Updated for 2018
The Forests Come Alive
April got off to a slow start this year, and as a result, May is likely to come in a little slow as well. If April is best remembered for the emergence of the early spring flowers, May is the time of the year when the forests come alive with foliage. The trees finally get their leaves back and while there still may be a few chilly days in the month, winter really is over and done with.
April having been a mating season for many birds, in May we get to see the babies emerge. It is fairly common to see ducklings and goslings along with their parents. Small birds, such as sparrows, warblers, and finches, are often in a colorful display of plumage.
The variety of newly growing fungus becomes more diverse, with some edible species including dryad’s saddle, wine-caps, and a variety of other lesser-known edibles. The colorful slime molds also begin to emerge on fallen logs in the forests.
Insects are more or less in nearly full force with many colorful beetles, and flies on the plants and even early butterflies on the flowers. Predatory insects such as wasps and spiders are also out in response.
The later spring flowers begin to emerge including Columbine, blue bugle, and even a few orchid species, including the lady slippers. May is one of the best months for flowers in Connecticut, especially in the older forests and near bodies of water. Since April got off to a slower start, the beginning of May should still be a good time for foraging wild ramps.
As the weather warms up, the turtles and snakes become a lot more visible. Painted turtles usually basking on a log in the ponds and garter snakes crawling through the leaves in the forests and often near urban gardens.
But as mentioned, the biggest impact of May is in the trees where the leaves all come back to life. It’s a great time to get outdoors and go hiking. The weather is generally pleasant, not too hot, not too cold, and the outdoors are very full of sights, sounds, and smells. So get out there while it lasts!
May Species of Interest
We have picked-out a few species from each category that we think are important to look for and be aware of in the month of May. While there are many more species out there, this list should acquaint you with what you are most likely to see outside. For the sake of keeping it interesting, we generally skip-over most the year-round species unless relevant.
Amphibians of all kinds should be vising in the month of May including the common green and bullfrogs, toads, and colorful salamanders. And if you can’t see them, you will surely hear them croaking near a pond or lake.
Eastern American Toad
It is not uncommon to see baby birds in spring, especially ducklings and goslings. We also see a lot of colorful warblers, sparrows, finches, and some of the more graceful and exotic shorebirds.
Atlantic Canada goose
(Branta canadensis canadensis)
Yellow-crowned night heron
A wide and colorful variety of fungi begin to emerge from the woodchip piles, fallen trees, and forest floor. Be on the lookout for good edibles such as dryad’s saddle and wine-cap Stropharia.
Crown-tipped coral fungus
Hemlock varnish shelf
Wine cap stropharia
Dead man’s fingers
Will both plenty of flowers and foliage, May is an excellent month for observing insects.
Eastern tent caterpillar
Pleasing fungus beetle
Eastern tiger swallowtail
Lichens tend to persist all year long, but have a new growth phase in the warmer months.
April and May are pretty similar when it comes to mammals. You’re still going to see mostly the year-round species such as deer, squirrels, and if you’re in the northern part of the state, potentially black bears.
Eastern gray squirrel
Not much has changed between April and May when it comes to mosses except some mosses enter their “flowering” stage and we can see new growth in some areas.
Tree ground pine
May is full of a wide variety of wild flowers and emerging foliage. It would be impossible for us to list them all here but we’ve picked a few special ones for you.
Pink lady’s slipper
Yellow lady’s slipper
While painted turtles and garter snakes are easily going to be the most commonly encountered reptiles, we’ve decided to show you a few others that have been spotted in May.
Common snapping turtle
(Trachemys scripta elegans)
While you should expect to see the typical horseshoe crabs, snails, and bivalves, we do not have any notable sea creatures for the month of May.
Slime molds begin to emerge in abundance in May and we have picked a few colorful ones for you below. These will generally be common throughout the rest of spring and into late summer/fall.
Chocolate tube slime
The trees in May finally develop their foliage as well as put on a great display of spring tree flowers.
Foraging picks-up a bit in May. Since April got off to a slow start, we are still seeing plenty of wild ramps and garlic mustard. Adding to this list we also encounter wild violets, stinging nettles, indian cucumbers, and burdock root.
Edible fungi that emerge in may include wine-caps, more dryad’s saddle, crown-tipped coral fungus, potential oysters, and if you’re lucky, you might stuble across a morel or two.
It is also a good time to be reminded of a few things:
- Be mindful of the rules and regulations of parks and recreation areas when foraging. Many places in Connecticut do not allow it. However an act was authorized on March 14, 2017, authorizing the taking of mushrooms from state parks and state property.
- Ticks are out, and digging in the dirt will likely bring them onto you. Wear bug spray, long pants, long socks, and protect yourself.
- Take only what you intend to use. Be mindful to never decimate an area.
- Avoid collecting from roadsides, waste areas, or other potententially contaminated places.
- Proper identification is critical. If there is the slightest doubt, do not consume.
Important Foraging Species
Crown-tipped coral fungus
Hemlock varnish shelf
Wine cap stropharia
Common blue violet
You really can’t go wrong with picking an outdoor area in May, whether it’s a small local pond or a deep forest. The weather is generally excellent and the display of foliage, flowers, and interesting species is everywhere. But we’ve picked two below that we think will be especially rewarding.
Audubon Greenwich offers a wide variety of habitats and thus an extensive outdoors experience in May. Bird watching is always popular, as is looking for insects in the meadows near the entrance. Head into the forest for a wide variety of foliage, wild flowers, reptiles, amphibians, and fungi.
Sleeping Giant State Park
Sleeping Giant has some of the best vistas and hills along the coastal Connecticut area. This state park includes miles and miles of excellent hiking trails, ponds, lakes, and diverse habitats. The month of May is excellent for Sleeping Giant, as the weather is warm enough for hiking but not too hot yet.
Preparing for June
My advice is to do as much as possible in May as weather permits since June is the beginning of the mid-summer slump. Which is sort of a time where the weather can get too hot for lengthy hikes and the exciting spring flowers have more-or-less died-out. However, weather and temperature permitting, June can still be a lot of fun. For starters, June 21st is the summer solstice and is the longest day of the year. So you can enjoy the outdoors for much longer during the months of June and July. For those of us who have to work a 9-5 job, this allows for some hiking and outdoors time in the evenings.