The last knockings of winter are transforming to warmer spring temperatures, but the ongoing very dry conditions of this winter seem set to continue with rainfall well below average. So good conditions to get outdoors in May, the month when everything appears new, fresh and vibrant!
Up in the night skies, the Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks on the night of 6-7th May, although the full moon coming just a few days later may limit viewing conditions.
In the fields farmers will start cutting grass to make silage (that ferments in black plastic wrap), and shearing the winter coats of their sheep. The commonplace crop of oil seed rape is now in full flower, turning the countryside yellow and providing rich nectar for foraging bees, whilst winter wheat and spring barley are growing vigorously and the tender stems of fresh asparagus are soon ready to be eaten.
Carpets of Bluebells cover woodland floors with their purple haze and sweet perfume – a most quintessential British nature spectacle, and one not to be missed! Other woodland flowers include the delectable Wild Garlic (or Ramsons) with its carpet of white flowers, and Hawthorn (the May Flower) is also out in hedgerows and scrubby areas. In chalk grassland on the Downs meanwhile you can find the yellow flower heads of Cowslips, and if you look very hard in certain chalk grassland you may even encounter the diminutive rare Early Spider Orchid.
Insects emblematic of this month include large Cockchafer beetles (or ‘May Bugs’) that fly clumsily towards lights at night, as well as ephemeral Mayflies that emerge from clean rivers as adults for a single day to swarm, mate, lay their eggs and die! Bee-Flies with very long shouts (proboscises) are noticeable buzzing around, and some of our Blue butterflies are also on the wing
Our summer migrant birds will soon arrive from their wintering grounds in Africa, including aerial acrobats such as Swallows in the countryside and Swifts over our towns – if you’re interested in doing surveys for swifts with the RSPB then get in touch with them here. Woods and gardens are alive with a cacophony of songs during the ‘dawn chorus’ which is now at its peak – catch it in full from 04.30 am! Eggs in nests are now hatching, sending the parent birds in to overdrive to try to gather enough food to satisfy their ever-hungry offspring.
The increasingly rare mammal of the Hedgehog mates this month, should you be lucky enough to wonder what the strange noises coming from your garden might be! You may also see Bats foraging in the evening twilight too.