Sunday, July 21, 2013

From Neil Freeman
Thursday 18th July.

My son Chris and myself had both booked a day off work to go to Fermyn Woods today (Thursday), Chris having never been there before and his only previous sighting of a Purple Emperor being a fleeting flypast last year at Oversley Wood.

I had seen the reports and tweets from Mathew Oates and Gillian Thompson and their 100+ PE sightings on Monday and Tuesday and so was hopeful that there would still be a few around.

We arrived and parked up by the gliding club at about 08.15 with about a dozen cars already parked there and set off down the main ride which was still in shadow with the sun lighting up the higher reaches of the trees.
We had only gone a hundred yards when a Purple Emperor took off from the ride right in front of us :o . We had nearly trodden on it as we were chatting and not expecting to see anything in that first stretch on the ground which was still in the shade.

We walked on through Fermyn Wood, seeing a couple more Purple Emperors flying around the sunny upper reaches of the trees and carried on to Lady/Souther Woods.
Gillian Thompson had very kindly e-mailed me the location of some promising animal droppings that had been ‘laced’ with shrimp bait, including some Fox scat that we first made our way towards. On our way we saw a few more Emperors including some on the ground being photographed by fellow enthusiasts and took some photos ourselves.
We found the fox scat easily thanks to Gills directions and approaching slowly were pleased to see it occupied by three PEs with a fourth one on the ground a few yards away.
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Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

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Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

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Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We had already taken some photos of Purple Emperors on various ‘piles of pooh’ but I was keen to get some more shots on different backgrounds if possible, so we carried on, at one point meeting Sussex and UKBs own Neil Hulme on is little bike who stopped for a brief chat, great to finally meet up in such a fantastic place.

We had already noticed a few dried up patches on the paths that looked like they had been baited over the past few days and at one junction towards the southern end of the woods found one such patch occupied by two male Purple Emperors and a Red Admiral.
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Emperors and Admiral - Fermyn 18.07.2013

This gave Chris a chance to prostrate himself in worship of HIM, and take a few photos whilst he was down there.
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Chris prostrating himself before HIM

I also got down but the articulated screen on my FZ150 made things a little easier for me.
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Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

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Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

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Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We then retraced our steps back to the Lady/Souther/ Greenside circuit and wandered around there for the rest of the morning seeing loads of PEs, often up to four down within view along the rides at once. By mid-morning they were tending to keep their wings closed in the heat and only briefly flicked them open, even when we put our shadows over them.
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One in the foreground, one in front of Chris and another out of shot in the trees to the left.

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PE cleaning proboscis on leaves.

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Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

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Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We also met Neil Hulme again in Lady Wood where we spent a while enjoying the benefit of his experience.
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Demonstration of technique

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Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Around 1.00pm it was getting very hot so we made our way back to the car to have a bit of lunch and get some more water before heading out for a second session.

We wandered back to the Lady/Souther block still seeing plenty of PEs on the way but with most of them now flying higher up although some were still coming to ground, most noticeably in patches of dappled shade rather than full sun.

We did a slow circuit of the rides but after 2.00 things had noticeably quietened down although we did see some good aerial displays, usually of two or three male Emperors swooping and diving around each other. We also still saw a few on the ground, which normally would have been a good result but far fewer compared to the morning.

By 4.00 we felt like we were melting in the heat and we were on our last drops of water so we decided to head back to the car and home.

Whilst it was apparently a quieter day than Monday or Tuesday, both people wise and with fewer Purple Emperors being seen or coming to ground, this is a very relative thing and I still saw more PEs in one morning than I have ever seen in total up until now.

I have no idea how many individuals we actually saw and definitely saw some of the same ones more than once as we wandered about but we spoke to one chap who said he had counted sixty which is probably about the number we saw in total with a couple of dozen of those on the ground.

As well as the Purple Emperors there were also hordes of Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Whites, lots of Commas and Large Skippers and a good scattering of White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries. We also saw a few Purple Hairstreaks flitting about high up around some of the Oaks.

All in all, an excellent day and definitely one of the highlights of my butterfly season this year, one to remember :D
Best Regards,
Neil Freeman

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