Saturday 21 August 2021

Orchids 2021

Early Purple Orchid - Veiges Plantation, Exmouth 31/3/21. This individual was flowering way in advance of all the others. Early Purple is a common and widely-distributed orchid but I'm only aware of one site for it in Exmouth, and that's Veiges Plantation. I didn't even know this relatively small strip of woodland existed until a chance conversation with a work colleague. Early Purples were also seen at Berry Head, Bickleigh and Homefield Wood in Buckinghamshire.

I feel that getting outside of Exmouth this year has done me some good. Whether it's the pandemic, losing Dad or simply too many years covering the same ground for birds, it has felt good to see some new places and have some new challenges. I made it a bit of a mission to see new orchids this summer and, with a little effort, managed to see 32 (16 in Devon) of the UK's 50 or so native species (I think it's 51 if you count Ghost Orchid). I'm hoping to see a few more next year, but I'll need to travel 'up north' and to Kent, so we'll see how that pans out. I must thank Kev, Bill , Chris Jones and Lesley for all their help and advice, and Kev in particular for accompanying me on some trips and finding a stack of stuff I'd have never spotted otherwise.

This post is a summary of the orchids I saw, in order of appearance...

Early Spider Orchid - Dancing Ledge, Dorset 15/4/21. Lu and I had a wonderful day out on the Purbeck coast and found plenty of Early Spiders on the lower slopes, where the grass was shorter. We had lunch at nearby Corfe Castle.

I first noted Green-winged Orchids on April 5th this year. Amongst the numerous splashes of purple was this gorgeous white flower (var alba) , photographed on the 30/4. Of all the orchids Green-winged is one of the species I'm most familiar with (along with Heath Spotted) as they grow in abundance in three fields on my beloved Orcombe Point.

Green-winged Orchids - Orcombe Point 30/4/21. With such large numbers it's not too difficult to find different colour variants. Deep purple is most common but this one is a delightful rose-pink.

My first Heath Spotted Orchid was on East Budleigh Common on 9/5/21 - found whilst walking the dog with Lu. I'm lucky to have good numbers of Heath Spotteds practically on my doorstep, but that doesn't lessen the urge to photograph the smartest examples. I just love them.

This pretty perfect, almost pure white  Heath Spotted Orchid was on Colaton Raleigh Common.

Monkey Orchid - Hartslock, Berkshire 29/5/21. This is one of the rarest species in the UK so it was really exciting to clap eyes on my first plants, on a hillside overlooking the river Thames. Kev and I enjoyed an orchid-packed day out in the Chilterns, seeing loads of other plant species, many of which were new for me. As well as the Monkeys, Hartslock is famous for its population of Monkey x Lady hybrids which all exhibit extraordinary hybrid vigor, resulting in massive, densely flowered spikes. I have to admit being a tiny bit disappointed not to see a pure Lady Orchid but I hope to catch up with that species next year, somewhere in deepest Kent!

Monkey x Lady hybrid - Hartslock, Berkshire 29/5/21. The fabulous-looking spikes are situated in a fenced-off area, to keep out grazing animals and deter photographers. Luckily they can be easily viewed from outside the fence.

Military Orchid - Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire 29/5/21. Another very rare orchid and just thirty minutes away from the Monkeys. Homefield Wood is a great place with Early Purple Orchid, Fly Orchid, White Helleborine, Twayblade, Bird's-nest Orchid and Greater-butterfly-orchid all present in a relatively small area.

White Helleborine - Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire 29/5/21. Kev and I found a few of these on our Chilterns day out. White Helleborine is a bit unusual in that its flowers often don't fully open. Another species we simply do not get in Devon.

Fly Orchid - Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire 29/5/21. This species was also seen at Noar Hill, Hampshire on 26/6/21. See below.

Fly Orchid - Noar Hill, Hampshire 26/6/21.

Bird's-nest Orchid - Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire 29/5/21. This white and gold individual is, I think, of the rare 'pallida' variety. I saw several more Bird's-nests in a Gloucestershire Beech wood, on 6/8, but they'd all obviously gone over.

