Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Early Spider Orchids...

Although Roger and I have seen Early Spider Orchids many times over the years it’s been a long time since we saw them in good numbers. As its name suggests they’re one of the first orchids flowering in the year, so with the promise of good weather we decided to head to the Isle of Purbeck. This area along the south Dorset coast is one of the main strongholds of the orchid in the UK and also the place where we first saw them over 30 years ago. The Early Spider was one of the first rare plants we ever went in search of and certainly the first rare orchid that we ticked off.

Leaving early it was a little over an hour until we were driving through the lovely Dorset countryside. Purbeck is rolling hills running down to some of the most stunning coastline in England. Parking at Worth Matravers we headed off down one of the many footpaths that join up with the South West Coast Path. After about 45 minutes we were on the coast proper and walking along the beautiful chalky cliffs.

Purbeck Coast, home to Early Spider Orchids
Me (Duncan) adding to my botanical photo collection 

The grassland here is botanically rich and later in the year is a riot of colour, in April it’s a bit more subdued but that makes it easier to spot the orchids. Most are only a few inches high, once you have your eye-in they become easier to see, little green stems with dark brown blobs on them. Closer the similarity to a spider becomes evident, beautifully marked flowers with quite a diverse range of markings.

Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchids, 3-4 inches of
velvety-brown rareness: R.Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: R. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, var. flavescens
Purbeck: R. Harris
We were fortunate enough to see hundreds if not thousands in the two fields we walked and you have to remember that only a short walk inland and you lose them altogether. After a couple of hours we headed back to the car, the walk uphill a lot harder in the by then brilliant sunshine.

In addition to the orchids we had exceptionally close views of a Skylark, a couple of kestrels including this smart male, a single Wheatear, and singing Blackcaps. Noticeable by their absence were the expected Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and hirundines!  A short drive back to Wareham Forest provided good views of Sand Lizard Lacerta agillis as a nice way of finishing the trip.

Kestrel, male: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Sand Lizard, Lacerta agillis: R. Harris

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