It was a privilege to spend four days in the company of Mr Orchid/Leptochila himself, the Right Honourable Mike Waller.
Mike and I are co-writing the forthcoming WildGuides “Britain’s Orchids”. Our aim is to make it the most comprehensive field guide to British Orchids. But less of the adverts for now. This was the main reason for the Scottish trip. We aimed to get reference photos of several species, especially of plants as rosettes, in bud or having gone over/to seed.
In addition, there were two key places we wanted to visit for pure enjoyment – the first a site in the borders where some pure-white Coralroot Orchids had been found in 2016. If only I could find the photo to share with you. If I do, I will add it later. They are absolute stunners. EDIT: here it is!
The second key site was a garden in the Highlands that hosted large populations of Small White, Lesser Butterfly, Heath Fragrant and Heath Spotted Orchids. Thousands of each. The best site in the whole of the UK for the first two. This had to be seen.
Our trip began on Thursday 22nd with some Northern Marsh Orchids at Tebay. These were followed by more roadside Dactylorhizas just over the border, then a visit to the White Coralroot site. None were found, but a good selection was in there, including almost 50 normal Coralroots and tens of Lesser Twayblade. Thousands of Heath Spotted of all colours were on the moorland approach.
All photos on here were taken with my new Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, which has transformed Orchid trips given the quality of picture it takes.
Mike reaching for Northern Marsh Orchids at Tebay Services
Common Twayblade with Northern Marsh Orchid
Three-leaved Twayblade – a kind of Triblade
Loch and Glens. Not quite, but on their way up the M6
Common Spotted Orchid
Northern Marsh and hybrid with Common Spotted
Moody skies at the Coralroot site
They don’t see many visitors here
Heath Spotted Orchid
Lots of Heath Spotted Orchids at the site
Early Marsh, unusually growing within the flooded woodland
Last year’s Coralroot with this year’s which were over already
A nice row of Lesser Twayblades
Day 2, Friday 23rd, saw us leaving our Hotel in Kingussie and heading north to Boat of Garten. We had contacted the owner of the Orchid meadow and he had kindly allowed us to roam free in his garden. Ace photographer Iain Leach had joined us too.
It is no understatement to say that this place is incredible. This year’s count produced 2830 Lesser Butterfly and 1182 Small White Orchids. Add to that the thousands of Heath Fragrants, as well as hybrid between that and Heath Spotted, and a single hybrid Small White X Heath Spotted – the rarest Orchid on the site – and it was truly stunning.
Afterwards we went off to Carrbridge to get some fuel and lunch, then rejoined Iain, first stopping in a bit of old Forest where Mike found his first ever Crested Tits. Stopping at a little Lochan we found our first ever British Northern Damsels, difficult in the strong wind, then went up the road to peruse a nice colony of several hundred Lesser Twayblade. Further on another Coralroot colony, with numbers reduced due to the dry year so far – but these plants much fresher than yesterday’s. Finally a stop to look at a small number of Serrated Wintergreen, then to dip on Black Grouse nearby.
We drove to Aviemore too late to eat, and Mike camped tonight while I wimped it in another hotel. A quick stop at a Slavonian Grebe site produced the goods though.
Day 3, 24th June: We began by visiting a site for Twinflower which was a beautiful Caledonian Pine Forest – including a small flock of what were probably Parrot Crossbills. As with other forests like this, we also found a number of Creeping Lady’s Tresses, all of which were in bud.
Next, a site for One-flowered Wintergreen, where we met the recorder, Michelle Green, in the process of counting them. We found more Lesser Twayblade and Creeping Lady’s Tresses, as well as Twinflower.
Then on to a Black-throated Diver breeding Loch, where we saw a lovely colony of Common Gulls and a couple of families of Red Grouse. Unfortunately the Diver was pushed away from the shore by a reckless and illegal photographer who, despite his long lens, decided to walk right to the shoreline.
Onwards and west now to leave the Highlands via one of the most beautiful routes I’ve ever travelled in the UK. We headed for Corrimony RSPB, where we understood there was a colony of Pugsley’s Marsh Orchids – both of the Lapponica and normal types.
A long, hot and uncomfortable walk through a stream, uphill and through forest, and finally struggling through damp moorland, got us to the spot. Unfortunately the record was erroneous, with the only plants found being heavily spotted-leaved Heath Spotted Orchids.
The trudge back was followed by a drive to Fort Augustus to spend the night camping. We failed also to find the Loch Ness Monster following a quick check at Urqhart Castle.
By the time our tents were up we were too late for sit-in food again!! Chips it was sat outside in the rain, followed by beer in the pub. We both slept like logs to the sound of driving rain.
Our final day required some research and a punt at an unplanned Pugsley’s Marsh Orchid site. We wanted to find one relatively local, so plumped for a recently discovered one at Dundeggan. This time we had photos of the plants so we knew at least they were correct. What we didn’t have was specific directions, but the ones on the website Mike had found seemed good enough, and there was a very useful habitat shot. Anyway, we were supposed experts so this shouldn’t be difficult….
The trek to the site was taxing for an old ‘un like me. It was steep uphill through Birch forest, up a slippery stream/waterfall, through bracken and finally onto moorland once clear of the wood. A couple of gone-over Small White Orchids were a nice bonus.
Finally, with the relevant hills in view and looking close to the photograph, I spotted two Pugsley’s in the flush. Marvellous! Further searches around the hillside revealed 60+ more plants, along with Heath Spotted Orchids and the hybrid between the two – a first for me. Also present were Heath Fragrant, Northern and Early Marsh Orchids. It was a lovely site, and Pugsley’s is a truly wonderful species to behold – well worth the effort.
As it was now mid afternoon we had to return to Fort Augustus to get lunch and do a bit of gift shopping before the 450 mile return journey down the glorious west coast of Scotland. Tortuous in terms of traffic, but at least the slow travel rate meant we got to enjoy the wonderful scenery.
Leaves of the hybrid