Saturday, June 30, 2018

Two By Two

An unexpected freedom pass had me heading north again to Fermyn on Friday 29th. Hooked up at the Glider entrance with Toby Ludlow who I'd bumped into late on Tuesday 26th. We headed off down the widened main ride at 9am under a ceiling of thick cloud, but by the time we got to the Lady/Souther Wood junction the sun was asserting itself. We visited the scene of my greatest crime ie, not being quick enough on the shutter last Tuesday (as reported by Brian Hicks) to 'capture' a perfect ab.iole. On a positive note, I am still here, having not 'topped' myself. A repeat of that lifer experience was going to be highly unlikely but you have to keep the faith. Sadly it wasn't to be.

Toby was extremely diligent and recorded everything that moved with a HIM tally of 75 by the end of the day with many groundings. Under a clear azure sky, numerous circuits around Lady and Souther presented many opportunities for shots including a number of double groundings.

Fermyn just keeps on giving. You never know what's around the next ride corner.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fabulous Fermyn (Part 2)

My second day (28 June) at Fermyn proved to be even better, with some very fresh males descending to the rides from about 10.30 am onward. Emperors were still flying when I finally left the site at 7.30 pm (six hours later than planned). Although my belachan soup was the main draw, one male showed his appreciation of my Red Bull (other energy drinks are available; never give Red Bull to small children or babies). He's probably now at Knepp.

The best action came just before 4 pm, when a coupled pair of emperors drifted down from the canopy - manna from heaven. This allowed several of us the opportunity of some really rare shots.

As always, Fermyn provided some great experiences and created some wonderful memories. I certainly won't forget the happy hour I spent gazing at a perfect moon hanging low over Brigstock, with the air full of screaming Swifts.




Knepp Day Can't Remember: Curse & Crush this Wind

I set out today to topple the 350 figure, confident that the wind would be light, as forecast. The forecast was, however, seriously wrong (moan: how do they manage to get wind speed wrong? All they need to do is look as the isobars...).  

The NE wind increased from Light to Moderate-Fresh around 2.30, and then Fresh by 5pm. This constricted Emperorial activity to west-facing edges. Consequently, I gave up at 5pm, having scored a measly 204.

The male emergence is probably now virtually complete. There is still a goodly number of fresh-looking boys around, but the majority are looking distinctly middle aged. Males were frenetically searching the sallow thickets from 10.30 to noon. Here's one pausing during the search -

Herself remains Difficult in the Extreme: I managed 12 today, included one which assaulted me (and another which beat off a male). I suspect a lot of females are still to emerge. I witnessed eight tumbledowns (mated females rejecting males), nearly all around sap run feeding trees. Here's one tumbledown - 

In this heat a lot of males are taking up positions in hedges and low down on oaks, in places offering options of both shade and light. Many are behaving as hedgerow butterflies.

Good to learn of aberrations being recorded in Fermyn and Bentley woods. So far this year I have seen over 1500 day individuals at Knepp, all of the type. I don't think this population vars at all. However, Purple Emperor continues to be commoner than Meadow Browns at Knepp.


Fabulous Fermyn (Part 1)

On Thursday (27 June) I headed to Fermyn Woods. Having spent so much time at Knepp recently (and with eight safaris to co-lead there over the next two weeks), I was keen for a change of scenery, and also for the opportunity to photograph some more freshly emerged male Purple Emperors; most/all of the males are now out at Knepp. Although groundings are becoming far more regular at Knepp, Fermyn still outguns Knepp in this respect. In terms of population, Knepp is now in a league of its own. Although still early in the Northants season, I saw no more than c.30 emperors on either of the days I visited, despite the females being well out (three on Thursday, two on Friday).

I spent most of the two days in the excellent company of Dave Walker, who I'd met at Noar Hill during the Duke season. It was also good to catch up again with Dave Williams (plus brother), who I'd recently bumped into at Daneway Banks, and Bill & Mrs Seager (of the Fermyn Light Horse). Unfortunately, it seems I narrowly missed Neil Freeman.

