The hottest day of the year – 19th July

Today was what it says in the title. “Heatwave Britain” headlines had announced this a day earlier and Carol Kirkwood on BBC Breakfast this morning coined a new catchphrase to describe what was in store: “Super Scorchio”. I had arisen late at around 7:30am. Then after thinking very briefly about painting the back garden fence I decided to go out and see some butterflies instead.

Well this is the sort of weather we have all been starved of for the last two months: it would barely be fitting to spend the day gardening and doing household chores. My choice of location was Bernwood Forest just across the county border in Bucks. It would be a bit too hot to go much further after all. I had returned twice to explore Pamber Forest, north Hants in the interval since my 3rd July visit (see here), but decided sooner the devil I know. Maybe I could even do justice to photographing White Admiral today.

On my second re-visit to Pamber Forest I met a local patch watcher who showed me where the Purple Emperor territories are. He also said Silver-washed Fritillary numbers have been disappointing this year, as my own experience had suggested. Likewise White Admiral: I didn’t even get a decent sighting never mind a photo opportunity on each occasion. So I reluctantly concluded that Bernwood Forest is the better site, hence my decision to brave the posses of paparazzi interested only in Purple Emperor today.

The first thing I saw upon arriving in the Oakley Wood car park just after 11am was such a group, gathered around what had to be an Emperor on the ground. A dozen or more people with cameras surrounding one insect is not my idea of butterfly watching. So I gave things the most cursory of glances and continued on my way. After all I had been in on the year’s first PE sighting in this wood two weeks ago (see here). What could have kept these people?

I set off along the main track checking the Oaks for Purple Hairstreak, then completed a circuit of Oakley Wood during which just one White Admiral was seen that didn’t settle. Part of the motivation for butterflying here on the year’s hottest day was to see if the Pamber patch watcher’s assertion about SWF was true generally this season. I have to conclude that numbers of all woodland butterflies, even Ringlet seem to be down on a good season. But that is not to say populations will not recover from a poor weather summer since fewer butterflies can still lay many eggs.

About 100 metres from the car park I found an Oak that contained a lot of Purple Hairstreak. Indeed this was probably the same tree where I blogged the species in 2016 (see here), since colonies generally stick to just one Oak. Another observer joined me then found an individual perched reasonably low down. He said it was the first time he had seen one that close. Before long things became quite crowded as they are prone to do here, with more and more people walking back up the track enquiring what we were looking at. And so I went on my way again.

Despite the bright and dark patches I am actually quite pleased with the images that appear half way up this post. My second circuit of Oakley Wood produced no more pictures worth publishing. Good numbers of Brown Hawker dragonflies were on the wing but I didn’t wait to see if one would settle. By 1pm the butterfly tourists had all gone and things seemed more peaceful here. But the hottest day of the year was being spoiled by an allergy attack so I went back home to put my head down and see the affliction off. Phew, what a super scorchio!

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