Thankfully some warmth has returned to our shores. This is the last month of spring and many trees are flushed with their new leaves. Keen photographers may want to take this opportunity to capture them while they are still fresh and vivid green. Why not enter your photos in the VisitWoods competition running until the end of July.
Trees/shrubs… The beautiful flowerheads of rowan start appearing, and the tall floral spikes of naturalised horse chestnut trees are evident in May. Spindle also blooms this month, and hawthorn flowers should take over from blackthorn in hedgerows. Blackberry blossom offers a good source of pollen and nectar for many insects, as does elder. Invasive rhododendron has beautiful flowers but is a nightmare in the wild, it drowns out native wildflowers and reduces the food available to other wildlife. Unfortunately it easily escapes gardens and wreaks havoc. Oak leaves burst forth, at first brown, they turn to light green, then later become a darker shade. Ash trees are the last to come into leaf, from now we will really begin to see the extent of the Chalara dieback issue.
Plants… Bluebells and ramsons are still very evident in May, carpeting the woodland floor in colour and creating a pungent odour. The pink-purple petals of foxglove are one to watch for too. Other flowers visible this month include common figwort, yellow pimpernel, common spotted orchid, bugle and the strange lords-and-ladies. You may even see the rare herb-paris in certain parts of the UK.
Fungi/lichens/moss… Sulphur tufts and chicken of the woods are colourful yellow fungi to spot in May. Dryad’s saddle and stinkhorn are other interesting species to watch for. The superbly named electrified cat’s tail moss can be found on woodland floors, even in more acidic pinewoods. Pale, shaggy tufts of old man’s beard lichen are sometimes seen on the twigs and branches of deciduous trees.
Birds… This year’s brood of new birds will be breaking free of their confines and the parents will be working hard to keep up with demands for food. Look out for bits of broken shell on the floor. Many birds, like robins, will take the pieces of shell far away from the nest to fool predators. Beautiful nightjars and spotted flycatchers return with the last of the migrants this month. The aerial acrobatics of spotted flycatchers can be see in woodland glades as they hunt for insects. The cacophony of woodland bird song reaches its peak in May. Listen out for the song of the nightingale as it defends its territory, its striking voice has been immortalised in literature and music.
Mammals… The nights should now be warm enough to encourage bats out of their roosts, although they can be seen on warmer nights anytime from February onwards – but this has been a decidedly cold year! Hedgehogs mate through May and June. Their snuffling and grunting nocturnal courting ritual can be heard on warm evenings. The hazel dormouse is another nocturnal creature, this month they come out of hibernation to start fattening themselves back up with spring flowers and pollen.
Amphibians… The larvae of frogs, toads and newts start metamorphosing from simple tadpoles. Slowly their markings start to show and then their legs sprout forth. It takes just a few weeks for them to be fully developed into their adult form, albeit still a smaller version.
Reptiles… Grass snake courting is taking place. The male curls its body around the female, rubbing her with his head and wrapping his tail close to her body. Following the shed of their old skin, venemous adders are also looking for mates. Once they find each other, the male flicks his tongue over the female, with both quivering their tails and bodies. May is also good for smooth snakes and slow worms to pair up and procreate, during this time slow worm males become very aggressive.
Insects… Providing the weather is good, butterfly activity should really hot up, with many new additions to the early pioneers. Duke of Burgundy, green-veined white, chequered skipper, speckled wood and green hairstreak are among those to watch for in woods this month. Around the middle of the month damselflies and dragonflies emerge and start breeding. Listen for the loud buzzing sound of cockchafer beetles as they clumsily fly around. May is also a time for stag beetles to appear and mayflies to dance.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser