Let’s start with the obvious one for this time of year. Showy, brash, iridescent and downright unmistakable, swathes of bluebells carpet our woodland floor at this time of year. It’s always interesting to see how pockets of bluebells come out at different times of the year regionally and locally. For instance, the Warreners field at the top of Whiddon Deer Park has yet to flourish to its full blue potential and yet, at the other end of the valley in Cod Wood the bluebells cascade down towards the riverside path underneath the beech canopy.
2) Grey Wagtails
I could have gone for the electric blue of the Kingfisher, or the emblem of the Devon Wildlife Trust, the dipper, but I have gone for the Grey Wagtail. This energetic bird, with a brilliance of yellow underneath can be seen pirouetting along the river, displaying or catching insects on the wing, the wagtail never seems to be still. When you do get to see them stop for a breather you’ll notice its tail distinctively bobbing or wagging. These guys truly seldom stop moving – but are quite simply a joy to watch.
3) Violet Oil beetles
Without a shadow of a doubt my favourite beetle on these isles and we’re incredibly lucky to have some great habitat for them. The volunteers roll their eyes knowingly when I disappear off to clusters of celandines in alluvial meadows. These insects have an interesting life cycle which involves the larvae or triungulins waiting on flowers, usually celandines or dandelions, to hitch a lift on solitary bees to be taken to the nests where they eat the pollen the bee has collected for its young. I love the way the adults, with their extended abdomens from gorging on Celandines, wander slowly through the grass. If you gently pick them up, you might see the yellow fluid which they secrete from their elbow joints, which is the reason our American counterparts sometimes call them Blister beetles.
4) Wild Garlic
In the midst of the oncoming blue, we can’t forget the white. Whilst the showy bluebell may take all the plaudits, you can’t underestimate wild garlic. The scent, in my opinion is to die for and the other day one our volunteers stunk of it, I could have licked him! Instead for some reason I went home and ate pasta. Another of our wildflowers that carpets the woodland floor at this time of year, wild garlic can’t be missed this May.
5) Orange tip butterflies
There are bigger, better, more beautiful butterflies probably during the summer, but for intricacy and simplicity I love the Orange-tip. It’s a say what you see butterfly in most cases but if you get the chance to look at one in close proximity or get a good shot, look at the intricacy of the underwing and if that wasn’t enough, have a look at the eyes which mimic the underwing. The adults can be seen laying eggs on Lady’s Smock or Cuckooflower, where the caterpillar that later emerges will burrow into the flower to eat on the developing seed of the plant.
6) Beech trees
Whilst not a native species and certainly not to these parts, there is no doubt that the Beech isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I can’t help but have a soft spot for them, even though if there is one tree that is prone to failing in the woods it’s the Beech, I love the vigour they show at this time of year. Its light changing verdant green is amazing when looking through the canopy, and if bluebells are beneath its boughs, the clash can be wonderful, two colours vying for our attention.
By Fred Hutt (Fingle Woods Ranger)