Spines & Spots

Originally published April 2016

Hello everyone! Despite the rather chilly start to spring, our countryside is bursting with new life as our Fauna and Flora get stuck into the year. The birds are making a valiant attempt at the dawn chorus but, worryingly, it sounds distinctly insipid this season. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have a goodly number of species in our woods, fields and gardens at present. The evening air resounds to the squawks of flocks of Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) as they live up to their, archaic but descriptive, collective noun, a Clattering. The familiar cry of our Buzzards (Buteo buteo) is a welcome sound as they soar above us with the sun gleaming off the feathers of their broad wings. That said, given that their collective moniker is a Wake, I must admit to feeling a tad ambivalent about the fact that I had six of them circling over me on at least two occasions!

Brocks, Foxes and Rabbits are busy throughout the diminishing hours of darkness and I am very pleased to hear that our local Hedgehogs have made an appearance. In view of this I would like to remind everyone of Hedgehog Awareness Week, 1st-7th May. This is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) who, this year, are focussing on the devastating effect that garden strimmers and cutting machines have on the ’hog population. Details can be found on their website (britishhedgehogs.org.uk) where they discuss the various ways we can assist our Prickly Pigs in their fight for survival, and they certainly need all the help we can give (see Here We Go Again! – Feb. 2016). It would be nice to be writing a positive article about our Hedgehogs in a few years-time in similar vein to my scribble about the Buzzards (see A Success Story – Oct 2012).

Birds and mammals are not the only Classes of animal making their presence felt in this whirlwind of spring fever. Amorous frogs are indulging in bouts of orgiastic fervour and gelatinous clouds of spawn are starting to appear on the surfaces of ponds up and down the county. Above the water thousands of insects are dancing in the sun’s rays, making a convenient meal-on-the-wing for the hard-working feathered folk. A few butterflies have ventured out after the exhausting business of overwintering to provide us with the occasional flash of colour; hopefully a prelude to a summer of bountiful Lepidoptera. With that in mind, we have another Moth event planned for the end of June (click here for last year’s pics), details to come!


Not to be left behind, the Plant Kingdom has certainly come to life in our little reserve. Lesser Cellandines (Ranunculus ficaria) are creating a carpet of yellow to brighten the woodland floor. Lorna photographed Quarry Wood’s first Bluebells of the year in mid-March and we can expect the scented leaves of the Wild Garlic to be crowned with white globes of petals any day now.


This month I want to have a closer look at a flower that graces us with its presence every year, on the same patch of ground and, seemingly, unwilling to move anywhere else in the reserve. It is of course our Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula). One of the earliest Orchids to flower in Britain, it is a striking plant with its dark green leaves decorated with purple, almost black, blotches.


The flowers, soon to be arriving, vary from a rich purple to a washed-out pale colour and are supported on a single, erect, fleshy stem. As it has no nectar of its own on offer, the plant relies on its similarity to numerous other flowers in order to attract pollinating insects, although it does have a pleasant honey or vanilla scent up until fertilisation. However, once the deed is done this changes to l’odeur d’urine de chat, specifically tom cat; certainly enough to deter unwanted insects and flower-pickers alike!


To continue the linguistic theme of this article it is interesting to note that the collective noun for Orchids is a Coterie. Defined as an exclusive circle of people, separated from outsiders, it describes our little group of eight or nine plants perfectly. Standing upright and aloof from the rest of the flowering plants, our Early Purples have not spread beyond their ten square feet of soil since the reserve was created in 1999.

The plant has numerous common names, dependent on the part of the country you happen to hail from, Kettle Cases, King -Finger and Granfer Griggles being some of the more unusual. The astute amongst you may have noticed that the Orchid’s binomial name has a certain male connotation about it. We chaps like to think it refers to the upstanding and robust look of the plant but many subscribe to another school of thought forwarding the notion that the name describes the plant’s double tuber which (apparently) just happens to resemble those parts of the male anatomy the Queensbury Rules were devised to protect!

The latter theory almost certainly has its origins in the days when the Sandal’d and Toga’d Ones bandied around tales of such drunkenness and debauchery they would put many a university college to shame! Satyr frolicking with nymphs, Claude LorrainAccording to Roman mythology Orchis was a man who liked to stay in his cups as often as possible and had an unhealthy passion for the ladies. In his defence, having a Satyr and Nymph as parents did mean that he was reared under the auspices of a decidedly dysfunctional family. This rake of the Classical World found himself in something akin to heaven when he attended the court of Bacchus, God of Wine and Ritual Ecstasy. Unfortunately for Orchis, temptation proved too much and he attempted, or succeeded in some versions of the tale, to force his attentions on one of the priestesses at the festival. This was seen as a complete breach of etiquette and Bacchus had his servants tear him to pieces. His father, being a Satyr and thus well able to relate to his son’s shortcomings, pleaded on behalf of Orchis but the Gods relented to the extent only of turning him into a slender flower, albeit with rather distinguishable roots!

4064672626_9e06e0007e_zSo a cautionary tale to all of you who happen to have mythical creatures as parents, but at least we have our trusty patch of Early Purples to enjoy year in, year out. Have fun in the woods, appreciate their beauty and remember to help the ’hogs!

Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

that liberal shepards give a grosser name.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare


Well put, Will!
Any thoughts at pgcrow@yahoo.com
Paul Johnson





Img 1: Jackdaw by Petteri Sulonen, used under Creative Commons License 2.0; Img 2: buzzards 2 by steve, used under CC2.0; Img 3: FOX by Peyman Zehtab Fard, used under CC2.0; Img 4: Frog by Sami Nurmi, used under CC2.0; Img 12: hedgehog by Paolo Valdemarin, used under CC2.0;

Quarry Wood photography [images 5-10, 13] by Lorna Neville