Friday, 3 July 2015

Seeking Iris

The first sightings of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) have come in from Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Oxfordshire this week turning everyone slightly loopy. I have written about Emperors before, but for those of you who don't know, this butterfly is the one above all others that calls to people. And it has done so for centuries. I have met folks who travel miles every July to faithfully scour Emperor woods all over Southern England for this most elusive and noble of winged insects with no certainty of actually seeing one, and others who have devoted lifetimes to searching and never found them.

The Emperor (known to enthusiasts as His or Her Imperial Majesty) is our biggest butterfly and arguably the most beautiful. The females are brown with white markings and orange eyes on their wings, but the boys shine an iridiescent purple/blue when the light catches them right. They are only out during July and spend most of their short lives at the top of the canopy around their favourite oak tree. Last summer, a female Empress visited me at home (see this blog post). An event that was greeted by stunned disbelief among my butterfly friends and slightly stunned disbelief by me too :o)

This year, I could feel myself getting twitchy as July approached. This is because last summer's appearance of the Empress brought with it the hint that we might have a colony living here. We have the right habitat on our doorstep- old Oaks and plenty of Sallow- and the Emperor Recorder told me he thought it highly likely, so I am currently in a state of High Alert :o)

I've never seen a male Purple Emperor before. I've been watching the oaks and the willows and the ground around them like an obsessed woman over the last few days, and keep catching myself whispering prayers to iris.

On Tuesday I thought I saw one, high up in the trees at the top of the lane. That evening I thought there was one sunning himself at the bottom of our drive, but it flew off before I could be sure. Then on Wednesday I met L off the school bus  and as we walked down the lane towards home a butterfly flew past us at head height. It had purple/ dark blue wings with white markings......

....except... I've just seen something very like it in the same place that could have been a White Admiral, and now I'm doubting the certainty I had on Wednesday.

This is what that butterfly does to you: it gets inside your head and turns you ever-so-slightly loopy. I even dreamt of flutters last night.

I'm going to have to stake out the hedge, which means explaining myself to neighbours who are new to the lane, and Lord Knows what they'll make of that. 

I can just see it:
Me: Are you interested in butterflies, at all?
Them: No.
Me: Urm, well I think we might have a rare one living here, but I'll need to stake out your hedge, just to be sure. Would that be OK?
Them: No. Go Away and Never Come Back, you Very Strange Person.

Luckily, I had Better Luck with the neighbours on the other side who turned out to be flutter fanatics and invited me in to see their collection of pinned tropical specimens. He used to breed Swallowtails. It's not really my cup of tea, as you know I prefer my wild things to be wild, but we chatted about Darwin (who once did some work in our gardens- how cool is that?) and he said he'd knock on the door if any large purple flutters turned up. They also told me all about the grass snakes and 12 types of ladybird they have in the garden, so if all else fails I could probably stake out the hedge from their garden side :o)

It's sooooo tantalisingly close and I just need to SEE it properly to be sure.....


Today, to calm my fevered soul (or perhaps not), I headed off to Bentley Woods with the Butterfly Whisperer for a morning's iris spotting.

Just to underline how hard these things are to spot- we were out for three hours in Prime Emperor Country in Perfect Emperor Weather at Bang On Emperor Time with several other Emperor Hunters all in the woods together at the same time and no-one saw a thing. Not a hint of a Purple Wing. Nothing.

We weren't entirely bereft, for Mother Nature provided some beautiful things by way of consolation.

Top of the list were three White Admirals, also pretty elusive and therefore a total joy to see (and looking at these photos I don't think it was an Admiral up the lane, but it could have been)..



 


Ringlets..



Silver Washed Frits...






Meadow Browns...



Teeny Tiny Froglets...


A Common Lizard...


Large Red Damsels...


Robin's Pincushion Galls...


Mallow..


Large Skippers (note the light/ dark patterning on the wing which distinguishes them from the Small Skipper)....


Small Skippers...


Somewhat late in the season so it was a treat to see her, we also found this rather ancient Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary sunning herself on some leaves....



And I spotted this magnificent Longhorn Beetle Rutpela maculata, the Black-And-Yellow Longhorn beetle...


