5.5k of nests

Yesterday I met up with Joe Hobden on a cloudy and cool Bank Holiday Monday morning. The main aim of the outing was to check on the large numbers of Bird's-nest Orchids that can be found on the southern slope of Mickleham Downs, between White Hill Car Park and Headley Warren. Joe is on a bit of an orchid odyssey at the moment and I needed little persuasion to join him in his infectious enthusiasm. The slope along the 1km length of our search is steep, with little in the way of clearings amongst the - at times - dense woodland of Yew, Beech, Ash (dying back), various conifers and Box. Yes, the Box here, in its natural environment, takes on the guise of tree rather than ornamental hedge.

We estimated that, at a minimum, 5,500+ spikes of Bird's-nest Orchid were located. The majority of them (c5,000) were found on the steepest of the slopes above Cockshott Cottage, in an area that could have taken up no more room than a couple of full-sized football pitches. Unlike previous years when I have visited, there were not many large 'clumps', with close gatherings of 50+ few and far between. It was more a case of spaced out congregations, which just did not seem to stop. Using our binoculars, we scanned the slopes and were delighted and a little dazed to discover that there were always orchids in sight, marching away into the murk. This particular area was characterised by young beech trees, close-knit, maybe the colonisers of the spaces opened up by the 1987 storm. There were areas of mature beech on our search, the light more apparent, but these were not as well endowed with the orchids - in fact, some of the habitat that was walked through looked ideal for Bird's-nest, yet yielded few or none. It was also noteworthy that two small conifer plantations held good numbers. The further west we walked, the fewer orchids were seen. It is worth bearing in mind that our route along the slope was narrow, with our search further up - and down - the steep ground limited. There is a good chance that many more were missed. Some of the spikes were whoppers, orchids on steroids, almost coming up to knee height.

We heard Hawfinch calling several times. It was pleasing to record this species at this time of year, suggesting that breeding may well have taken place. Joe's growing botanical interest showed up my own current lack of it. Having neglected flowers for a few years I was struggling to specifically identify species that we came across, being able to let him know that, yes, the species in front of us was a Tare, but I couldn't remember if it was Hairy or Smooth. Back to the field guides for a bit of revision...


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