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Our top 10 wildlife sightings in May

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Wednesday 25th April 2018 by bbowtblog

Green-winged orchid. Photo by Kate Titford

Spring is in full swing, insects are emerging from winter hibernation, flowers are blooming and birds and singing. How many of our 10 species will you see or hear this May?

1 Bluebells


We're looking forward to carpets of bluebells filling the air with their delicate fragrance. Many of our woodland nature reserves have spectacular displays of bluebells and other spring flowers. Find one here.

Find out the difference between native bluebells and non-native and hydrid ones, which you may see growing wild too. 

2 Early-purple orchids

early-purple orchid

Early purple orchids are one of the first of the orchids to flower each year. They generally grow on limestone, particularly in woodland in amongst bluebells, or on grassland but you may see them on road verges or alongside hedgerows too. They have tall, purple flower spikes and spotted leaves, and, if you get close enough, an unpleasant musky or urine-like smell!

In our area you can see them in Bowdown Woods (Berks), Finemere Wood (Bucks), Moor Copse (Berks) and Sydlings Copse (Oxon).

3 Green-winged orchids

Green-winged orchids

Green-winged orchids bloom in their thousands in Bernwood Meadows (Bucks), though they've had a slow start this year. They used to be widespread in hay meadows and pastures like these but numbers have declined as pastures are ploughed up. The sight of thousands flowering in the ancient ridge and furrow fields at Bernwood Meadows and Asham Meads (Oxon) is increasingly precious. These orchids come in many colours from all shades of purple to pink, and occasionally pure white.

4 Military orchids

Military orchid

Military orchids are one of our rarest orchids, they were considered extinct in Britain at one time. Now, they only grow at a couple of sites in the country, including Homefield Wood nature reserve near Marlow (Bucks) where they bloom from around mid-May. Here, thanks to the hard work of BBOWT staff and volunteers, the number of orchids has increased from a handful to hundreds.

5 White helleborine

White helleborine

White helleborines grow in beech woodlands, such as Warburg Nature Reserve or Yoesden. The flowers often don’t open fully but luckily they are usually self-pollinating. As they don’t need insects to pollinate them they can grow in shady parts of the woods. Look for them from around mid-May.

6 Cuckooflower

This delicate flower generally starts to bloom when cuckoos start to call, hence its name, though sadly these days you’re more likely to see a cuckooflower than hear a cuckoo, which are becoming increasingly rare. Cuckooflowers, also known as ‘lady’s smock’, grow in damp meadows and woodland rides, and are one of the food plants of orange-tip butterfly caterpillars.

7 Cuckoo


Have you heard a cuckoo recently? Cuckoos are one of the birds on the British Trust for Ornithology’s ‘Red List’, meaning that numbers of cuckoos are falling dramatically. Cuckoos make an astonishing journey each year, flying to Africa for the winter and returning to the UK each spring.

The females find another bird’s nest (often a reed warbler or dunnock), remove one of the existing eggs and lay one of their own mimicking the original. She then leaves the ‘host species’ to bring up her chick (which also removes any other eggs from the nest soon after it hatches to ensure the deception is successful).

8 Nightingale


Nightingales are also on the BTO Red List as numbers have been declining in recent years. They tend to skulk in thick scrub and thicket so you are much more likely to hear their melodic song than see one. Nightingales spend the winter in Africa, returning here to breed in the spring, so listen out for them at sites including Greenham Common and Hosehill Lake.

9 Swifts


Parties of screaming swifts filling the skies are a sure sign that summer is on its way. Did you know they can sleep while still flying! Find out why and learn more about these amazing birds on our swift walk around Oxford on Tuesday 5 June.

10 Cockchafer


Look out for these large, noisy beetles called cockchafers or May bugs flying on late spring evenings. If you see one pay attention to their antennae – males have seven ‘leaves’ while females only have six.

The larvae can spend several years underground before emerging at the end of April or early May. These large beetles fly around looking for a mate. They don’t live long as an adult, just long enough to breed and for the female to lay the next generation of eggs.

Things to do

  • See which of our nature reserves are at their best this month.
  • Find a nature reserve near you with the Wildilfe Trusts' Nature Finder app for iphone and Android
  • Share your photos of our reserves with us on Twitter and Facebook or upload them to our Flickr gallery
  • Oxfordshire photographer Andrew Marshall's book Photographing wildlife in the UK (published by Fotovue) includes advice on how to take great wildlife photographs. The book includes top locations for photographing wildlife and some images that were taken on BBOWT nature reserves (Greenham Common, Chimney Meadows, Foxholes and College Lake).
  • Sign up to our e-newsletter and stay up-to-date with our news about local wildlife
  • Our experts work with over 1,400 volunteers to look after over 80 nature reserves, four education centres and run hundreds of amazing events. We rely on the generosity of individuals, charitable trusts and businesses. Help us look after these precious places for your local wildlife by donating today.

Love orchids? Discover more about our local orchids with our special talk and guided walks


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