Fermyn’s Emperor’s

After reading about everyones success at Fermyn Woods this week, i decided to take the plunge and visit for the first time today. Arriving just after 9am, i found myself shivering as i got out of the car. It was cool, overcast and i was starting to get a bad feeling. Walking through Fermyn, there were no Emperor’s in sight and after talking with a few people along the way, it appeared as though we weren’t the only ones having trouble! We power-walked over to Lady’s Wood and thankfully, by this time, the sun had started to come out and we spotted our first Emperor flying around the tops of the trees before briefly landing on the path and taking off again. Encouraged, we moved further on and met up with Neil Hulme on his bike. This morning, i’d mixed up a nice soup of spiced anchovy paste that smelled suspiciously like fishy cat food and diarrohea. Neil had also brought a soup lure with him, no doubt some equally foul smelling concoction, which he had been putting down all morning. After walking all around Lady’s Wood and not finding any Emperor’s, we walked back up through Souther Wood and low and behold, about 10 people were crowded around something on the ground. His Imperial Majesty had finally decided to grace us with his presence!

His Imperial Majesty at Fermyn Woods.
(image slightly out of focus due to camera problems and therefore not up to my usual standard)

I immediately threw myself onto the ground to get some photos (and i believe there were some sneaky, embarassing photos taken of me in the process!). H.I.M hung around for at least 45 minutes, feeding from the salts/minerals on the ground, and also from various t-shirts and jeans. However, by this point, i was starting to have a mild panic attack. None of my photos were in focus! What on earth was going on? I spent the next 30 minutes taking photos of random things to try and figure out what was wrong. Photos taken with both my 100mm L and 300mm L lenses were slightly out of focus. I later came to the conclusion that my 500D was playing up. WHY DID IT HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL I WAS PHOTOGRAPHING THE PURPLE EMPEROR???? After having a mini tantrum and a bigger one inside my head (which involved so much foul cursing that i couldn’t possibly repeat it on here), i resigned myself to the fact that i wasn’t going to get any decent photos today. Absolutely gutted, it became clear to me that i was going to have to leave early to stop myself becoming too depressed at seeing all of the Emperor’s on the ground and not being able to take any photos of them. Despite making this decision, for the next hour or so, there was plenty of frolicking around with some fellow photographers, taking photos of Emperor’s landing on each other and my camera bag etc. I also made sure that everyone had a nice whiff of my Emperor soup. Thankfully, we are all still alive to tell the tale, including the dog “Bramble” that physically ingested it by licking it off the path. Walking back towards the car, we saw another 2 Emperor’s, a few Purple Hairstreak, a couple of White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary and then another Emperor that didn’t seem to have a clue what it was doing by the car park. It flew in circles for a bit, then crossed the road, flew into a corn field, circled some more, flew into an oak tree, descended again, inspected a car, flew back into the oak, came back to have another look at the car, then disappeared. Maybe the smell of my Emperor soup confused it?

Despite having the worst day EVER photography-wise, i saw about 8 Purple Emperor, 6 of which were grounded. It was a great experience and i always love visiting new sites. Its at the top of my list for a re-visit in 2013, hopefully with a working camera next time! I also discovered later that i’d lost my lens cap. All in a days work, eh?

Apologies & Updates

Im not very good at keep this blog up to date, am i? Im going to try my hardest to keep this going as its a shame not to be able to document my adventures :) This year so far has been filled with visiting different parts of the country and new sites. For photography, sometimes its best to stick to the sites you know so that you dont have to wander aimlessly around, looking for the butterflies you want, especially if the weather isnt ideal. However, some sites i visit regularly fail to provide me with good opportunities/compositions for photos. For example: Prestbury Hill is an excellent site for Duke of Burgundy but every time i visit, its blowing a gale! This year, i tried a new site at Rodborough Common that i hadn’t been to before and its ideal: reasonably sheltered, good numbers of Dukes and lots of nice perches and flowers. I remember wandering around the area all afternoon and finding plenty of butterflies but no DOB! Giving up for a while, i decided to sit down and have something to eat. 10 minutes later, whilst chasing a Red Admiral, i stopped short. A beautiful, freshly emerged Duke of Burgundy was sitting on the perfect flower head right next to my foot! It soon became the most photographed Duke to ever live :)

Marsh Fritillary at Hod Hill, Dorset.

