In May, the whole countryside virtually explodes with life.
It is one of the most invigorating of months, in my opinion.
Many small, native birds have already fledged their first broods and the countryside, and indeed our gardens are full of peeping, pleading, wide-mouthed young blackbirds, starlings, thrushes, sparrows, tits and finches. The first blackbird pair to fledge young in my garden (you may remember me telling you that I had to rescue one from the cat who had it cornered), have already left that brood to their own devices, are are working on the next one. When they were rearing them, I watched the brood of three, now speckly, slightly russety versions of the parents, although still with the bright yellow gape that announces “Feed me!” The female seemed to take charge of two of the youngsters and the male one, and their offspring followed them faithfully around the garden, “peeping” all the time to keep in contact and greedily accepting anything the adults popped into their mouths. However, the young birds soon started to adopt the cocked head of the adult, watching the soil for any telltale movement and were soon picking up small bits and pieces themselves, admittedly in a sort of half-hearted manner - why work for your food when you can have it handed over to you just by asking, I suppose!
The top edges of the coir liners to my old hanging baskets which as sitting awaiting planting later in the spring have been eroded away, as the tree sparrows found the long, wiry, fibres irresistible as nesting material. There was a constant stream of them pulling the liners apart and now the nest boxes have telltale strands of it peeping out. Perhaps next year, I will leave the old liners out and keep some new ones in reserve hidden away. I don’t mind really as I love my little tree sparrows.
Birds of prey often have young by now too, although they have a far longer job than the blackbirds, when it comes to raising their young. They have to learn a lot more than just how to find a few, frankly rather less than speedy, worms on the ground. Birds of prey need to attend flying school, tutored by their parents in both speed, stealth and aerobatic manoevres. This can take time to develop and the youngster has to build up its muscle power and perfect these skills before it has a chance of catching its own supper. It is one thing catching it, but unlike the worm that is just gulped down whole, their prey may need slightly more dealing with before it can be eaten. Yes, being a bird of prey youngster is a steep learning curve, but, as a birdwatcher, it is an amazing sight to watch a raptor family as they are taught their life skills. Right now, I am watching the relatively helpless youngsters at several sites, in anticipation of the summer school ahead.
Mammals, of course, are well underway in their breeding season too and May to me is roe deer fawn time. Roe deer are interesting - they are the only hoofed animal in which delayed implantation occurs. This term is easily explained; basically, it means that although mating occurs in August, the fertilised egg does not implant and begin to grow until January. The female roe deer has the ability to “hold onto” the egg until a time when it is more suitable, so that the youngster is not born in winter - very handy.
I often come across the beautifully spotted young fawn, lying curled up in long grass, emerging bracken, or in one case, under the edge of a very overgrown hedge of hawthorn and bramble. They are one of the “cutest” (and I do not use that word lightly!) babies in the animal kingdom and I know I have said it before, but I think it is worth re-iterating on a yearly basis - please, please, do not touch, move or “rescue” the youngster. It has been left there by the doe - safe and still and camouflaged. This is perfectly normal, it is not abandoned and she will return to it. By all means admire the beauty and come back later at dusk and watch, from a distance, with binoculars and you may be lucky enough to see her return, but make sure that you are not close enough for the doe to see or smell you or you may be keeping her away. I like to watch from a field’s distance away. The female at this time of year, is delicate looking with her fine features and gorgeous ginger coat.
Another red-coated creature has already had her young and I have found a den where the quite young cubs are just emerging shyly into the big, bad world. I cannot see much at the moment - indeed whether or not I see them at all is a bit hit and miss - but I will keep you informed as to how they are doing. As they grow bigger they become more adventurous and confident, noisier and certainly there is a lot more “playing” and rough and tumble among the siblings as they use up their excess energy, hone their skills and practice “hunting” each other. Then, seeing them will be far easier.
Of course, when I say that the countryside comes to life, I am not just talking about animal and birdlife, but the glorious greening of the landscape - myriad shades of green in a million different forms. Leaf shapes and colours are the most obvious; jaggy, finely-cut sycamores in bright green; huge wrinkly hands of rich green on the horse chestnut, tiny lime green hawthorns, fleshy, heart-shaped, acid limes; strongly ridged beeches.
However, grass stems, reeds, stalks of plants and mosses contribute to the greens too.
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