Rain, Bees, Wasps and Northern Marsh.

We miss our “days out” in these dark-clouded Covid days. Despite government easing of restrictions, we will not be dining out nor drinking outdoors, nor meeting up with others, but will continue our lives of being cautious and careful and, perhaps, a little fearful for ourselves.

Days out were always something we enjoyed a great deal. Given our interest in gardening, these generally were to visit gardens well away from home and locations where we could have a nice lunch were especially enjoyed. I have reached an age when the government has issued me with a free travel pass and we had just begun to use that – a few shopping and browsing outings to Dublin – before Covid put a quick end to our trips.

Days out with a small group of friends who share an interest in our native orchids have been especially dear to me but there was none last year nor this. Although not an orchid enthusiast, Mary has accompanied me on a few outings this year – the chance of a good walk will tempt her and I can snap away with the camera as we go along or stop and drool for a while at something especially beautiful – and, aren’t they all so very beautiful.

ABOVE: The Pyramidal Orchis, Anacamptis pyramidalis, is common on the sand dunes and I always this it is especially pretty when seen with something in yellow – here with Kidneyvetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, and Creeping Buttecup, Ranunculus repens

This week we travelled to Curracloe, a seaside town in Co. Wexford, which has a beautiful beach backed by low sand dunes and at one end a nature reserve, The Raven, which is especially rich in flowers and many other natural things but it is the flowers which attract me. I especially wanted to see the Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii, a variation of the Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera. I was with my orchid friend Mark in 2017 when we came on this orchid which had never previously been recorded in Ireland and that was only moments after Mark had found a beautiful white form of the Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis. That was a special day!

ABOVE AND BELOW: The Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, is always very popular. Everybody is taken by the “expression” on the flower. It is an orchid which illustrates so very well what it is about orchids which is so attractive. This plant has evolved to imitate a bee in appearance. It also produces a fragrance which mimics that of a female bee. It comes into flower when the male bees have hatched but not the females so they are to the males the only females around. Their attempt to copulate with the flowers shakes the pollen and leads to fertilisation – how incredibly fascinating, almost incredible that such a thing could exist etc. The story has moved on somewhat for that particular bee does not live here and the flower now manages the process of fertilisation completely on its own.

Another orchid friend, Vera, reported the Wasp Orchids were in flower in Curracloe last weekend so the journey down was going to be worthwhile. Of course, there was also the attraction of seeing plenty of Bee Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids and the possibility that Northern Marsh Orchids might be in flower. This latter is uncommon here in the south of Ireland so it is always nice to see it.

The day started with light rain but the forecast was for conditions to improve mid-morning with bright sunshine by midday. There was a certain accuracy in the forecast, the rain certainly eased but the sun never shone. On arrival, Mary thought it best to stay in the car while I set off in rain jacket and with umbrella on the trail of the Wasp Orchid. Despite knowing where they grow, it is still a challenge to spot them and it was on my third time going past them that I noticed them – relief and delight to see them and to see them growing so well and to healthily and that they were increasing in numbers. That was enough to make my day!

ABOVE: The Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var trollii. It is the long “lip”, labellum, which ends in a point that is the distinguishing feature of this variety of the Bee Orchid. The patterning of the colours on the labellum is also different.

I went back to Mary, still in the car but with the window down as the rain had cleared almost completely, and we headed off for a walk. The Raven is a good spot for another orchid, the Broad-leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine and a few related species and variants – though the experts are undecided on agreeing these identifications. It is also the site of a small population of Northern Marsh Orchid and we made a diversion from the main walk to check if they were in flower – and they were! My day was getting better and better, orchid-wise, and topped with a great walk.

ABOVE: The vivid deep purple of Northern Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza purpurella, immediately catches the eye. The dactylorhiza orchids are dreadfully promiscuous and whenever two of more species grow together there will be difficulties with identification for hybrids are sure to be present. This little population of Northern Marsh Orchids live alone and away from other of their clan so it is a good opportunity to admire them in their purity!

The Raven is obviously a very popular place for walkers and joggers, judging by the numbers we met even on a dull damp day, and we reckoned we walked eight to ten kilometres which stretched the legs nicely. Lunch was taken on the beach which we had almost completely to ourselves and I moaned that I hadn’t brought my swimming gear as I would have loved to have taken a dip. It’s something for another time and another reason to visit Curracloe.

My frequent view of Mary when we are on these walks. I stop to take a few photographs, then look up to see her strolling off in the distance. Catching up keeps me fit!

Taking the sea air and a paddle in the Irish Sea

5 thoughts on “Rain, Bees, Wasps and Northern Marsh.

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