There's no need to feel blue... sit in the middle of a bluebell wood!
If like me you love bluebells, then May really is your month. With the warm March then wet and cold April this year's bluebells don't know if they are coming or going. However, it has prolonged the flowering season, and many bluebell wood are only just starting to come into their own. A lovely place to see them is Ashley Wood nature reserve between Wimborne and Blandford. It's only a small reserve, but usually covered in bluebells at this time of year.
Another place to search for wild flowers is Lorton Meadows nature reserve. Look out for early purple orchids, and possibly bee orchids at the end of the month (if it turns warm!).
Get up early for a treat... or just look to the skies later in the day
If you manage to get up just when the sun is rising (or even a little before), it's worth spending a few minutes standing in the garden (preferrably with a cuppa) listening to the dawn chorus, which is in full swing this month. If you are in a very built up area you might not hear this from your backdoor, but a quick stroll to a nearby park or playarea should do the trick! Listening to the song of blackbird, song thrush and robin echoing around you early in the morning can be really uplifting and hauntingly beautiful.
If you don't manage to catch the early birds, then look to the heavens later in the day and watch out for swifts, swallows and martins (house and sand). They are streaming into the country at the moment, looking for nesting sites and feeding after their long flights from north Africa. You can often see hundreds of them at this time of year.
This is the time of year when rabbits have their young (and usually rather a lot of them). No wonder that the stoat decides on this time of year to have its young as well, and cashes in on the bunny-bounty. They are hard to see - but watch out for a black tipped tail bounding across a field full of rabbits, and you might see one of our best preditors in action.
Alternatively you might spot the youngsters playing in and around an old piles of logs, a favourite place for the parents to leave their young while they go hunting. You might even see them in your garden... watch this lovely video below of young stoats playing in a Hampshire garden. Now that's what I call armchair wildlife watching!
Bringing up baby
Not only do the barn owls and tawny owls on our owl webcams have chicks again this year, but we also have the privilege of watching a little owl nestbox webcam on a private farm in the Tarrant Valley. You can watch the webcams here. A note of warning... they are very addictive to watch.
The wet weather has really hit the barn owls hard this year. The rain makes it difficult for them to hunt (their delicate feathers hate the rain), and the vole population always suffers after prolonged rain and flooding. We don't know if their chicks will survive. Its nature at its most cruel, but via the webcams we can show you "real" wildlife, and the "real" problems they encounter every single day.
Dragonflies and their hobby hunters
As I write this it is pouring with rain outside, but I'm imaginging that at some point in May the sun WILL come out. When it does, the dragonflies will also start to emerge. I've already spotted large red damselflies in my garden (from my garden pond), but on the wet heaths, like Upton Heath, look out for early dragonflies, such as the broad-bodied and 4-spot chasers.
With the dragonflies you might also catch a glimpse of one of our falcon visitors. Hobby fly back from Africa at this time of year and can sometimes be seen on heaths, such as Upton Heath nature reserve, catching their favourite prey.
Here you can see hobby catching dragonflies near a nestsite in Warwickshire, but you can see the same thing going on in Dorset!
Nests "under" the sea!
The waters are starting to warm up and this is encouraging marine life to start reproducing. At Kimmeridge, male Corkwing wrasse (a fish) are building underwater nests from seaweed. Pieces of seaweed are picked and crammed into a crevice in the seabed, building up into an untidy-looking mound. Most commonly they use coral weed, a fairly hard, chalky seaweed for the structure but line it inside with softer seaweeds.
Once completed the male waits for females, attracted by his wonderful design, to lay their eggs inside the nest, which he then fertilises. The male then tends the nest and finally, when the eggs start to hatch he punches a hole in the outer crust to let the fry out. If you know what to look for you can sometimes see these nests, with the male nearby, when snorkelling in Kimmeridge Bay, or even from the shore at low tide if the water is clear.
Grapes on the beach?
Cuttlefish are also coming inshore to breed this month, laying their bunches of ‘seagrape’eggs on seaweed, rope or fishing pots on the seabed. Each egg contains a single individual along with some ink to give it the black colour and hide the occupant from view.
Stormy weather can wash the bunches of eggs up onto the shore, so look out for them on the beach in rough weather. Studland, Kimmeridge and Burton Bradstock are some of the beaches where they have been found. Having bred, the adults die leaving behind their buoyant cuttlebones to strew beaches all along the coast.
With thanks to all the staff & volunteers who have
helped me with this month's article - Jane Adams