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Wildlife Photography in May

May is the month when we get to see the new baby creatures, from baby rabbits and fox cubs, both starting to discover our world for the first time, to some birds starting to fledge, although most birds will be feeding their young in May.

Baby rabbits   and fox cubs are likely to be seen in the early morning and again in the evening to start. Baby rabbits in particular are far braver than is good for them. Sit quietly without moving and they will come very close. In the past I have even caught some when they have ventured within reach. If you move they are off back down their burrows, but within a few minutes you will see them venturing out again.


You can see examples of some of the wildlife highlights that you could photograph at the end of this page.

Some birds are just arriving, the Swifts and Martins being amongst them, while the Swallows arrived a few weeks before. House Martins can be seen building up on old nests from previous years or building new ones out of mud, usually under the eaves of house roofs, these replacing the cliff faces and similar that they would have used before.

Amongst the rarer visitors that may be seen in May is the Hoopoe, visiting from the continent. This thrush sized bird, has a pinkish brown body and striped black and white wings but the main feature is its crest, which is pointing in the opposite direction to its beak, it can stand up like a fan when excited. They are normally only seen in Britain very near the south coast in late April and throughout May. There are probably no more than a 100 spread throughout the whole of Devon and Cornwall and about half way up the other counties that are on the south coast. A few breed here, but most are just visiting. 

It is said to be an ideal time to listen out for the corncrake call.

Pied flycatchers mostly found in Wales and the west of England and Scotland, are easiest to see in May having just arrived back from West Africa. The male is singing this month and stops early in June when the leaf coverage gets greater.

Many birds have young by now, some even on to their second families. So opportunities exist to photograph both the parents scurrying back and forth to the nest, and also the young as they emerge and are often easier to see and photograph than when they can disperse more.

Also looking up, we can see Dragonflies hovering over water in ponds and on rivers, coming to rest on nearby vegetation. Its also the month to look out for emperor moths.

Amongst the things that you look down to see are, Cockchafer Beetles, Aphids and Ladybirds on leaves and plants, where the aphids provide a tasty dinner for the hungry Ladybird after hibernation.

May is also a time for Mayflies coming up from the riverbed and exploding into the spring sunshine hovering above the water.

Bats are now out of hibernation and the best time to see them is dusk and dawn whilst they're hunting for flies.

The white blossom of Hawthorn, in May, are predominant features across much of the country, while the white flowers of Elder, Cow Parsley and Meadowsweet adorn the hedgerows and roadsides. Bluebells, Cowslips and Fritillaries are also distinctive highlights of the month. All kinds of shrub and tree, such as beech, oak and ash, break into leaf, while a diversity of grasses and wildflowers enrich Englandís meadows, fields and pastures. In damp corners you may come across a sundew catching a fly in its trap or red poppies in an untilled patch of agricultural land. Look out for Bracken pushing up on hillsides as bright green intricate coils.

Bluebells are found widely in woodland and on banks in the UK,  most of the worlds bluebells are here and they are around from mid April to mid to late May. The first ones are out on sunny banks, the latest ones usually in upland woodland that is heavily shaded. The problem is in trying to estimate when its the ideal time to see them in each location.  Photographing Bluebells is not difficult, the main trick is to get the white balance right or they will disappear. Although we couldn't list every patch of bluebells we have attempted to list major pieces of woodland, that have the more spectacular displays, that are open to the public in our Bluebell list.

In mid May you may see the crimped purple shoots of the Lilly of the Valley, followed by an array of white flowers. Older native flowers are found in older woodland while hedgerows and the like may present newer varieties that have escaped from gardens. Amongst the places to see impressive displays are the Wyre Forest on the border of Worcestershire and Shropshire and St Leonard's Forest in Sussex. We would be interested to hear of other impressive displays that you find.

Well Dressing

May is the start of the Well Dressing Season a tradition which takes place in the English countryside. It is said to date back to Pagan Times and is said to be a thank you to the Water Gods. Originally only wells or springs were dressed, but it was extended to also include stand pipes and taps. However today, not all will be found near a well or water source, but merely in the location chosen within the community. Pictures often made of flower petals pressed into clay are created and normally the wells are dressed for a period of 3 to 8 days, and it's best to visit during the first few days as they do deteriorate quite rapidly.

The most well known area for this activity is Derbyshire, and many communities within Derbyshire today also have a programme of events such as Morris dancing, sporting events, flower festivals and carnivals also taking place. In fact it has become so popular amongst communities and villages in Derbyshire they have made a season out of it and the first towns/villages make a start in May, and the last event, in Chesterfield, takes place in the middle of September. See these links for an event list of  Derbyshire Well Dressing, and Derbyshire 2011 Well Dressings gives dates, times and places. There is also a PDF version at Well Dressing.com Other areas do also have well dressings including one in Bisley, Gloucestershire which takes place on Ascension Day (40 days after Easter Sunday).

May is also the month for bank holidays and crazy events, see the Photographers Diary for details of dates and places. The human is also a mammal, and interesting to study and photograph, generally not too dangerous, although they can be the most dangerous animals found in the UK if upset or in predatory groups.  Photographing the mating displays and antics rarely causes any problems, although photographing them mating might, and its not wise to be seen photographing their young in town and city locations, but in the countryside generally causes no objections. Humans are often overlooked by wildlife photographers who fail to see them as wildlife, or to realise that they can be as interesting to photograph as any other mammal.


More Information

See also the Nature and Wildlife Calendar - May for more ideas on what to see during this month.

Other species can be found listed in the Wildlife Section or within the topic index under


So what could you Photograph this Month


Snakeshead Fritillary - a rare species.
Photo by Miles Underwood

Places for the Snakeshead to be found in England include the meadow of Magdalen College Oxford, the village of Ducklington in Oxfordshire who hold a Fritillary Sunday Festival and at the North Meadow National Nature Reserve, Cricklade in Wiltshire.

Ladybird by Rachel

Dragonfly by Nogger

Hoopee by Luc Viatour


By: Keith Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: wildlife_photo_may Topic: Wildlife Last Updated: 04/2011

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