Friday 15 June 2018

Forgotten worlds on the doorstep of work...

12th June 2018 
Following my orchid fest on Monday I decided to venture north of the Thames on a gloomy, cool Tuesday to investigate the three EWT managed Chafford Gorges.
Now, my friend Ruth is practically the only person I know to regularly birds all three sites and the lure of various orchid species in Grays Gorge tempted me to visit so at least I know where she is talking about!. These three old chalk pits are no more than three miles from where I work at RSPB Rainham Marshes and sit within the old ‘new build’ that is Chafford Hundred flanked by major industry and the Lakeside retail park and yet I had never visited.

I had looked into Warren Gorge from the top a few years back after Ruth found an Alpine Swift which later visited the reserve too and while Ruth was standing next to me but had never ventured inside and so after a spot of second breakfast I headed that way.

After finding a convenient layby I ambled back to Lion Gorge and entered through the imposing chalk cliffs to a leafy bowl filled with a superb tree lined lake. I did not spend too long here but was hit by the scent of Wild Privet as I descended and the lure of tiny Wild Strawberries clinging to the slopes added a sweet dessert to breakfast.

Wild Strawberry

Lion Gorge

Wild Privet

Mute Swans, Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Ducks were on the lake and a Grey Heron speared a good sized fish from one of the fishing platforms. I suspect that it would be really good for dragonflies down here but it was just too cool that morning.

Retracing my steps I found one of the entrances into Grays Gorge and walked straight into a chalky orchid haven with amazingly robust spikes of Common Spotted and Common Twayblade scattered in the thin soil amongst the small Silver Birches.  Clumps of Common Broomrape pushed through grassy areas and a couple of vivid Pyramidal Orchids were found. 

Common Spotted

Common Spotted

Common Spotted

Common Spotted - I presume
Common Broomrape

Common Twayblade

Common Twayblade & Spotted Orchid

Huge Common Twayblade


Song Thrushes were belting out and the sound was echoing off the chalk walls and parties of Long-tailed Tits were roving. The path veered off through a wooded area which was dark and largely silent bar the usual woodland species and although I looked I could not find any Birds Nest Orchids – I was even smelling out for them after my encounter the day before in Kent. Mosquitoes were out in force but I only saw a couple of Episyrphus balteatus hoverflies and no butterflies at all. 

Perennial Sweet Pea and Black Bryony tangled in the verges and Hedge Woundwort was just blooming. I discovered another new plant in the shape of Round-leaved Wintergreen with spikes of delightful white flowers rising from almost leathery violet type leaves.

Black Bryony

Perennial Sweet Pea

Round-leaved Wintergreen

Round-leaved Wintergreen

Round-leaved Wintergreen
A couple of Six Spot Burnets were sitting around but were very lethargic!

My circuit took me towards the crystal clear lake with its skeletonised submerged trees where White Lilies dotted the surface and Little Grebes trilled. Once again I could picture dragonflies should that pesky sun reveal itself!

Stinking Iris

Patches of Spotted Orchids were seen in every clearing but I still could not find the Man Orchids so I looped back to the upper path and headed along the track around the lip of the gorge passing a snail-smashing Song Thrush on the way and there, just beyond three large ancient post-glacial Sarsen Stones was a clearing with a regimental battalion of Man Orchids all standing proud and green above the sparse grasses, Yellow Rattle and various Vetches.  A smart Fox watched me from the lip before slipping under the fence where noisy but invisible youngsters waited.

Man Orchids

Man Orchids

Man Orchid
Man Orchid
Sarsen Stone
Common Broomrape
Common Vetch

Kidney Vetch

The view from up here was superb and took in the full scale of the site and if it were not for the distant Littlebrook Power Station chimney then you would have had trouble working out where your were.  It just amazed me that such a wild looking haven could exist within the human sprawl of this congested area.

Grays Gorge
Two down and one to go so I drove the short distance to Warren Gorge with its proper car park and visitors centre before heading down the slope into the reserve below.  The lakes here are expansive and the largest hold the colony of most of our local Grey Herons and Little Egrets – both species of which could be seen coming and going. The presence of the latter just a few short years ago would have been unthinkable and given the habitat and site security, I suspect that numbers will only rise.

Warren Gorge

Incoming Egret
Great Crested Grebe

Both Geese, Mute Swans and Grebes had young  and Reed Warblers gurked from the reedy edges while a Kingfisher zoomed high over my head.  There were plenty of House Martins foraging and the estate and gorge have always been good for this species and so it was gratifying to see so many in year when they seem absent in many places. Several Sand Martins were also seen despite the bank by the Sand Martin pub being deserted for several years now.

Two juvenile red-capped Great Spotted Woodpeckers were having a proper barney with four spotty young Mistle Thrushes over who had the rights to some dead tree in the north lake with much noise and posturing from both species!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Mistle Thrush
With the temperature still not improving  and the first spots of drizzle appearing I decided that a relaxing afternoon at ‘work’ with a coffee and my friends would be a suitable way to round off my day...

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