Thursday, 30 June 2016

#30DaysWild day 30: Frog orchid finale

It's the last day of June which means it's also the last day of 30 Days Wild. I decided to finish it all by trying to find the frog orchids on Watlington Hill. They're notoriously difficult to find as they blend into their grassy surroundings, but we found them last year so I had a good idea where to look. This year has been so wet though that the grasses and wildflowers have grown much taller than last year. It was going to be tricky!
Theyre in there somewhere!
I completely missed them the first time I walked through the site, but went around again and finally spotted one.
Frog orchid
When I was down on my knees in the thistles taking photos, I spotted another two small orchids close by. I think they must be late flowering this year as these two were tiny and still not fully open.

There were lots of meadow browns flitting around the flowers, and I saw marbled whites, small heaths and ringlets. A delicate little damselfly drifted around my feet, settling briefly before moving on to rest on another stem. Such a vibrant colour!

Common blue damselfly
A tiny shiny green orb-weaver spider had a fly all wrapped up in its web.

I spotted small holes in the path that looked like something had burrowed into the mud, leaving little volcanos of excavated dirt around the hole. I'm not sure what made them though.

There seemed to be a lot of different fungi in the grass. I found my first bolete of the year, which I think must be a summer bolete, as well as a few different waxcaps (but I'm not sure what sort of waxcap they are).
Summer bolete

I found an owl pellet, with what looks like a tooth sticking out of it. I'll give it to Bug Mad Girl and she can dissect it to find out what's inside.

I sat and enjoyed the view across the Chilterns for a while, then headed for home. It was a great way to end 30 Days Wild!

Monday, 27 June 2016

#30DaysWild day 27: Rhodochila Yoesden

Yoesden is such a joy to visit at any time of they year, as it's always full of colour, life and extraordinary things. Today I was going to look for something very special indeed though. Rhodochila is a rare variant of the common spotted orchid, that has a dark red-purple lip, lacking the spots and swirls that usually appear on the common spotted orchid. It also has dark purple leaves where the spots have merged to form a single block of colour. I knew it had been found at Yoesden last summer (Peter Creed had told us about it on an orchid walk) but the orchids had gone over by the time I looked for it, so I've had to wait almost a whole year to look for it again.

The chalk grassland slope at Yoesden is pretty big, so it felt a little bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It was a very enjoyable search though!

There were thousands of common spotted orchids growing everywhere, along with pyramidal and fragrant orchids. I even found a very soggy looking bee orchid.

Fragrant orchids

Pyramidal orchid
I concentrated on looking for dark red in amongst the paler pinks and was fooled by some quite dark coloured common spotted orchids, but they all had markings on the lip of the flower.
Common spotted orchid, but not a Rhodochila
Then I saw an orchid that jumped out because it was so different, with a very dark red lip lacking any spots, lines or whorls. I'd found it! I took some photos of it and looked up to see another one near by. There were two of them. Brilliant!


and another

Rhodochila between two 'normal' common spotted orchids
The leaves were almost completely purple. You can see them below, between the usual spotty leaves of the common spotted orchid.

Rhodochila leaves
The orchids are fabulous at this time of year, but there's plenty of other things to see too. Even on an overcast morning there were masses of marbled whites, meadow browns and ringlets fluttering all around me.
Marbled white

Meadow brown
I saw one skipper, but it was just hiding in the grass and not flying. I guess it wasn't sunny enough for many of the butterflies to be on the wing.
Either a small or large skipper (not sure which)
 As well as the butterflies, there were plenty of other insects.

Marbled white sharing a scabious flower with a longhorn beetle and some
dance flies
Black striped longhorn beetle

Dance fly (I think)
I walked back to the car through the meadow and had a look for the roe deer carcass that I'd found on my last visit about a month ago. At that time it was fairly recently dead, so I was interested to see what was left of it. All I could find was a few bones, so natures scavengers had done a good job on it.

Not much left!

There were several beetles crawling on the carcass as well as nearby, which I think were a type of burying beetle and will have helped to clear up the remains of the deer.

