Tuesday 5 July 2011

Five Go to Bentley Wood....Twice!

Last Sunday ( June 26th) five of us went to Bentley Wood on the Hampshire/ Wiltshire border hoping to see Purple Emperors. The weather was exceptionally hot and we were very hopeful. Although most of us saw at least one, only Bun and me saw one pitched and that was only for a second or two. We also saw White-letter Hairstreaks, but like the Emperors, these were also staying in the treetops. So although it 'were a grand day out' we all left without a photo of HIM (His Imperial Majesty). Hoping to rectify this we went back this Sunday. Lots, and I mean lots, of people had the same idea and even though we arrived an hour earlier than the previous week we were only just in time to grab the last space in the car park! The weather was sunny again but nowhere near as hot as the previous week and we were optimistic because we knew that nine males had been seen on the Friday. We saw none! (well perhaps one or two distant ones in the treetops could have been males) What we did see though were at least six females, and four of those were on the ground, one for over 45 minutes! If the published literature, both in print and on the web is to be believed then that would be quite unprecedented. Females are supposed to very rarely land on the ground and if they ever do are always very unapproachable. Take this quote from the excellent website 'The Purple Empire'   for example

"Females rarely descend to the rides, and seem to do so only in very hot weather.  Matthew Oates has not seen any definite females down on rides since the long hot summer of 1976.  Neil Hulme has seen five, all on hot afternoons, probing for moisture not mineral salts, and all very wary and hard to approach" 

So either some kind of unusual conditions existed in Bentley Woods on Sunday or none of the dozen or so people who saw each grounded butterfly can identify a female Purple Emperor properly? I can't think we got the identification wrong.The butterflies were very big, bigger than the male we saw last week for sure. The background colour of the wings was a uniform brown and nobody saw even a hint of purple as the butterflies moved around, opening and closing the wings for prolonged periods. They were all near damp patches or on the edge of puddles, so most probably probing for moisture. Anyway, as you can probably imagine we had some superb photo opportunities, starting in the car park when a pristine female Purple Hairstreak dropped in. (As usual all photos will enlarge if clicked on)
 This was the only shimmering purple we saw all day. I'm definitely not complaining though because instead we saw this...
 That yellow proboscis is incredible!
This was the first grounded female we saw, after she'd gone I wandered off alone and soon found myself in the presence of another, she flew around me a bit and landed in a nearby tree.
I texted Bun to let the others know...
...a few people followed him! All the jostling and neck craning wasn't necessary in the end because like the other female this one descended and rested on the ground for several minutes.
She didn't even appear to probe the mud, her proboscis remained coiled up.
The third female we photographed was this one which remained in the sallows and appeared to be egg-laying.
The best was still to come. As we were making our way slowly back towards the car park Dave suggested we have one last look at the puddles on the ride where we'd seen the females on the ground earlier in the day. And there she was, a gorgeous totally unblemished female which appeared to have only very recently emerged. She was probing around on the edge of a puddle for several minutes before moving a very short distance to some mud on the edge of the ride, whatever she was slurping up from here was very good because she stayed put for over 45 minutes and nothing was going to shift her.
I took this photo just as she landed by the side of the track...I looked ahead to see this coming...
It drove right by, within about 3 feet of her and she didn't even notice it!
This didn't bother her either. It doesn't take long for word to get around!
Although not purple, The Empress is never the less very beautiful.
I hope to meet her consort one day.

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