Butterflies appear in their numbers and the last of the migratory birds arrive on the Fylde Coast this month. Stephen Dunstan tells us what to expect in May as he marks a full year of his monthly Fylde Coast nature almanac.

May sees the last of the migratory birds arriving on the Fylde for the summer. Among the last to appear are the Swifts, and I write this having just seen my first hawking insects over the south lake of Stanley Park.

Numbers of Swifts (main image) have sadly declined dramatically in recent years, but hopefully a small flock will still patrol over the rooftops of Blackpool over the next couple of months before their relatively early departure. If you are interested in the natural history of our Common Swift and its close relatives One Midsummer’s Day by Mark Cocker is recommended, an ambitious work that looks at the world through these supreme aviators.

The common cuckoo (Creative Commons)

Early in the month there is still a window to catch up with Cuckoos locally. They no longer breed in the vicinity of Blackpool, but itinerant birds can be seen at sites including Marton Mere. Obviously their call is the easiest way to locate them, but a bit of caution can be appropriate – we hear them less frequently so it’s easy to assume a cooing dove or pigeon is in fact a Cuckoo. If you have a car, Fluke Hall near Pilling has had a couple of calling Cuckoos in recent days.

May is probably the best month for seabirds moving off the Promenade. Sandwich Terns have now arrived in good numbers and other tern species will also pass through including the Arctic Tern which has the longest migration of any species of bird. Views of these birds can be distant off the Promenade and binoculars or even a telescope may be required, but there is a Common Tern colony on the jetties at Preston Dock if you want better sightings. An increasingly regular occurrence on the seas off the Fylde in May is the comically distinctive Puffin. Joining groups of birders on vigils from South Promenade or North Shore is the best way to catch up with them.

Before the sun rises much early later in the month, dawn choruses can be a memorable experience. One good way to enjoy a dawn chorus in the town is to park at Staining Nook and then walk along the golf course bridlepath to Marton Mere. This should give you the chance to hear the songs of several species of warbler. Warblers are undoubtedly a difficult group for the beginner birder, even with good views several of them are classic ‘little brown jobs’. This does mean that calls are a good way to differentiate them with practice. They vary from the almost Nightingale like melodies of the Blackcap, through the scratchy song of the Whitethroat, to the mechanical reeling of the Grasshopper Warbler. A good opportunity to experience this with experts in bird identification takes place with the Migratory Bird Event at the Mere on 11 May from just before 8am to midday, click here to book.

The Holly Blue (Creative Commons)

Butterflies that haven’t hibernated as adults begin to appear in numbers during the month. There are a couple of species that can easily be identified. The Orange-tip is at its most numerous mid-month, and is a species on the increase. The females could be overlooked as one of the more common white butterflies locally, but as the name suggests the males are distinctive with the broad tangerine tips to their forewings. They can be seen in a variety of habitats including along roadside verges and ditches. The Holly Blue is a small powder blue butterfly – the males have black forewing tips but the similar coloured underparts are the most obvious feature on many views. The Holly Blue is so named because the larvae feed on buds, berries and leaves of the holly plant. They can be seen flying at head height in parks and gardens including Stanley Park.

A Sand Lizard on the Dunes

I’ve not covered flowering plants as much as I probably should have in these monthly pieces but obviously many species come into bloom during the month. If you are interested in the rare Isle of Man Cabbage, it will be in flower in the dunes to the south of the town. Other than a few Manx locations, the prime places to see this yellow bloomed rarity are on the Sefton coast and here on the fringes of Blackpool. Late in the month is better and flowers can then be seen through to August. A trip to Lytham St Annes nature reserve at Starr Hills can rewards with views of this and other scarce plant species, and has the other exciting possibility of spotting Common Lizards and their recently reintroduced Sand Lizard cousins.

Time flies and this brings us to the end of the twelve monthly instalments of this almanac. I’m looking at how to continue something on nature on Blackpool Social Club, so watch this space. In the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series of articles.

As well as the Migratory Bird Event at Marton Mere, events exploring the natural world this month include Bluebell Walks at Lytham Hall, Garstang Walking Festival, a guided walk of Fylde Sand Dunes and a gardening and wellbeing festival at Park View 4 U. For more information and events visit blackpoolsocial.club/listings

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