Sunday, 17 June 2018

Lizard Orchids...

I last saw the Somerset Lizard Orchids in 2014 and felt they were long overdue a return visit. Yesterday my brother and I made the journey to north Somerset to Berrow Golf Course to see these unique and bizarre looking orchids.

We followed the public footpath across the fairway and soon located a handful of plants growing in the rough. Though some were showing signs of going over, others were still in reasonable condition.

Lizard Orchid, Berrow: R Harris

Strangely beautiful, Lizard Orchids are
fairly common in parts of the South East
but very scarce elsewhere. 

Plants can be large and robust,  Some
reaching over 3ft in height.

Easy to see why it got the name
Lizard Orchid with it's long 'tail'
and strange looks.

The few Bee Orchids we found had all but gone over. This one had just two flowers left.
Bee Orchid, just about hanging on.

Pyramidal Orchid, stunning little plants!
Lady's Bedstraw

After 'filling our boots' on the Lizard Orchids we headed over to see the Frog Orchids that I'd seen with Nigel last week. We found 10 of these plus hundreds of Southern Marsh, Marsh Fragrant and a few Spotted Orchids. The meadows here are pristine and probably unchanged for centuries. 

Southern Marsh Orchid 
Frog Orchid
Marsh Fragrant
All of the above in just 3 hours, a great afternoon out in Somerset. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Frog Orchids...

It's been a few years since I saw my last Frog Orchids, that was in Dorset. Yesterday I revisited a site in Somerset where I had first seen them in my teens along with fellow orchid enthusiast and naturalist, Nigel Marven.

The site is botanically rich with Southern Marsh Orchid being the dominant orchid species closely followed Fragrant Orchid. You have to watch where you step, particularly as our target species is green and difficult to spot until you have seen the first few.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid. One of the first
orchids I saw in my teens.

Heath Fragrant (?) Orchid
These are difficult to pin to species but
presumably Heath or Marsh Fragrant

Fragrant Orchid. Several tall, robust specimens
were present.
After 10 minutes of careful searching we found our first three Frog Orchids. They may be green but they have a delicate beauty about them. Whether you can visualise a 'leaping frog' in the flower shape is debatable, maybe with a bit of imagination.

Our target species, a Frog Orchid

A leaping frog? Possibly...

A subtle beauty, the Frog Orchid

After admiring the orchids it was time for a spot of birding at Ham Wall. All of the expected species were seen including 2 Hobbies hunting insects, a pair of Marsh Harriers, Cuckoo, 5 Great White Egrets and Bitterns booming from the reedbeds. 

Great White Egret giving superb views at Ham Wall

Great White Egret

Four-spotted Chaser, hundreds of them on the wing

Emperor Dragonfly

Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi is common around the reserve but easiest to see around the pools by the main car park.

Perez's Frog - well established on the reserve

Perez's Frog

Another successful orchid hunt completed .

Monday, 4 June 2018

Orchid Extravaganza...

Hard to believe it's been 4 years since my brother and I ventured over to the Chiltern Hills to revisit some very rare orchids we had first seen in 1982. We had such a great trip that we decided to repeat it again last Saturday and this time we were joined by my friend Nigel Marven and a good buddy of his, Anthony Henn.  As it turned out, it was 36 years to the day since we first made this trip with our late cousin to see these magnificent plants, making this trip all the more poignant.

After an early start we rendezvoused with Anthony at a nearby pub to our first port of call, Homefield Wood SSSI. Homefield is our nearest site (there are only a few in the UK) for the very rare Military or Soldier Orchid.

Military Orchid, Homefield Wood.

Nigel and Anthony admiring a small group of Military Orchids.

There is only a little variation in the flower shades.
This one was a bit darker.

Duncan Harris getting a close-up photo... was Nigel.
Another fine specimen.

They were surprisingly advanced with their flowering this year with many starting to show signs of going over but there were still some stunning specimens to be found. There were lots of other species in flower too.

Common Spotted Orchids.
The Fly Orchids were one of the highlights for Nigel. They're very unusual looking plants it has to be said.

Nigel photographing a Fly Orchid
Fly Orchid, the lip is usually darker.
This one is more typical.
Several Greater Butterfly Orchids were found flowering along the edge of the meadow.

Greater Butterfly Orchid
Greater Butterfly Orchid , flower 

White Helleborine was another expected species, growing in the deeper shade of the woods next to the meadow.

White Helleborine

Anthony, absorbed in capturing the moment. 

Birdsnest Orchid, Homefield Wood

By the time we had finished we had tallied nine species of orchid in an area little more than the size of two tennis courts, amazing!

Military Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Fly Orchid, Broad-leaved Helleborine (not in flower), White Helleborine, Bee Orchid (not in flower), Greater Butterfly Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid (in bud) and Birdsnest Orchid

After a coffee break back at the Dog & Badger just outside Marlow, we drove the 16 miles across to Hartslock Nature Reserve above the Thames to look for Monkey Orchids. This is another incredibly rare species with just a couple of sites left in the UK. After reaching the site and hiking up the orchid slope, the views are just breath-taking, both on the ground and across the Thames to Goring.

Nigel and myself at Hartslock for the second mega-rare orchid of the day.

The Monkey Orchids were definitely going over.
They are a little earlier, peaking in May

The dominating orchids at Hartslock aren't the famous Monkey Orchids though. They have hybridised with Lady Orchid, which is very scarce at the site, to produce a much larger, robust kind of 'Super Monkey Orchid' forming quite a colony along the base of the wood at the top of the meadow.

Hybrid Lady x Monkey Orchid

Clustered Bellflower

Sainfoin, Hartslock

Egyptian Goose by the Thames. 

After a fantastic morning out, it was time for lunch. We walked back into Goring along the Thames footpath, sat and ate sandwiches in the shade and then said our farewells to Anthony who parted company with us here. Nigel, Duncan and myself hadn't finished orchid hunting yet though and we set off for an afternoon visit to Martin Down National Nature Reserve situated about 10 miles west of Salisbury.

I've visited this site many times before and it rarely disappoints. We were soon hearing a Cuckoo, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings singing away from the tops of the bushes. Common Blue butterflies were abundant and occasionally interspersed with a stunning Adonis Blue for good measure. A few Marsh Fritillary were also seen.

Adonis Blue, male
Corn Bunting 

Orchids soon began to appear in te shorter turf including our first Chalk Fragrant of the day, Common Spotted Orchids...

And the star-of-the-show at Martin, the stunning little Burnt Orchid!  They took a while to find but we ended up seeing 10-12 of these charismatic little orchids - one of my favourites.

Burnt Orchid, Martin Down

Burnt Orchid, one shot is never enough.

A first for Nigel, he was captivated by these little beauties.

Burnt Orchid, small clump at Martin Down.

A hugely successful day. Thirteen species of orchid in total (not including the Monkey x Lady hybrid). I look forward to a repeat in a few year's time.