Tuesday, 21 July 2015

July 21st Theberton

Purple Emperor watching at Theberton
A beautiful butterfly has brought me to a woodland in Suffolk today. As the swallowtail season is at an end, July marks the emergence of the UK's second largest butterfly. The male purple emperor is a stunner. It has shiny, metallic purple-sheened wings that makes it appear exotic. The 'empress' on the other hand, lacks the purple sheen and is instead brown. Purple emperors live in the canopy, at neck aching heights. They can be quite hard to see at times and can seem like they are cursed to those who have tried but failed to see one. I had tried emperor hunting once before in Northamptonshire in 2013, but failed narrowly after missing out on one that was apparently a few feet away down a path I was walking on. I didn't see it fly away at the time and it felt like I had a bad luck spell that was casted upon me.

I am at a wood near Therberton in Suffolk with my two companions from Mousehold Heath; Will the Mousehold warden and David, who helps out at events at Mousehold and was the one who told us about this site. Will happens to be a purple emperor virgin just like I am and we both want to see one badly. When we arrived at the site, it seems that we are not the only ones. A gathering group of butterfly enthusiasts and some conservationists, that were here to study the emperors, were already looking for them in a clearing near the car park. Instantly, I got my first glimpse of a purple emperor! It glided around the tree tops at quite a pace, disappearing under the shade of each leaf and reappearing again as it re-enters sunlight. A purple emperor seems to be always on the move!

A feast fit for an emperor!
To draw them down to our level and keep them there for us to get decent look, a sheet is spread on the ground with what seems to be a picnic. But this is a picnic for purple emperors, not for humans. Foul smelling food is left on the sheet, from rotting pineapples and banana skins to shrimp paste. Why? Well, all this vile stuff is full of nitrates, salts that are missing in the butterfly's diet up in the canopy and they will often come down to feed on stuff like dog poo, etc to extract these salts. Did any emperors come down to our picnic? No, but we did see several flyng in the area around it and on a couple of occasions, they did fly low over it. Unfortunately, none of them came in to land and as they were fast moving, I failed in getting a photo of one. I have to settle with drawing one instead.
Adding shrimp past to the picnic. Yum Yum!

Purple Hairstreak
Apart from the emperors, there were a lot of other butterflies around. Peacocks, red admirals, commas, meadow browns, gatekeepers, small and large skippers and many large whites fluttered around us to pollinate the thistles and brambles closeby. Two other tree top specialists also came down to our level, unlike the reluctant emperors. A silver-washed fritillary gave us a quick visit at a bramble patch, while purple hairstreaks kept landing at ground level for short moments and was the only one of the two that I managed to get a photo of. The fritillary was a bit fast moving for me as if it was pretending to be a purple emperor. Fortunately, I do have a photo in my collection from 2013, when I came across some at Holt Country Park. All of these butterflies were bonuses for me today, it was as if the emperors have cast a spell of good luck on me this time around!
Silver-washed Fritillary (Holt Country Park 2013)
Large White
Small  Skipper
Common Darter

1 comment:

  1. Well done for spotting one! Nice pics of the purple hairstreaks!