Back in December, wildlife author and blogger Jon Dunn (above) asked me if I could help him out with a few orchid sites this summer. He was keen to see both Bird's-nest Orchid and White Helleborine - both species that 'my' part of the North Downs is blessed with. I was only too pleased to help him out, especially as it was to be research towards his new book project. Today we finally met, after being 'virtual' friends for a couple of years - this social media is a strange beast when you really think about it. Two strangers, meeting for the first time in a car park, who know that they have a lot in common, but have never spoken or clapped eyes on each other! Luckily we both hit it off very quickly and the day was an absolute pleasure.
The timing of the Bird's-nests varied greatly. The Mickleham and Box Hill populations that I know were still only just emerging, but had grown noticably since my visit on Tuesday. The same could be said of the Juniper Bottom White Helleborines, that had only a few in bud, although one plant had a fairly advanced flower.
The Box Hill Man Orchids (left) were a delight. Up to 125 spikes were on show, some of them quite tall, although others were only just emerging. Once we got our eye in spike after spike emerged ahead of us, a single here, a group of a dozen there. We didn't cover the whole slope but there must be more to find. Nearby, in a brief moment of sunny weather, a pristine Adonis Blue butterfly stole us away from the plants, the first that Jon (now a resident of Shetland) had seen for many a year. He should have obtained some frame fillers, as the insect was quite sluggish and stayed put upon a flowerhead for several minutes.
Ranmore was where the main show took place. We found 150+ White Helleborines, mostly a way off from flowering, although one or two were doing so. The Bird's-nest Orchids were spectacular. For more detail, including information about one particular special group, I'm afraid you will have to wait until Jon's book comes out in 2018! I can divulge that we came across 250+ fresh spikes in varying stages. Some show indeed.
|The beech woodland at White Downs that is host to plenty of Bird's-nest Orchids|
I had one last surprise for Jon. In a previous correspondence he had admitted to an admiration of the work of artist and lepidopterist Frederick William Frohawk (1861-1946). It just so happens that he is buried in Headley churchyard, very close to our orchid sites. I took Jon along to pay respects to his hero. Frohawk's grave is marked by a carved wooden cross, which has a Camberwell Beauty as its centrepiece. As we stood by the grave the church bells sounded. And as we left, Jon patted the cross in a show of appreciation towards the great man...