Sunday, August 15, 2010

A couple of weekends in England

Dear Purple Subjects:

I found your site when surfing UK Butterflies' site. Wonderful stuff and great value. You guys would fit right in here in South Africa where we have some memorable characters chasing butterflies. Some of the stories had me rolling on the floor laughing...

I used to live in the UK years ago and work for a British company, so I get over there occasionally. Usually in winter... but this June/July I cracked an invite for a conference. I took the trusty Nikon with me and contacted a Saffa expat mate, JP Brouard, who lives in Woodcote - the objective being to photograph some of the species I used to collect 30+ years ago. And of course His Majesty was top on the list, although I knew 27 June was a bit early.

So off we went to Bernwood Forest and Whitecross Green Woods. We had a great time - White Admirals all over the place - and Black Hairstreak too, which was a UK Primary Experience for me, having never found it during my 23 years of living there. This was a real thrill. But no Apatura iris... despite a BBCS member telling us he'd seen one minutes earlier not far from the Black Hairstreaks!

I have to compliment the UK people on how they look after these woods. Well maintained, lots of info boards, no exotic weeds - we in SA can learn a lot.

Anyway, I work for a firm whose HQ is in Wollaston which isn't far from Kettering... and during the week after, one of my colleagues told me to go to Fermyn the next weekend, as well as Michael Field, one of the guys I'd met at Bernwood. But as JP lives so far south, and for sentimental reasons, I decided to go to Broxbourne where I used to look for it (and occasionally succeed...) years ago. The UK Butterflies site said it was active. Then JP called to say his car was kaput and couldn't come, but I persisted with Broxbourne as the weather forecast for Northants looked dodgy. More fool me...

I got to Broxbourne and found it totally changed from when I used to go there. It used to have conifers all over the place and the Emperor spots were buried in the forest where Sallow grew near a few streams. Now, like Bernwood, it is clean and tidy with far more butterflies than I remember there being in the past. Fantastic. And it was hot and sunny!

I hooked up with a bunch of butterflyers who were looking for Purples. Eventually we found one sucking on a turd but he took fright and zoomed off before I could get a decent photo.

There then followed a lot of walking up and down fruitlessly looking at turds. I began to wish I'd brought a Charaxes trap from home. I started thinking - if this was Africa where would I be looking... MUD! And right next to me was a little dried up stream whose bed was full of siff mud, with a male Purple Emperor sitting right on it!

We all looked at one another... and as I've lain down in much nastier stuff than this in Africa I elected to get down 'n' dirty with this Emperor. The first thing I did was to get on a level with him:

Then started the attempts to get a 'Purple' shot. He would NOT open his wings. We tried everything - and he kept taking off, circling us, and landing again. A crowd of people gathered, and got very interested in these idiots grovelling in the mud. Luckily I had my khaki bush gear on, so it didn't show too much! Eventually we found he'd open up for a few seconds after a flight...

But... no purple.

By this stage I realised he'd become habituated, as often happens with butterflies I photograph in Africa. I nudged him and he flipped his wings open for a few seconds - then went back to sucking that mud. It must have tasted nice! I got one of my boon companions to nudge him, he obliged, and I got a bit of purple this time:

But nothing like I'd seen on the UK Butterflies site. Eventually I divined that I was wasting my time, and he was so docile he was ready for a finger shot...

This had all the onlookers gasping - and he proceeded to act like Paris bloody Hilton, showing off, flipping his wings (but I never got a shot of the Purple), landing on people, sitting on faces... in the end I left him to it!

When I got home, Michael Field e-mailed me a bunch of stunning Purple shots he'd taken in Fermyn Wood that same day - it had been fitfully sunny and the Emperors were opening their wings to sun themselves. I gnashed my teeth as I started planning how to persuade the Firm to hold another conference in July...

I've sent Michael and JP links to the Purple Empire... I'm sure they will join up!



1 comment:

Liz Goodyear said...

Hello Steve
Nice to have your report and pleased you did have success at Broxbourne.

Having been following the fortunes of Broxbourne over the years and documenting at many of the historic reports. I would be interested to know when you were watching and what success you had and where within the woods you were seeing them.

Until the end of the 90s there had only been a few reports and then things started to get reported - the advent of the internet helping.