Sunday, 10 June 2018

Kentish Orchid Beano #1

Spent a few days camping with the family down in Kent at the end of May, primarily so we could check out a few new orchids and hope for late spring migrants overshooting the near continent.

Our first trip was to the picturesque Kent Wildlife Trust's Park Gate Down nature reserve, near Ashford, where we hoped to find Monkey Orchid. Arriving early, on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning, we had the site to ourselves for a good half an hour or so, before other orchid hunters arrived.

The Monkey Orchids were introduced here in the late 1950s, from seed collected from a population in Faversham, and are flourishing. Our first Monkey was spotted through my bins from the layby where we parked on the road that bisects the valley! They really are distinctive, with a swirling mix of magenta pink and white combined with a distinctive troll-hair fluffy shape, meaning they are identifiable at quite a distance. Only up close do you see the monkey 'tail' hanging between the legs of the individual florets. Monkey Orchids were found at Spurn back in the 1980s until the colony was sadly washed away by the sea.

One monkey meets lad, Sol enjoying his first Monkey Orchid.

The calcareous grassland here was incredibly diverse, with hundreds of Common Twayblades flowering, alongside Chalk Fragrant and Common Spotted Orchids just coming into flower.

Chalk Fragrant Orchid

More excitement was to come as we walked through into the second field, where in the midst of the grass, a rocket of a Lady Orchid, another new species for us, towered above the surrounding vegetation. Spectacular stuff!

An unexpected Lady Orchid

Further along, we came across a small stand of Greater Butterfly Orchids, just coming into flower. The widely-separated pollinia that were slightly arched confirmed the species. Nearby, a scattering of Fly Orchids was another surprise! What a place!

Greater Butterfly Orchid, above, and Fly Orchid, below. All at Park Gate Down.

So, not a bad start to our trip with eight species of orchid recorded: Common Twayblade, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Chalk Fragrant Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Lady Orchid, Monkey Orchid and Fly Orchid. Man Orchid may have been here too, but we didn't spot any.

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