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Five Forest Things in May


Spring is now in full flow, and dare we say it, there are days that even feel like summer.

This has massive implications for the natural world where there's an abundance of resources literally springing into life.

For many species May is a month of bringing young into the world, and life revolves around their needs.

Meanwhile for insect life that has overwintered in small numbers or as larvae, the race is for adults to find a mate, support the colony or a combination of both.

Read on to discover five things to spot in the forest this month.

1. English Oak Trees Begin to Leaf

Possibly the most iconic and recognisable tree in our countryside, the English Oak literally bursts forth with bunches of leaves this month.

Oak tree leaves are one of their most distinguishable features, with their deep lobes. The English Oak can be identified by its short leaf stems and longer acorn stems, whereas it’s cousin the Sessile Oak displays the opposite.

Not only are they mightily majestic, but the English Oak also supports a greater volume of life than any other tree in the UK.

2. Pine Hawkmoths Take to the Skies

Sadly, moths are often considered pests, dancing around your camping lamp or trying to invade your kitchen on a summer’s evening. Upon closer inspection they’re fascinating insects that also play a vital role in the forest food-chain.

The pine hawkmoth spent winter as a caterpillar, but has now pupated, hatched and taken to the wing. Most common in southern England, you’ll find them in many of the coniferous forests where you also find Go Ape.

Subtly coloured grey, black and brown, they feed at night on honeysuckle nectar and are also on the look out for a mate, laying their eggs on pine needles. Once hatched later in the summer, keep an eye out for their eye-catching caterpillars with stripes, spots and bright colours.

3. Mayflies Aren't Just for May

You may think that given their name; the mayfly is just around in May. Actually, their name comes from a single subspecies which emerges when the Mayflower is in bloom. As an entire species you can actually spot mayflies from spring to autumn.

Amazingly these little flying insects have spent up to two years as larvae on the bottom of rivers and lakes. After the adults emerge from the water they head for leaves, moult again into their final and most attractive form, then ‘dance’ over the water in search of a mate.

Their lifespan can be as short as a day, but they’re a common sight over woodland lakes and rivers. Look out for them this month.

4. Buzzards on Parenting Duty

Like a lot of the animal kingdom, spring is all about bringing babies into the world. Buzzards are no exception, and this makes May a fantastic time to spot these impressive birds of prey.

Their eggs will hatch after a little more than a month of incubation, and for the first couple of weeks it’s dad on dinner catching duty, whilst mum does the feeding. With up to six hungry mouths to feed, plus both adults, he’s more active than ever scouring the forest for food.

You’re most likely to spot them on bright sunny days, soaring above meadows or a clearing in the forest, a typical behaviour. However, buzzards catch most of their prey from a perched position, so now more than ever you may be lucky enough to see one closer to the ground.

A buzzard in flight
A buzzard in flight
A buzzard perched on a tree branch

Perched and on the lookout for a meal.

5. Tree Bumblebees are Bouncing Back for Bees

Sadly, across Europe, Asia and North America there’s a worrying decline in pollinating insects. However, in the last 20 years one species of Bumblebee has bucked the trend.

First spotted in Wiltshire in 2001, these distinctive bees have a black abdomen, amber on their upper thorax (essentially their back) and white tails. Since then, they’ve spread across the country, and May is a great month to spot them in flowered areas of the forest.

The queens made their nest in March, and as their name suggests this is often in a tree. Now six weeks on the worker bees are busily harvesting nectar. The aim of the game is to keep the colony going until the end of the summer when all, but the new queens, die off.

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