May is our best month of the year, with up to 70 species breeding and others passing through as migration peaks. Most breeding birds have arrived on the reserve by the first week of May. Nightingales should increase during the first week, to around 25 singing birds. Look and listen for them around the old Wray House Garden (near the Kingfisher Hide) and in scrub along Haul Road.
There are plenty of blackcaps, chiffchaffs and willow warblers around the reserve. Movements of spring migrants continue until mid May, with yellow wagtails and swifts (sometimes with hobbies) moving north. House martins have become scarce as a breeding species locally.
Common terns and sand martins have already assembled in their colonies and May should see an increase in numbers of both. The common terns can be seen feeding over all of the Pits and are best viewed breeding on the Sailing Lake islands. Sand martins, breeding at the back of Washout Pit, make regular feeding forays over the Heronry Pits, especially on warm evenings. It can also be a month of surprises: both whiskered tern and red-footed falcon have occurred in previous Mays.
It is also the month when hedgerow, wayside and meadow flowers burst into life. With warmer weather following the April rains, The Meadow is now blooming. Bulbous buttercups are in flower, soon to be followed by meadow buttercups. Also in the Meadow, look out for meadow foxtail (one of the earlier grasses), lady’s smock (or milkmaids), cow parsley and several species of sedge and rush, by the boardwalk.
Along the gravel Heron Trail, look out for the white flower of the wild strawberry. Several species of geranium grace this area, too: the common storksbill and soft cranesbill are early to flower, while masses of yellow stonecrop (wall pepper) flourish. Still to be seen around the wooded areas are primrose, false oxlip, bluebell and common dog violet, the latter having a larger flower than other violets and a pale spur. Particularly showy on a sunny day is ground ivy. The inconspicuous flowers of dog mercury mingle with the cuckoo pint and herb robert (another geranium). Blackthorn has finished flowering, to be replaced by the aromatic hawthorn.
On a sunny day along the small wooded area known as The Triangle (on the left as you walk up Haul Road), small tortoiseshell, peacock and speckled wood butterflies abound. Bees are also regular visitors to the pollen and nectar plants, as are some of the bee and wasp mimics. Hoverflies and the bee-fly (not a bee, but a lookalike, with a long nectar probe) are on the wing and grass snakes can often be seen on warm, sunny banks. Check out the wildlife pond by the Visitor Centre for common newts, too. It’s a wonderful month to take a gentle stroll around the reserve and soak up the wildlife.