Tuesday, 2 June 2009

May Round Up

For the past couple of years, May has been a a very plant focused month for me and this year has been no exception, although I feel that this year many orchids are coming into their best a week earlier than in previous years. There is a very small piece of managed common land within a few minutes walk from my front door called Rectory Meadow, on which, last year I counted over 100 spikes of man orchid, and whilst trying to get some photos it rained. This year I counted 61 spikes and once again whilst trying to get some photos it decided to rain! Still I'm getting to grips with man handling my benbo tripod, which for those in the know is a bit like handling a metal octopus but my results are getting better (I think?)
Man Orchid

A trip to Queendown Warren, to check out the state of the various spring time orchid species there had me looking at a chalk downland plant called sainfoin. I'd never really looked at it too closely but the delicate stripey flowers are wonderful. I'll hopefully be going back this weekend to have another look.

Early in the morning at Queendown, I noticed a good stand of houndstongue which was just alive with bees. I decided to sit on the edge of the stand and with my macro lens try to get some shots of the action. Most of the images came out blurry as it wasn't really possible to use a tripod but one or two were in focus. In the early morning sunshine and sat in the middle of loads of furry bumble bees it was an excellent wildlife moment.

Mixed in with the bumblebees I noticed this hoverfly bee mimic Volucella bombylans, this one is the variant plumata. The larvae feed on the debris in bee and wasp nests.
Volucella bombylans

There are quite a few good sites in Kent for fly orchid, the shot below is from Queendown Warren and the plant was tiny with the flower head almost parallel to the ground surface so making it easier to get a good macro shot with most of the flower in focus.
Fly Orchid

White helleborine is another relatively common orchid species in Kent and seems to favour shady areas under beech trees. My very first encounter was only a couple of years ago and after finding my first plant I waited for the flowers to open only to find that the flowers subsequently went over. It wasn't after reading up on the species that I came to understand that they barely open their flower heads at all, so since then I have always been on the lookout for individuals that break the rules and show me what is inside the white flower head. Once again at Queendown there was an excellent variety of flowers in bloom and it is getting better each year here as a result of the scrub management that is being done. I found this one with a slightly open flower head.
White Helleborine

I almost missed the spectacle that is Marden Meadow and the green-winged orchids. By the time I got there many of the orchids had passed their best but after a bit of wandering around I did manage to find a few plants that were still in their prime. The orchids at Marden are photographed to death and trying to think of new ways to get an interesting shot was a challenge for me but once again I got down low and looked upwards and managed to get a blue sky background.
Green-winged Orchid

I also found this white form of green-winged orchid, hopefully next year if it flowers I can get a shot of it in it's prime.

The trouble is the orchid spectacle is so amazing that you just get carried away and take loads of pictures.

I know of a couple of sites in north kent where you can see birds-nest orchid and at one of the sites a single flower had appeared in a new location. Lacking chlorophyll they initially look bland for an orchid but when you get in close the flower structure is quite amazing.
Birds-nest Orchid

Lesser butterfly orchids are tricky to see in Kent, being very local and scarce. Luckily there is one reliable site in north Kent and this year the flowers seemed to be well advanced by the time I got to see them. To me, along with the greater butterfly orchid, the flowers seem to be more angel like than butterfly.
Lesser Butterfly Orchid

At one site, it was possible to see fly, lady and lesser butterfly all within an area of a couple of feet. Some of the best lady orchid sites are in the east of the county but there is one reliable area in north Kent that generally holds 20 or so flowers. This plant had a large white butterfly holding on in the stiff breeze.
Lady Orchid and Large White Butterfly

Finally at the same site there was a great example of a fly orchid, with over 6 flowers along the stem.
Fly Orchid

I have also been wandering around the local Longfield area and there have been some impressive buttercup displays. Not sure what species these beetles are but I found them crammed into the buttercup flower head early one morning.

The background of the shot below is a densely packed field of buttercups and I'm pleased with the way I have managed to isolate this individual flower head.

A nice beechwood nearby is host to several hundred early purple orchids set amongst bluebell stands. Wandering around I located this white version of the early purple orchid, in fact I think it is the first white version I've seen along with the green-winged orchid.
Early Purple Orchid

Once section of bluebells is reasonably dense and I just love the rich greens of the beech foliage.

In some places there are groups of early purple orchids and this plant was one of the tallest and most impressive flower head.
Longfield chalkbank is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve. To be honest it is really a small grassy bank with a tiny bit of woodland and whilst being a lovely wild space that is home to slow worms, lizards and grass snakes some of the locals don't respect it and rubbish and dog mess is commonplace. Probably the most amazing thing about the tiny reserve is that it holds one of the few populations in the UK of grey mouse ear a small plant that I have yet to find there. My challenge is that common mouse ear also occurs on the reserve and is, well, common! I'm also struggling with the id features for grey mouse ear as never having seen one, finding a satisfactory picture is hard and I've certainly picked an id challenge for a plant novice.
This is a picture of a common mouse ear, the flowers do open up more but the key features are the white/silvery edges to the sepals i.e. the green bits that cover the white flower petals and the length of the sepals to the flower petals. In grey mouse ear, the sepals have green edges and the sepals are longer than the flower petals, I think! There is also a difference with something called a bract but for the life of me I cannot fathom it out. Still, if everything was easy to identify then life would be that much duller.
Common Mouse Ear

Another place I have visited is Shorne Marshes always good for marsh frog and hairy dragonfly.
I believe that the RSPB are doing a good job in developing the grazing marsh for waders and I unexpectedly came across this little ringed plover which just dropped into a muddy area just long enough for me to get a shot before heading off.
Little Ringed Plover

This is the second time I have been able to get close to a hairy dragonfly at Shorne.
Hairy Dragonfly