Fermyn Woods Country Park

My family and I have made it a tradition to explore Fermyn Woods Country Park, near Corby, in Northamptonshire, a gem that offers an array of walks and habitats.

The country park, Northamptonshire's largest, provides visitors with the opportunity to take a tranquil stroll through dense woodland, meander across vibrant meadows, or simply relax by serene ponds to observe the bustling wildlife.

There are three waymarked routes in the park ...

  • The Skylark Nature Trail - This route is fully accessible, designed with wheelchair users in mind, ensuring everyone can enjoy the beauty of Fermyn Woods
  • The Woodland Walk - Stretching over 1 mile, this footpath is perfect for a quick immersion into nature.
  • The Fermyn Forest Walk - Spanning 2 miles, this path takes you through diverse surfaces and landscapes, offering a more challenging trek.

Despite these well-laid paths, we often prefer to chart our own course, sometimes bypassing the car park near the café and children's play area, in search of more secluded spots.

His Majesty the Purple Emperor

Purple Emperor in muddy puddleMy first ever Purple Emperor

Fermyn Woods is a sanctuary for the elusive Purple Emperor butterfly, a species seldom found across the country. These are the second largest species of butterfly in England.

After numerous visits filled with anticipation, it wasn't until my birthday in July—a peak time for these butterflies—that we finally spotted one.

On that memorable day, after hours of searching, we stumbled upon a male Purple Emperor by a puddle, a sight that attracted a small crowd of enthusiasts.

Despite not having the perfect photography equipment, I managed to capture this rare moment, a "record shot" that I treasure.

Looking for these butterflies is a bit of a quirky adventure.

They love hanging out in oak tree tops and have a pretty unusual taste in snacks.

So, forget about searching around those nice-smelling flowers if you're hoping to spot one. Believe it or not, your best bet is to check out any piles of dog poop you come across!

Some enthusiasts have even been known to bait them with rotting food or smelly cheese.

My first sighting of a Purple Emperor

I'll always remember my first sighting. On that July day we started our adventure to Fermyn Woods Country Park bright and early, filled with the usual excitement and hope.

After what felt like miles of walking through the forest paths, we were about to head back, feeling a bit let down.

But then, as we turned a corner, we saw a group of people huddled on the ground, buzzing with excitement and snapping photos left and right.

That's when I knew we'd stumbled upon something special.

And there it was, a Purple Emperor butterfly, chilling in a puddle, sipping on the muddy water.

I couldn't help myself; I dropped down to join the happy crowd of butterfly enthusiasts, all of us waiting eagerly for that magical moment when he'd spread his wings and flash us a glimpse of that stunning purple.

I might not have had the perfect lens for the job, but there was no way I was going to miss capturing a snapshot to prove I'd seen him. Honestly, words fall short of describing how amazing that moment was – I was totally bitten by the "bug".

A year later

By the end of the month, they had all disappeared, leaving me counting down the days until the following year.

This time, armed with more knowledge, we set off on July 1st to a special part of the forest where the majestic butterfly had been seen before.

Despite the scorching heat and the long trek, our efforts paid off big time.

I spotted the first one myself, perched on a bush - a much prettier scene for photos than a muddy puddle.

Just as I was getting my camera ready on its tripod, a Silver Washed Fritillary zoomed into the shot, shooing away the Emperor. Capturing that whole scene on camera was a thrill like no other.

Purple EmperorPurple Emperor
Silver Washed Fritillary approaching a Purple EmperorIn flies a Silver Washed Fritillary
Purple Emperor and Silver Washed Fritillary"I want to perch here!"
Purple Emperor being chased off by Silver Washed FritillaryThe Emperor departs

We found our way back to the main trail and bumped into a group we dubbed the "butterfly paparazzi," all set up and snapping pictures of another male Purple Emperor.

This time, I sprawled out on the dry ground and managed to take some really great shots — way better than last year's.

My husband eventually had to pull me away, or I might have camped out there all day!

But I'm never quite satisfied. So, you bet I'll be heading back to Fermyn Woods next year, on the hunt to spot His Majesty once more.

Male Purple Emperor butterflyA hint of the purple upper wing
Purple Emperor butterfly on the groundTaken with the camera on the ground

Our latest visit, after a strenuous five-mile trek, rewarded us with a solitary sighting of a male Purple Emperor, its wings glistening in the sunlight. 

The unpredictable nature of wildlife photography once again proved that patience and persistence can lead to moments of pure magic.

Male Purple Emperor butterflyMale Purple Emperor flashing his iridescent wings.

Other butterflies seen at Fermyn Woods Country Park

Beyond the Purple Emperor, Fermyn Woods Country Park is a haven for butterfly enthusiasts.

A hotspot is located near the visitor centre; a path winding behind the café leads to a diverse habitat teeming with summer butterflies and day-flying moths.

My explorations deeper into the forest have unveiled even more species, documented in the gallery below. 

Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly side viewSilver Washed Fritillary - underwings
Silver Washed Fritillary butterflySilver Washed Fritillary - upper wings
Female Common Blue butterflyFemale Common Blue
Marbled White butterflyMarbled White
Speckled Wood butterflySpeckled Wood
Comma butterflyThe Comma with it's distinctive wing shape. The comma marking is only visible on the back of the lower wings.
Small Skipper butterflySmall skipper
Ringlet butterflyRinglet

The Red Kite

Fermyn Woods also offers the chance to spot the Red Kite, a success story of conservation in the UK.

Since their reintroduction in Buckinghamshire in the late '80s, these majestic birds have become a common sight.

My first sighting was along the road past Fermyn Woods, or Brigstock Country Park as it was called back then.

It was so exciting when we saw one of these magnificent birds overhead. They were easy to distinguish from the more common Buzzard due to their size, rich red brown colouring and V shaped tails. 

Over the years, they've become a common sight, swooping over our backyard. Though I don't always have my camera ready to capture these moments.

Often the first indication that a kite is around is the eerie mewing call that they make. This gives me a "heads up" that one is around so that I can locate it and take a photograph (or ten).

My first few attempts resulted in a silhouette against the bright sky.

But then, I discovered the magic of playing with my camera's Exposure Compensation setting. It's like tricking your camera into getting the perfect light. Usually, bumping it up by two or three f-stops does the trick, making the bird bright enough to show off its detailed feathers and vibrant colours.

I've found out through experience that snapping a photo of a Red Kite when it's just a tiny dot in the sky isn't really worth it.

You've got to have the patience to wait until they swoop in closer, filling up the frame just right to get that perfect shot.

Red KiteRed Kite
Common BuzzardCommon Buzzard

In addition

Whilst the Purple Emperor butterfly and Red Kite are the main attractions this place is a treasure trove of wildlife. 

This is why I lug around my heaviest gear - my longest lens plus an extender for those far-off shots, and my trusty macro lens for getting up close and personal with the tiniest of insects.

Although there are only small ponds here, they are magnets for dragonflies and damselflies.

I've spent many a happy hour just sitting on the grass next to the pond, watching these graceful little creatures do their thing.

I'll drop a few pictures below, but if you're as into these beauties as I am, you should totally check out my dragonfly photography page. It's packed with photos along with handy tips on how to capture them on camera.

On one occasion I also discovered the rare Great Crested Newt here.

Emerald DamselfyEmerald Damselfly
Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflyBroad Bodied Chaser

On rare occasions, early risers and quiet walkers might even spot fallow deer, a sight we've been fortunate to witness once. 

We have also seen these deer at RSPB Fowlmere, in Cambridgeshire. 

Fallow deer at Fermyn WoodsFallow Deer. She had a fawn but it is not visible in this photograph.

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