Wildlife appearing everywhere!
The hawthorn is in blossom, early purple and early spider orchids are getting past their best, brimstone butterflies have been laying eggs on alder buckthorn leaves, several dragonflies are on the wing and large red damselflies are flying in tandem.
Just some of the wildlife highlights
There is so much to see and experience in Dorset this month, it really is difficult to know where to start!
> To the woods, to the woods!
If you haven’t yet wandered through a deciduous wood with shafts of sunlight playing onto carpets of bluebells or ramsons, then do it within the first week or so of May before the flowers are past their best. This is also the time to see yellow archangel, an attractive hedgerow and woodland flower most frequently encountered in west and north Dorset.
On a woodland walk, notice the fresh young leaves of the oak trees and the way in which caterpillars bite chunks out of them before the leaves start to become less palatable. Resident great and blue tits will depend on this seemingly endless supply of juicy caterpillars to feed the voracious appetites of their nestlings in May. Once they have left the nest, many fledglings will inevitably fall prey to sparrowhawks whose own young need a reliable source of food if they are grow and fly the nest by late June or early July.
> In the verges and grasslands
On open grassland and roadside verges, rabbits have been breeding since late winter and are now producing litters of up to seven young roughly once a month. With numerous rather naïve youngsters busily cropping the grass, the scene is set for both foxes and stoats to satisfy their own requirements.
You need luck to have an encounter with a stoat, despite their presence in a wide range of habitats throughout Britain and Ireland. Such encounters are always memorable and the long sinuous body, bounding gait and black-tipped tail are definitive signs that you have seen one of nature’s very efficient predators.
DON'T MISS: Now is also the time barn owls nest and you can watch the nestbox at Lorton Meadows live on our webcam. At the time of writing they already have 4 chicks and the adults are busy feeding them mostly mice and voles! Watch the barn owl webcam live here
> Watery wonders
If you have a garden pond, you may have been enjoying the fascinating sight of both damselfly and dragonfly larvae emerging from the water on a plant stem. Once clear of the water, a split occurs in the larva behind the head and the adult then sets about the complex process of hauling itself out of the larval case before resting and then pumping blood into the shrivelled wings.
When the wings are fully expanded and dried out, the adult takes its first flight and moves well away from water. Over the next week or more it develops its full colouration, becomes mature and only then will it return to the waterside to set up territory and find a mate.
Some of the early dragonflies to emerge such as broad-bodied and 4-spot chasers are exciting to watch as they make sorties from a perch to catch flies on the wing. In many ways, they can be thought of as the falcons of the insect world.
However, who can forget the amazing photography on Springwatch when Simon King captured in slow motion a genuine falcon, the hobby, sometimes catching, but occasionally being outmanoeuvred by a 4-spot chaser dragonfly over the Old Decoy Pond in Morden Bog here in Dorset!
> Wetlands and heathlands
Look out for newly arrived hobbies this month over wetland and heathland as they hunt dragonflies by day and moths in the evenings. A late evening visit to heathland or a conifer plantation may offer you the chance to hear another summer migrant from Africa, the nightjar, whose nasal ‘kru-ik’ call and hypnotic two-note churring provide a unique experience.
Moths and other insects are caught in the huge mouth of this unusual bird as it flaps and glides through a clearing, but make sure you don’t find yourself ‘on the menu’ from the inevitable biting midges!
As the flowers appear, so do the butterflies!
And finally, our warm spring has already resulted in the early appearance of many species of butterflies which overwintered as pupae or larvae. This month, look out for the wall butterfly which likes to sun-bathe on bare paths and is frequent along the Jurassic coast.
In addition the spectacular adonis blue should appear as its foodplant, the horseshoe vetch, flowers on favoured chalk downland and the diminutive small blue may, with careful observation and some luck, be found in sheltered locations close to kidney vetch.
Written by John Wright
Dorset Wildlife Trust Member & Volunteer