Monday 8th August 2011

One week to go!!

When I travelled to India in 2006, one of the most visually interesting aspects of my journey was locating the precise spots where my grandfather F W Champion had taken photographs, and then taking the same scene 70 years or so later.

Sadly, during my forthcoming expedition to Guatemala and Panama, I shall not be able to do exactly the same because my great grandfather, laden down as he was with insect-collecting equipment, did not document his journeys photographically.

However, there is a slightly tenuous link with the world-renowned pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who travelled extensively in both countries in 1875 (having recently murdered his wife’s lover – it is a fascinating story!). As there were few hotels available, North American and European travellers tended to stay with hospitable coffee planters and other settlers.

Muybridge stayed with many of the very same people whom my grandfather lodged with only four years later, and he documented his time in both Guatemala and Panama with a wonderful series of photographs, which allow me to see exactly how these places looked at almost the same time that my great grandfather was there.

Finca San Isidro

Finca San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

As well as documenting more general scenes, Muybridge was specifically engaged to provide a photographic record of the coffee-manufacturing process, and two of the coffee plantations in which he stayed, the Finca Las Nubes and the Finca San Isidro, both belonging to American coffee planter William Nelson, were visited five years later by my great grandfather G C Champion, who was also a guest of William Nelson. And perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that it was at the Finca Las Nubes that my great grandfather was staying when he found the butterfly Drucina championi.

Muybridge’s photographs will therefore allow me to gain a remarkable insight into the Guatemala my great grandfather travelled so extensively in, and I shall be trying to find some of the views he took in 1875, and taking comparative shots of these as well.

Finca Las Nubes & Cerro Zunil, Muybridge, 1875


Saturday 23rd July 2011

New dragonfly for me (well, almost new!)

Having returned from my journeys in footsteps of my great grandfather, entomologist G C Champion, after a few days of frantic packing up in the Netherlands, I have now made it back to Scotland, where the real countdown to my departure for Guatemala begins! Since I arrived, I have been busy with administrative tasks, and the weather has not been conducive to either butterfly- or dragonfly-watching, but today has been a glorious day, and I have notched up a few reasonable sightings.

The most exciting event of the day has been a morning visit to a known breeding site for the locally rare Keeled Skimmer dragonfly, which I was told about last year but I only managed to obtain a very fleeting glimpse of one individual before its flight season was over. Today, however, I was much luckier. I managed to locate two individuals, including one dipping in a boggy ditch along the side of a forest track and another which perched cooperatively for a few minutes, allowing me to finally obtain a few not very brilliant record shots of this species, which I had not photographed before. An almost-new dragonfly species for me – last year’s glimpse can hardly be counted!

Keeled Skimmer

Keeled Skimmer

Other species in the same location were Common Hawker, which I managed to photograph quite well (this species does not normally perch for long!), Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Common Darter (but surprisingly no Black Darters), and butterflies seen included Purple Hairstreak, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. An afternoon visit to the shore added Common Blue, Painted Lady and Green-veined and Large Whites, plus Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. Not bad for SW Scotland after a prolonged dull and cloudy period!

Common Hawker, Aeschna juncea


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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