Friday, 27 June 2008

Lullingstone Country Park

I went back to Lullingstone C.P. this morning with a view to seeing the lizard orchids and then heading off elsewhere. As it turned out I spent all morning there having a much better time than I anticipated for an overcast, breezy and at times damp morning. I did however forget to pay my £1 parking fee and suddenly realising, just as I was within spitting distance of the lizard orchids, raced back to the car park. Would I ever get to see these orchids!! As it turned out I did, as you can see below and to be honest the chalk bank where they are located is amazing. Wedged between two golf links, the display of pyramidal orchids and the flypast of dark-green fritillaries is incredible and I also bumped into a few other great beasties along the way.

Walking up from the car park the grass path is very dry with bare earth patches, looking closely at these patches I noticed a lot of holes which were being visited by small bees, some of which where smothered in pollen. Over to the people who know their mining bees but what little cuties.

There seemed to be a quick turnaround once down a hole and they wouldn't come out until the coast was clear or at least some nosey bloke with a camera had moved on!

From the top of the path the view back the way I had come gives some idea of the lovely tall grass meadow.

Surprisingly for such overcast weather, butterflies were in evidence. Amongst the meadow browns were ringlets and they were quite numerous. I go as far to say that there were more ringlets on the wing than meadow browns.

I checked out the area where I had seen the slow worm on my previous visit but unfortunately the piece of corrugated iron roofing had disappeared, so no reptiles. The surrounding grassy area was good for butterflies and I managed to find a good looking large skipper just sitting patiently for the next spell of sunshine.
Large Skipper

I also came across a tussle between a male meadow brown and ringlet. The ringlet appeared to be the aggressor flying at the meadow brown and trying to push it off the leaf, or at least that is what is looked like. The meadow brown didn't budge and after a minute or so the ringlet flew off.

The butterflies just kept on coming as then I kicked up 3 small skippers, one of which eventually settled back down and started feeding on some selfheal. Pleased with this shot as you can clearly see the orange tips to the antenna which separate it from Essex skipper which has the black tips like they have been dipped in ink.
Small Skipper

I then started to wander toward the location of the lizard orchids which is a chalk bank that lies in between the two parts of the golf course. I wasn't sure quite what to expect and I was also wondering why I hadn't seen any dark-green fritillaries and maybe it was because they were keeping out of the wind, low down at the base of the tall grass. I couldn't have been more wrong. The chalk bank just sort of appears and suddenly you are faced with this amazing display of pyramidal orchids and grassland plants. In places it just oozes colour, quite stunning.

Wandering slowly along the path, I became aware of more butterfly activity and there were the fritillaries. Not cowering out of the wind at the base of the tall grass but steaming around the meadow and not just one but twos and threes. I think my jaw dropped at getting great views of this lovely butterfly feeding on greater knapweed and fragrant orchid.
Dark-green Fritillary

My photos don't really show it but the name comes from the green wash to the underside of the wings.
In the end finding the lizard orchids wasn't hard as around each of the 6 plants that I noticed, the meadow had been flattened which is a shame. To have such a rare and bizarre looking plant almost on my doorstep is quite a privilege.
Lizard Orchid

There were more skippers flying around as well and at one point I had a flypast of fritillary and skipper together. Two orange butterflies but a massive size difference. I couldn't resist taking this shot of what I consider to be another small skipper this time showing the brown tips to the antenna.
Small Skipper

More crushed grass led me off the path toward an unfamiliar plant, which I later identified as henbane which has some interesting history. In the past it was combined with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura and used as an anaesthetic potion, as well as for its psychoactive properties in "magic brews." These could provide visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight! Its usage was originally in continental Europe and Asia, though it did spread to England sometime during the Middle Ages. Henbane can be toxic in low doses. Its name came from Anglo-Saxon hennbana = "killer of hens". It was traditionally used in German beers as a flavouring, until the Bavarian Purity Law was passed in 1516 and outlawed the use of Henbane.

Trying to keep totals for the morning was a challenge but large skipper 1, small skipper 6, dark-green fritillary 12-15, meadow brown, ringlet 30, small heath 5, lizard orchid 6, pyramidal orchid 1,000+, swift 12, house martin 4, whitethroat 2, yellowhammer 6, common blue damselfly, fragrant orchid 20.


Cheryl said...

Fabulous post....I am not an expert but I think the bee is poosibly a mining bee. They make their nest in sandy ground. Was it sandy, it looked as though it maybe.
I love the photograph of the butterfly on the selfheal (a lovely wildflower).....I have them in my wildlife garden.

Steve said...

Great post John - I have never been to Lullingstone but have seen Lizard Orchid at sandwich bay in the dim and distant past...some super butterfly pictures!

Anonymous said...

John ,Glad you made it back to Lullingstone and found the Lizard Orchids . Like you I feel its a sacrelige to walk on the bank , but the flattening happens every year , and back it comes the next . Super management by Golf Course - 1 cut per year . The story I've heard re.Lizard Orchids is that they came in on golf equipement/clothing probably from Sandwich . The same could be with the Henbane - listed in both my books as liking 'bare disturbed ground especially near the sea '

abbey meadows said...

Stunning shots. You are so lucky to have so much variety of wildlife on your doorstep.Love the shot of Henbane.

Mike - Fenphotography said...

Stunning macro shots John and great post

Anonymous said...

Spurred on by yourself and others ,
I am having a go myself at ;

Tony Morris said...

Good stuff John, great Fritillary. I suspect our one Lizard Orchid at St Margaret's may owe much to the sole of someone's boot who'd been to Sandwich, or a strong Northerly wind?

Anonymous said...

Although this is a year late the golf course do not manage the area surrounding the greens where the lizard orchids appear it is actually kent county council,