Wednesday 12 May 2021

Kentish Nature Walks # 7 - The Ranscombe Loop - 11th May 2021

Being back at work since the end of March has not been easy despite being on a wonderful nature reserve and I am finding so much enforced human interaction daunting after so long away but I told myself that I would still make (not find) the time to continue with my exploration of my local area.

This has not been happening and I am already slipping back into routine of get up, go to work, come home, have dinner, turn on pc, go to bed.  I know that this is normal but it does not make me happy and I desperately needed to escape out into the wilds of Ranscombe for a long walk yesterday.

I had a goal in mind when I set out and that was to find the Lady Orchids that eluded me last year.  This time I had a map in hand as I set up the Cuxton Road.  I diverted past the Foxglove Tree that was just coming into flower to wander through the Medway Gate estate quarry in the hope that the Small Blues may have emerged.  It was a bit shady in their corner and I only saw a Small white before following the ramp back up to the main road.  There were plenty of chalk loving plants along the edges and a few big fat Calliphora were sunning themselves on the Armco barrier.

Bird's Foot Trefoil

Wild Strawberry

Red Valerian

Oxeye Daisy

Spotted Medick

Herb Robert

Foxglove Tree


Stock Doves were display above me and a pair of Kestrels were drifting around and Blackcaps were singing all around.


I crossed the M2 and just before the Ranscombe car park I found the patch of Columbines that I saw last spring.  The cold, dry weather has certainly kept even the low lying vegetation stunted at the moment but I am sure it will all come good.  There were lots of micro moths flying around and I managed a couple of shots that Antony has helped identify.

Aethes smeathmanniana


Dichrorampha aeratana

Ground Ivy

There were plenty of flowers in bloom as I walked up to and alongside Longhoes with Winter Cress, Speedwells, Bugle and Rockroses along the edges and clumps of Yellow Archangel illuminating the shady areas beyond the borders.

Possibly Changing Forget-me-not

Field Forget-me-not

Germander Speedwell

The view over Longhoes

White Campion

Yellow Archangel

Winter Cress

Common Rock Rose

The sun poked through and Butterflies appeared as if by magic with Orange Tips, three Whites and Brimstones zooming up and down and two Wall Browns were on the same stretch of path as I saw them last summer.

Wall Brown

Down in the corner near the railway the big Bramble clump was alive with insects despite the lack of blossom with Holly Blue joining the list along with dancing Green Longhorn Moths with their oversized antennae waving randomly.  There were plenty of male Andrena bees who, to be honest, I ignored and several Nomads that I will have a stab at while a big fat hairy Tachina fera was my first of the year.

Green Longhorn - Adela reaumurella

Tachina fera

female Nomada flava

There were a couple of territorial Myathropa florea and a Xylota segnis was scurrying around the Bramble leaves looking for sap but cautiously avoided the waiting embrace of White Crab Spider that was lurking in plain sight.

Myathropa florea

Xylota segnis

Misumena vitia - White Crab Spider

Dark Bush Cricket nymph

I walked up past the cow meadow with its carpet of Ground Ivy, Bugle and Bulbous Buttercups and Small Heaths, Large and Green Veined Whites were nectaring while a male Brimstone was down on the path after salts.  


Small Heath


Bulbous Buttercup

Dove’s foot Cranesbill and Common Gromwell were along the fence line with lots of Germander Speedwell and a female Orange Tip even landed and posed for a few shots on a Shepherd’s Purse seed head. 


Orange Tip



Dove’s foot Cranesbill

The view was, as ever spectacular and it always manages to look different upon every approach. I dropped down into The Valley with the silvery fresh leaves of Whitebeam pointing at the blue where Skylarks sang and a Buzzard with a single white outer primary was mobbed by protective Carrion Crows who obviously had a nest in the big Ash tree.

The Valley



The Dandelion patch was especially lush with yellow pom-pom heads interspersed with clocks ready to disperse and the flatter seed heads of the Coltsfoot that had already had its time in the sun. 

Dandelions and Coltsfoot


Crossing the railway took me into the part of Mill Hill Wood that I have not visited before and that is why I had not found the Lady Orchids. Today was different and the very precise directions I had been given took me to a wonderful spread of this most robust of woodland dwellers. I counted about 30 amongst the trees and the sunny spell lasted long enough for me to appreciate the subtleties of colour amongst their flouncy dresses.  They were far bigger than any I have seen in East Kent and the tallest were about 20 inches tall.