Common Twayblade - Hartslock, Berkshire 29/5/21. Twayblades were also seen at Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire, Chudleigh (good numbers) and Noar Hill (hundreds).

My first Bee Orchids of 2021 were the hundreds growing on a bank at Trago Mills, Newton Abbot, on the 31/5. Others were later seen at Berry Head, Exmouth (opposite Lidl), Culverhole Point and Martin Down, Hampshire. Next year I hope to find some different variants. I'd particularly like to see 'Wasp' Orchid.

Bee Orchid - Trago Mills, Newton Abbot 12/6/21.

Early Marsh Orchids subsp pulchella - Colaton Raleigh Common 3/6/21. I first saw Early marsh Orchids on the 31/5/21 but misidentified them as Southern Marsh Orchids. I ended up seeing them on four of the local Pebbled Heaths, in good numbers. I think they're a stunning species and I was thrilled to see both salmon-pink incarnata and red coccinea at Kenfig, later in the year. Pulchella is an orchid of acidic heathland whereas incarnata and coccinea have different soil/pH requirements.

Burnt-tip Orchid - Martin Down, Hampshire 4/6/21. A definite contender for my favourite orchid - Burnt-tip will take some beating. They took some finding too. Martin Down is a lot bigger than I was anticipating and Burnt-tips are pretty small! I returned to Martin Down with Kev on 26/6 (combined with a trip to Noar Hill) when we failed to find Frog Orchids, and the Burnt-tips had gone over. Fortunately there's massive of other stuff to see at Martin Down, especially for someone like me who has spent so little time on chalk down-land.

My first Chalk Fragrant Orchid - Martin Down, Hampshire 4/6/21. This was the only one I found on the 4/6. Hundreds were seen at Noar Hill and on a return visit to Martin Down on 26/6. Timing is everything with orchids.

Chalk Fragrant Orchid. Fragrant Orchids are beautifully perfumed and on a number of occasions I found myself nose-deep in their inflorescence!

My first Common Spotted Orchid was seen on Martin Down on June 4th. Many others were seen at various sites throughout the summer but my favourite 'stand' was close to home, on the edge of Blackhill Quarry...

Common Spotted Orchids - Blackhill Quarry 3/7/21.

Greater Butterfly-orchid - Chudleigh 6/6/21. My first of the year was a single plant, in bud, at Martin Down on 4/6. The number of plants at Chudleigh was impressive. I made my first visit to the Chudleigh site last year, with Dave Smallshire, and have yet to see this species elsewhere in the county.

Lizard Orchid - Berrow, Somerset 8/6/21. I was probably more excited to see my first Lizard Orchids than the nearby River Warbler at Ham Wall. They're a whacky-looking orchid and to photograph them in such a beautiful setting, in golden evening sunlight was a wonderful experience.

My first Pyramidal Orchid of 2021 was this individual, found alongside the Lizard Orchids on the 8/6. I ended up seeing masses of these at a number of sites including Berry Head, Kenfig, Noar Hill, the Cotswolds and even in Exmouth, opposite Lidl and on the seafront. Additionally this species was spotted on a number of roadside embankments. Arguably the most spectacular was this all white example, at Noar Hill in Hampshire.

Southern Marsh Orchid - my first of the year was in Exeter on 12/6. This one was photographed a day later, at Culverhole Point, east Devon. Lots more were seen at Kenfig. Individuals with spotty leaves, at Culverhole, were presumed to be var junialis.

Lesser Twayblade - Exmoor. This is really an orchid of northern England and Scotland but rather handily there is a small, isolated population on Exmoor which is where I found myself, shortly after dawn, on 12/6. A sought-after and stunning little orchid in a gorgeous and remote location. As with many of my orchid searches I set off for Lesser Twayblade fully expecting not to find it! It secretes itself on cushions of Sphagnum, nestled between clumps of Heather and Bilberry.

