Wednesday 3 June 2015

A day in North West England

James Lowen and I had intended to visit Gait Barrows near Silverdale, Lancashire, last summer in order to see the reintroduced Lady's Slipper Orchids that can be found there. For many species - flowers, but also insects and others - summer 2014 was a particularly 'early' season following a very warm spring and, by the time we'd got round to thinking about going, we'd missed our chance with the LSO (although it's a great reserve for Dark Red Helleborine, High Brown Fritillary etc later on).

As a result, we'd had a late May trip pencilled in since the beginning of the year. This year has been a total contrast to the previous; a particularly cool and wet May has dictated a fairly late spring this year and as such we were a little hesitant on whether our quarry would be in peak condition ...

With a visit north-west planned, I'd seized the opportunity to hunt down gen for two other species that do not occur further south and east - Coralroot Orchid and Lesser Twayblade. Having spoken to Sean Cole and gleaned some valuable contacts and information, the news was positive - both were flowering and a plan was quickly formed.

I decided to drive through the night so that I was at Cliburn Moss for first thing. After an unsuccessful hour poking around the reserve's mossy floor and being eaten alive by some of the most persistent midges that I've ever come across, reserve warden Colin Auld became my proverbial knight in shining armour, pointing out several Lesser Twayblades almost immediately upon his arrival. I'd been searching just a few metres away and not seen one! The twayblades became an instant favourite - they're absolutely tiny yet unquestionably stunning, the rich pinkish-red stem and flowers blending in perfectly with their surroundings. As I'd spent so long searching and knowing that I had to be at Sandscale Moss for 10 am, my photo opportunities were limited and I left a little unsatisfied with my efforts.

Lesser Twayblade - not the easiest species to spot!

Next stop was Sandscale, where wardens Neil and Jamie showed us to the Coralroots. After a number of poor to average years the number of flowering plants has exploded this May, with over 1,700 counted. We were shown a good few hundred in slack 28 and then I was fortunate enough to join their ongoing survey, finding plenty more in other parts of the reserve. Again, it's an orchid that's remarkably small and very easily missed (trampled), so you really have to be careful where you're treading.

 Coralroot Orchids are very easy to tread on - I'm speaking hypothetically, of course!

That's more like it ...

James was hoping to meet me at Sandscale early afternoon but appalling traffic had curtailed his efforts; I therefore met up with him at Gait Barrows where we half admired, half baulked at a number of Lady's Slipper Orchids in fine fettle. When you see them, it's certainly hard to accept that they're very much a British species as opposed to an out-of-place exotic, which they certainly resemble.

From the sublime to the ridiculous - Lady's Slipper Orchids

Very smart, but the presence of slug pellets and various copper tubes didn't exactly make for an authentic experience! I was as happy with my first Northern Marsh-orchids, just starting to open up ...

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