Wildlife Gardening and Photography for May

Wildlife Gardening and Photography for May

Colour has returned to our gardens. Swathes of wildflowers are bursting out in the sunshine, and lots of hungry guests like butterflies, bees and beetles coming to visit them. At this time of year, you can truly dust off the macro lens and get stuck into the mini-Amazon jungle that is your garden. 

If you have a wildflower patch or even just a pot in the garden, now is the time of year it should be bursting into bloom. Animals that mated early will start having to feed young, with blue tits busily searching in our backyards for food, and tadpoles now well-developed in the ponds.

Here’s what to do in your garden in May to get some fantastic images…


Stop worrying about frost

With May coming around, the last chance of frost has largely gone, which means you can freely start sowing seeds and seedlings that are vulnerable to it. The warm days and cool nights will act as a trigger to get those plants growing. If you have been using any plastic coverings to stop the frost from getting at the plants, these should be removed now too. I don’t grow much veg, but if you are that way inclined, it’s a good time to get it planted in the garden, especially if you kicked it off indoors.



Planter pots

Training climbers 

I’ve got multiple trellises attached to the fence in my garden, hosting a real hodgepodge of climbing plants. There are natives like sweetpea and honeysuckle, the latter of which is a major draw for moths, and in the evenings produces a wonderful aroma. Then there are more showy ornamentals, like clematis, which have big pink flowers. 


Train climbers 1

Adding climbers like these to a fence turns an otherwise barren piece of wood into more green space, and gives lots of insects a place to feed and rest, which in turn gives birds a place to hunt. You are best poking the climbers horizontally at first, as they spring their shoots upwards, meaning you’ll get better coverage than if you’d taken the tempting option of just poking them up vertically. 


Train climbers 2

Aphid busters!

I try to get my garden as wildlife-friendly as possible, so don’t use pesticides or herbicides. However, this does mean some troublesome species can have a bit of a field day, and the gardener’s public number-one enemy has to be the aphid! Now, I’m not without admiration for the humble aphid. The females can produce offspring without a male and give birth to live young – hence why they multiply so quickly. They also have bodyguards in the form of ants that protect them, as the aphids excrete a sugary liquid that the ants just love. 

So, how do you get rid of them without nuking your garden? A high-powered hose pipe is a good start – simply wash them off the more heavily affected areas. Or, you could go around with a tub and shake them off, then place them on the bird table for the birds to gobble up. On that point, rising aphid numbers rarely go unnoticed, and an army of predators will soon mobilise to tackle them, from sparrows and blue tits collecting them for their chicks to the classic gardener’s hero – the ladybird, which gleefully devourers them.



Ladybird


Photograph nesting birds

For many birds, May is all-hands-on-deck for rearing young. If you do feed your birds, most won’t bother with seed now as they can’t feed it to their chicks – so chopped-up earthworms or mealworms are a much better option. It’s always such a lovely sight when you see birds going to and from a nest box or natural nest site in the garden. But what’s the best way to photograph it? 

The first and most important thing is not to disturb the birds’ natural behaviour, so I’d generally start with a long lens and see how they react. Generally, if they are nesting in your garden they are more than likely quite used to people, so you may be able to cautiously get closer. Of course, if the bird in question is a protected species, it’s best to leave it alone – this is something you can check online if you’re unsure. 

Mornings will always be busy, as the chicks will want feeding, so it’s a good time to try your luck with the camera. You could also put some nice perches up – see the February blog for some advice on how to do this. Different birds will nest in different areas. Robins, for example, won’t use traditional nest boxes, preferring a more open site. I had some nesting in a plant pot one year! 


Robin

If you want to try something a bit different, why not set up a wide-angle shot? Place the camera with a wide lens near the nest box, and hook up a remote trigger. Again, wait to see how the birds react – if it won’t come in, then take the camera away. If it isn’t bothered, then leave the camera there for a while before you start taking shots, and do so conservatively at first, letting the birds build confidence. Before long, you should be able to get some unique views of your resident birds.



Bird nesting box

Look out for slow worms

Most people don’t think of reptiles being in UK gardens, but one species has adapted surprisingly well – the slow worm. Neither slow nor a worm, these are legless lizards that love compost heaps and log piles, meaning they’re a must for wildlife gardeners. 

You can leave out some mats – perhaps a piece of old carpet or flat wood – lift now and then and see if any slow worms have taken to hiding underneath. They will sometimes come out to bask, but generally stay hidden away as are easy prey for birds and cats. With a macro lens, and close up, they are a great subject to photograph. 



Slow worm

Capture butterflies

By now, several species of butterfly should be on the wing. Holly blues, brimstones and red admirals will all be fluttering around, making the most of the sunshine and nectar. Early morning is best if you want to take macro shots, as they’ll be more sluggish and easier to approach. Once the sun gets up and the butterflies become more active, a longer lens may be more successful. 

If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, my top plants are buddleia, knapweeds, scabious and dog violets. 



Moth

Yellow flag iris/

 

Two iris flowers call Britain home, and the most common is the yellow flag. Often found around our watery margins, it is a popular garden pond plant. It’s great for filtering out toxins in ponds and provides shelter above and below the water with its long leaves and roots. The large yellow flower is also popular with pollinators. Yellow flag iris don’t stay in flower for long, so if you want to grab an image while they’re in full bloom, it’s best to be quick about it.


Yellow flag iris

Conclusion

May is a truly special time of year. If you are more interested in plants, it’s a great time to see many native species in bloom, or not far off. For the insect fans, there’s also plenty to see, and next month will be even busier. 

Jack Perks

Jack Perks is a freelance underwater and wildlife cameraman, based in Nottinghamshire. He has written two books on freshwater wildlife, and has worked for multiple wildlife and angling tv programmes, including Springwatch, The One Show, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing and The Great British Year. He has also presented films for Countryfile. jackperksphotography.com