Orchids for a Change

This ridiculous spring is messing up all manner of wildlife-related issues. Many bird species time their breeding to take advantage of an expected bonanza of flying insects. When those insects are not present in sufficient numbers, nestlings are prone to perish ‘cos the adults cannot feed them successfully. I can just imagine the effect on migrants flying in from Africa, starving after the journey, and wondering where the hell the missing flying insects are. With my particular interests, I feel the lateness of the spring most accutely when it comes to dragonflies and their emergence/appearance, and with the dearth of butterflies.

Local organisations devise calendars of activities for the coming year well in advance, so they can get them into print and publicized, based on expected norms. Today we attended one from our own Bedfordshire Natural History Society, a walk around Pegsdon Hills in search of orchids, particularly one new to us, the Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera). I’m no botanist but it seems that orchids like chalk soils and Pegsdon Hills lies at the extreme eastern end of the Chilterns. We met at 10:30 AM. On this amazing 1st June, most of the 19 attendees appeared to be wrapped up for winter. As the cool morning air chilled me through my shirt-over-t-shirt combination, I began to wish I was, too.

Our leader was on home turf and knew where our main target species were. He did, however, warn us that several species we would have expected to admire would not be seen yet because of the lateness of the season. Since orchids not yet in flower are very easy to trample underfoot, he asked us to be wary about where we trod. In the curiously named section known as Hoo Bit, there were several Fly Orchids in bloom and also some White Helleborines (Cephalanthera damasonium) which were just beginning to show flower. Others, though, particularly those in shadier locations, were showing flower spikes but no actual flowers as yet. Another orchid species in this chalk grassland reserve was the Common Twayblade (Listera ovata), most of which were not in flower yet either.

Fly OrchidWhite HelleborineCommon TwaybladeI may not be a botanist but I do find orchids interesting, so even I had a go at snapping them. After all, there weren’t any flying insects for me to concentrate my efforts on. Naturally, though, our floral specialist grabbed better shots than I and here’s Carol’s collection of the three orchids of the day, including a Common Twayblade against all the odds. Personally, I think I’d rename the Fly Orchid as the Jamiroquai Orchid; the top of the flower looks just like the strange headgear favoured by Jay Kay. 🙂

We did see a few butterflies but they were not at all keen on flying. The first was a Dingy Skipper which had chosen to hitch a ride on the front of one our group’s trousers. I also noticed two or three Small Heaths which seem to have appeared in the last few days.  Our leader had clearly done this kind of thing before and even he expressed surprise about the almost complete lack of butterflies, saying that in a normal year he’d “be beating them off with a stick”.

This is everything but a normal year.

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