The first thing I noticed on arrival was the excellent and much talked about ride widening through Fermyn proper; well done Forestry Commission! Within relatively few years, if left unmanaged, the Purple Emperors, Silver-washed Fritillaries, White Admirals and White-letter Hairstreaks would all have disappeared, leaving just Speckled Woods; it seems that many would prefer this, and are being quite vocal about it! That said, being such a well visited site, it would probably have been preferable to lift the brash mats (which protect the ground from the worst of mechanical damage) and chip them; so only 9 out of 10. The next thing I noticed was the constant rain of honeydew (I've seldom seen so much), which eventually started to gum-up my camera.

This first day of my visit was all about trouserings, of which I enjoyed four. In order to get the best angles I spent some time rolling around on the floor, performing contortions that Louie Spence would be proud of. I soon set to work laying belachan soup baits, which proved to be my most successful mix yet; apologies for the stink (not really). 95% of the emperor groundings (about 20 over the two days) came to the lures, together with c.30 Comma, a few Small Tortoiseshell and several hundred flies.

Aberrations emerging at Fermyn

There will be a little of everything at Fermyn this weekend. Pristine males are still emerging and grounding, especially in the mornings. In particular, there is a spot where Neil apparently left shrimp paste that regularly attracted a pair of males. The females are also emerging and I spotted five consecutive males sallow searching and trying to dislodge a pair in cop at the top of a sallow on the main ride through Lady Wood.
Finally, as our Guru and leader correctly predicted earlier in the week, the aberrations are beginning to emerge. I was standing at the first junction in Lady Wood when a semi-Iole aberration landed on my lower leg. I tried desperately to get into the required gymnastic position to take a good shot, but failed. Looking at my record shots, I believe it is ab. Stictica, but I'm not sure. There are reduced white markings on the forewings and the white band on the hindwing is broken into 5 clearly separated spots. The white band on the underside of the hindwing is clearly reduced. It could not fly properly and had only just emerged so, hopefully, he will be taking salts tomorrow morning and any more extreme aberrations are about to emerge. The next phase of the season is about to begin.

Straits Inclosure and Abbots Wood

I did not visit Straits Inclosure, Hampshire, last year, so I thought I would remedy that today. Arriving  around 9.30 I had only walked a short distance through the gate when I put up himself. I hardly had time to get my camera out, but he did settle again on the track. On two occasions he flew up and into the wood a short way, landing low down on an oak. He rested, and made his way back to the track, then did the same thing again, going into the wood and resting in almost the same place.
Eventually he settled back on the track for 20 minutes, allowing 2 other observers to see him imbibing. Altogether he stayed in the area for over 30minutes. I saw 6 in Straits (2 down). Moving on to Abbots Wood I soon saw 2 males, a female sailing around the top of a sallow and a male down on the track. He was down when I arrived and also when I was making my way back, just before 13.00. Talking to other observers it appears that around 8 had been seen at each location recently over the last couple of days. Abbots Wood is still a lovely location, but as His Imperial Majesty's fanbase is growing it is getting more difficult to park compared to a few years ago. The price of fame!

The benefits of having a personal audience with His Imperial Majesty.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tanking Up!

Yesterday was too windy: much of Knepp was exposed to the Moderate (occasionally Fresh) East to North-East wind, and seemingly devoid of Emperors as a result. But West-facing edges were superb.

In this heat, both sexes are increasingly resorting to small sap bleeds on the oaks. These bleeds are hard to spot - look out for the distinctive and diagnostic zig-zag flight of Emperors homing in on sap and flying into a tree, and watch out for hornets and Red Ads, which also frequent sap.

Here's a posse of Emperors getting tanked up on fermented oak sap prior to the football yesterday evening. They'll smash the place up when England get knocked out...

The Emperor is now a hedgerow butterfly at Knepp - there are that many of them. In the heat they are shading a lot, occupying dappled shade - Speckled Wood country - along North-facing edges.

