With yet more variable weather in the South Shropshire Hills, the garden here was alternately hot and sunny and cool and windy throughout May, with conditions changing rapidly. Orange tips were the most abundant butterflies both in the garden and in the lanes around our house, where one of their food plants, Alliaria petiolata, grows in abundance. In the garden this butterfly breeds on honesty which seeds itself around our borders and it is also used as a nectar source by these stunning little butterflies. Other butterfly species recorded in the garden in May were brimstone (egg laying on the alder buckthorn) peacock, comma, small, green-veined, and large white, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady and a single holly blue feeding on yellow archangel.
An abundance of bank voles in May led to frequent visits from foxes and buzzards. The voles have their own seed feeder which enables me, technically, to estimate the numbers feeding outside our back door. Photographing them can sometimes help with identification as some have ragged ears – presumably a lot of fighting goes on!
Where garden birds were concerned May was an excellent month with 39 species in total recorded in the garden, including redstart, yellowhammer, siskin and whitethroat, plus bullfinches and linnets fed on the dandelion seeds in the lawns. Most exciting though was the return of our spotted flycatchers, the first being seen on May 7th, two weeks earlier than last year. As the month progressed a second individual appeared and they immediately took possession of their scruffy old nest box on the front of my potting shed, in spite of the fact that two brand new (and more suitable) boxes had been made for them. The spotted flycatcher is without doubt my favourite bird so the prospect of seeing them daily, as I did last year, was very rewarding – clearly the garden we have made here is ideal for them. The nest was reconstructed to a much higher standard than last year’s and by the end of the month five eggs had been laid and incubation began.
There is no doubt that gardening organically benefits birds of many different species. On warm sunny days the garden was seething with small winged invertebrates giving the flycatchers plenty of opportunity to find food. As the month progressed a little quiet watching revealed that six of our nest boxes, as well as the flycatchers’ box, were in use and young were being fed. Five were occupied by blue tits and the sixth by great tits and by the end of the month some of these youngsters were visiting the feeders with parent birds encouraging them. Robins, song thrushes, greenfinches, chaffinches and blackbirds were all nesting in the garden’s native hedges while dunnocks preferred the thick border vegetation, especially the plant pendulous sedge which seems ideal for them.
On the 26th of May we were fortunate to hear a cuckoo close by, which later flew over the house – only the third we have seen or heard here in 12 years. Red Kites were around in abundance together with up to thirty buzzards after the field next to our garden was ploughed and then re-sown after a crop failure. Both species seemed to be finding plenty of food.
Elsewhere around the garden, especially in the big wildflower meadow and other grassy areas, the common spotted orchids were coming into flower. These wonderful flowers have all originated from 0.1 of a gram of seed added to the grass and wildflower mix I put together when sowing the wildflower meadow here in 2006. Last year’s count (after I became bored and gave up!) was over 400 flowering plants, no longer just in the meadow but in lawns, borders and even on the sedum roof of our log store. The minute, light seeds are obviously capable of distributing themselves very effectively and we spend a great deal of time digging the orchids up from grassy paths and lawns and replanting them where they can flourish.
As the month came to an end and the flycatchers settled down to incubate their eggs, the weather became more stormy but we were rewarded with amazing sunsets over the Long Mynd from our west facing windows.