Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

Orchid hunt at Warburg nature reserve, Oxfordshire

I’ve become obsessed with orchids lately. In May we visited the orchid slope at Hartslock nature reserve to see rare monkey orchids. Last weekend we headed to Warburg nature reserve, one of BBOWT’s flagship reserves near Henley-on-Thames.

Great butterfly orchid (left) and white helleborine (right), Warburg nature reserve
Greater butterfly orchid (left) and white helleborine (right), Warburg nature reserve

We’re regular visitors to Warburg and often walk the waymarked Wildlife Trail. This time our route was determined by a map in the visitor centre marking the orchid flowering spots.

Orchids at Warburg

My main reason for visiting was to see a bee orchid, and joy of joys, they were marked on the map! And is wasn’t just bee orchids. Greater butterfly, bird’s nest, white helleborine and green hound’s-tongue were also marked. I photographed the map and then headed out into the reserve.

Summer walk in Warburg nature reserve
Summer walk in Warburg nature reserve

We found our first orchid, the greater butterfly, just a few steps away from the car park. This orchid has greenish-white flowers, grows on chalk grassland and in woods. A similarly coloured orchid is the white helleborine, which we found beside the path in the beech woods.

Our next spot was the strange looking bird’s nest orchid, so called because its roots resemble a bird’s nest. Hidden amongst decaying leaves in woodland it’s a strange looking flower. Not one of the prettiest. It lacks chlorophyll, is light brown in colour and blends well with the background. This is my excuse for belatedly discovering my photos of them were rather blurry!

Now it must be said that the rest of the family aren’t as smitten with orchids as I am. Particularly the teen daughter, who decided she’d had enough at this point and headed back to the car to listen to music.

Meadow brown butterfly on bird's foot trefoil, Warburg nature reserve
Meadow brown butterfly on bird’s foot trefoil, Warburg nature reserve

Spotting the bee orchid

Walking out of the woodland and into the open, I finally got to see my bee orchid. Standing alone in the chalk grassland it looked exactly as expected. It mimics the bee in looks, scent and touch in order to attract male bees and help aid pollination. I’ve wanted to see one of these for a couple of years now and was very happy with the find. The irony is that I’ve subsequently found several less than a mile from my house!

Aside from the bee orchids there were loads of common spotted and a few pyramidal orchids just starting to flower. A variety of butterflies were out too, enjoying the temperamental sun.

Common spotted orchid (left), bee orchid (right), Warburg nature reserve
Common spotted orchid (left), bee orchid (right), Warburg nature reserve

My son and I continued on to the last flower marked on the map, green hounds-tongue. I’ve never seen this plant before and had no idea what I was looking for. It also took us further away from the car park in the direction of some ominous looking clouds overhead. I don’t mind getting wet on a walk but thunderstorms were forecast and I had no desire to get struck by lightning.

We went slightly off piste in our rushed quest for the last flower and ended up with very wet legs from walking through long grass. Although it rained a little the storm didn’t materialise and we were able to find the green hounds-tongue. That said I wasn’t exactly sure which plant it was so took photographs of a couple of contenders and identified it properly once I got home.

Super-sized slugs!

On our return to the car park we kept finding super-sized slugs. The paths were dotted with large black and brown varieties; we had to watch our step to ensure we didn’t squash any. I’m not a great fan of slugs in my garden but they were quite interesting to examine close up, away from lettuce plants!

Warburg nature reseve pond hide
Warburg nature reseve pond hide

Before leaving we met up with my other half in the visitor centre bird hide. We’ve often sat here in the past but haven’t always seen that many birds. This time was different; a couple of greater spotted woodpeckers were in control of the feeders, attacking any other bird trying to feed. Whenever they flew away normal service resumed with chaffinches, goldfinches, a nuthatch, blue tits and marsh tits all hastily returning to feed. I could have watched for hours but the kids were restless and it was time to go.

If you’re visiting Warburg why not tag a trip to Homefield Wood too? Lots more orchids to find, including military orchids in late May and June.

More info:

  • The best time to visit BBOWT’s Warburg nature reserve to see orchids is around June, although this does depend on seasonal weather conditions. However Warburg is a great reserve to visit all year round. There’s a small visitor centre (not usually manned), toilets and picnic site.

12 thoughts on “Orchid hunt at Warburg nature reserve, Oxfordshire”

  1. Hi Christine, our orchid season is earlier here, and this was the first year I got into them (probably due to now having a big girls camera). My favorite was the bee orchid as it reminded me of a happy gummy bear.

    I love your photos. I don’t think I saw a white helleborine,
    greater butterfly orchid or a common spotted orchid over here, but then I am no expert.

    I’m sure I could have spent hours sat in the bird hide and I know my Dad would probably have moved in for the day!


    1. My other half (and his dad) are the birdwatchers in our family. I’m semi-interested but I like flowers more 🙂

    1. We always have loads of pyramidal orchids in the local fields and verges but I’d never seen a bee orchid before. However I’ve seen them three more times since the visit, mostly on grass verges!

  2. Ooh I will have to go soon and do some orchid spotting too! Been to Warburg a good few times but never really paid enough attention to the wild flowers. Lovely photos!

    1. Hope you manage to get there soon Kate. Make sure you look at the map in the visitor centre as I wouldn’t have found the orchids without it.

  3. I love Bee Orchids, they are rather special. I remember being so excited searching for wild flowers on a girl guide camp as a child and being the one to find the Bee Orchid, it was then that my leader told be how rare they were. The Nature Reserve sounds wonderful with a map to guide you and a variety of orchids to hunt for. they do thrive in such pretty surroundings.

    Thank you for joining me for #CountryKids

  4. I love your photos and the orchids are just stunning. I really must pay more attention on walks, I’m sure I must regularly walk right past some beautiful wild flowers! I also love the idea of getting into birdwatching, I like sitting in the hides at our local reserve but I really need to learn some more birds!

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