Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Purple Emperors, Silver Washed Fritillaries, Dark Green Fritillaries, and White Letter Hairstreaks - 16th July 2014

Since the last post Northamptonshire has played host once again to one of the butterfly higlights of the year, this being the Purple Emperor display at Fermyn Woods. This year didn't disappoint with plenty of sightings throughout the wood and also the first White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks of the year for me. What was also nice on the day we visited (2nd of July) is we met with a few people from a Facebook group that concerns butterfly sightings in the area. These groups are invaluable for meeting new people and learning about new sites and when butterflies emerge at them. We all met up at 09.30 and a few of the early people (myself, Jon and Kirsty included) were awarded with a Purple Emperor in the car park before we even set off into the wood.

Purple Emperor, Fermyn Woods, Northants
We then ventured into the woods admiring the many White Letter Hairstreaks whirling around at the tops of the Ash and Elm trees and it wasn't long before we chanced upon another Purple Emperor loafing about in the path. It was very well behaved and all of the group managed to get good views and shots of it. I spent so long last year preoccupying myself with getting overwing shots I neglected the rather stunning underwing and so I concentrated on this in my photography this time. It performed very well on the ground and in nearby bushes allowing photography from nearly every angle.

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods, Northants

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods, Northants

Purple Emperor (close up of wing), Fermyn Woods, Northants
 Purple Emperors are of course partial to settling on people too and this year the above butterfly after a brief fly around decided to have a look at my shoe, and was so preoccupied in doing so it allowed me to pick it up. Here are a few shots of it taken by Antony Wren.

Purple Emperor on my shoe, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren
 After a brief walk around Lady Wood seeing more Purple Emperors and White Letter Hairstreaks (and also bumping into Andy Wyldes for a nice chat) a few of us left Fermyn Woods and headed to nearby Bedford Purlieus in the hope that White Letter Hairstreaks may have come down to nectar. Unfortunately despite a few hours searching we drew a blank but astonishing number of Silver Washed Fritillaries slightly made up for it even if they were a challenge to photograph!

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus
 After this visit I didn't have any time off work until the following Monday and as I had to visit the east of the county to get some tyres off my Uncle I couldn't resist driving the extra half an hour or so to Robert's Field in south Lincolnshire to try and see Dark Green Fritillaries. I wasn't to be disappointed as I saw one almost as soon as I entered the gate into the reserve! The weather was so hot though they were incredibly charged and getting pictures involved a lot of chasing around! Eventually after about an hour of running and swearing a lot I did get one nectaring on a flower head and it posed for pics before taking off and shooting off across the field.

Dark Green Fritillary, Robert's Field, Lincs
Dark Green Fritillary, Robert's Field, Lincs
As soon as I got the pics though I decided to leave, I could have spent all day chasing them in order to get better ones but there was an ulterior motive for coming up here and this was to return to Bedford Purlieus. Hairstreaks are my favourite species of butterflies and ever since learning last year  that White Letters regularly come down at this site I've been chomping at the bit to see it for myself as I've only ever seen them flitting around in the tree tops. I drove straight from Robert's Field and arrived at Bedford Purlieus at 09.45am and wandered down the ride (luckily coming here the previous week meant I at least knew where to be even if we hadn't seen any at the time) meeting local butterfly watcher Keith who was also there for the same reason as me. We walked up and down but to no avail and to add to the sinking feeling the clouds were now rolling in and a previously bright blue sky was becoming cloudy with sunny spells. I kept walking up and down though and at about 10.15 a small brown butterfly whizzed passed which looked very much like a White Letter but I lost it in amongst the swarm of Gatekeepers buzzing the tops of the bushes. I continued to walk up and down and then as I passed the block of ferns I noticed a small brown triangle in the middle! I walked closer and jumped the ditch to be rewarded with a few of a pristine White Letter Hairstreak slowly rotating on the top of a fern. To add to the luck it was a stunning looking specimen, one which Keith quite rightly referred to as "flawless", and it posed fantastically for photo's as it slowly pirouetted on it's perch.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
After we had our pics I decided to push my luck a bit as no one else was around and popped my finger next to to see what it would do. I couldn't believe my luck as it slowly crawled onto my hand! The below pic also goes someway in showing just how small they are. After a few pics I popped it back onto it's fern and it then flew onto a nearby flower before heading up and back into the trees and lost from view.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
I left here at this point to get some jobs done that I needed to do (dreaded MOT so tyres were needed) and as the clouds built up I tool one last snap of the day as a fantastic looking fresh Small Tortoiseshell nectared on a flower during a brief visit to Fermyn Woods

Small Tortoiseshell, Fermyn Woods
Such is the allure of these White Letters I couldn't resist coming back to Bedford Purlieus yet again at the weekend this time in the company of Jon Philpot. We spent the whole day out exploring a few sites but as the weather wasn't playing ball we didn't see much elsewhere but as ever Bedford Purlieus was alive with butterflies with the Silver Washed Fritillaries putting on quite a show despite them starting to look a bit tatty now.

Silver Washed Fritillaries, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus
Jon also found a stunning newly emerged Peacock too which just had to have it's picture taken! It's a shame that the commoner species get so often overlooked as they can look incredible when at their best.

Peacock, Bedford Purlieus
We had met a couple at the site who were also looking for White Letter Hairstreak and after hours of searching I was noticed they were taking pics of something. I looked over and they waved us over. We dashed over and was rewarded with a White Letter feeding on Marjoram so we got to work taking pics and I also couldn't resist a short video.


White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
The next focus of my attention will now be drawn in the direction of Chalkhill Blues and Silver Spotted Skippers and so hopefully the next post will be full of them. Well fingers crossed it will anyway!!

2 comments:

  1. Stunning images David and a great account of your travels.

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  2. Superb account of your exploits with the Butterflies David.It was my first visit to Fermyn this year and I was totally blown away by the Purple Emperors,timed it just right.Went to Bedford Purlius but was un successful with the white letter,roll on next year!

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