Lady Orchids

The Orchids were wonderful but I was equally pleased to find fine Stinking Hellebore just beyond them.  I saw some at The Larches last year but this was my first time in the Ranscombe complex. The flowers were over but the flower bracts and forming seed pods were still very impressive.  I remember seeing and smelling it up in the foot hills of Mont Venteux in the Central Massif on a quest for Citrel Finch and Rock Bunting with Bradders about ten years ago.

Stinking Hellebore


I lopped back up toward the main path and went to check on the Fly Orchids in their little compound.  They were tricky to spot but I found five in flower but all had just a single tiny little demonic Donnie Darko bunny staring back at me.  There was a good ground spread of Wild Strawberry but the Stinking Iris was not even budding.

Fly Orchid

Black Bryony

Continuing up towards Brockles, I found a couple more Tachina fera and several Nomada marshamella in a little clearing along with the emergent forms of White Helleborines and bobbly Sanicle heads and as I exited the wood it revealed a bank of incoming cloud and a few spots of rain although it was seemingly tipping down just a few short miles away at home.


Nomada marshamella


Tachina fera

White Helleborine

The vivid green is plastic tubes around young grape vines

I looked to the skies with the banks of black and white clouds and hoped they would part just long enough to warm the next part of my walk where I expected butterflies to be dancing. The sun kept me waiting but eventually appeared and out they came. Dingy Skippers emerged to bask on the worn chalky path where they sat at identical angles for all the world like looking down on a squadron of Spitfires lined up for takeoff and after a minute or two they would do just that and aerial dog fights would ensue.  


Dingy Skippers

I counted 38 in about 300m of track but they were not alone with a single darting Grizzled Skipper and four gleaming Small Coppers for company adding different wing formations with a ground crew of micro mining bees and cleptoparasitic red tailed Sphecodes bees whizzing in and out of burrows around them.

Small Copper

That most tricksy of butterflies to actually find, even the Green Hairstreaks came down to find a few sheltered rays and dazzled me with iridescent shimmer. 

Green Hairstreak

Common Vetch

The Rooks and Jackdaws were playing across the meadows and another pair of Buzzards patrolled above while two Lesser Whitethroats rattled from adjacent hedgerows as I retraced my steps and headed up into the woods following the Yellow Brick Road.

Yellow Brick Road

I soon discovered my first good spread of Bluebells of the day but there was little light so I played around with a gnarled old Chestnut that had ‘photographic portals’ that I could use.  I found a patch of Heath Speedwell, Lady’s Smock and more robust clumps of Sanicle along with the last of the Lesser Celandines.


Heath Speedwell

Lady's Smock

Lesser Celandine

Cantharis decipiens planning a route

I searched at the top of Kitchen Field for other Orchids but only found some rather weedy looking Man Orchid spikes and a couple of White Helleborines. Both species are in flower at other sites and I wonder if it has been even drier on this inland part of the North Downs.  There were plenty of insects to get absorbed with though with a few Hovers and several other flies for which id help is required.  

Anthomyiidae sp

Myathropa florea

Syrphus sp

Otites guttatus

Bibio sp

I female Eupeodes latifasciatus was a nice find just into the chalk field but there were no Blue Pimpernel plants visible just yet. While looking for the Orchids I disturbed a Wren from its almost perfectly camouflaged nest tucked into the uprooted base of a fallen tree and I quickly moved on before drawing attention to it and causing the irritated parent any more consternation.

Eupeodes latifasciatus

Wren nest

Orange Tips danced around and Peacock and Red Admiral were new to the day tally.  The only small bee that I was happy to name were a couple of Andrena haemorrhoa with their rusty bums but there were so many tiny ones around too and I neither currently have the time or patience to delve further.

Fruity Peacocks

Nomada flava/panzeri

Nomada marshamella 

Kentish Snails were day ‘roosting’ under leaves and I found a nice Red-headed Cardinal yomping around disturbing the multitude of Wolf Spiders that were inhabiting the leaf litter at my feet.  Given the density of spiders I would not fancy being anything without armour down there at ground level.