The National Trust’s Hod Hill reserve is just excellent for the Marsh Fritillary, particularly aberrations. After the bad Winter, things weren’t looking good for them at my usual site, Strawberry Banks, so i decided a change was in order. I found many docile specimens that were easily placed on flower heads and posed beautifully for photos. Parts of the reserve were also quite sheltered which helped immensely. My only regret is that i didnt spend the whole day there! I visited Powerstock Common in the afternoon in the hopes of seeing early Wood White and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary but unfortunately, no luck. I did, however, get the opportunity to photograph some roosting Marsh Fritillary in pristine condition. After staying overnight in a comfortable Travelodge near Yeovil, i visited the National Trust’s Bin Combe reserve (Exmoor National Park) in the hopes of seeing an early (and my first ever) Heath Fritillary. The climb down into the combe was very steep and the terrain was pretty awful with no proper path. I think i would call this my first Extreme Butterflying trip! Once on the lower slopes, it was absolutely baking hot. There was a stream at the bottom of the combe that i really wanted to jump into but i restrained myself in fear of dying on the way down. It wasn’t long before Simon spotted the first and only Heath Fritillary of the day, gliding over the bracken. Unfortunately, we only got a very quick glimpse of it before it disappeared. The climb back up to the car park was even worse but seeing that Heath Fritillary made it all worth it. My first ever! We later drove on to the National Trust’s Sand Point for a late afternoon visit to see the Glanville Fritillary. As you might guess, the minute we arrived, the sky darkened, the drizzle came down and photography was made almost impossible. Despite the weather, we counted 18 roosting individuals which i thought was pretty good. I will concentrate more on this site in 2013 if i dont re-visit the Isle of Wight.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Bentley Wood, Wiltshire.

As a change from the Wyre Forest, i visited Bentley Wood in Wiltshire on 13th May for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Between 3 of us, we estimated 25-30 individuals in the east clearing. All were very active and just as i was losing hope, i spotted a freshly emerged one sitting on a bluebell. After lots of indecision about what perch to photograph it on, i ended up taking about 600 frames. He really did seem to enjoy all the attention! We were only in the east clearing for about 3 hours but i still managed to get some good shots, including a nice face portrait (above). I did also visit the Wyre Forest for the Pearls a couple of weeks later and despite seeing loads of them, i dont think i saw one actually land for more than 1 second! It was a very hot day and ive never seen ANY species of butterfly so active before. Photography, as you might guess, was an absolute waste of time.

More to come! Stay tuned :)

500 Eggs!

Somehow, ive managed to get so behind on updating this blog. I think what im going to have to do is skip writing about the last few months and concentrate on the now. I will try and fill in the blanks as i go.

I never imagined that half of every week from September-March would be taken up with Brown Hairstreak egg searching. I mean, i must be mental. Literally. I am currently re-searching all of the blackthorn at Ryton Wood Meadows for eggs we missed the first time around and im also checking that the originally recorded eggs are still present. Im doing a study on the amount of egg predation so its quite important stuff. The good news is we have reached 500 eggs at RWM alone! Plus a further 80+ in the country park next door. Management ideas and monitoring events are moving forward this year so im quite happy :) I froze my ass off at RWM on Monday. It must’ve been about -2 degrees and a thick hoar frost was covering EVERYTHING when i arrived! Egg searching on hoar frost covered blackthorn is not recommended! In contrast to my previous trips, i had a bad day, mostly because the sun was so bright that i couldn’t see the eggs properly. Im going again tomorrow as its going to be cloudy. YAY! I hope that fox doesn’t start screeching its head off again. I kept thinking it was going to jump out of the bushes and pounce on me!

Ive also been spending some time at Shurnock near the new assembly tree that was discovered in 2011. We are almost up to 300 eggs which is incredible. There have been some interesting developments also that im hoping will favour the Brown Hairstreak so watch this space. Lots going on at the moment. Its a race against time now to get all of the egg searching finished before the leaves and the blossom come out. The mild winter so far has encouraged the buds so far along that some are literally ready to burst any day now! I NEED AT LEAST ANOTHER 2 MONTHS TO GET EVERYTHING DONE!!

I cant believe how much i’ve learned since September. I would like to study the adults this year if i can find a few to follow (unlike in 2011!). Its going to be an exciting year.

Regular updates on my Twitter account, by the way :)

Eggs Are Everywhere!

