Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Swyncombe Downs and Warburg

A last wander through nature reserves to look at wildlife before hot summer takes its toll on me and the wildlife. I first visited Swyncombe Downs back in February this year so the scene should have changed a fair bit. I parked up near Swyncombe House and walked along the official Great Ridgeway (even though the ancient track is about a mile to the East). The path then turns off west towards Swyncombe Downs. On this first stretch there is a wide margin set aside for wildlife and there was a good number of Common Spotted Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids in bloom here. There were dozens and dozens of Meadow Brown butterflies (Maniola jurtina). Not an altogether welcome sight as for the next few months I will spot a butterfly and chase after it only to find it is yet another meadow brown.

Meadow brown butterfly,butterfly,Maniola jurtina

More interesting and pleasing were a few Small Blue butterflies (Cupido minimus), this is the third place I have seen them this year, so they must be having a good year. They are not all that common, requiring kidney vetch plants for food as caterpillars. As adults they also like Bird's foot trefoil as here.

Small blue butterfly,butterfly,Cupido minimus

After the wildflower stretch, the path enters a wooded section running along a ridge between two valleys. There were large bushes of wild raspberries (and tasty wild strawberries) and some lovely wild roses - each flower is at its best for only a day or two.

wild rose

It is an ancient land boundary as can be seen by the old trees along the ridge.

notable tree

At the end of the woodlands there is a fine view down to my favourite stately mansion Britwell Salome House.

Britwell Salome House

The path enters the Swyncombe Downs nature reserve and there was a lot to see, but rather surprisingly not a single orchid. This Green dock beetle (Gastrophysa viridis) shined iridescent green.

Green dock beetle,Gastrophysa viridis

A rarity for Britain is Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara), and there were isolated plants in bloom all over the reserve. The garden candytuft is a close relative.

Wild candytuft,Iberis amara

There were many flowers of Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) covering the south-facing steep chalk slope with its blush of pink in the flower buds.

Dropwort,Filipendula vulgaris

I walked over most of the reserve to see what is in flower in June. I regret to say that some areas are turning into scrub and the use of sheep rather than cattle is not helping the bio-diversity. I did find one painted lady butterfly, but as I posted a picture last time I'll leave that to your imagination. In one cool, sheltered area I spotted my first Small Skipper butterfly (Thymelicus sylvestris) of the year on top of a scabious flower. It let me get fairly close.

Small Skipper,Filipendula vulgaris

I left the reserve, walking down the slope toward Ewelme, and then turned back towards Swyncombe House along a valley bottom. Not much to see here. Along the field margins, Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) was coming into flower.

Greater Knapweed,Centaurea scabiosa

Returning to the car, I drove down a single track road through Russell's Water to Maidensgrove Common. I then headed down into the BBOWT Warburg Reserve. Within the reserve another sign of 'high' summer were flowers of Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) already out in the woods.

Enchanter's Nightshade,Circaea lutetiana

The main reason for visiting Warburg at this time of year was to try and re-find the Great Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) that I last saw there in June 2011. I immediately saw one flower spike on arrival but alas could not see any more. Perhaps I have missed them - it is three week's later on in the year but I am rather concerned that this rare orchid is in decline here in one of its last local strongholds.

Great Butterfly Orchid,Platanthera chlorantha

Also on this patch of high, dry meadow was a Marbled White butterfly (Melanargia galathea). If you don't count the butterfly orchid that made eleven species for the day: Small white, marbled white, common blue, small blue, small tortoiseshell, painted lady, meadow brown, speckled wood, small skipper, larger skipper and small heath

Marbled white,Melanargia galathea

I walked back to one of the meadow areas of the reserve and there were plenty of Common Spotted Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramdalis), including this lovely pair.

Pyramidal orchid,Anacamptis pyramdalis

The second thing I wanted to see on the reserve was Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia). I have searched for this plant in Howe Wood and Mousells Wood where it is supposed to grow but without any luck. I was given directions on where to find it and success! There were twenty or so plants in a 5 sq yard area, in quite deep shade. The greenish flowers surround the black capsule. An unusual looking plant and it gets the epithet 'Paris' from the same root as 'parallel' due to the striking four fold symmetry - nothing to do with France.

Herb Paris,Paris quadrifolia

And so I made my way back to the car but I had one final treat. After some much needed rain at the week-end there were a few puddles left around. In one of them I saw a male chaffinch and then a yellowhammer having a thorough bath. Yellowhammers are becoming increasingly rare and are now on the RSPB's red list of birds that are in population decline.