Tuesday 12 June 2018

Blean Butterflies & Downland Orchids 11th June 2018

A Monday off after a long weekend at work but I persuaded myself that it should not be wasted and arranged to meet up with Jason down at RSPB Blean Woods near Canterbury to have a look for Heath Fritillaries before heading off with some quality orchid hunting.

The clouds parted on cue as we headed into the woods from the eastern side and just a short walk from their little house in the village and almost immediately we found our first Frits. As the sun came out it became apparent that they were having a grand year and in just two clearings we counted about 70 on the wing.  

Heath Fritillaries

I have only seen a couple before in Pound Wood in south Essex on a walk with the Jacksons a few years ago and so this was a real treat. They danced around us and the females were very receptive and were dragging in the fluttering males from all directions.  Their larval food plant, Cow-wheat, was present in good quantities so hopefully another productive season is in the offing.


The odd Meadow Brown, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood were seen along with several Common Blue Damselflies. Persistent Clegs followed us around and Syrphus hoverflies were the commonest species seen along with Episyrphus balteatus while a fine Volucella pellucens and a couple of Eristalis tenax and pertinax were found. A Xylota segnis was licking sap off of Bramble leaves and as usual not looking like a hoverfly at all. On Sunday I was shown a nice Conopid called Sicus ferrugineus at the reserve and so it was pleasing to find another today to show to Jason.

Xylota segnis

Sicus ferrugineus

Sicus ferrugineus

Buckthorn and Wild Service Tree saplings grew alongside the path and there was a nice patch of Woodruff, Pendulous Sedge, Hedge Woundwort and Lesser Spearwort in the edges and Heath Speedwell was new for me.   

Hedge Woundwort

Lesser Spearwort

Heath Speedwell

Several Common Spotted Orchids were seen in the glades and the scent of Honeysuckle drifted through the warming air but it paid not to get too distracted with lines of Wood Ants scurrying to and from their mounded nests.

Common Spotted


Wood Ant Nest

We ambled back past a wall of Wild Privet and pungent Horseradish before crossing the main road to a tiny nature reserve called Keir’s Meadow.  A completely manmade site but a fabulous spot with a swathe of grasses filled with buttercups, knapweed, vetches, vetchlings, sorrels and Ox-eye Daisies. A couple of Large Skippers and Silver Y Moths zipped around and a single spike of what I think is Large Spearwort was flowering in the pond where Azure Damselflies hunted.

Keir’s Meadow

Large Spearwort

Large Skipper

Lunch outside the house scanning the skies for garden ticks provided none but there was a nice patch of Fox and Cubs in the lawn!

Fox and Cubs

Nicole escaped work and joined us for the afternoon orchid session. We headed south towards Folkestone to Park Gate Down and just like Yockletts a couple of weeks back it started setting off memory alarm bells of a visit the best part of thirty years ago.

The next hour was spent wandering through the sloping meadow paths surrounded by literally hundreds of spikes of lilac, pink, white and cerise orchids. To be honest I got very confused but it would appear that most were Fragrant with various shades noted and a wonderful heady scent and Common Spotted – from pale pink to white. To me the Fragrant looked looser flowered than the tight headed Spotteds. Several Greater Butterfly were seen along with triangular Pyramidals, a single well over the hill Lady and very over Early Purple, a couple of bizarre looking Monkey, two tiny flowered Fly, a single Bee, clumps of almost over Common Twayblade and two miniscule Musk Orchids no more than four inches high with the smell of honey wafting up when you got down to their level.

Park Gate Down




Common Spotted

Pyramidal & Meadow Brown

Common Twayblade

Common Twayblade

Greater Butterfly

Greater Butterfly
Fly, Greater Butterfly & Fragrant

Yellow Rattle and Rock Roses flowered among the orchids and a patch of wild Columbine was growing up near the Bracken slope. 

Yellow Rattle


Common Blues, Brown Argus, Brimstones and Dingy Skippers flitted amongst the blooms and the first young grasshoppers were pinging away as we walked through. 

With time pressing on we moved on to near the village of Womanswold where a quick walk into a dark little piece of wood added some gone over White Helleborines and several Birds Nest Orchids to the growing list. The best spikes were in a shaft of sunlight and the warm smell of floral honey came up to meet us before I hunkered down for a snap or two.  Marsh Tits called and Buzzards soared overhead.

Birds Nest

Birds Nest

One more stop and time for a rarity. Wye NNR was our destination and we were soon looking at several Late Spider Orchids safely protected on their downland hillside. No two spikes looked the same and I wonder if there is some hybridization action going on but I am so very out of my depth on this sort of thing but one bloom did look more Bee like?


Late Spider

Late Spider- different to the above specimen

Late Spider- I presume, albeit a different shape and pattern

We left in the sunshine and headed back to Blean with Yellowhammers and Bullfinches flicking across the country lanes...

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