This is the second post about a fantastic six day trip to the Burren in western Ireland with Wildlife Travel. Though I knew a little about the Burren before I began hitting the guide books and the internet – particularly in connection with its high number of orchid species and the Burren Green moth Calamia tridens which in the British Isles is found only in the Burren – nothing prepared me properly for the dramatic hills, the palette of colours, and the wide range of quality habitats found there…
We identified some fifteen species/forms of orchid (and when I say ‘we’, I really mean Charlie Rugeroni – the trip’s main leader – and several of the participants on the trip whose knowledge was staggering). A selection of these are below:
Common Spotted Orchid:
Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuschii. Image copyright Charlie Rugeroni (www.gbdgardendesign.co.uk)
‘O’Kelly’s’ Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuschii okellyi
- A widespread and common species, the Common Spotted Orchid is plentiful on the Burren and occurs in many shapes and sizes. The all-white form okellyi is widespread and found in reasonably good numbers in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and on Scotland’s Coll, Tiree, and Kintyre islands.
This one was photographed at Fanore Sands.
Heath Spotted Orchid:
Heath Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata ericetorum
Flourishes in the west and northwest of Britain and in the north and west of Ireland.
We only found a very small number of spikes, but may have simply missed some amongst the stunted plants at Poll Salach.
Early Marsh Orchid:
Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata
Flecked (or ‘Leopard -spotted’) form D. i. cruenta
- Widely distributed in the British Isles, though supposedly less frequent in Ireland.
We found it in good numbers alongside the turloughs we visited. The cruenta form, with its heavily spotted leaves, is listed as Endangered but we found it in good numbers at Lough Gealáin – and it’s entirely possible that all the Early Marsh we saw were of this form.
Irish Marsh Orchid:
Irish Marsh Orchid Dactylorhizha (majalis) occidentalis
- The situation regarding the taxonomic status of this plants appears to be confused as some websites state that DNA work shows that D. occidentalis is a full species separate from D. majalis and endemic to Ireland, while others keep it as a sub-species.
We found this plant just 100m from our B&B standing amongst grasses on the edge of a field.
Frog Orchid Dactylorhiza viridis
- Until quite recently this short and difficult to spot orchid was the single European member of the genus Coeloglossum but molecular analysis has determined that the species is correctly positioned with the large genus Dactylorhiza.
Just one seen, in bare turf at Poll Salach
Early Purple Orchid:
Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula
- The Early Purple Orchid is widespread and found in woodlands, hedgerows and in grassland, and is tolerant of sun and shade.
Most spikes we recorded had gone over, and this one at Poll Saloch was the best we found.
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
- Apparently mimicing a now extinct bee, Bee Orchids are now almost entirely self-pollinated and occur widely throughout southern Britain and, in Ireland, now mainly in Co Clare and Co Galway.
Our sightings were all on Inisheer, where we found 20+ spikes in the dunes near the harbour.
Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera
A scarce and mainly southern species in both the UK and Ireland. The plant attracts male digger wasps, mimicing the insect’s folded wings and antennae and produces a pheromone-like scent.
We found a few spikes below Slieve Carran and one or two alongside Lough Gealáin.
Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea
- Possibly three different species the Fragrant Orchid can be plentiful (sometimes abundant) throughout much of the British Isles. They produce a sweet, orangey smell that is particularly strong in the evening.
We found only a few spikes. This one was photographed at Poll Saloch.
Lesser Butterfly Orchid:
Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia
This beautiful species has suffered a serious decline, especially in central and southern England, as a result of woodland clearance. Similar to the Greater Butterfly Orchid P. clorantha, the pollinia (seen in the lower photograph) are parallel and close together rather than widely separated.
We recorded this species in very small numbers at Loughs Gealáin and Bunny.
Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis
Grows on calcareous soils, and can be abundant on chalk downs, sand dunes, cliff tops, and on limestone pavements.
We were early for most Pyramidals by a few weeks or so, but this is a very common species at eg Poll Salach, Fanore, and on Inisheer. The lower photograph also shows the very restricted Transparent Burnet moth Zygaena purpuralis.
Common Twayblade Neottia ovata
One of the commonest of the British orchids growing on a wide range of substrates.
We found Common Twayblades virtually anywhere orchids grew, and in good numbers on Inisheer. (Note the ‘cuckoo spit’ on this plant: this is produced by the immature nymphs of froghoppers, presumably as a means of protecting themselves from predators.)
All photos copyright Charlie Moores/Talking Naturally 2012
- Wildlife Travel have been visiting the Burren every year for almost a decade.
If you’d like more information please go to http://www.wildlife-travel.co.uk/.