Red-headed Cardinal- Pyrochroa serriticornis

The gravel track I took headed up to the main path on the top of the ridge and I slowly worked the cleared margins where Wolf Spiders  scurried in all directions often with eggs sacs in tow.  Calliphora, Sarcophaga and three Tachina fera basked on a wood pile and a chunky black Hoverfly with silver hairs and fat thighs was later identified as Pipiza austriaca


Tachina fera and Wolfies friend

Tachina fera

Sarcophaga - in fact two - I did not realise that he was clutching a female until I saw the extra wings!

Pipiza austriaca

Pipiza austriaca

Pardosa Wolf Spider

As I reached the crest of the path I found another patch of Bluebells and was pleased to find a single gleaming Snowbell amongst them. Yellow Pimpernel, Yellow Archangel, Black Medick and my first Thyme Leaved Speedwell were found in the margins and the Bracken and Male Fern fronds were beginning to unfurl and two Painted Ladies and both Red Admiral and Peacock were down on the path.

Scarlet Pimpernel

Yellow Pimpernel


Black Medick



Painted Lady

Thyme Leaved Speedwell

Yellow Archangel

Male Fern

Once on the main drag I ambled back down towards home with a single Speckled Wood becoming the 16th species seen on this walk and the suspected Lily of the Valley was now a verdant green pathside patch although there were no flowers as yet.   

Lily of the Valley

The sun came out again as I reached the last of the Bluebells and I was able to get low down for some arty shots and it was here that I actually had my most engaging encounter of the day when a little rusty Bank Vole came out to forage just a few feet from where I was sitting. I often hear the rustling of rodents and the squeaking of Shrews on my walks but seeing any of them is always special.


Bank Vole

From here I diverted to have a look for another clump of Lady Orchids that I had been told about and found them safely shielded by a fence from the forestry work that had been going on around them.  Close up the Ladies ‘dresses’ (more like bell bottomed trousers!) are even more intricate with little purple tufts dotted all over them. 

Special Ladies


Brimstone and Orange Tips were in the clearing and visiting the Lady’s Smock and Bluebells and I discovered a new (to me) patch of Early Purple Orchids on the path back up through Clay Pond Wood toward the railway where Germander Speedwell grew in lush patches and a female Anthophora plumipes was busy visiting the spires of Bugle.

Anthophora plumipes on Bugle

Early Purple Orchid

Early Purple Orchid

Early Purple Orchid - a very loose flowered one

Germander Speedwell

Greater Stitchwort

Lady's Smock

Brimstone on Bluebell

Wood Spurge

Yellow Archangel

Lords and Ladies

Dog Violet

A couple of what I think were Cheilosia variablis with their very long delta wings were patrolling the herbage and Common Green and Hairy Shieldbugs and Box Bug were noted along with a fine male Scorpion Fly. My first Nuctenia umbratica for what feels like years was failing to blend in on white gate post and was guarding her egg sac.

Box Bug

Common Green Shieldbugs

Hairy Shieldbug

Scorpion Fly

Nuctenia umbratica

Cranefly - Tipula vernalis I reckon

Bombus lapidarius

I was hoping for some early blue butterfly action by the Green Bridge over the railway but there was barely any growth and the Oxeye Daisies here were under a foot tall and have a long way to go and there were no Vetches of any sort in flower yet and hence it was an insect free zone.  The last stretch of path alongside CTRL showed me that many more Early Purple Orchids had flowered since my last visit although most were now over but I did discover several Sweet Chestnuts with vivid red blister calls which Googling has revealed to be the response of the tree to the presence of the tiny non native Dryocosmus kuriphilus wasp.

Dryocosmus kuriphilus galls

Early Purple Orchid


The last of the walk back down the road to home was punctuated by a soaring female Sparrowhawk and an ever so slightly battered mkIII Ford Cortina with a penchant for Prog Rock.


It was a long but much needed walk and a mini-reset at least for the time being...



  1. Wow. Can't believe the height of the lady orchids. A lovely Mid-May blog. Thank you Howard.

  2. Your excellent photo of the micro moth Dichrorampha acuminatana looks more like Dichrorampha aeratana. D. acuminatana should have a silvery white fringe line which this individual doesn't appear to have. Both species feed in the roots of Oxeye Daisy as caterpillars.

  3. Well that walk must have blown the cobwebs away H. That Fly Orchid is a bit special. Great blog,fascinating and informative.

  4. H, fantastic blog and so informative with excellent images. Love the lady orchid and bank vole especially.