Burying beetle
I also found this very friendly beetle in the long grass.

What a fantastic place that has surprised and delighted me once again.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

#30DaysWild day 26: Glowing in the rain

It's not very often we set off on one of our adventures as late as 10pm, so we were excited to be meeting up with a group from the Chiltern Society last night to search for glow-worms. Brush Hill is only about a mile up the road and is one of several local sites where they can be found (we found them there last year). It was a lovely evening, so we left home wearing fleeces, but no coats and met up for hot chocolate and marshmallows before we started our search.

Within about 5 minutes of getting there it started to rain, then pour. We grabbed spare raincoats and umbrellas and sheltered under the trees, hoping it would quickly pass. It didn't! In fact it got heavier! It looked like we were in for a soggy evening!

There would be no bats swooping through the breaks in the trees, owls calling or foxes barking tonight (or at least not that we'd be able to hear). We walked through the woods to the chalk grassland slope and could see the edge of the huge black raincloud that was sitting over the top of us.

John Tyler, our glow-worm expert, gave us a talk about glow-worms, but it was mostly drowned out by the thundering rain on the beech leaves. We were all starting to wonder whether this was such a good idea after all, but the biggest question on our minds was would the glow-worms still glow in the rain. John insisted they would, in fact they often glow brighter as the wimpy male glow-worms hide away from the rain, so the females have to try even harder to try and attract them. I have to say that nobody seemed terribly convinced, but we all stuck with it and started to search through the grass.

Starting to think we must all be mad
Eventually somebody spotted a bright green glow near the ground. We'd found our first glow-worm of the night!

Glow worms are beetles from the firefly family and it's only the female that produces the green light, from the last few segments of her abdomen. She's completely wingless, so glows to attract the smaller, winged males. She spends two years as a larvae eating slugs and snails, then pupates in a burrow in the ground emerging in June or July. She climbs out of the burrow, glows, mates then crawls back into the burrow to lay her eggs. She dies soon afterwards and is only an adult glow worm for about a week.

Bug Mad Girl was determined to find one herself, so headed off into the long grass, oblivious to the torrential rain. Her perseverance paid off and I soon heard her squeals of delight as she spotted one.

Found one!
The group found about 8 glow-worms in the end, which was not a bad total for such an awful night. Bug Mad Girl was over the moon to find her one herself, but agreed it was time to go home and get dry soon afterwards.

Friday, 24 June 2016

#30DaysWild day 24: Bee orchids and broomrape

My Mum's sister had taken her to a 'secret' slope covered in amazing bee orchids last week. Apparently it's known about locally, but its location is kept quiet. It's one of those very unusual orchid sites that's not under the management of BBOWT or the National Trust and is just a slope on one of the local estates that has been left alone and allowed to flourish. We collected Bug Mad Girl from school and Mum took us there this afternoon.

What an amazing sight! There were literally hundreds of bee orchids in amongst thousands of pyramidal orchids. There were so many bee orchids you had to be really careful with each step to make sure you didn't stand on any. They were so beautiful and it was such a fantastic place to visit.


The bee orchids I've seen in the past have had 2 or maybe 3 flowers on them, but some of these were very tall and we even found one that had an amazing 13 flowers on it.

13 flowers on one bee orchid spike
By far the largest number of orchids were pyramidal orchids and we also saw some common spotted orchids, although there were relatively few of those.

Pyramidal orchids
Common spotted orchids
As if that wasn't enough, there was also common broomrape growing throughout the slope. It's an unusual plant with no chlorophyll and is parasitic on the roots of clover. I've never seen it before, but there were hundreds of flowers in amongst all the orchids.


Even all those amazing bee orchids only held Bug Mad Girl's attention for a few minutes and she was soon off hunting for bugs.
She's in there somewhere, wearing yellow
I saw my first painted lady and marbled white of the year.

Painted lady

Marbled white
It still amazes me that places like that exist and you'd just never know they were there unless somebody showed you. What a brilliant place and such a fantastic secret! Thanks Auntie Anne for sharing it with us!!