Going to a wedding or another big family event this weekend? Skip it, go Emperoring; do not miss out.

Fermyn in Fine Form

The Emperor flies this time of year - In Fermyn Woods, Northamptonshire...

The Fermyn Wood complex has hit its stride this week following the spell of hot weather coupled with clear blue skies after early morning cloud has dispersed.

Many people are making their way straight to Lady wood and Souther wood, past the logging operations that have taken place on the ride from the glider club entrance all the way to Sling's Nook. It is a long walk in the heat but the rewards are that it is almost certain that you will view some lovely pristine males on the ground, where Neil Hulme's bait is proving a very effective attraction to these insects, even when dry. The added bonus is that the females are also showing now, and Neil will shortly be posting some marvellous pictures of a pair in cop on the ground in Ladywood located around four PM on Thursday 28 June. If you are not fortunate enough to be able to visit during the week, it is this weekend that will prove popular and therefore very busy. Leave it later and you may miss the best of the action - on the ground. Don't forget that it is worth going off the tracks and down the rides to the deer hides, turn right and survey the oaks and sallows for aerial acrobatics!

349 at Knepp!!!!

349 were counted in an 11 hour day at Knepp yesterday, including seven together on a sap run. The butterfly outnumbers the meadow brown and is now a common hedgerow creature there...
More this evening - I'm in a mad dash to get out........

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fermyn. Mist, Heat, Mirage?

#30 Days Purple
Tuesday 26th.  Arrived opposite the glider club from Norfolk at 7am and waited for John Wiltshire to arrive from Herts.  Very cool and misty.  First impressions of the clearance work, not pretty, but long term I'm sure it will heal.  John arrived and we headed off for Lady wood.  It was about 10.30 when the mist lifted, it was like flicking a switch going from cool to hot with no warm up period.  HIM appeared but was on a catch up mission, very few landing for more than a few seconds.  We wandered the sun baked rides, almost giving up on getting any images.  However at about 1.30pm the heat must have got to them and several males came down and were very docile, sitting in the partial shade, desperately trying to extract anything from the arid track.
While I was trying to tease a shot out of a lethargic Iris John exclaimed " Goodness what have we here!" (not the exact phrase, ladies might be reading) I looked up to see an image of purple and black take off, glide down the track ten yards, go to settle, then get involved in a melee with two Ringlets.  We watched in horror as this mirage circled then disappeared into the wood.  Had we witnessed the holy grail? ab iole?  We saw no sign of white, but without an image we will never be 100% sure.  A few seconds more John would have that image.  I left at 3.30pm having seen about twelve individuals, John was disconsolate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


In this heatwave Purple Emperors have been seen down on the tracks at Knepp as early as - wait for it, and then blaspheme - 5.30am. They are very active, searching the sallows for females, from 7am.  

In the (extreme) heat of the day both sexes seem to be resorting to the shadier wood edges, particularly north-facing edges, where they bask in shade. The northern Browns (aethiops, epiphron and tullia) all conk out in tussocks during excessive heat, and iris does something similar in mid-afternoon in this heat.

Here's a male from today, basking in heavy shade in a blackthorn hedge -

And here's Herself, basking in full shade 6' up below a master tree infested by four of five males - 

Also, both sexes are feeding keenly on small sap bleeds on veteran oaks - the rides and tracks are arid, with little for them. Look out for the characteristic zig-zag flight of iris homing in on sap -

Outrage at Knepp!

Yesterday, Brother Dennis and I witnessed a preposterous event. 

A very foolish female, quite possibly on her maiden flight, made the fatal mistake of flying along a line of oaks infested with ardent males overloaded with testosterone. She was quickly accosted by a couple of lone males, then blundered into a pair of sparring males, and panicked... . 

She then did the daftest thing possible: she flew straight up into a prominent canopy gap where four males were battling away. At that point she completely lost it, turned right, immediately picked up another male and fled with a bundle of nine - repeat nine - amorous males all squabbling for the right to deflower her.

