It’s looking like a late year …

This winter just doesn’t seem to want to end, with the north winds blowing across the slope today. It was nice when the sun came out but pretty withering with any cloud. Beyond a few flies, the only insect I could identify was a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly and I swear I could hear its proboscis chattering and all 6 knees knocking together as it flew by!

On the plant front, the Pasque Flowers seemed to have gone over early, or at least had taken a breather because I could only find 1 tiny flower. There were a few patches of cowslips lower down on the slopes in full flower and the first common milkwort and chalk milkwort flowers. The wild cherry is flowering well too and is quite a sight at the base of the orchid slope.

April 2016 update

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I visited the site today and thought I’d update everyone on the orchid flowering. Basically it’s looking like a fairly late year (certainly not early) so I wouldn’t expect any of the orchid species to flower before the first week of May with the usual sequence of Lady, hybrid, Monkey. All species should be flowering throughout May but this depends largely on the way the weather develops through the next 2 months.

We have only just started to map the plants but it looks like we might get 2 Lady orchids flowering and a few hundred hybrids – 98% in the same square as they first appeared. Monkey orchid numbers are harder to estimate but today I found plenty so it should be a fairly average year for them.

Status update

Went up to the site yesterday and it all looks lovely – the views from the top of the hill are stunning at this time of year.

The orchids have done well this year, with about 230 hybrids, 1 lady orchid and about 100 monkey orchids. Currently the Lady orchid has finished flowering and many of the hybrids are looking past their best or are going to seed but there are still plenty of see. The Monkey orchids are doing better, due to a late start this year, and there are lots to be found skulking in the long grass but looking very nice when you get up close ūüôā

Watch out for Hobby while you are up there – there have been about 3 pairs nesting in the area and flying very prominently over the river and Lower Hartslock Wood. Kestrels, Red Kites, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks are also doign well.

Some nice finds

On todays work party we got the slope ready for visitors by setting out the last of the tapes, to protect the Monkey orchids that are just pushing through the grass. The orchid mapping is going quite well, if a little slowly, and we have been finding lots of Monkey orchids in bud so it is looking like they are slowly recovering from the previous few years of bad Spring weather. The rain has certainly helped a lot.

Highlights on the wildlife front today were dozens of Adder’s Tongue fern coming up in the front field and the first male Common Blue flying around on the orchid slope ūüôā¬† Monkey orchids are still in bud.

A nice start

The Lady x Monkey orchid hybrids are looking extremely good this year and have brought a splash of purple-red to the slope. I counted about 250 hybrid flower spikes today …. well, to be frank, I lost count around 200 but there are plenty to impress anyone who goes up there. We have 1 flowering Lady orchid (there are more in leaf), nestled in the front of the hybrid patch but the Monkey orchids seem to have been held back by the dry spell a few weeks ago and, although they are coming along, they will be a week or so before they flower.

A bit of a one-off

Gerry & I went up to the site today to do a bit more maintenance before the season starts – a bit of scrub cutting and orchid finding. But we were surprised to see one of the hybrids in good flower! Before you race up there to get your photos I should say that ALL of the other plants are still in tight bud and won’t be shifting for another week, so I don’t know why this one has decided to flower so far in advance of the others. The Monkey Orchids are even less ready to flower (probably 2 weeks away) and the Lady Orchid, which si usually the first to flower, is about a week away. ūüôā

Good display of Pasque flowers

This year the Pasque Flowers have been very good – I took these photos on the 12th April. I am writing this on the 26th but there are still a few that haven’t gone to seed if you want to get up there quickly ūüôā

2014-06-08 rare orchids have gone to seed

I have just got back from a lovely¬†morning up on Hartslock¬†where I can confirm that the orchid flowering season is definitely over.¬†All of the Lady, hybrids & Monkey orchids have set seed or are very close to going to seed so if you haven’t come already then book¬†a date in your calendar for the¬†second/third week of May 2015. There are plenty of Common-spotted Orchids and around 100 Bee Orchids looking really exotic and the Pyramidal Orchids are just starting.

The rest of the site was looking really lovely with a profusion of flowers and butterflies. The first Large Skippers and Marbled Whites were out and a lone Clouded Yellow zoomed across slope 3, pausing to drink nectar from Dogwood flowers.

Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) is starting to appear across the reserve but isn’t in flower so can be tricky to spot, while another rare and elusive plant, the Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum), is flowering well across in slope 4 – accompanied by the Bastard Toadflax Bug (Canthophorus impressus)

2014-05-12 update

Plenty of visitors came up to see the orchids this weekend, despite the wind & rain. I counted around 140-150 hybrids in full flower plus 1 Lady orchid. They are still mainly in the same square on the slope (A1) but there are a few outliers to the west and south, with a growing colony of healthy plants pushing into the woods outside the rabbit fence. We even found a potential hybrid seedling on the steps up through the woods!

Monkey orchids seem to be coming out nicely and most plants are fairly large and strong. There are still quite a few in bud so please watch where you are treading because they are very easy to miss and we want as many as possible to set seed this year. The colony is recovering from a succession of bad Springs (2 droughts followed by 1 exceptionally cold &  prolonged) so plants on the more exposed southern face have been suffering disproportionately. There are a few flowering in this part of the slope but we have taken the decision to cordon this area off to allow the slope to recover without disturbance this year.

One Monkey orchid has been seen in flower in the first field, just down from the bench, but please be very careful not to tread on it because it is difficult to see. It seems to be the only flowering plant in this field this year. There are 2 more Monkey orchids below the beech tree on slope 4 with one in good flower. This satellite colony also suffered badly in the drought years so we hope that they will recover over the coming years.

 

Early May update

I went up to have a look at the slope today, after having been away last weekend. I have to say the patch of hybrids was looking superb and the overall condition of the plants and the slope was very reassuring. The monkey orchids are mainly in bud but away from the public-access areas there were one or two in flower but the rest should open by next week.

The¬†rain has made the paths and grass very wet and slippery so be careful if you do chose to visit. In these conditions I prefer good walking boots but you do have to be even more careful than usual to avoid treading on orchids because the thick tread will wreck anything you step on – as you can see in the photos below.¬†Visitors often ask me why we cordon off the orchids and these show exactly why – while most visitors are very careful there are always a few that¬†just don’t look where they are walking.

Here are a few quick iPhone photos: