Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Fen Orchid





The orchids come thick and fast at this time of year and today we were down in South Wales at Kenfig National Nature Reserve looking for Fen Orchids Liparis loeselii. It is one of only two places in the UK where they can be found and it is said to hold around 90% of of the total population.

We had been given a few hints on where to look but had also been warned that many were past their best.  First impressions were daunting. The reserve is fantastic, a large lake surrounded by 1300 acres of sand dunes, mixed with patches of damp woodland, wet and dry grassland, marsh and slacks. Slacks being the flat, low lying areas between the dunes where we would be searching for the Fen Orchids. The whole area being covered in a huge variety of wild flowers.

Daunting, because it felt like the return of "Bog Orchid", a search for another small insignificant looking green plant in a huge area of much larger green plants.

We arrived at about 5pm on the Monday and with a fine evening in prospect set off to make a preliminary search. Tough going for a while but eventually Dave found the first Fen Orchid and then once he had "his eye in" a couple more of them in the same area.



Fen Orchid - Liparis loeselii


Much happier we headed off to find our hotel and a celebratory pint, knowing that the Tuesday would be a much less stressful day.


An early start the next morning found us searching a much wider area, looking for more Fen Orchids and also for other species of orchids known to grow at Kenfig. Most impressive were the numbers of Marsh Helleborine. We had been told that there were thousands at Kenfig and had expected a significant improvement on the double figures we had found in Hampshire last Friday but the numbers were truly staggering. In places you couldn't walk of the tracks as there was nowhere to put your feet with out treading on them. We only covered a small area of the total reserve but if our experience is repeated across the site they must run to hundreds of thousands. I am glad that I am not responsible for the count.



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris


There is also a white variety Epipactis palustris var. albiflora, which grows in good numbers at Kenfig although it is rare  elsewhere.There are two varieties of Marsh Helleborine which lack brown and purple pigments and they are easily confused. Plants of var. ochroleuca, the ones we found in Hampshire, are pale like this variety but still have the purple guide-lines in the hypochile. This variety, albiflora does not have those guide lines.



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris v albiflora



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris v albiflora



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris v albiflora



The main search, for the Fen Orchids, was slow but we eventually found over fifty plants with the bulk of them around a cane that someone had kindly stuck in the ground as an indicator. Marking the location of orchids is always a difficult call, do you risk damaging the plants by enticing people into the area or are you saving them by warning people to be careful where they are treading.

A good number of the orchids were going over but we still had a lot of good specimens to photograph.


Fen Orchid - Liparis loeselii



Fen Orchid - Liparis loeselii  and Blackfly



Fen Orchid - Liparis loeselii



Fen Orchid - Liparis loeselii


There were a good number of other orchids in the reserve although I think we were a little early for the other Helleborines we would have been interested in, Broad-leaved and neerlandica. There were Southern Marsh, Fragrant and Pyramid Orchids plus a lot of over size specimens that looked like hybrids, mostly with a strong influence of Southern Marsh Orchid. Speculation on naming these is beyond my current skill level and probably always will be. Please enjoy the pictures and if you can add to my knowledge by putting names to any of them please let me know.



Southern Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza praetermissa



Southern Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza praetermissa



Southern Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza praetermissa



Southern Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza praetermissa



Spotted leaves so possible hybrid of Southern Marsh and Common Spotted



Marsh Fragrant



Marsh Fragrant



Marsh Fragrant


Most sources refer to the fragrant orchids at Kenfig as being Marsh Fragrants. I am not sure why this should be. The sand dunes must be full of ground down sea shell, that is Calcium Carbonate the same substance as chalk. so why not Chalk Fragrants. Harrap's book refers to them as being var friesica and of intermediate appearance between Marsh and Heath Fragrants.



Pyramidal Orchid



Hybrid?


and one below that looks a lot like Frog Orchid but with over developed flowers so possibly a hybrid of Frog Orchid.






