Following on from last month, what kind of things should you keep an eye out for when walking in Fife throughout the month of May?
A lot of our migrant birds have arrived and started to settle in, but not all are quite here yet. May is the month for swifts and cuckoos. Once the swifts arrive, it can sometimes be difficult to tell them from swallows and martins; remember that swifts are all one colour (brown), unlike the others which have variously whites, reds, and blues somewhere on their plumage. Swifts are also more boomerang-shaped, with very long wings relative to body size. They spend almost their entire life in flight and can range for miles between feeding and nest sites.
The Lomond Hills Regional Park has long been a good place to hear cuckoos, or maybe even see one if you are lucky enough! They do appear in a variety of places though, whether it be woodland or grassland, upland or lowland. The male produces the ‘cuk-coo’ call that is so well known, whereas the female is more burbling. They are nest parasites of various small birds, from dunnocks to meadow pipits, and will attempt to lay in multiple nests of their chosen host species.
In April the Hymenoptera (bees and wasps) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) started to become more prominent, it is now only a matter of time before another insect order bursts into life: Odonata, the dragonflies and damselflies. May will see large red damselflies take flight; they are very delicate looking but bold in colour, the males are almost entirely red, the females have black and yellow extending down the segments. Dragonflies are much the bigger and sturdier looking of the bunch, though all are voracious predators as both larvae and adults. Most Odonata rely on permanent, standing water to complete their lifecycle; after spending a couple of years as a swimming larva, four-spotted chasers will climb up onto the large, pond edge vegetation ready to emerge as an adult at the end of the month. After doing so they leave behind a clue to their presence – an empty exuviae, the husk of its former self.
Female badgers will be bringing their young out to feed after spending the last couple of months suckling them in the safety of the sett. It will take another couple of months to train the young ones up to fend for themselves, but by the end of summer they should be ready to go it alone. They are our largest land carnivore, heftier than a fox or an otter, and eat pretty much anything smaller than themselves, including rabbits and moles, but also eggs and fruit are on the menu.
With all these other things rushing around, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the more stationary residents in our field of view: the trees. Trees are ever present and have an amazing ability to withstand all that the elements can throw at them, without having our gift of being able to head for shelter. In May the oaks and ash will start to green, but which will be first? It won’t be long before we get some clues. These two tree species are relied upon by hundreds of insects, living in or on the tree, and we have relied on them for centuries as timber because of their strength, flexibility and longevity. It is a shame to see so many young ash struggling with disease at present, but it only makes you appreciate them all the more, knowing that they might not be around forever.