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MAY IN CUMBRIA

This month should bring much wildlife into activity. Butterfly enthusiasts eagerly await May as the month when butterflies appear in number and variety; late May is the peak time for the DUKE OF BURGUNDY, but it is not a species likely to be easily encountered. This month is also a favourite of the orchid enthusiast, as many species put in an appearance this month and next.

Spotted FlycatcherOnce SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS (photo) have arrived in number, all the migrant bird species should all be present and singing their hearts out, especially at dawn and dusk when not actively feeding. This is a good opportunity to brush up some new birdsong, as there is no better way of spotting species at this time of year. Get up before the sun and join a Dawn Chorus watch later in the month for an unforgettable experience, if you haven't tried this before. At Cumbria's only cliff, St. Bees Head, the seabirds (both Guillemots, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar) will start to gather for nesting and breeding, which in turn will attract Peregrine. If the Lake District's Eagle has successfully found a mate around Haweswater, this month is the time to see the male bringing in food for any off-spring.

Queen bumblebees will have been active for a week or two now on sunny days in the garden, as they seek out suitable nesting holes at or near ground level. Queens are rather easier to identify thanCarder Bee workers and a study of these in the garden should yield five or six species without too much difficulty. First to appear (last month) was the largest species Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed Bumblebee) with a buff-white tail turning brown where it meets the black of the abdomen. The whiter tailed Bombus hortorum (Garden Bumblebee) appears in May, as does the similar Bombus lucorum (White-tailed Bumblebee), but this has stripes that are more lemon than yellow. The two red-tailed species Bombus lapidarius (Red-tailed BUmblebee) and Bombus pratorum (Early Nesting Bumblebee, having two yellow bands as well as the orange-red tail and is smaller) are also on the wing, but the ginger coloured and hairy Bombus pascuorum (Common Carder Bumblebee) does not normally appear until later in May (see photo).

Also in the garden, LADYBIRDS are now active and seeking mates.Orange Ladybird Please look later in the month round any accessible reed-beds for the rare (in Cumbria) Water Ladybird. At the other end of the beetle scale one of our largest takes its common name from the month - the May bug or Cockchaffer. The swarming flights of the adult at this time of year are part of the mating ritual. They are attracted to light and often crash into windows and lie stunned, producing a loud buzz. Mayflies are just one of around 200 species of insect that feed on newly unfurled oak leaves at this time of year, providing a well-stocked larder for small birds.

The spring butterflies, notably Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak, will be a particular delight to watch in the hedgerows and, around Holly trees that are just bursting in to flower, look for Holly Blue. The threatened Pearl-bordered Fritillary will be around near limestone by the end of the month, although sadly not now in the west and north of the county.

Damselflies (Red and varieties of the Blue) will be on the wing this month, together with the unmistakeable Downy Emerald Dragonfly. Lookout for this Lake District speciality near sheltered still water in the Coniston and Windermere areas towards the end of the month. It is an active species near water, flying low and fast and rarely settling, but withdraws to trees to feed and rest.

Amongst mammals, bats will be emerging from hibernation and seeking out breeding sites. The Pipestrelle and the Long-eared Bat are the two most abundant and widespread in the county (and the country).The Pipestrelle is the smallest of our bats and has a high jerky flight, whereas a bat seen swooping and skimming over water may well be a Daubenton's (Cumbria is a stronghold for this species). Our largest bat, the Noctule, indulges in steep dives; this lowland species is most likely to be encountered within a 30km radius around Carlisle and Kendal.

ROE DEER drop their kids in May, often leaving them unattended for the first day or two to avoid drawing attention to them; RED DEER produce their young a few weeks later. Hedgehogs are now fully active again after hibernation and seeking mates; sadly road casualties are high at this time for this reason (eventually those that run, rather than instinctively curl up when threatened, will evolve into a race that can live alongside the motor car!). By late May, Badgers may well be coaxing their cubs to the surface to play and learn to fend for themselves.

For me, this is the best month of the year for plants as everything looks so fresh and delightful. Woods are filled with BLUEBELLS, and the hedgerows burst with Cow Parsley, which is a splendid place to look for insect life. Now is the time to look for unusual plants like the parasitic Toothwort on old hazel stumps. Herb Paris (with its two pairs of leaves and single flower) and Adder's Tongue (before the grass gets too long). And don't forget the orchids (see "Plants" menu above). First, and in profusion in many places, will be the Early Purple Orchid (sometimes in a very pale pink colour), followed closely by the Green-winged Orchid and, for the eagle eyed, the FLY ORCHID should be around on roadside verges by the month's end, but in the case of the latter two species only in the south of the county. If all else fails, try taking a good look at the abundant, but poisonous, Dog's Mercury. There are separate male and female flowers, usually growing in discrete patches of one sex. 5pikes of the male's yellow-green stamens protrude, but the female flowers lie hidden in the uppermost leaves. And don't forget that old saying:

"N'er cast a clout till May be out"

The "May" here is probably a reference to the Mayflower or Hawthorn.