Of Ospreys, Orchids and Chimney Sweepers

Here is a report from Ken from Saturday 29th June as he spent the day ‘off duty’ visiting the Nature Reserve at Lyndon…

Something of a rarity for me today ~ I’m at Lyndon but without any actual ‘duties’ to perform! Just returning the lap-top after a very pleasant ‘Osprey Roadshow’ visit to Spratton Hall School earlier in the week. Of course, it’s impossible to visit Lyndon without a walk down to the Manton Bay nest, so after a chat about next week’s rotas and school visits and a cup of tea with Michelle and Lizzie (and a sizeable piece of excellent cake!), I wander off in leisurely fashion down towards the hides.

I keep to the top path. It’s a lovely sunny morning and I am soon approaching the first seat by the side of the track. It’s a lovely spot to stop and take in the stunning view across the wonderfully rich wild-flower meadow, over the waters of the reservoir towards Lax Hill, and beyond that towards the majestic Burley-on-the-Hill mansion in the distance ~ scene of so many exciting events during its turbulent 400 year history, including a famous visit by King Charles I and Queen Henrietta, during which Jeffrey Hudson ‘the smallest man in the smallest county of England’ was served up in a pie at table, and jumped out much to the delight of the royal guests (allegedly). The later history of the Mansion is equally colourful, involving fires, the saintly Charlotte Finch (governess of George III’s children), and skulduggery on the grand scale (allegedly). It all looks very peaceful now. How surprised those early residents would be to see such a vast expanse of water from their front terrace.

Just before the seat I am stopped dead in my tracks. A very fine specimen of the Common Spotted Orchid, in the full glory of its bloom, is standing just inches away from the tyre marks made by the occasional vehicle which passes this way. Fragile, transient, purple-hued, with splayed spotted leaves at its base, it looks vulnerable and delicate. It would be safer on the other side of the track, in the meadow proper, where doubtless its congeners are safely tucked away amidst the swaying buttercups, clover and yellow rattle. But it has chosen to grow here, alone, exposed, defiant almost. I am instantly reminded of a fragment of poetry, written over 2,500 years ago by the Greek poetess Sappho ~ a beautiful image about a purple flower on the hill which the passing feet of shepherds trample into the ground, and yet it still retains its colour on the brown earth……Must look the passage up later.

Common Spotted Orchid (by Barrie Galpin)

I rest on the seat and scribble a few notes. I look up and think I see two or three small black butterflies bouncing erratically over the meadow in front of me. Wait a minute ~ there are no ‘small black butterflies’ that I know of…..so what are these? I wait, but they are maddeningly unwilling to settle and reveal their identity. At last one does : not butterflies, but moths! Chimney Sweeper Moths, day-flying, sun-loving, flower-flitting creatures of the English meadow. I watch them for a good while, and they distract me for a moment from the Orchid, which is starting to worry me. A family of five, including three bouncing children, veer perilously close to it as they cavort along the track and past me on my seat. I smile, but do not reveal the purple treasure they have failed to notice. Perhaps I should mount a guard on it….

Chimney Sweeper moth

In the hide all eyes are on the Ospreys and their three six-week old offspring, now displaying blue rings on sturdy legs, and flapping newly feathered wings with great enthusiasm. The boisterous family which had a near miss with the Orchid on the path are subdued now, squinting through binoculars and telescopes and listening to Anna as she expertly describes the scene before them in the nest. I sneak in and sit unobtrusively at the far end of the hide. 5R and the female look serene and at ease, although I hear Anna describing for visitors the appearance of an intruding Osprey earlier. A little later a small group of new visitors arrive ~ staff, students and parents from Stamford High School, where we spent a lovely afternoon a week or so as guests of the Biology Department. My cover is blown, and we talk for a while before I make my way back along the track.

Furtively I make sure the coast is clear before stooping once more to look at the Orchid. It is still intact, despite considerable activity on the track. I resolve to check it every day, or until it fades away. I am still trying to recall that Sapphic poem, and then I find myself humming a Céline Dion song in which the phrase ‘Comme une fleur abandonée’ appears……Well, this flower isn’t ‘abandonée’ !

Back in the Visitor Centre, I tell Michelle and Lizzie what a lovely ‘off duty’ morning I’ve had. The family I encountered on the track and in the hide are now back in the Centre, keenly watching the live pictures of the Ospreys on the big screen. I suddenly feel vaguely guilty for not showing them the Orchid. The father is studying the Tree Sparrows on the feeders just outside the window. He calls to his children : ‘Come over here and look at this ~ even the Sparrows are different here!’

I like his reaction. I wonder if they would like to walk back a couple of hundred metres and see a very special flower……..