Lesser Butterfly-orchid - south Dartmoor 19/6/21. Another one of those orchids for which I had only scant site information, making its discovery, after a lot of searching,  all the more satisfying!

Lesser Butterfly-orchid wasn't easy to find as it grows in areas of Bracken cover. 

Musk Orchid - Noar Hill, Hampshire 26/6/21. The small, unobtrusive, green-coloured orchids, like Fen, Bog, Frog and Musk are just as appealing to me, if not more so, than the brightly-coloured, flashier species. Guess it's the same gene that makes me appreciate gulls, warblers and pipits as much as bee-eaters, flamingos and orioles, or pugs as much as hawkmoths.

Marsh Fragrant Orchid - Culverhole Point 28/6/21. I found just this single spike at Culverhole but I was more than happy. A couple weeks later and I was looking at lots more on the Kenfig dune system.

Marsh Helleborine - Culverhole Point 28/6/21. These were my first in 2021. Masses were later seen at Kenfig and Dawlish Warren.

Frog Orchid 4/7/21. After missing Frogs on Martin Down it was particularly pleasing to catch up with these, with Kev, on the Somerset Levels. This was the relatively large, yellow-green variety. Plants in drier habitats, such as those on Martin Down, are tiny and often purple-flushed. The tiny ones are also very hard to find.

Fen Orchid - a great day out with Kev, on 10/7, at Kenfig in south Wales. We saw a number of these, aided greatly by reserve warden Chris Jones.

Early Marsh Orchid subsp incarnata - Kenfig, Glamorgan 10/7/21.

Early Marsh Orchid subsp coccinea - Kenfig, Glamorgan 10/7/21.

Marsh Helleborine - pale 'vanilla' form - Kenfig 10/7/21.

Tracking down the 'near mythical' Bog Orchids on Dartmoor was probably my orchid highlight of the year. I found eight in a very remote location on 23/7/21.

Broad-leaved Helleborine - Wright's Lane, Exmouth 16/7/21. One of 24 counted on this date. Broad-leaved Helleborines were also seen in Liverton Copse, Exmouth and Edge Common in the Cotswolds. The latter site supported high numbers.

Broad-leaved Helleborine - Cotswolds 29/7/21. 

Broad-leaved Helleborine var chlorantha - Cotswolds 29/7/21.

Narrow-lipped Helleborine - Cotswolds 6/8/21. One of four seen. Narrow-lipped is not the most aesthetically pleasing orchid but it's rare and difficult to photograph, preferring the cool shade of mature Beech woods.

Green-flowered Helleborine. I first saw this species in the Cotswolds on the 29/7/21 but the flowers were still in bud. I returned on the 6/8, with Lu,  and found this particularly smart specimen.

Violet Helleborine - near Sturminster Newton, north Dorset 9/8/21. And below. I was so, so chuffed to see Violet Helleborine - it's simply stunning. Sadly this orchid isn't found in Devon so a trip to Dorset was made - the nearest site I could find reference to. Even though orchids can't fly off, each search feels like a bit of a gamble - there's never a guarantee you'll find what you're looking for and you never know what condition the plant's going to be in. Thankfully this particular spike was in fine fettle, with flowers positively glowing beneath a dark canopy.

Autumn Lady's-tresses - Dawlish Warren 19/8/21. These were out later than last year but were no less beautiful! A lovely orchid to end a very fulfilling orchid-rich summer.


  1. Hi Matt. Just caught up with this amazing post. Fantastic to see all these and impressive to know you've found them all in a year. Not that I'd expect you to just sit back and wait for them to grow in your own backyard!
    Anyway, loved seeing them all in one post here ... it's given me a nudge to try and see some of them myself next year!

  2. Hi Nick - many thanks. I hope the post will be a useful reference - timing is everything with orchids. Knowing what I know now I think it's easily possible to see all the species I saw with fewer trips/less effort, but I enjoyed all the searching and learned lots from it. If you're up for some company orchid hunting next year just give me a shout. Hope all well with the family. Matt