Saturday 15th July 2011

In GCC’s footsteps in his favourite Alpine collecting localities

I have just returned from a 14-day journey to the Alps of Switzerland and France. This quest, like the one I am soon to start in Guatemala and Panama, was inspired by my great grandfather, George Charles Champion, who used to visit the tiny Swiss village of Arolla, at the head of the Val d’Hérens, to hunt for insects. It was one of his very favourite locations, and with this in mind, I decided it would be a good place to begin my travels in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, I do not currently have access to the letters he wrote home from there, so I do not know the exact dates of his visits, or where precisely he stayed, but he must have been there between 1890 and 1920. At the time he started visiting, there were only a few possible places to stay, namely the Grand Hotel Kurhaus (probably above his price range), the Hotel Mont Collon, and the Hotel de la Poste (which still exists but appears to be no longer in use). We visited both of the former, and were kindly allowed to look through the fascinating guest books covering the period, but no sign of G C Champion. Perhaps he stayed at the Hotel de la Poste, or perhaps he hired rooms in a chalet. The answer will probably come when I next have a chance to visit the Royal Entomological Society, in St Albans, where his letters and diaries are housed. It is these questions that make following his footsteps so interesting!

Despite this temporary setback of not being able to locate precisely where my great grandfather lodged during his frequent and sometimes long stays in his beloved Arolla (I remember seeing one rather desperate letter to him from his wife Adelaide, gently reminding him that he had family responsibilities to attend to at home!), I was well able to see something of the marvellous scenery and prolific butterfly- and other insect-life that this marvellous region enjoys. These have been added to a temporary gallery: “New – following GCC in the Alps” .

Looking up at the village of Arolla, with flower-filled meadows in the foreground

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Saturday 2nd July 2011

 

Today is a momentous day: the site goes live!!! The story began in December last year, when I met Marijke de Jong (www.academicartofriding.com), who attended a talk about my India journey in the footsteps of my grandfather, F W Champion. She then introduced me to her partner, Marc Marsman (www.thinkmarsman.nl), and since then he and I have busy building this site. My most sincere thanks go to both of them, to Marijke for having the initial idea, and for lots of useful advice since, and to Marc for being the most incredible site designer, patient tutor of a non-natural computer person such as I – even in the dead of night, film cameraman, generous host, and a good friend.

So, welcome to the site! As you will see, it is first and foremost a homage to my naturalist forebears, but also a living opportunity for me to share my own photographs, films, diary entries and much much more. I hope you will enjoy it, and I look forward to you following me on my forthcoming journey to Central America in the footsteps of my great grandfather George Charles Champion.

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Sunday 26th June 2011

Sometimes searching for butterflies, particularly spectacular species such as the two Purple Emperors, can be frustrating, but today was an exception! After dull and gloomy weather on Saturday and on Sunday morning, suddenly the sun came out…and the butterflies with it. Already managing to identify both Purple and Lesser Purple Emperors from the moving car, I stopped at my favourite place in a large forest in Northern France, and was treated to the spectacle of amazing numbers of the two Emperors, White Admiral, Silver-washed and Lesser Marbled Fritillaries, Commas and unbelievable numbers of the normally solitary Large Tortoiseshell. I also saw mating Ilex Hairstreaks, my first record for this area, but they did not pose to be filmed.

Many people believe that butterflies sip nectar, but this is not true of all species. The Emperors, Tortoiseshells, Commas, etc, moisten the gravel with their own saliva, and then suck up the minerals from the ground. They also feed on animal dung and dead animals, which is shocking to some people! I have never seen a Purple Emperor of either species feeding on a flower.

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