Thursday 28 May 2020

Kent Orchids

Kojak and I spent yesterday orchid twitching in Kent. A few sites are still closed due to lockdown so we visited three famous sites in south east Kent all within a few miles of each other on the North Downs. We used the excellent guide book, Wild Orchids of Kent by David Johnson (Kent Field Club).

1. Bonsai Bank  Grid Reference: TR 105 510  GPS: 51.221781, 1.015369
We reached this hidden gem by parking in Penny Pot Lane and then working our way on foot through the woodland with Apple maps until we arrived at the bank which is accessed through a hidden path and an overgrown kissing gate. We spoke to and heard tales of several lost souls wondering round the woods (Denge Woods) looking for the site to no avail so just pray the intermittent 4G is occasionally working or follow the sounds of the chanting and drumming Shaman that we encountered on our visit. The main attraction here is the large colony of Lady's Orchids. We found 150+ Lady Orchids, 8 White Helleborine, Common Twayblades and Common Spotted Orchids. This is also a site for Duke of Burgundy butterfly. We also had Firecrest and Marsh Tits in the woods.

 Lady Orchids 
 Lady Orchid- a variant with paler flowers 

  The Duke (Duke of Burgundy) 

2. Yockletts Bank Grid Reference: TR 125 477 GPS HERE
This is not a difficult place to find but impossible to park at so you will need to find a verge somewhere to stack the car and then walk in to find the treasures in the woods. Here we had about 8 Fly Orchids, one Greater Butterfly Orchid, lots of White Helleborines, a few Lady Orchids and Common Twayblades. There are entrances to the nature reserve on both sides of the road, we took the south entrance. Also in the nearby farm and orchards were 4 Turtle Doves singing.

 Fly Orchids- this insect mimic (its even got antennae) sends out a pheromone that attracts the solitary wasp Argogorytes mystaceus which pollinates it while trying in vain to mate with it 
 White Helleborine 
The stunning Greater Butterfly Orchid (The two yellow pollonia set wide apart separates it from Lesser Butterfly Orchid) 

3. Park Gate Down  Grid Reference TR 168 457 GPS HERE
One of the most famous orchid sites in the UK for hosting the largest of only three colonies of the rare Monkey Orchid in the UK. There are three fields, we found most Monkeys were in the second field. We found about 30 Monkey Orchids and also Early Purples (mostly over), Common Spotted, Twayblades and emerging Chalk Fragrant Orchids.

 A close up of a little monkey 
 Monkey Orchids! Stunners!!
 Common Twayblade
 Chalk Fragrant Orchid- looks like these were just about to come out 
 Common Spotted Orchid 
Park Gate Down

So a pretty amazing little day for a couple of botany duffers with nine species of orchid:  Common Twayblade, Common Spotted Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Chalk Fragrant Orchid, White Helleborine, Lady Orchid, Fly Orchid, Greater Butterfly Orchid and Monkey Orchid.

.....and here's a few day flying moths and some tentative identifications that we came across on the chalk grasslands

 Lathronympha strigana (?)
 White-spotted Sable at Bonsai Bank 
 Cherry Bark Tortrix (?) 
 Small Purple-barred (fusca) 

Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Old Vicarage

Haven't really left the Old Vicarage for the last four days, Saturday was gale force winds, Sunday just disappeared somewhere, I managed a couple of hours at Otmoor on Monday and today has been a work day. Despite the gale force winds on Saturday it didn't stop Jaffa (college mate and birding buddy) finding a Blyth's Reed Warbler. He has been winding me up recently as he is on a murderous lockdown roll having found 13 Bee-eaters, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Golden Oriole on his local patch in the last few days and on his noc-mig he has had Nightjar, Stone Curlew and a good selection of waders and terns. For more grippage see HERE. He has also made our other college mate Lee, give up birding altogether (especially after Lee missed a White-tailed Eagle over his garden- and not one of the plastic ones either, one of the real deals) and Holly has been informed today that we are moving to the bloody coast! Being a landlocked naturalist is like being a fish in a field! No matter how often landlocked local patchers try to convince ourselves that its all relative and patch gold (like a Dunlin in your garden) is just as good as e.g. a Yellow-throated Vireo in a Cornish valley or Atlantic island, or a lifer in a rainforest, mountain range, desert or open ocean,  well that's just basically delusional bollocks and quite frankly I am completely sick of lockdown and can't wait to get travelling again. 