Dennis and I hung our heads in shame.

Imagine nine Benny Hills pursuing a lone blonde bimbo...

You would not want your daughter to go out with a bloke with the morals of a male Purple Emperor.

Hulme Undone at Knepp

What Brother Neil failed to mention in his latest posting was the incident of Builder's Bum whilst he was photographing a male on boots that evening -

Back to Bentley Wood

After yesterday Bentley Wood beckoned again, so an early arrival gave me time to get well into the wood before the serious heat got going. I saw 8 males altogether, less than yesterday but some in different places. Inevitably one newly emerged individual came down to the main track area for nearly an hour. It was amusing to watch the capers of this male iris, he started off on dog poo as per the two seen yesterday, then flew up to some bracken for a rest. He then flew on to some bramble which had been covered in tree sap and spent around 10 minutes imbibing on the shiny sticky green leaves. Then he made the mistake of going back on the track to imbibe, this meant he ended up with a rather large blob of earth stuck to his proboscis which really annoyed him as he could not get it off. He then flew off squirting out a stream of meconium as he moved up high.  Ah the naivety of youth!
Bentley Wood has become much busier vehicle wise than previous visits I have made. Cars and tractors were frequently using the main track when I was there, luckily this male was well to the side of the track and stayed, but yesterday they were put up quite a bit.


A rest

Unable to resist this sticky sap

Back down to the track

Can't seem to shake off this blob 

More Knepp Doings

Following the previous day's exhausting count of Purple Emperors over a large area of the Knepp Wildland, today (25 June) was all about the more relaxed enjoyment of the current glut of this magnificent butterfly. I spent a few happy hours with my father, during which we enjoyed plenty of action, including a fresh male emperor on one of my shrimp lures. At one point this butterfly flew in through the open door of my car and fluttered around the dashboard. 

After a short break, I returned to Knepp, but then didn't escape again until after 8pm, when the emperors were still flying. I watched empresses gliding around the canopy with up to four and once five males in pursuit, and observed one pairing (which lasted 3 hours 17 minutes) at the top of an oak. Many emperors were seen visiting sap bleeds; one at head-height. A grounded male (on an organic cowpat; these days, most are plastic) demonstrated an unusual marbled pattern, which I've seen before and suspect is caused by still-soft wings. This theory was supported when it raised its abdomen and ejected a stream of meconium while feeding. 

On a couple of occasions I watched classic rejection drops, when an already-mated female tumbles down to avoid unwanted male attention. A male/female chase at 7.30pm initially appeared to be similar, until the female finally shook off her suitor and landed in low scrub; it turned out that she had only just emerged and was not quite ready to copulate, as her wings appeared to still be damp, and she too squirted meconium. 

It was great to spend some time with Purple Emperor aficionado Dennis Dell (visiting from Sheffield) and wildlife photographer David Woodfall, among many others.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hot stuff in Bentley Wood

Having just returned from Alaska and still a bit jetlagged, I ventured to Bentley Wood on this very hot day, arriving by 8.00. My first 4 Purple Emperors were very actively flying around the top of oaks at 9.00, moving so fast it was difficult to get my binoculars on them. However it was when I was walking back to the car park just after 10.00 when I saw the one, the iris I had wanted to see all my life. It suddenly appeared by my feet and fluttered around the track but refused to land. I could see no white on this incredible butterfly and from what I did see it was an ab.iole/lugenda type. I wish it had landed but it wasn't to be this time. A little later I saw 3 males down on the track on dog poo and on my bait, with my final sighting on a gate post at 12.15. Activity seemed to stop in the heat of the day. It was so hot here I saw a Common Lizard minus tail basking on the track. Bentley Wood is hotting up as all those seen seem to have recently emerged, so numbers could be well up on recent years.  

Moving to the bait.

The 2 males enjoying their meal.

Common Lizard which has a tail to tell!