Wednesday, 21 June 2017

#30DaysWild day 21 - Orchid and insect heaven

The Ragpits at Aston Clinton is one of those 'special' places. Tucked away behind a bank of trees next to a main road, you would never know if was there. But when you follow the path through the trees and step out onto the open grassland, it feels like you've landed on another planet. The steep slopes and craters left by the chalk quarrying are laced with paths and trails through the wildflowers. Thousands of orchids spikes grow wherever you look and the whole place shimmers with meadow brown and marbled white butterflies flying through the orchids and other flowers. Crickets and grasshoppers chirp all around you and all sorts of fantastic insects can be found. Whenever I visit, I feel like we're so lucky that somewhere like that still exists. It's beautiful!

Spotted longhorn beetle on a common spotted orchid

Marbled white
Chalk fragrant orchids growing on the slopes of the chalk pit 
Several types of orchid grow there, but the chalk fragrant orchids are the most frequent, which number in the tens of thousands. They're delicate orchids on a tall spike that range from pink to deep reddish-purple and sometimes white.
Chalk fragrant orchids

The flowers have two sepals with a rolled up appearance, that spread out like wings held out slightly below horizontal. The lip has three lobes and a long thin nectar-filled spur hangs down behind each flower.
Chalk fragrant flowers
There were plenty of common spotted orchids as well. They tend to be fuller flowered than the chalk fragrant orchids and have spotted leaves. The sepals are usually held out slightly above horizontal and the lip has three lobes, with the middle one longer and more pointed. They're usually patterned with lines and spots and come in a range of colours including white, pink and lilac.

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid

There were a few flowers that seemed to be a cross between the chalk fragrant and common spotted orchids. They seemed fuller than the chalk fragrant orchids, with wings above horizontal like a common spotted orchid, but the lip looked like the chalk fragrant lip. I'm not sure, but these might be hybrids between the two types of orchid.

There are a number of other orchids growing at the site. There are usually butterfly orchids there, but I couldn't see any today. Maybe I missed them, or they may have gone over, but I wonder if they're not having a good year. There are also white helleborines earlier in the year and broad leaved helleborines later in the year.

Bee orchid

Pyramidal orchid


Twayblade is often overlooked as it is green and tends to merge into the
background. The flowers are still very beautiful though.
It wasn't all about the orchids though as the butterflies are also the stars at the Ragpits. Apart from the dozens of meadow browns and marbled whites that were flitting through the flowers (and rarely settling) I saw a stunning newly emerged comma, a small tortoiseshell and several large skippers. I also saw the flash of a large, orange butterfly whizz past me. It may have been a dark green fritillary, but I can't be sure as it was flying so fast that it was gone before I could see it properly.


Large skipper
To top off a lovely morning, I found a slowworm underneath one of the tin sheets put out around the site.
A slowworm, hiding underneath the leaves.
What a great place to celebrate the summer solstice! It certainly felt like summer had arrived today!

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