Amid reports of 100+ Emperors being seen at Fermyn by Mr Oates on 15th July, I began the day feeling fairly confident I would see at least 30. After meeting up with Simon Primrose, we arrived at Fermyn at 9am to be greeted by about 50 cars in the carpark. People had obviously travelled far and wide! Our first grounded Emperor was down Cherry Lap at 09:10am. I’d never seen one there before so my expectations began to soar. By the time we entered Lady Wood at 09:20am, it was already roasting and we were both sweating buckets. Matthew soon approached on his bike with a massive container of diluted shrimp paste that he was using to bait various areas of the track around the wood. For the rest of the day, I periodically got a nice waft of fishy paste from various locations (no one else could smell it!) and surprise surprise, we often found a grounded Emperor where the smell was at its worst! During the morning, we averaged at around 13-15 Emperors per hour, of which 50% were grounded. Activity peaked between 09:45-12:00pm during which time we'd had 38 sightings. In shock at how many we’d seen, we both decided to up our target to 70.
At 11:59am, we came across an enormous pile of fresh horse dung upon which 4 Emperors, 1 Comma and 7 Green-veined Whites were having a late royal breakfast. Unfortunately, 1 Emperor flew off as we arrived but the other 3 refused to budge from their smelly throne for a good hour and a half. A few other photographers arrived soon after and we all managed to get some excellent photos. As I’m sure many of His Majesty’s loyal followers will agree, there’s nothing we love more than to roll around in the mud, dust, dung, poo, shrimp paste, flies, spit and wee to get those highly coveted photographs. It’s one of the Emperor Season moments I look forward to the most! There was certainly plenty of that going on yesterday, and a couple of people even admitted to me that they’d peed
on the path to attract H.I.M.! The funny thing is – it worked! I’d always wanted to photograph an Emperor on my finger so, egged on by the crowd, I practiced my spitting and plunged my finger into the dung. The Emp was straight on there and was immediately photographed to death like an A-list celebrity.
Moving on at 01:30pm, we found a very active congregation area consisting of oak trees on both sides of the track. There must’ve been at least 5 males here, constantly disturbing each other and giving chase at top speed around the treetops. One poor dragonfly accidentally entered royal airspace and was immediately set upon by His Majesty. A couple of nearby Purple Hairstreaks were forced to scatter to avoid His wrath! This hyperactivity was still on-going when we left at 2pm.
Between 02:00-03:30pm, we had 19 sightings, only 7 of which were grounded. 1 landed on my jeans and seemed to find Simon and I very fascinating by the way it zoomed around us for 10 minutes. Another landed on Simon’s jeans and his shirt, another on fox scat (with the lovely stench of horse wee nearby), and we even had a courting pair performing the classic “spiral down” flight. The poor male was rejected though and flew off rather miserably whilst the pristine female feasted happily on the ground.
Nothing much happened between 03:30-04:30pm except the constant “I’m dying!” noises we both kept making. I ended up sitting in the shade for an hour whilst Simon recovered more water from the car. After 45 minutes of relaxation, I was treated to an Emperor show directly in front of my shady patch. 2 Emperors descended from the oaks and started flapping around on the ground – looking for Matthew’s shrimp paste, I’m sure! I could certainly smell it!
I met up with Matthew and Simon again just after 5pm to embark on one last tour around the wood. I didn’t think there would be much activity at this time but how wrong I was! Between 5-8pm, we’d seen 27 individuals, 14 of which were grounded. Still some combat flight and patrolling going on at the tops of the congregation areas and a re-visit to the big dung pile produced another feasting Emperor at 07:06pm. Some culinary experimentation soon ensued when Matthew decided the dung needed marinating with shrimp paste. The flies seemed to love it so it would no doubt provide an excellent feast the next morning. Some nearby fresh deer poo also got the same treatment.
Walking on a bit further, Matthew found 4 males at 07:35pm on some fox scat but by the time I got there, 1 had flown off. Thankfully, the light was still good so I managed to bag some shots. What a sight it was! After we had 1 more flyby, we celebrated our century (100 sightings) with a performance of my famous happy dance (the heat may have got to me). Eventually, all 3 Emperors flew off and Matthew kindly offered to drive us back to the carpark. Slight problem – an Emperor had re-appeared on the fox poo right in the middle of the track! Flashing the headlights didn’t work. Driving right up to it also didn’t make it fly off either. So we did the only thing we could do – we drove over it. With bated breath, I avidly peered out the back windscreen to see if we’d flattened it. Thankfully not! His Majesty still had his nose stuck in the poo, completely oblivious! I think this may have been the highlight of the day for me. What a butterfly! We kept a look out for more Emperors on the drive back and had another on Matthews shrimp paste at 08:01pm and another in the carpark at 08:08pm. They probably didn’t go to bed until about 11pm, if at all!
It was more or less a 12 hour day at Fermyn Woods for us and we amassed a total of 102 Emperors, 45 of which were grounded. I’m still reeling from the experience and I doubt I will ever have another day like it. A huge thank you to Matthew for helping us end the day on a high (and for saving us the long walk back to the car!). I’m certain this day will stick with me for the rest of my life.