Orchid status update

This weekend at last things seem to be moving! Lady orchids & hybrids are flowering well and the first Monkey orchids are starting to open but they have quite a long way to go. Next weekend should see all of the Monkeys opening but for now there are enough to keep most visitors happy. Pasque Flowers are still flowering in the middle of slope 4, beyond the beech tree.

Dingy Skippers, Small Heaths & Green Hairstreaks are common with Grizzled Skipper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Brimstone, Orange-Tip, Large White, Peacock, Small Tortoishell, Large White & Small White also seen.

Bombylius discolor – a new species for Hartslock

Today was very busy with lots of visitors choosing to come up and see the hybrids but while showing a party of botanists around I spotted a larger, darker bee-fly pollinating cowslips. On catching it I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a Bombylius discolor (Spotted bee-fly), quite a rarity this far north and a new species for the site. It was obliging enough to stop for a few photos and even sat on someone’s finger for a while.

Still chilly up there!

Popped up to the reserve on Saturday morning but the cloud soon rolled in and the chilly wind kept my coat buttoned up. The hybrids and the Lady orchids are flowering, but not as many (~30%) as I had thought there would be after seeing them last weekend. The cowslips and chalk milkwort is looking lovely and there are a few good butterflies – Green Hairstreak around the hedges, Dingy skippers on the lower slopes & Small Heath in the grassland.

Some photos from yesterday:

Another orchid update…

I have had lots of queries from people asking when they should come up to see the orchids so I took a day off and went up there to see what the recent showers have done to speed things up. The general impression is that there hasn’t been much of a change – all Monkey orchids are very small and if they have buds they are very tightly wrapped up – to me this means that they are a couple of weeks from beginning to flower. The Lady orchids & hybrids are showing buds and some of them are fairly tall, so they should be in flower next week.

That said, the flowers should only just be starting and they should continue for at least 2 weeks after that so don’t all rush up there at once. We haven’t even put out the marker tapes or unlocked the lower gate yet because there really isn’t anything to see.

A few more insects on the wing

Popped up today to check the progress of the orchids … and the answer to that question is – “very, very late”. I am estimating they have another 2 weeks before many will be in flower – monkey orchids might even be later than that. It all depends on the weather of course and things will accelerate if we have warmth and some rain.

On the plus side, there was my first Grizzled Skipper of the year and quite a few Orange-Tip butterflies. There were also the first Gymnocheta viridis of the year, sunning themselves on the fence posts by the entrance gate and lots of Osmia bicolor bees, investigating old snail shells. Talking of bees, I also saw Bombus terrestris, lapidarius and pascuorum queens.

Cowslips are looking magnificent and the views are spectacular, as usual.

Pasque flowers doing well

A few days ago I popped up to walk around the site and was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the Pasques were flowering brilliantly. Each clump seems to have multiple flower heads and they have even shown signs of spreading a little further away from their original grid formation.

Hairy violets and cowslips are also flowering well but the orchids are showing very few signs of stirring. The leaves are up but are at least 2-3 weeks late when compared to previous years. If we get warm showery weather in the coming weeks they will accellerate but if not then they are likely to only be flowering from about the third weekend in May.


The first day of Summer but it still feels like Winter

I went for a brisk walk today, hoping to see some early-season tachinid flies, but the chilly wind seemed to keep all insects down. The views were lovely though and the very first Hairy Violets were poking through. I also took a few photos of the orchids to show how late a season it is going to be – they are still very small and I would expect them to flower no earlier than mid May.

If you fancy a little game I have uploaded a photo of a patch of ground – just find as many orchids as you can … the next photo will show you the ‘answers’ 😉

“In Pursuit of the Ridiculous” – broadcast

For any of you that didn’t catch our moment of fame on Radio4 you can listen to the program here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ntg59

A mid-summer stroll

After a really wet start to the summer that kept me off the site for months, it was a real delight today to have a walk across the slopes with some volunteers and to really take in and savour the gorgeous condition of the grassland.

If you haven’t been to Hartslock in mid summer then you really should try to get there soon. The slopes are really covered with flowers – knapweeds, scabiouses, wild carrot, wild parsnip, hairbells, clustered bellflowers, marjoram, thyme, rock rose, yellow wort, centaury, squinancywort, bastard toadflax, dodder, fairly flax, to name just a few. The Bastard Toadflax was also sporting some Bastard Toadlfax bugs and its specific mildew.

Butterflies & moths weren’t lacking either with plenty of Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Large & Small Whites, Brimstones, Common Blue, Chalk-hill Blues & a Dark-green Fritillary. Plus Mecyna flavalis, 6-spot burnets, Pyrausta purpuralis & a Silver-Y.

Downy-fruited Sedge in flower

One of Hartslock’s less well known, but still very important residents is the Downy-fruited Sedge (Carex tomentosa).

It has only been recorded in a handful of UK sites and so we are very lucky to have any at all. Even on Hartslock it is rare and restricted to a  very tiny corner of the main orchid slope, which we protect each year because it would be very vulnerable to trampling of visitors.

The stems are very difficult to find unless you have your eye in and know exactly where to look and it is easy to mistake the tiny heads for those of Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), which is found all over the slope. If you look very closely at the flower you will see that the tiny fruits have a covering of tiny hairs that look a little like velvet – it is this that gives the sedge its common name. Later in the season these fruits will darken but the velvet covering will remain.