Category Archives: Diary 2013

Friday 13th December 2013

Another absentee from the 2013 list

Following my recent blog posts detailing two species of butterfly that I should have managed to find in my normal haunts in the Netherlands, Belgium, part of western Germany and northern France (the Large Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis polychloros, and the Mallow Skipper, Carcharodus alceae), the next absentee, chronologically speaking, was the Woodland Ringlet, Erebia medusa.

The Woodland Ringlet posing cooperatively – normally they are hard to photograph without grass blocking the view

Unlike most of its congeners in the genus Erebia, this is a spring rather than a high summer butterfly, and I normally see it either in the Hautes Fagnes, a high plateau in eastern Belgium, where it is usually to be found in my favourite Bistort-filled valley flying together with the Violet Copper, Lycaena helle, and the Bog Fritillary, Proclossiana eunomia, or in the nearby Eifel region just across the border in Germany, where I usually find it on chalk/limestone grassland flying with the Duke of Burgundy, Hamearis lucina. In neither locality is it numerous, and I would never expect to see more than two or three individuals at a time.

Woodland Ringlet habitat in the Hautes Fagnes

Woodland Ringlet habitat in the Eifel, where the temperature was just 3 degrees on 24th June

Although I visited both areas at the correct time of the year, on 23rd and 24th June, the extraordinarily cold weather meant that butterflies were mostly inactive, and whilst I did find a very few Violet Coppers and several Bog Fritillaries in sheltered clearings during the brief gleams of sunshine, I did not manage to find any Woodland Ringlets. I can only hope that next year a few warm, sunny days will coincide with weekends when I am able to make the long journey to these beautiful areas.

A Woodland Ringlet, this time with the usual grass in front of it

Had I seen Large Tortoiseshell, Mallow Skipper and Woodland Ringlet, my 2013 total would have been: 80 species.


Monday 28th October 2013

The never-ending butterfly season?!

Despite the extremely stormy weather we have been experiencing over the past 24 hours or so, I still managed to find amazing numbers of butterflies this weekend, and at times it felt as if summer was still with us. I headed down to my usual haunts in northern France, and on Saturday afternoon ventured out, first into the garden, where at least ten Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, and two Commas, Polygonia c-album, were gorging themselves on rotting plums on the ground. In order to warm themselves, they perched on the rushes surrounding a small pond, where they were sheltered from the blustery wind and could absorb the late-autumn sunshine at their leisure.

A Red Admiral soaking up the late autumn sunshine

One of the two Commas that were also indulging in the warmth

Although Red Admirals, like their cousins the other Vanessids (Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, etc), attempt to hibernate as adult butterflies, at least in the UK, whose climate is not that different to that of northern France, few survive the winter. It is interesting to compare the strategies of these closely related species. The Large Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis polychloros, disappears into hibernation in August, and even the warmest of autumn days will be unlikely to tempt them out. Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, and Peacocks, Inachis io, seem to hide away by mid-October, although I did see two Peacocks, one of which was disturbed from the garage, the majority of Commas have settled down for the winter, Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui, attempt to migrate south for the winter or simply die, and yet these Red Admirals were just feasting on the rotting plums, without making any apparent attempt to either head southwards or to find a secure wintering spot. Could this be the cause of so few surviving through to the following spring?

A Red Admiral feasting on rotting plums when it should be looking for a hibernation spot

The impressive showing of Red Admirals captured my attention for a while, but a trip to the Lac du Val Joly, a man-made lake not far away, was to prove far more impressive, with a walk through the grassy areas surrounding the lake revealing innumerable Clouded Yellows, Colias croceus, sheltering in the low vegetation or nectaring on the last of the flowering Knapweed, Centaurea nigra. There must have been more than 100 in just the three areas I prospected, including at least one of the pale female form var. helice. A lone Small White, Pieris rapae, was also to be seen here.

One of the more than 100 Clouded Yellows that were to be seen near the lake

Another Clouded Yellow, one of so many on this late October day

A grassy area beloved of Clouded Yellows, overlooking the Lac du Val Joly

All in all, an unexpected autumn bonus – but still my annual list remains on 77 species, with little or no prospect of any further additions….but you never know!


Monday 21st October 2013

A fabulous week for “Tripwire for a Tiger”

This past week has seen an incredible surge of interest in my recent anthology of the writings of my pioneering wildlife photographer and early conservationist grandfather F W Champion OBE FZS IFS.

On Monday, my father Nigel Champion and I were interviewed in the exhibition of my grandfather’s astonishing wildlife photographs, which is currently attracting a lot of interest in the Dumfries Museum, by Willie Johnston, BBC news reporter for southern Scotland. Perhaps the most touching part of this session was when my 85-year-old father was filmed standing next to a photograph of himself as a small boy, firing off a tripwire set for a tiger 81 years earlier.

My father being interviewed standing next to a photograph of himself taken 81 years previously, as he fired a tripwire set for a tiger

On Tuesday evening, I gave a talk on my grandfather’s life and work to the Kirkcudbright Literary Society, held in the historic Broughton House. Around 50 people attended, including one man who arrived carrying copies of both of my grandfather’s two books, With a Camera in Tiger-land (1927) and The Jungle in Sunlight and Shadow (1934), which he asked my father, mother and me to sign for him. The level of interest was extremely high, and I sold around 30 copies of my book, Tripwire for a Tiger, as well as being invited back to tell the story of my incredible journey in my grandfather’s footsteps in India in 2006, and then again to recount the tale of my quest to find the locations where my great grandfather G C Champion did his insect collecting in Guatemala and Panama between 1879 and 1883.

My talk to the Kirkcudbright Literary Society

On Wednesday, Willie Johnston’s video and radio clips were run on the BBC, both on Reporting Scotland, the main Scottish news programme on BBC 1, and throughout the day on BBC Radio Scotland. A clip can be seen below, temporarily only showing a version I managed to capture by filming the television screen using my Samsung Galaxy smartphone – I am still hoping to receive an official copy of the programme from the BBC.

On Thursday, we returned to Dumfries to give another talk, this time to another substantial audience in the Dumfries Museum. Around 40 participants attended, with all seats taken and another 30 or so copies of Tripwire for a Tiger being sold. Special thanks go to Fiona Wilson and her team for organising this wonderful exhibition and event – she had even baked some splendid orange and black striped cakes to complete the tiger theme! The exhibition will continue until 9th November, and will move to the Annan Museum early next year.

All in all, a highly successful week, and there can be no doubt that interest in the book and in the astonishing work of my grandfather is growing by the day. To obtain your copy of the book, please e-mail me with your order.

FWC’s young son Nigel firing a tripwire set for a tiger in 1932