Nature Notes May 2017

During May we recorded 60.5 mm of rain, the wettest month of the year so far, but insufficient to restore ponds to an appropriate level for the time of year. Only two mornings showed a significant amount or rainfall, these being 20 mm on the 18th, and 21.3 mm on the 19th. There was a generally cool start to much of the first half of the month, and an encouragingly warm spell throughout much of the second half.  Thus, the coldest daily maximum temperature of 10⁰ C occurred on the 7th, while the warmest was 26⁰ C on the 24th. An overnight frost between the 9th and 10th set back our potato crop mentioned last month for a second time, but signs are that they have now recovered and their leaves are looking healthy once more.


As we moved through spring towards summer, the wildflower first-sightings began to increase. Garlic mustard on the 1st was followed by creeping buttercup on the 2nd.  The native yellow water-lily started blooming on the 8th, while on the 14th, yellow flag iris and oxeye daisy appeared. The 15th produced purple vetch, and the 18th red clover; then on the 23rd we spotted bird’s foot trefoil and the white water-lily, with tufted vetch on the 25th. Finally, on the 28th, lesser stitchwort and white clover completed our monthly tally. These 12 records brought our total for the year so far to 32 species. 

Four new butterfly species during the warmer second half of the month brought our total for the year so far to 14. They were the small copper on the 16th, common blue on the 23rd, painted lady (very early for our inland site) on the 28th, and meadow brown in our woodland ride on the 30th. Moths also featured more strongly during the second half of May. Of the 13 species seen this month, only two came to our well-lighted windows and porch. Those attracted to light were the scorched carpet to bathroom window on the 1st and common swift moth on an indoor wall on the 24th. Two caterpillars, both regulars, turned up on successive days: the drinker moth caterpillar appeared on waterside iris leaf on May 12th, and the lackey moth caterpillar on waterside soft rush on the 13th. Apart from that, a latticed heath moth, last seen here in 2012, was in our meadow grasses on the 16th; we rescued a white ermine moth from our lake, dried it out and released it on the 17th; and saw three longhorn moths (Nemophera degeerella) “dancing” among hornbeam and brambles on the 23rd. Three moths among our meadow grasses were the straw dot moth on the 23rd, the grass moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella) on the 25th; and yellow shell moth on the 27th. Two further moths, our old favourite, the silver Y moth found among waterside rushes, and the common white wave moth among hornbeam in the woodland, were seen on the 27th. May proved to be a very good month for emerging dragonflies and damselflies. First damselfly seen here this year was a red-eyed damselfly, which emerged onto an iris leaf on the 4th. This was followed on the 6th by a pre-flight azure damselfly, a pre-flight white-legged damselfly on the 7th, and a fully-coloured large red damselfly on the 10th. Since the latter was much more mature than the others, we had missed its emergence and pre-flight stage earlier in the month. A pre-flight blue- tailed damselfly was observed on the 11th, to be followed by a lull in new damselflies until a banded demoiselle flew round the lake on the 24th, obviously a visitor from the River Beult. We spotted a hairy dragonfly on May 16th, having missed its emergence somewhat earlier, then saw two pre-flight four spotted chasers on the 18th, a mature broad bodied chaser and an emperor dragonfly on the 25th, and a black tailed skimmer on the 29th. With eleven damselflies and dragonflies this month, this brings our total to 12 species for the year so far. Last month, on April 23rd, we reported seeing our first pre-flight downy emerald of the year among waterside vegetation (soft rush). This is the normal method of emergence for most dragonflies, but on 22nd May, we spotted a downy emerald exuvia on the end of a sawn-off oak branch on our ancient waterside oak. Every year since 2012, when our grand-daughter Isabel (8 years old then) discovered one while she was tree-climbing, we have found between one and three such specimens there. This one was 9ft.5inches (about 280cm) above water-level and away from the bank, and we include three photographs to illustrate the incident.

Final tree and shrub indicators of spring are as follows:

Full leafing:

  • 1st May - beech
  • 10th May - ash 


  • 4th May - elder
  • 9th May - Holly 
  •  19th May - Dog rose

Other incidental observations:

  • 10th May - breeding female common lizard 
  • 19th May - mayfly among waterside vegetation.
  • 28th May - very importantly, the return of a turtle dove a little late this year, but welcome no less as it purred among the trees.