Warburg Warden's Warblings

Warburg Nature Reserve by Kate Titford

Warburg Nature Reserve is buzzing with life, and full of colour from wild flowers and insects

Walking through the reserve, a chattering of chicks and their parents noisily chirping to each other can be heard, and the wobbly first few flights of new fledglings observed between the trees.

We were fortunate enough to witness a blue tit family of seven chicks hatch, grow and fledge from our nestbox camera – something that was a hit with our visitors too!

Now, as I am writing this, I can see various families of tits and even a great-spotted woodpecker chick being fed and learning to self-feed on the bird feeder outside my office window. 

The woods are cool and shady, and below the canopy there is a carpet of plants including dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis) scattered with wood avens (Geum urbaum), bugle (Ajuga reptans), germander speedwell (Veroninca chamaedrys) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Green hound's tongue by Giles Alder

Green hound's tongue by Giles Alder

Some special sights include a patch of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) and herb paris (Paris quadrifola), and elsewhere a congregation of green hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum germanicum), a native UK Red Data Book species. It seems that at Warburg the badgers have helped spread this plant as the patches appear to follow their latrines.

The chalk grasslands are currently a sea of green herbs, interspersed with the beautiful yellow flowers of bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), whilst the ponds are full of brightly coloured yellow flag iris (Iris psuedacorus) and delicate lilac water violet (Hottonia palustris) with the leaves of water soldier (Stratoites aloides) poking through the water’s surface.
 
Orchid season has well and truly begun, with visitors travelling from all over to see the variety of orchids here. Fifteen different species have been recorded at Warburg, in different habitats across the reserve.

You don't need to be an expert botanist to visit though, come into the interpretation centre by the car park and use our interactive map to find out where to spot the orchids and other wildlife. You can even add your own sightings after you've had a walk around the reserve.

So far this year we have had the pleasure of hosting the common twayblade (Neottia ovata), early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fushii), pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyrimidalis), white helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium), greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha), lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia), bird’s nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera), bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) and narrow-lipped helleborine (Epipactis leptochila).

Bee orchid

Bee orchid by Chris Lawrence

Some orchids use a cunning disguise to aid pollination, such as the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera), with a velvety lip that mimics a female bee to entice male bees to mate with it and pollinate the flower. However, in the UK this orchid is self-pollinated as the right bee species doesn’t live here. The fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera) has a similar tactic, with flowers resembling little flies that release a scent mimicking the digger wasp’s pheromones to attract males to pollinate it. 
   
The bird’s nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) gets its name from its nest-like tangle of roots. It lacks the green chlorophyll that enables other plants to gain energy from sunlight through photosynthesis, which is why its spike and flowers are a yellowy-brown colour with no leaves. It is saprophytic, which means that it obtains its nutrients from other plants or fungi – in this case the orchid has a partnership with a fungus which also has a relationship with nearby trees, usually beech.
 

Greater butterfly orchid

Greater butterfly orchid by Philip Precey

We are lucky at Warburg to have both the greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) and the rarer lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia), and also some intermediate hybrids of the two (although we haven’t found any hybrids in flower this year yet!).The greater butterfly orchid has white flowers with spreading petals and sepals, a bit like the wings of a butterfly, hence the name. They both release strong fragrances at night to attract night-flying pollinators such as moths. The lesser butterfly orchid is very similar except the plant itself is smaller, holding its two pollen-bearing structures (polinia) inside its flowers parallel and more closer together, whereas the great butterfly’s polinia converge into more of a V shape and are further apart.
 
Another orchid to get excited about is the narrow-lipped helleborine (Epipactis leptochila), a nationally scarce species that favours shady, thin soils covering limestone rock and is mainly associated with beech trees. They are generally found in colonies, with short-lived flowers that are out for around 10 days from mid-July to August – so just the leaves are on show in the beech woods at the moment.

Mason bee nest

Mason bee nest by Kelly Hedges

Another fascinating find was a patch of two-coloured mason bee (Osmia bicolor) nests on bare ground in an area of scrub cleared earlier this year. These solitary bees are one of the first bees seen in spring, and the females can be seen hurrying around in the sunshine collecting sticks to strategically place, like thatching, on top of an empty snail shell! Inside the shell, she will deposit up to four or five balls of masticated pollen and nectar as a food source, lay a single egg upon each ball and enclose each as a cell. She will then seal the shell itself with similar material to protect against predators, making up to six or seven nests per breeding season!

I am loving discovering these little wonders all across Warburg, and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings. Come for a visit and see what you can discover too!

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