Mon July 23rd
Perfect! Cloudless, 23C, low humidity. Calm till late morning when a M W wind sprang up which died around 7pm.
Lady & Souther Woods, Fermyn Woods. 9.50-5.30.
One of my best day’s Emperoring ever, one that will linger and even grow in the mind. Left home at 7.30 and managed to get past wretched Oxford with no more inconvenience than a bad tempered aggregates lorry driver. Then, incredibly, I managed to drive through Fermyn Wood proper without disturbing any butterfly photographers (one group doing White-letter Hairstreaks on the Cherry Lap wych elm) and without disturbing any Purple Emperors (I put up a White Admiral instead). As I was entering Paradise I failed to recognise Phil Corley, let alone offer him a lift. We met up later, though he never forgave me. Also met Doug and Andy, and numerous others of Purple Persuasion.
Lady Wood Head leapt to greet me, like the returning prodigal son. Straight in on a fresh male Purple Emperor V-shaped on the ride just inside the gate, only he flew off as I stopped. Then, at 10.03, before the end of the poplars I spotted, at 75m distance, through the car windscreen, a very black butterfly descending to the ride surface. I knew it instantly, at that distance, as a dark aberration. What I didn’t realise was that it was female. I stopped instantly. As I got out of the car gingerly she settled briefly on my front number plate (which means that my car is now officially beatified) before alighting on a nearby damp patch of bare ride (females usually favour vegetated ride surfaces). She fed there, wings open and closed, and crawling about quite actively for ~10 mins, attended by one devout servant only. Then as various other servants approached she ascended to a x reichardtii sallow a few metres away – and sat there wings closed for 42 mins, during which time she attracted a fair crowd who managed some moderate photos of her sublime underside – only there was a leaf in the way. Suddenly, she took off and flew away southwards at 5-6m height, into and through the Corsican pine plantation, inspecting a sallow en route before vanishing. I obtained reasonable photos of her upperside and some excellent ones of her underside. She was later confirmed as ab lugenda.
She was seen again close by, briefly, at 12.41, egg-laying high up on a sub-canopy spray of a mature x reichardtii sallow along the line of poplars. This is not the first time I've seen an aberrant iris female egg-laying, I saw one in Straits Inclosure in early July 1976. And I will so it again.
At 11.10, during a flurry of male activity, I saw a pristine male ab iolata flying along the summit section of the E Ride. He almost settled on the ride a couple of times, so I saw his upperside well – only he then flew off sallow searching. He was photographed on the ride there ca noon by Doug Goddard. The ghastly truth is that I may well have walked past him and ignored him settled there wings closed, for the underside was almost type – Doug initially ignored him, leaving him to another photographer, only to realise and rectify the mistake when the insect flashed his wings at him as he was passing. There’s a lesson here somewhere.
I went on to see ~33 males and 4-5 females during the whole day. During the morning I saw ~13 males and 2 females. There was a significant flurry of activity along the E Ride from 11.00-11.20 when I saw 8 males, 4 down feeding on the ride and a couple seemingly establishing territories on the taller scrub oaks. I then saw 4 males and a lovely female down on moist ground along the W Ride en route to dumping things at the cottages. The female was pristine and was happily imbibing from the edge of a shallow puddle. Iris had invaded the cottages – Kenny had a male feeding on his gloriously antiquated camper van ca 11.15.
I returned to the woods at 12.10, remaining there till 5.30, working the E and W rides mainly. I saw ~20 males and 2-3 females during this time. Males were seen down on the rides at 12.10 (a tatty male at BB Corner), 12.20, 3.20, 3.30 (for 20 mins, including settling and feeding on myself and Phil Corley near E Ride Pond) and 4.35. In addition, I nearly trod on a female feeding by a deep puddle along High Seat 381 Ride at 2.05 – she shot off, affronted, and I said #~$%!*&%@!!!, but at least it wasn’t a Sunday. This is a grassy ride, and she was hidden. In addition, Phil and I watched a lovely male feeding briefly on HS 381 at 2.08. During the day the puddles dried up.
A little oak-edging activity was seen along W Ride and the Summit stretch of E Ride between 12.30 – 1.30, but I was disappointed by how little of this activity I saw today. At least 4 males were on territory along HS381 Ride, including a pair of clashing males (1.35-2.45), probably 5. But none along HS382 ride, where there are two good territories which have been occupied in all previous years. At least 3 males were on territory around oak clumps in the jungle directly opposite the entrance to HS381 Ride, off E Ride, one of which had a successful fight with a Brown Hawker, plus a probable but distant female. Little sallow-searching activity today, which was surprising.
They definitely quietened down after 4.30, though I saw a sallow-searching male at 5.00 along W Ride, and at 5.03 spotted a worn and torn male feeding from a weak oak sap run high up along W Ride.
I finished at 5.30 as the wind had become rather prohibitive, so I retreated to the cottages where sanity was not particularly evident. I should have gone back out for the evening flight when the wind died down after 7pm but had had too much Pimms by then. Instead, iris came to me – for from 7.40-7.50 a worn male had a fantastic time feeding from me and from the motley collection of cars parked outside the cottages. This suggests there was a good hour of evening flight today.
Today was definitely Big Bang Day (main emergence day) in Fermyn Woods.