Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wedding & Bedding in Fermyn!

Phenomenal day in Fermyn Woods with Neil Hulme & Andy Wyldes, but hardly anyone else. This is the peak weekend of the 2017 Fermyn Emperor season and the woods were almost devoid of butterfly people. Perhaps some people don't realize that the Emperor is out, or maybe they haven't been able to bring their booked July pilgrimage forward? I fear there will be a lot of disappointed visitors there in mid-July, which is galling as the butterfly is out in very good numbers this year.

Despite a lot of cloud, which rendered it too dull for Emperor activity at times, the butterfly put on a memorable show. I saw two pairings, high up in oak tops, and two other courtship flights. Here's one pair, the other was tucked well into the spray and impossible to photograph - 

As usual, a third male tried to muscle in -

Curiously, the males were scarcely coming down to the ride surfaces today, whereas yesterday they were dropping down at every opportunity. Instead, today they were frenetically searching the low tree tops. I suspect this was because there was a big hatch of females today, and that we were witnessing the Fermyn festival of wedding and bedding.

We were greeted by a male down at the main entrance, crawling under a car. Here's Neil dealing with this recalcitrant butterfly -

Of course, the police were called and weren't impressed by his explanation. Mr Hulme is still helping them with their inquiries down in Corby nick.

I'm off to Knepp tomorrow... ... ...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Doings in Fermyn...

Neil and I were in Fermyn Woods today, working with BBC Countryfile and living legend presenter John Craven to film The Emperor's Breakfast, for transmission on Sunday July 9th.

Despite a lot of cloud and marginal conditions the Emperor was on good form, and was highly obliging. Several males came down to our baits, both on the breakfast table and on shrimp paste puddles on the nearby rides - and it wasn't just shrimp paste and fermented sardines, for a particularly smelly runny French cheese (worse than Stinking Bishop) was favoured.  

On several occasions we saw vistas of three males, patrolling the oak tops. I also witnessed a classic 'tumble-down' - mated female rejecting an amorous male.  

It looks as though this will be the peak weekend for numbers and activity at Fermyn, where the butterfly commenced on Sat June 17th.

The other day a pristine female ab. lugenda was photographed in Fermyn, by Lucy Milner (the poet Edward Thomas's great-granddaughter). She's sending me the picture, which I'll post here.  

Here are some memories from today -

When it comes to eccentricity Britain still has what it takes... ... ...

Is it peaking in June?

In the top Bucks wood yesterday afternoon, there was no sun, a very brisk breeze and a temperature of 20 degrees. Just 12 were seen in 66 minutes, all high up, clashing and gliding around the Oaks and Ashes. Little Sallow searching. When I retraced my steps along the ride where I had seen 6, about 30 minutes later, none were to be seen. I have seen this before: presumably, they are not constantly on the move and have periods of respite in the trees.
Today, the Campbells spent 140 minutes in the wood, in similar weather conditions as yesterday, and saw 43, so they have not peaked yet.
It is good to know that in woods where the numbers are high, we can go looking even if there is no sun; as long as the temperature is in the late teens, we will see activity.
A few days ago we were in Little Wood Oxon which is on a very steep slope. A very large wide Ash at the top of this slope is normally a banker for seeing activity; we saw nothing in 15 minutes. We went down the slope to the bottom where the trees are very close together, allowing poor views of the tree tops. In one small opening, however, we were treated to two pairs of males clashing.
Nothing is certain or predictable in the Emperor's world!

Abbots Wood

Lucky again with the groundings. It seems to me that there are more individuals around this year with plenty of activity mid to late morning along the main ride. Even spotted one settling onto a pine tree at the top car park.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Midsummer Madness As British Emperoring Record Tumbles

Exeter University student Harry Drew had never seen a Purple Emperor before arriving at Knepp, for what must inevitably become an unforgettable summer as a resident research volunteer.