Ive been holding back on updating this blog in the hopes that i’d get round to including pictures with each post. However, ive just not had the time. Ive been all over the place looking for eggs – pretty much 3 times a week at least. I must be mad. I will span my recent adventures over a few different blogs:

03/09/2011: Following a tip from Mike Williams and Simon Primrose who found some Brown Hairstreak eggs close to the Worcs/Warks border (but annoyingly still in Worcestershire!), i visited straight away to record the data and have a look for myself. Its a huge help when you can see the different locations/habitat the eggs have been found in. You can then start to build up a picture of the type of habitat the Brown Hairstreak seem to prefer. This location was unfortunately right on the side of a small lane. You’d imagine a road like this to be quiet. Well, it wasn’t! I could feel the stares on my back as the cars passed. Everyone was clearly wondering what on earth Dad and I were doing crouching in the Blackthorn with a tape measure and clipboard. One couple actually stopped their car and asked us if we were looking for plums! After saying no, they then proceeded to ask if we’d LIKE any plums! Im not sure how i kept a straight face :) We found 20 eggs in a very small area full of young suckers but surprisingly, none elsewhere – despite there being plenty of good Blackthorn around. It was a few weeks later that Simon Primrose visited the area again and found a couple more eggs on a hedgerow even CLOSER to the Warwickshire border a bit further down the road. These females are certainly teasing us!

04/09/2011: This was the Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation Brown Hairstreak Blitz day at Ryton Wood Meadows. Over a 1 month period, Dad and I had been searching the entire area for eggs and this was day 6 out of 7. We met up with Phil Corley who had driven all the way down from Cheshire so i could show him the eggs :) We spent a fun morning/afternoon getting poked to death by Blackthorn and attempting to use a tape measure – which is much harder than it sounds! Led by Mike Slater, the group arrived at around 02:30ish and i had the pleasure of explaining what on earth i was doing. Thankfully, no one looked at me like i was strange. Just crazy! Unfortunately though, no adult Brown Hairstreak were seen that day. Blimmin’ elusive things! I later had some fun with Phil’s Canon MP-E lens setup and attempted to take some photos of the eggs. I’d always imagined his setup would be difficult to use (especially the weight) but i had no end of trouble! I couldn’t even see through the viewfinder!!! You have to get so close to the subject that there was practically no light at all. Basically, i couldnt see what i was taking a photo of, or if it was in focus or not. It probably didnt help that my other eye kept twitching and then refused to close at all. I got so ridiculously frustrated and disappointed that im surprised my mood didnt cause the clouds to roll over! Phil found it all hilarious so at least someone had a laugh :) Funnily enough, after looking at my shots when i got home, it turned out that i had a really excellent one (below) that would later create quite a bit of interest!
The Sea Urchin

So, after much fun getting stabbed in the eye by Blackthorn numerous times, being ripped to shreds by bramble and dog rose and in Phil’s case, actually being attacked by the bramble and falling on his arse (so funny!), it was a very productive day! Thanks again to Phil for letting me use his lens setup, for putting up with me and for his help with the egg searching. The more volunteers, the better! Also, check out Phil’s portrait photo of me searching the Blackthorn!

07/09/2011: This was the final day of egg searching at RWM. We’d finally made it all the way along to Ryton Pools Country Park. Although there aren’t as many eggs at this end of the meadows, its exciting to find them in such close proximity to one of the potential “assembly” Ash trees. These trees will be monitored properly next year, along with other potential Ash trees in the area. We’d almost finished for the day so i decided to have a quick 10 minute look at the main Ash at around 5:30pm to see if there was any activity. No sooner had i started looking, a smallish butterfly flew over my head and towards the top of the Ash! It was the right size for a Hairstreak and had the same quick, jerky flight. There are no other Hairstreaks on the wing at this time of year so im 90% certain it was a Brown Hairstreak. I believe others have also reported adult sightings at the same tree. Before we left, we had a very quick look at some of the Blackthorn in the country park directly over the fence from the RWM boundary. Low and behold, we found 2 eggs on a sucker directly opposite! We went home that night in very good spirits :)

Stay tuned! More to come soon!

Very Exciting News!

Its been another eventful week! Two more trips to Ryton Wood Meadows and we’re now up to 325 eggs along the main stretch. This is really excellent news. I should get it finished over another 2 trips, i think. Then the southern edge of the wood, the country park, Pagets Pool and the surrounding area will need to be searched, not to mention a couple of good areas in the wood itself. The Ryton Wood Meadows Brown Hairstreak Blitz is happening this Sunday at 1pm so please come along if you can. All are welcome! The adults are most definitely still on the wing as i saw my first female egg laying the other day, and later resting on sallow when it came in cloudy. She also seemed to find some particularly high Blackthorn quite interesting, considering the meticulous way she was crawling up and down it as if giving it a thorough inspection. Unfortunately, i forgot the binoculars so i couldn’t tell if she was egg laying up there or not. They are the most elusive butterfly ive ever encountered!

