Beach huts and Pyramids

The one about a special orchid count in Scarborough.


#30DaysWild Day 26

Today between 10 and 3.45 I was to be found within tennis-ball-lobbing distance of Scarborough’s North Beach. I know this because I found a stray ball and chucked it down in the hope its owner could better find it down there than on the steep skittery scree of what we call The Orchid Terrace. This seafront cliff slope is enclosed by a post and wire fence, more for keeping casual visitors off it than for inclusion or exclusion of any grazing animals (domestic or otherwise). It marks out a long rectangle some twelve to fifteen metres wide by about 175m long, running parallel to but above the rooftops of the colourful wooden beach huts.

People can pass by it without ever suspecting the spectacular show of wildflowers just a shout away from the beach, and many do! In some ways one is thankful that the steepness and apparent inaccessibility keep this site from being trampled, though the evidence of occasional litter, bottles etc. attest to the fact that some people do spend time there, though maybe not to appreciate the flora, bees and butterflies.

I was busy carrying out a full count (not a sample) which has been done by a dedicated local naturalist, Mr Peter Robinson for the last 12 years or so and quantifies the total number of orchid flower spikes of three species within this enclosure. They are Pyramidal, Common Spotted and Bee orchid. The first is usually the most numerous and this year spectacularly so, hence the title of this post.

We have counts every year showing he remarkable fluctuations in number from one season to the next. The total will run into several thousand. I had to dash to catch my bus, but will update this post when I find out the final tally from his recording sheet. We did 80 transects of about two metres width, marked out with string and the peak number on any single transects was 127 if I recall. Typically more like 50 per transect, so I’m expecting a final tally around four to five thousand.

I’m pretty impressed that Peter and I between us managed to complete the count in one day. My calves will tell the tale in the morning as the steep slope and all that setting out string lines makes for a lot of climbing up and down. In between I did manage to sneak some pictures, and they tell the beauty of the site better than I can describe it.



Post Script – 3/7/17 Final count update

Last week I had a bus to catch so I dashed off without seeing the final tally. Peter Robinson called into the office this week and left me with a copy of the results table. Final counts for 2017 are: 68 Bee orchids, 971 Common Spotted orchid, 6198 Pyramidal orchids, making a grand total of all species of 7237 flower spikes, up considerably on the three and a half thousand counted last year! The increase is made up mostly of Pyramidal which last year numbered 2890, so more than double. Compare this with the best of recent counts for Bee Orchids, indeed all species in 2014 when 319 Bee, 1350 Common and 10324 Pyramid contributed to a record total just shy of twelve thousand.

Incidentally the dataset makes for a fascinating study, if anyone cares to analyse it for us, of the waxing and waning fortunes of orchids on a single site. Tantalisingly in 2003, only the second year Peter counted (and in those early days just the Bee orchids), there were 950 Ophrys apifera, but a good year for Bee orchid is not always a good year for Pyramidal. Peter’s records also include a one time survey of the associated flora and would be interesting to see if the other species relate to the fortunes of the Orchidaceae.

So if this stuff is right up your alley and you fancy doing some botanical fieldwork for us, please get in touch.

‘Triffic Tripits

The one about listening for Turtle Doves but finding Tree Pipits instead…

30 Days Wild day 25

Yesterday I was up with the lark and the tree pipit to conduct a follow up bird survey in Dalby Forest. My first visit was in late May. As then , I made arrangement to camp at  Ellerburn campsite with a three thirty am alarm call and hike up to the Pexton Moor entrance toll of Dalby, for this was my allocated 1km square.

I am one of about thirty volunteer bird surveyors contributing to a new conservation project for Turtle Doves, an iconic summer visitor to Britain which is an increasingly rare sight and sound. You will no doubt hear more about this project if you follow the conservation blog of the North York Moors National Park, (link here) which is hosting the project officer and has received Heritage Lottery funding for the scheme.

You may also like to read my blog on Connecting for Nature, introducing the ‘Two Turtle Doves’ project, when funding was confirmed recently, but in this post I am sharing some photos from my early morning explorations. I have to say I generally head into Dalby Forest on the toll road without pausing at the Pexton Moor area, near the entrance, so it was a joy to discover that there is such interesting nature to see even before you enter the forest proper.

Briefly, the purpose of my visit was to listen specifically for purring Turtle Doves, as part of a wider survey of randomised OS grid squares across the forest. There were some patches of suitable habitat for the bird but by no means was it guaranteed to encounter any. Fortunately the survey also asked for tallies of some additional species of conservation concern, and I was able to confirm not one but two Tree Pipit territories meet in my square, in an eminently suitable ‘tripit’ habitat east of the entrance toll. The males have a distinctive song, usually delivered from a lofty perch in otherwise open forest clearings. I was really pleased with this record, as until a few years ago I had never seen or heard Tree Pipits, so these self-found birds are extra special. And they go on my survey return. No Turtle Doves in this square, this time….but perhaps the Turtle Dove Project will help the existing breeding population elsewhere in North Yorkshire’s forests to expand. I hope you hear more about the project in the media soon and follow its progress.