Woodland Highlights: May

Image: WTPL/Steven Kind

Oak leaves
© Steven Kind

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 elderInvasive 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.

Image: northeastwildlife.co.uk

Dryad’s saddle
© northeastwildlife.co.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.

Image: northeast wildlife.co.uk

Common frog
© northeastwildlife.co.uk

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.

Image: northeastwildlife.co.uk

Green-veined white
© northeastwildlife.co.uk

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.

VisitWoods can help locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on Nature’s Calendar and be part of a great citizen science movement.

Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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8 Responses to Woodland Highlights: May

  1. 8arrows says:

    An interesting newsletter. As I live in Northern Ireland I can see how much further behind we are in the north. I have signed up to follow this post & will try to return with some northern comment.

  2. Diana haymanjoyce-joyce says:

    Interesting newsletter but can you tell us why there is so little frog spawn about

    • Kay Haw says:

      Thanks Diana. I have read that some early spawn may have been affected by the freezing temperatures. Otherwise there seem to be different reports, some people saying there is lots of spawn about and others very little. It may be worth contacting the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation trust to see what they say http://www.arc-trust.org/.

  3. snowbird says:

    A lovely informative post.here in Liverpool everything is still way behind. Many trees still have to get their leaves and the bluebells are only just peeking through now. It’s been a strange old year that’s for sure.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Indeed it is snowbird. I am just so pleased that life finally seems to be returning to the natural world! Hopefully this year will be better for our beleaguered wildlife.

  4. Nice, Kay, thanks for this. There is now a growing body of bloggers – ordinary folks that would have put their records and images in books, now they are on line.

    http://www.nature-in-focus blogspot

Sorry, comments are closed as we have moved to a new site: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/

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