Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Orchids and other things

The weather continues to be mixed and rather windy. As in past years the plants have responded by growing rapidly - they prefer it to hot sun. The focus was on plants and in the last week I have been busy visiting four sites noted for orchids. The orchid season is pretty short - each species is in flower for only a couple of weeks

The first trip was to Pewsey Down in Wiltshire. I have visited the site twice before once in September 2010 and September 2005. One of the first things we saw was a Wall Brown butterfly, the first I have ever seen. It sat and posed during a brief spell of sunshine.

wall brown butterfly

A little later on and the clouds came over and the winds got up. An isolated Nodding thistle (Carduus nutans) had a large number of bumblebees burrowing into the flowers to keep warm and out of the wind. One flower had 11 bees, this one had only 6!

nodding thistle,bumblebee

There was an area of short turf where all the plants were of diminutive stature. Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) was one of them.

kidney vetch

Another creature seeking refuge from the wind was a Forester moth (Adscita statices) on a Sainfoin flower (Onobrychis viciifolia).

forester moth,sainfoin,Onobrychis viciifolia

Here and there over the downs were Fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea).

fragrant orchid

One of the reasons for the trip to Pewsey Downs was to look for Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia). We found about eight in all over the western section not the masses we were expecting, however when we moved to eastern part we did find them - in their hundreds, a very pleasant surprise.

lesser butterfly orchid

Another target 'rare' plant was Field Fleawort (Tephroseris integrifolia). After scanning many hundreds if not thousands of yellow flowers, a few (only about half a dozen plants) were found. It is a small plant rather grey and hairy in leaf and stem.

field fleawort,Tephroseris integrifolia

A few days on and I joined another group of friends in a look for orchids and may be more Field fleawort. The first location was Old Burghclere Quarry. I have visited here a few times before, in 2012 ; 2013 and 2014. The main attraction here are the Fly orchids (Ophrys insectifera), with more pairs of eyes to look around, we found hundreds of them scattered over the site.

fly orchid,Ophrys insectifera

Another plant I have photographed there before is Knapweed Broomrape (Orobanche elatior) but we spotted more flowering spikes emerging than I had seen on my own.

knapweed broomrape

The next place we visited was Ladle Hill in the hope of seeing Field fleawort, Burnt tip orchid and Frog orchids. It turned out to be too early for these orchids, they were not showing at all. We only saw Twayblades, Fragrant and Common Spotted orchids. However there were excellent views to be had. In the middle distance in this view is Baron Andrew Lloyd-Webber's pad at Sydmonton.


A nice little plant I spotted up on the iron age fort was Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria).

small scabious

The last site I visited was a site well known as one of only a handful of haunts of rare orchids. I walked through Homefield Wood six years ago and spotted some nice plants and butterflies but nothing special. An orchid I have not seen before is the Greater Butterfly orchid, it is subtly different from the Lesser Butterfly orchid (see above).

greater butterfly orchid

But the main attraction is large numbers of Military orchids (Orchis militaris) in two small meadows. They are mixed in with many Common spotted orchids. There were also a few Fly orchids, Fragrant orchids, Twayblades and Pyramidal orchids so all in all not a bad place for orchids.

military orchid,Orchis militaris

I looked at a few dozen Military orchid flowers and noted that there was quite a lot of variation, not just in size but in colour and shape. I would suspect there is some hybridization going on - quite common among orchids. Here is another military orchid showing quite a few differences.

military orchid,Orchis militaris