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:

Spring so far …

This year the Spring feels very normal, with things appearing at about the right times and no big surprises. We have been finding about the same number of orchids as last year, with slightly more on the western slopes than the southern ones. This follows the trend since the 2 very dry winters/springs that we suffered a few years ago where many southern plants were killed off by drought.

We have just 1 Lady orchid flowering this year and it has just started opening its flowers and 1 hybrid opened about the same time from its sheltered position outside the fence in the hedge.

Currently the gate is closed but I will hopefully be going up on Sunday (EDIT: now delayed until Monday) to lay out the marker tapes and after that the gate will be opened to allow visitors onto the slope from the lower field.

In addition to the orchids there have been sightings of Grizzled & Dingy Skippers and I bet there are also Green Hairstreaks out too, along the hedges. If you can catch a moment when the sun is out you should be lucky. They are also plenty of beeflies, cowslips, hairy violets and a few Pasque flowers over in field 4. The Pasques have been in flower for a few weeks and are being eaten by the rabbits quite badly this year but they are worth going to look at.

Tidying up after the storms

Today’s work party really felt like the first proper day of Spring with 17C and glorious sun. Four species of butterfly were seen on the wing (Small Tortoishell, Brimstone, Peacock & Comma) and there were plenty of Bombus terrestris queens out looking for nesting sites.

The first task was to deal with the willow tree by the entrance gate. This is a lovely old tree with a colony of rare Jet ants (Lasius fuliginosus) in the rotted base but the winds had broken one of the limbs off right down to the base. The broken half is hung-up over the lane while the standing half was looking very precarious, as though it might fall across our gate & fence. Obviously, we want to keep the stump with the colony of ants and we will have to deal with the broken half at some point. But we also have to make sure that the standing half doesn’t break away – so we decided to cut off a few of the higher growth to reduce the leverage.

June update

The Monkey orchids are looking great with plenty in flower on the western face of the slope. The southern side is cordoned off to protect the slope from more compaction and erosion – there are only 1 or 2 plants in flower because 2 successively dry Springs in 2011 & 2012 have knocked them back a bit.

The Lady orchids and a few hybrids are starting to go over but many hybrids are still in good flower. As are a few of the White Helleborines in the wood at the top – and the few that have, for the first time, come up on the orchid slope at the top of the hill.