I thought that photographing orchids would be easy, after all, they don't move about that much. For some it has been easy, however, finding the more drab species like Bog and Fen is hard work and having the confidence to put names on the blog against some of the plants I have photographed is proving to be real pressure. In some cases it is easier just to file the pictures away without using it. Bring back the birds!





Friday, 5 July 2019

Red Helleborine





More Orchids today with a trip to North Hampshire for the Marsh Helleborines, then on to Windsor Hill in the Chilterns for the Red Helleborine. Finally returning home via North Hampshire again to pick up a few variants that we had missed on the way.



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris


After looking for Bog Orchids earlier in the week it was good to walk into a field and see the bright colourful Marsh Helleborines without incurring eye strain from the searching.



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris


We found about a dozen plants but we did not want to spend too long looking. A few quick pictures and we were on our way again, this time to join a Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust organised walk to see a Red Helleborine, possibly the only one flowering in the UK this year.   I really didn't want to get into twitching orchids or organised visits but with the plant classed as critically endangered and access rightly restricted you have no choice.



Red Helleborine - Cephalanthera rubra


There was no flower last year and it looked as though it would be a no show again this year but we were lucky and with a late flower spike showing the visit was on.



Red Helleborine - Cephalanthera rubra


I took a lot more than two photographs but then given that there is only one plant and that you can not get very close to it, they all tended to look the same. You couldn't even get close enough to cast a shadow over the plant to give a more subtle lighting but here is my attempt to achieve the same effect in Photoshop.






We also saw putative Broad-leaved and Violet Helleborines. If we cannot find them closer to home we may have to make a return visit to the area.



Broad-leaved Helleborine



Violet Helleborine


Having spoken to a few of the people on the walk we picked up some useful information including details of more Marsh Helleborines close to where we had been looking that morning.It was too good to ignore, so back in Hampshire later that afternoon and lots more Marsh Helleborines including a few variants ochroleuca. The variant lacking brown and purple pigments although still showing purple veins at the centre of the flower.



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris  with  var. ochroleuca on the right



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris  var. ochroleuca



Marsh Helleborine - Epipactis palustris var. ochroleuca



A few of the other orchids picked up during the day - Southern Marsh Orchids and Marsh Fragrants.



Southern Marsh Orchid



Southern Marsh Orchid



Southern Marsh Orchid



Southern Marsh Orchid var albiflora


Marsh Fragrant



Marsh Fragrant


An enjoyable day, we saw some good orchids, met some interesting people and learnt a lot more about orchids.




Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Bog Orchid





I wasn't going to do a blog about finding the Bog Orchid. It's such an insignificant little plant and the pictures are not that exciting. However, this is a diary of my sightings "both interesting and not so interesting" and when I thought about the work that had gone into finding them and the luck that rescued our day, it had to have a blog to itself.






You could say that nothing much happened on Wednesday. We drove down to the New Forest, photographed the Bog Orchid and came home. Nothing else of interest and no other pictures. That takes no account of the research that went into identifying the locations where we might look for the orchid. The six hours we spent bog hopping, head down looking for the plant. The difficulty of spotting such a small, green orchid, in amongst the much taller growth and the difficulty of staying focussed on the search whilst butterflies, dragonflies and birds offered such good viewing opportunities.






Sad to say, after our six hours searching all we had was eyestrain. Our starting location around Hatchet Pond looked the most promising of the day. All the indicator plants were there, the conditions looked right, but we couldn't pick up any sign of the orchid. Other locations produced similar results. We ended up searching an area around Stoney Cross with similar negative results.






Having had enough we decided to head for home and were walking back to the car. Then you see someone in smart cream trousers kneeling down in a big area of wet mud seemingly trying to bury his head into the ground. It has to be a mad man, either that or he had found an orchid (only half mad).






The couple had in fact found about a dozen Bog Orchids and in a place that we would not have searched. Why they should grow there and not in all the ideal locations we had been searching I will never know but then that is the joy of orchid hunting.







We had an interesting discussion with them and did thank them for rescuing our day but I failed to get their names. So if they read this our thanks again for helping us out.

Lucky or what? We were all set for a really depressing ride home.