James Lowen 


30 April 2017  Roding Orchid

Earlier this week, Ian Robinson, Will Soar and I spent an enjoyable day in search of hybrids and herps in south-west England. First stop was at a roadside verge, where we swiftly located the four Woodcock x Fly Orchid hybrids (Ophrys x nelsonii).

Ian tapped up one of his RSPB colleagues, Neil Singleton, to show us the Ladybird Spider reintroduction site at RSPB Arne. Although we were never going to see any actual spiders, it was a treat to see the location and the effort that has gone into creating the specific micro-habitat needed for this amazing-looking arachnid. Neil even spotted a web outside the plastic pots into which females had been transferred, confirming that they have spread - a few centimetres at least - from their point of release. 

A couple of other encounters were not documented with photographs, so words will have to suffice. A Velvet Ant spotted by Ian at the Footprint Ecology site was exciting and stunning (and the first Durwyn and Chris had encountered at the location). A Cattle Egret that Will spotted between Wareham and Stoborough less so, given the invasion that has happened in southern England in recent months. Nevertheless, it had ceased feeding with cows in the grazing marshes by the time both Durwyn and Peter Moore - local birders - had arrived from work. Minor disgruntlement from both (at being gripped off on their patch) made the find more worthwhile...  On the way home, we chose to try for the Hampshire Bonaparte's Gull rather than the Dorset one... and dipped. Several pairs of Mediterranean Gull (see below) and both adult summer and first-summer Little Gull provided compensation. A top day out: thanks to Ian for driving.

Whatever, (a) they were great and (b) they needed a proper name ('nelsonii' just doesn't do it). Given the display flight of Woodcock (the largely nocturnal bird) is called 'roding', I ventured 'Roding Orchid'. It received grudging acceptance from Ian and Will - at least, they preferred it to my alternative 'Fly-by-night Orchid'.

Then it was time for some heathland action (via a classy breakfast in The Salt Pig in Wareham). Durwyn and Chris from Footprint Ecology kindly showed us their local Sand Lizards, which emerged once the sun gave up scowling behind clouds. We saw two females and one young (small) male at their site in Wareham Forest. We also saw a male and female at a different site, further south on Purbeck. Unfortunately none were keen to venture wholly into the open, so all my shots involve copious quantities of irritating vegetation. 

Although past their best, these remarkable plants were both stunning and bewildering. Discovered last year, by chance, the mystery lies in there being no UK records of Woodcock Orchid. So how does a plant that doesn't grow here have hybrid offspring. Moreover, how does it 'choose' for its hybrid pairing an orchid that is markedly rare in the county concerned (FlyOrchid, one of which appeared to be starting to flower a few metres upslope)? One theory involves sleight of human hand.