From what i hear, Grafton Wood isn’t faring too well with adult sightings just recently either. I visited on Mon 25th August and didnt see a single one and neither did anyone else! I spoke to most people there and some of us even had a stakeout at the main orchard hedgerow where sightings are usually guarenteed every year but saw NOTHING! Recent reports have also had negative sightings. However, ive seen some nice photos that people have taken of the adults at Grafton and also at other sites in the area so this at least is promising.

On a much more pleasing note, the new assembley tree near Astwood Bank in Worcestershire is causing quite a stir! After Simon Primrose reported finding eggs along the Blackthorn hedgerow, i decided to take a look myself. I found 60 eggs, including 10 hatched ones from the 2010/2011 season. I didnt even get halfway along the hedgerow! And today, even more excellent news! Eggs have been recorded in 2 more 1km squares in the same area. The significance for me is that one of these squares is very close to the Warwickshire/Worcestershire border. Heres hoping the females have travelled a little further east into Warwickshire. Dad is going to check out some footpaths nearby tomorrow while im at work (BOOOO!) and then ill hopefully head over there on Monday to do some egg searching. This is really exciting news! Cant believe ive got to wait until Monday to get over there :(

Next egg search will be at Ryton Wood Meadows on Sunday. Im hoping to finish searching the majority of Blackthorn that day but i bet i dont! Im still placing bets on at least 400 eggs :)

A Busy 5 Months!

Since the butterfly season kicked off in April, everything has been mental! Ive been so busy with visiting different sites and (unfortunately) undertaking the usual “life” stuff like working (BOOO!). Apologies for not updating this blog on a regular basis like i said i would. I am working on a 2011 Butterfly Report to post on here with the juicy details of most of my trips this year. I may post each individually as the whole thing is going to be ridiculously long!

As of 2 weeks ago, i am back to Brown Hairstreak egg searching. All i will say at the moment is that Ryton Wood Meadows will be THE place in Warwickshire to watch for the Brown Hairstreak next year. Ive been doing extensive searching (9 hour days!) and with the help of Terry Southgate, have amassed a count of 205 eggs so far. There is still so much more Blackthorn to search. And then the surrounding areas, as well as the Warwickshire/Worcestershire border which is a completely different project. We are searching some areas early in a race against the inevitable Winter hedgerow flail. This way, we can get an idea of the actual distribution and just how far the females have travelled. Lots to do!

Purple Emperor monitoring at Oversley Wood went as well as it could’ve done, though numbers were down on last year. White Admiral has had an abysmal year pretty much all over the country. The Grizzled Skipper has done well in Warwickshire and my egg count along the drystone wall at Ryton Wood Meadows gave me a satisfying 65 eggs on Cinquefoil. The Silver-washed Fritillary have done well again this year and the unusual swarms of Orange Tips early in the season were stunning. I went to Collard Hill in Somerset for the Large Blue and, although i saw them, it was a very frustrating trip. More on that in my report! The Glanville Fritillary surpassed my expectations. The trip to the Isle of Wight was a great success despite me having food poisoning! I was really ill but managed to get out and about to photograph them. Not sure how i managed it! Would love to go back again next year.

First part of the report coming soon, including intermittent updates on the Brown Hairstreak egg searching.

Kings Coughton Search

On March 31st, Dad and I met up with Simon again in Kings Coughton near Alcester. After an adult Brown Hairstreak was sighted in the area last year, we thought it would be a good idea to search the Blackthorn for any eggs. We started off at Alcester Rugby Club where there was lots of excellent unflailed Blackthorn. Unfortunately though, no eggs. We also checked the neighbouring fields but found nothing except for 2 Blue-bordered Carpet moth eggs on Blackthorn. Typically, all of the Blackthorn along the road where the adult was seen last year has been heavily flailed. We drove on a bit further and searched another location not far from Coldcomfort Wood. Again: excellent Blackthorn but no eggs. From here, you could literally see the footpath from Cookhill where 2 eggs had been found previously this Winter so the area has definite potential. Also spotted 3 Small Tortoiseshells that were desperately trying to bask in the sun without being blown away by the gale force winds. The drama of the day occurred when we got back to our cars and after unlocking the boot and doors, Dad “lost” his car keys. We spent a good 30 minutes looking for them and i swear everyone driving past on the main road were probably laughing their heads off at us. He then realised they were still in the boot lid keyhole which was up. I cant take him anywhere, i swear!

So, sadly no luck on the egg front but it was definitely worth a search and we now know that there is some very suitable Blackthorn in the area. Perhaps we will search it again this coming Winter.

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