A Confusion of Orchids

The meadows at Gait Barrows nature reserve are grazed by ponies, but this year electric fences have been erected to leave large areas untouched. I spent a happy half hour there yesterday evening taking photographs of grass seed heads – yellow, orange, blue and silver, compact cigars and delicate wiry mobiles. I can see that I shall have to add something on grasses and sedges to my growing collection of identification books eventually.

There were flowers too – buttercups, speedwells, patches of woundwort and an area colonised by silverweed with its distinctive leaves and rock-rose like flowers. Patches of nettles too – especially where the ground had been turned over by rabbits or moles. The nettles seemed to be a favourite target for cuckoo spit, actually produced from sap by an insect, the froghopper, rather than a cuckoo. The field had washes of red where tall spikes of common sorrel flourished

The red is provided by seeds which have three red ribs around a central fruit. Sorrel is dioecious with male and female flowers on different plants. I shall be looking out for the flowers, but I suspect that they are unspectacular. The distinctive red tinge that sorrel gives to mature meadows is very fine however. The sorrel was another popular choice for froghoppers it seemed.

I presume that these are flowers just emerging – I’m not sure whether male or female. To be honest it may not even be sorrel – all identifications here should be treated as provisional and taken with a generous dose of salt. Tantalisingly, the cobweb in the top left corner holds a green and red spider half hidden by a leaf, which I didn’t even notice at the time. Spiders – there’s something else I know next to nothing about.

As I clambered over the stile  and entered the meadow, I briefly caught the bright copper streak of a kestrel winging away to the tall trees along the field edge. Then found this remnant perhaps of an encounter between predator and prey?

Most unfortunate obviously for the bird concerned, but a great opportunity to take a close look at the feathers…

Any clever ornithologists have any ideas as to the identity of the victim?

Update – it’s pheasant I think, though I’d be happy to be put right.

The longer grass seemed to hide me a little from the many rabbits which live in these fields and it was amusing to watch them pop out of the warren only to scurry back again moments later. In the woods by Haweswater a solitary roe deer seemed quite unconcerned by my presence and continued to forage just yards from the path. Sadly in the thicket of tree trunks and the darkness of the wood it was pointless to try and take a photo.

In the damp meadow by the lake which is enclosed by the woods there was ragged robin and irises which were quite past their best, although the bees didn’t seem to mind. Surely there would be orchids too? Flattened grass leading off the main path into soggy feet territory gave a clue and lead to – more confusion. The light was very poor and so the photos aren’t up to much, but I’m going to post them because perhaps somebody out there can help? There were a number of dark purple flowers, which as usual my camera, which has an aversion to purple flowers, rendered as pink.

The three purple flowers I photographed, it seems to me all vary slightly in the shape of the petals. The wide three part lip is the right shape for heath spotted orchid, but that is apparently pink or white, and these really were purple.

There seem to be several orchids which grow in boggy places and have patterned purple flowers – early marsh orchid, northern marsh orchid, Irish marsh orchid etc, but I have a guide to this area, the Bittern, put out by the AONB landscape trust, which includes photos of the 14 orchid species which can be found here (of 50 nationally apparently), and it only includes common spotted orchid and northern marsh orchid.

This plant most closely resembles their photo of northern marsh orchid. To add to the confusion however, their photo of common spotted orchid looks like the heath spotted orchid in both of my field guides. Common spotted orchid has a much more deeply divided lip, like this white orchid I inexpertly shot…


I think this probably is common spotted orchid, with added cuckoo spit. Perhaps the others are all northern marsh orchid?

At this point I realised that somewhere in all of my groveling around to take photos I had lost the lens cap for my teleconvertor (which I hadn’t used at all anyway.)

I decided to retrace my steps to look for it, without holding out much hope of finding it, but first continued to my intended destination where I hoped to find some bird’s-eye primrose flowering. It was. But sadly my photo is even worse than the orchid photos and so the appearance here of bird’s-eye primrose will have to wait for another day. See them here if you can’t wait!

By the lake here is another incredibly tranquil spot.

I always half expect to see otters, although I never have and perhaps never will. The open area where the bird’s-eye primrose grow is being swallowed up by spreading junipers and encroaching bracken. I wonder what, if anything, Natural England – who manage the nature reserve – will do to ensure their continued presence.

Back in the woods, the flowers on a guelder rose, which isn’t a rose at all, shone out in the darkness and somewhat to my surprise a photo captured that quite well…

Heading back through the damp meadow and searching for my missing lens cap, it was evidently slugs and snails time – they were everywhere. I was taken by a very striking little snail with bands of chocolate brown and Cornish ice-cream cream yellow on its shell. I tried to photograph it but knocked it from the plant stem it was clinging to and when it dropped into the foliage it disappeared for good. Clearly, I wasn’t going to find my lens cap if I’d dropped it somewhere similar. (I didn’t)

Back in the woods the roe deer was standing watching me from the path. She moved aside but then continued to feed. Roe deer are normally far more cautious – I wonder why she was so unperturbed?

Close to finishing my walk I caught a glimpse over tree tops of a corner of the sky where high thin cloud was banded with mauves, pinks and purples like fingernail sized shells you might find on the beach.

A Confusion of Orchids

6 thoughts on “A Confusion of Orchids

  1. Thanks for the tip on Bombus pratorum, Mark – spot on, I reckon; a stripey little Bombus, that one.
    Orchids are foxing me too. The Marsh and Spotted tend to hybridise too, I think, which produces some with intermediate features. I found some Southern Marsh Orchids the other day and they look a bit like yours only paler and less boldly marked so my money (if I had any) would be on the Northern Marsh.

  2. My wife and I live in the country about 7 miles Southeast of Olivet, Michigan, USA. Our place has woods and brush on 3 sides with many Maple trees on the other side, between the house and the road. About 2 weeks ago I noticed very unique and beautiful flowers on some “brush” at the side of the driveway near the road. I had no idea what they were and no one else did either. I’ve never seen them growing before and I’m 70 years old. Imagine my surprise when I was reading your blog about an hour ago and there was a picture of the flower, the guelder rose. How do you pronounce “guelder?” Thank you so much for posting the picture. It sure has satisfied my considerable curiosity.

  3. beatingthebounds says:

    Thanks Alan, Rob

    Lowell – glad to be of service. I would pronounce Guelder with a hard g and as if the u weren’t there – like gelding.
    You can expect attractive bunches of berries in the autumn. But don’t be tempted the whole plant is poisonous.
    The large flowers around the outside are infertile, just there to advertise the real thing in the centre. An old name for Guelder Rose is water or swamp elder which reflects its liking for damp or boggy spots and perhaps also the fact that it flowers at the same time as elder?

    Couldn’t agree more about the orchids John.

  4. The Bird’s-eye primroses in Wharfedale were lovely last week, Mark.
    Nice to get back to your postings after a break for our own trips away.
    Keep it up!

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