I met Harry rather late in the morning, for an introduction to Knepp and its emperors, but wasn't expecting the fireworks we were about to experience. This was about to become a Midsummer Day I will never forget, and nor will he. I had already commented that this year's population size was hard to call, as the searing heat over previous days had clearly suppressed activity - but by how much?

Heat again subdued activity, but this time only between 3pm and 6pm, with the slight breeze preventing burn-out before this period of quiescence. Our meticulous and methodical count, between 10.30am and 8.00pm, of 148 individual Purple Emperors could thus have produced even more.

Of the 148, only 6 were female, and almost every butterfly appeared to be in excellent or good condition. We saw 6 or 7 different bundles of 4 males, and between 15 and 20 bundles of 3. Some oaks hosted clusters of 4 and 3 simultaneously - the air was at times thick with them.

The Knepp emperors are now coming to ground with increased regularity. We witnessed 3 groundings and I'm aware of another 3 on the day. We watched one 'rejection drop', with the disgruntled female being pursued by a couple of males. Chaffinch, Great Tit, Chiffchaff, Jay and large dragonflies were attacked.

As the light of the longest day began to soften, and the oak crowns became alive with twisting clouds of Purple Hairstreak, the emperors finally decided that they'd done enough to confirm that Knepp is now one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the great British countryside.


Yesterday my friend Nick and I spent a long day at Knepp and had our best-ever day of emperoring.

I’m pretty sure Neil Hulme will have more enlightening updates shortly as I know he was racking up some serious numbers at the site, but Nick and I saw approximately 90 emperors including some memorable encounters and a superb, hotly-contested territory.

First off, at about 9.45am I saw a grounded male on the path near(ish) to the hammer pond. It later transpired it was on or near to a spot that Neil had baited – Neil asked me to post the photo to the blog. Here it is. The emperor was flighty. 

Later in the day (2 pm-ish) we were watching beautiful demoiselles in the ditch in Green Lane when we suddenly realised we were looking at an empress sitting so still in the mud that we hadn’t initially noticed her. She appeared to be drinking at the edge of the water in the ditch, and soon flew off.

Thanks to a conversation with the site-owner, Charlie, during a break in the Go-Down, we then searched what is a new stretch for us – the circuit adjacent to the hammer pond - in which we found a ride that was a stunning hotspot with a territory consisting of two or three oaks next to a prominent dead oak.

In this little stretch we experienced emperor madness: within minutes we saw a battling sextet of emperors with another pair in the same air space flitting around 20 metres or so away from the main cluster – by far the biggest emperor scrap I’ve seen. Not very surprisingly we walked up and down this ride for a while and saw many groups of four, three and two males fighting. I’ve never seen such a concentration of emperors in one 200-yard transect. 

The high level of activity continued almost unabated and it was notable that in this stretch the emperors were “flirting” with the ground and often landing obligingly low in the sallows along the path. (We saw similar behaviour in Green Lane in the pm, though with lower numbers).

We decided to retire briefly again to the Go-Down to recharge before a final evening stint, and in the evening light, a few hundred metres past the first tree house, we almost stepped on a male emperor feeding on a fox scat. He was pretty settled and returned for a second grounding in a different spot. 

There were plenty of emperors around this ride at that point, with quite a few coming low and one landing further away on the path but not allowing us to come near. They were notably more obliging than earlier in the day and I’m guessing evenings are good at Knepp during these blisteringly hot days – meaning a quick evening stint could be really rewarding for anyone local enough to make it. 

We also saw white letter hairstreak (thanks to Neil), purple hairstreak and white admiral.

It was an amazing day at Knepp, and was notable for more groundings than I’ve seen there before. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alice Holt

Emperors have been scarce at Alice Holt with just the odd one or two showing during the day - probably due to the heat I guess - so I paid and evening visit which paid off. I had three grounded males between 6:15 and 7:15 and half a dozen were oak edging looking for females.
Kind Regards