My mum's newly reignited interest in UK orchids meant that we'd pencilled in a trip around Kent's top sites in mid-May, with several target species in mind. She got plenty of ticks during a great day on Saturday 18th, while for me it was a nice opportunity to see various species that I'd not seen for anything between three and five years.
Our first stop, early in the morning, was Marden Meadow – a new site for me. It didn't disappoint, with a spectacular showing of thousands of Green-winged Orchids, including a few paler examples among the predominately dark-purple carpet.
Having had our fill at Marden, we headed down to the south coast at Samphire Hoe. While it was getting late for Early Spider Orchids, I hoped that we might still find a few in flower – and so it proved. Although the vast majority were long dead, a few flowers remained and we found a handful still in relatively respectable condition. I've only visited this site once before, again in mid-May, so I'm yet to see the Early Spiders here in all their glory. On the bird front, a Ring Ouzel chakking from the undercliff was a slight surprise, but migrants were otherwise non-existent.
I had confidently predicted that it was "too early" for the nearby Late Spider Orchids at Folkestone to be flowering, yet we decided to call in anyway. The spot has changed since I was last there a few years back, with electric fences now erected to protect the small and sensitive colony of Late Spiders from trampling – they are, after all, situated right next to a busy footpath. It was ironic, then, that the only obvious spike was happily flowering outside the fence, perfectly positioned for photos! An unexpected bonus, especially for mum, who'd not seen the species before, and an indication that we were on to clear up on all possible targets. Also here were several small Man Orchids.
It was then on to Yockletts Bank, a pretty little reserve on the Kent Downs that supports good numbers of Lady and Fly Orchids, as well as plenty of Common Twayblade and various other species in small numbers. The Ladies duly obliged, with several large specimens on show.
But it was an unusual form that stole the show. It took some finding, but the ochroleuca Fly Orchid was stunning. As I understand it, this form is only known from a handful of sites in the country.
After a spot of lunch, we headed for two nearby sites. Unfortunately the Monkey Orchids at Park Gate Down were only just coming out (although there were many more spikes than I remember seeing on my previous visit) so didn't look particularly great, but there were some nice Early Purples on show. The Lady Orchids at Bonsai Bank weren't in particularly fantastic fettle, with the dry spring presumably to blame for the relatively small size of most of the plants. However, good numbers of Duke of Burgundy butterflies were a joy to watch, with the pugnacious males taking on anything and everything that had the audacity to wander into their territories.
In fact, if an image could sum up gung-ho toughness of the species, it's probably that below. Despite a predator attack having left him with half his wings, this feisty chap wasn't letting his disadvantage get the better of him. He had no problems flying and was even resolutely defending his territory against other wanderers ... fair play!