May Wildlife watch with Cornwall Wildlife Trust

May is a great month for wildlife watching in Cornwall, if the weather warms up then keep a look out for basking sharks, it's the mating season for hedgehogs, Marsh Fritillary butterflies take to the win and Nightjars return from their African wintering grounds.

Basking Sharks
Given good weather, basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) will appear in good numbers off the coast of Cornwall this month. In fact over 647 sightings of these fantastic fish were recorded by volunteers in one year. These are the second largest fish in the world and sometimes reach over ten metres in length and weigh over seven tonnes! These magnificent marine creatures are often seen cruising the waters of our Cornish coasts, especially in the spring and summer months in search of their food source, zooplankton - tiny microscopic animals floating in the water column. Visit one of our coastal reserves like Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve on the Land’s End peninsula where a walk along the coast-path might afford you a view of one as it drifts by.

The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) breeding season is in full swing in May and their courtship, which takes place at night, is often mistaken for a fight between the two animals. The adult pair perform a sort of dance together, with the male often ramming and pushing the female over, accompanied by a great deal of noisy grunting. After all this, the male then takes no further part in the female’s life. However in Cornwall hedgehogs are considered the ‘gardener’s friend’ as their diet consists mainly of slugs, snails, insects, insect larvae, beetles, earthworms and fallen fruit. The Trust can help you make your garden more wildlife friendly, and read our member’s wildlife gardening blog.

The marsh fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia), is one of the most attractive of all our butterflies; the upper-sides of the adults comprise a complex and varied pattern of oranges browns and yellows, and these will be on the wing later in the month. This wetland specialist has declined severely in recent years as its specialist habitat; wet pasture and damp meadows, has disappeared making it one of our most threatened butterfly species. Look for it at our Helman Tor Nature Reserve near Bodmin when it emerges on warm still sunny days, especially near its larval food plant, devil’s-bit scabious.

Nightjars, (Caprimulgus europaeus) return to the county from their African wintering grounds this month, and the males’ distinctive ‘churring’ song can be heard at dawn and dusk across suitable areas of Cornish heathland like those on the Lizard around our Windmill Farm Nature Reserve. You will have to wait until dusk to catch a glimpse of one of these nocturnal specialists as they emerge to feed on moths and other flying insects, and these territorial birds will sometimes dive and swoop surprisingly close to the observer if they approach too near to the hidden ground nest site.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is the leading local charity working to protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, on land and at sea. If you love Cornwall’s wildlife you can help them protect it by joining as a member, visit.

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