless they are disturbed when they will up and run. The hare is our fastest land mammal, sometimes reaching 45 mph; it relies on speed and zig-zagging to escape from predators.

They are herbivorous, feeding on grasses, herbs and crops; in the winter they will also take bark from fruit trees and shrubs. One odd feeding habit, which they share with rabbits, is coprophagia – they eat their own faecal pellets. This is because when the food passes through the digestive system the first time not all the nutrients are absorbed, so the animal will take the pellets directly from the anus and send them through again. How’s that for recycling! (Your pet Guinea Pig or Hamster also enjoys this kind of feasting).

Although our county is quite well off for hares, due to the open, arable nature of much of the land, numbers have declined in the rest of the country, partly due to changes in agriculture. They are also affected by several diseases and they are hunted as game. There is no closed season, which does seem rather unfair as pregnant and nursing females are killed, but there are discussions in progress with shooting associations to try to come to an agreement about this.

Hares are well represented in mythology and they were strongly connected to fertility and Spring; it is thought that the Easter bunny was originally a hare. They have always been associated with the moon and in Mexico they see ‘the hare in the moon’ instead of ‘the man’. Have a look at the next full moon and see if you can see it. We all remember the March Hare at The Mad Hatter’s tea party in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and, of course, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ in Aesop’s fables.

Things to do this month include:-
• A mile of daffodils at Honing, near North Walsham. This is really not to be missed! March 30th and April 6th from 1.30 -3.30pm. Tractor taxis, if you don’t feel like walking, and tea and cakes at Honing church.
• Titchwell’s fabulous wildlife – call 01485210779 for details.
• Norfolk badgers.
• Children’s wildlife watch – March hares at Houghton Hall.
Details at Norfolk Wildlife Trust or call 01603 625540.

© Sheila Sims 2014