The stand out event of the last few days was finding a Great Tit in the moth trap! After I let it go and I checked the trap, the scene inside looked like a terrorist attack with bits of moths everywhere including the head of a Poplar Hawkmoth, still alive dragging itself along the egg cartons. It was actually pretty grim- the Great Tit had gone only for the big juicy moths- Buff-tips, the Hawkmoths and Pale Tussocks.  

Killer Great Tit 
Highlight of a visit to Otmoor was the singing Curlews, two Willow Warblers singing and looks like the Lapwings are starting their post breeding flock. Ebird list HERE 
 Lesser Treble Bar at the Old Vicarage. Been a very large increase in the number of moths this week, mainly Treble Bars, Common Wainscots and Heart and Darts, making up the bulk of the numbers with a nice diversity of other moths too. 
 Dark Alder Midget (?) - The Bucks moth recorder has replied probably it's not this species, more likely either tristrigella associated with Elm or nicelli associated with Hazel. Thanks Dave! 
 Larch-bud Moth (waiting for confirmation) 
 Been doing lots in the garden over the last few days, including keeping everything watered in the hot conditions 
We've had our first significant harvest from the garden- the radishes, which Holly pickled

Saturday 23 May 2020

A week's moths

There's been a lot of moth action this week in the heat wave. Here's a selection of a few I don't see too often my end.

 Eyed Hawkmoth- at the Old Vicarage
 Shears (above and below) at the Old Vicarage

 Rough-winged Conch, Phtheochroa rugosana at the Old Vic
Grey-streaked Diamond Back ,Plutella porrectella at the Old Vic
 Hook-streak Grass-veneer, Crambus lathoniellus- the first grass moth of the year at the Old Vic
Seems to be a good season for Figure of Eighty both at the Old Vic and Beddington 
 Poplar Grey at the Old Vicarage
 I don't usually see these two together- Hebrew Character (left) and Setaceous Hebrew Character (right)
 Large Nutmeg at the Old Vic
 Buttoned Snout at Beddington
Mottled Pug at Beddington
 Pale Oak Beauty at Beddington
 Toadflax Brocade at Beddington
and the first Elephant Hawkmoth of the year at the Old Vic

Thursday 21 May 2020

Day In Kent

Beautiful warm weather yesterday, with a high pressure over the continent extending over UK and a variable southeast to southwest breeze, set the scene for some late spring birding and eastern vagrant/overshoot hunting. There's been an influx of Red-footed Falcons in the country and a scattering of Black Kites and other bits like Great Reed Warbler and Bee-eaters so we focused on Sheppey- Shellness and North Swale Nature Reserve to see if we could find a Red-foot etc. 

Best Kojak and I could muster up was an adult breeding plumage Great White Egret, complete with dark bill, bluish lores, off yellow patch on tip of long scapulars and plumes on back. Other highlights included a second-calender year Eider in the Swale, Sanderlings, Barwit and Whimbrel .

In the afternoon a Red-footed Falcon was found a short distance away at Oare (a near miss for us) so we crossed the Swale to have a look by which time it had moved on. Booming Bittern and a dusk hunting Barn Owl made the trip worth it. Ebirds lists HERE and HERE

 Adult breeding Great White Egret 
 Second-calender year Eider- looks like the bird will need to moult before it can fly north 
 Summer Sanderlings 
 Oystercatcher (800 in the high tide roost), Ringed Plover and Dunlin 
Hairy Dragonfly- Spot on segment one is best identification feature 
The high pressure and easterly airflow continues today, with a mini influx of rare raptors on the near continent and a scattering of scarce migrants (Bluethroat, Collared Pratincole and rare moths too in the UK). Classic high pressure late spring/summer vagrancy weather with clear conditions and a continental airflow enabling cross-Eurasian exploration by first-summer birds and pioneering vagrants.