May is best enjoyed on the trails as the flora and fauna can change daily and before long spring will quickly give way to summer. Leaves are rapidly growing and bringing a fresh green color to the woodlands. Migrant bird songs are heard from treetops as they acrobatically search for small insects to fuel their incredible journey. On the forest floor spring wildflowers are in full bloom and are being visited by beetles, flies, bees and even ants as sweet nectar is the reward for their pollination service. The first babies of spring arrive as Mother’s Day is a good time to see goslings, ducklings and even fawns.
Songbird migration peaks the first two weeks of May as wave after wave of birds arrive in Cleveland Metroparks. Some like the blackburnian warbler began their journey in South America only stopping briefly to refuel then continuing to boreal forests farther north. Others, like the wood thrush arrive from forest of Panama to stake out a territory in local forests filling the morning and evening with their flute like song. Migrating at night nocturnal flights of these and other bird migrants can be so impressive that they can be seen on weather radar. While birds continue to arrive this month others like bluebirds have already fledged their first brood.
A walk along a river in a floodplain forest one can be rewarded with blankets of Virginia bluebells and wild hyacinth intermixed with yellows of golden-alexanders and golden ragwort. These botanical gems come and go quickly and can easily be missed. These perennials grow and quickly die back storing energy underground in roost and tubers waiting for the following spring to begin the cycle again. Seeds of these spring wildflowers are dispersed in many ways, but the association of many with ants carrying them underground is truly awesome!
A typical spring brings total leaf out by mid May. Oaks, which are one of the last trees to sprout new leaves, are now are in full bloom. Their drooping catkins are not showy but produce a great deal of pollen that is dispersed on the wind. Numerous insects are attracted to graze on this pollen and can be a great location to look for songbirds feasting on pollen covered insects.
On warm sunny afternoon’s common green darners begin to appear in wetlands throughout Cleveland Metroparks. Early in the month they are likely migrants from the south spreading northward on southerly breezes. This well documented behavior is often overlooked. Later in the month the first local dragonfly nymphs begin crawling out of the water to begin their “second” life of aerial hunters of unsuspected insect prey.