The weather may at last now be settling down and warming up, following a final (?) blast of winter wet and cold conditions at the end of April to set us back in what has been a very delayed and likely short spring season. Nature is hence playing catch-up, and May is an excellent month to get outdoors to appreciate the fresh new vibrant renewal of life all around!
Up in the night skies meanwhile, the Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks on the night of 6/7th May, a product of the cosmic dust particles left behind by Halley’s comet, and is best viewed from the South Downs International Dark Sky Reserve after midnight.
Out in the fields farmers will soon start cutting grass to make silage (that ferments in the big black plastic bale wraps) as feed for livestock, as well as shearing the last winter coats of their sheep. The commonplace crop of oil seed rape is now in 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 should soon be ready for us to eat.
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! Good places in The Living Coast that you can visit to see our native Bluebell carpets include the Great Wood at Stanmer Park and Woods Mill nature reserve by Henfield. Other woodland flowers include the delectable Wild Garlic (or Ramsons) with its carpet of white flowers, found in chalk downland woods, whilst Hawthorn (the May Flower) is also now flowering in hedgerows and patches of scrub. In chalk grassland on the Downs meanwhile you can find the lovely butter-yellow flower heads of Cowslips, and if you look very hard in a few chalk grassland sites 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 then die! Bee-Flies with very long shouts (‘proboscises’) are noticeable buzzing around, and some of our charismatic 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 effect from 04.30 am each morning! 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 start to see Bats foraging in the evening twilight too.