Thank you Bentley, you did us proud (even without sight of His Majesty)



M and I have a week off next week, and he rather foolishly said if there's any wildlife stuff you'd like to do I'd like to come too, so I will be dragging him round all the local woods Seeking Iris. Finger's crossed. I'm also leaving the dog poo out on the lawn as they like the salts in it and The Butterfly Whisperer suggested I add some fish paste to it, as that is another of their delicacies. I am glad, on the whole, that I am not a Purple Emperor :o)

I'll leave you with the hounds. Pop and I watched the brilliant Dustin Brown beat Rafa yesterday. We watched the entire match curled up together on the sofa (Poppy somewhat illegally as she's not meant to be there) until I leapt up screaming when he won and she disappeared beneath the table with her tail tucked between her legs. Later on she got in to trouble for finding a way through the hedge and escaping next door. Which explains the expression on her face in the pic below. Devil May Care, I think we'll call it :o)


Luckily for her, I got distracted by this Tawny Wol pellet I found next to the house (this seems to happen every now and then, leading me to believe that the Wols must come and sit right next to the house some nights)...



I showed it to Teddy, but he was too busy snoozing  Fiercely Keeping Guard over the house to pay much attention...


Hope all are well. Keep your fingers crossed I get to the bottom of the Butterfly Mystery before it drives me mad, eh?

CT.




28 comments:

  1. Sadly I am sure we are much too far North for a Purple Emperor - I have only seen them in books. I did see a Tortoiseshell this morning and was even rather pleased with that.

    I know that expression well. Tess wear it quite often. It means 'What me? See if I care!'

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    1. I think they are flutters of the South, which explains the Purple Pilgrimages so many people make down here during July :o)

      Small Torts weren't doing so well last summer and I haven't seen so many this year either so I'm always chuffed when I see one.

      It must be an expression terriers are born with :o)

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  2. Good luck in your hunt, I have no doubt you will track one down, your are quite charmed in wildlifeness I think. And I'm sure the new neighbours will find it all fascinating and share in the excitement, I know I would. I went to get my camera to photograph a cinnabar moth in the garden today, but of course it just looked at me, laughed and flew off. Wishing you and M a wonderful week. CJ xx

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    1. I wish you were my neighbour CJ- we would have such a giggle :o)

      Plenty of winking, laughing and flying off going on today here too, mostly in the second I pressed the camera button. I have lots of nice shots of empty green leaves. The pics here were the best from three hours of trying :o) xx

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  3. Lovely photos today.
    I love the terrier "look".

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I expect it's familiar to you too, Parsnip :o)

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  4. Good luck and enjoy your week. As I was walking around yesterday there seemed to be far more butterflies than usual. I just wish they'd keep still so I could get s photo! One day! Until then - they are a mystery. X

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    1. Probably Meadow Browns as there are heaps of them about at present. They tend to flit about more in very hot weather so if it cools down a little you may get lucky with the pics :o) x

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  5. I do hope you find Iris this weekend and look forward to your photos if you do. You may have inspired me to take the bins with me to the allotment as the ancient common it adjoins is a well-known hunting ground for PE. Have a great week with M. We've managed to wrangle a night away next week and we're staying on an English vineyard. Small Magpie ID'd to go with the White Ermine. You are so inspiring CT. Cheers!

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    1. It sounds like it's definitely worth checking out the common and adjoining woodland- good luck, it would be great if you saw one. And well done on the small magpie too- they fly by day and are often disturbed from plants when gardening so you may find more. SO pleased you've got the Lepidoptera bug :o) x

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  6. I hope you soon find what you are looking for howver in the meantime just be happy with all these fabulous butterflies you have in this post alond the a stunning beetle adn Damel. I love the shots of the dogs, butter wouldn'tmelt in teir mouths!!! Have a wonderful weekend.

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  7. Beautiful! I did manage to get a photo of a Meadow Brown, then found out they are very common, oh well it is still beautiful.

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    1. Large Whites were common until a couple of years ago when their numbers started dropping, so it's not impossible that one day Meadow Browns will be rarer too. I always think it's worth getting pics of everything, just in case. x

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  8. best of luck in your Royal Spotting....i'm convinced they will reveal themselves to you. just a feeling... ;)

    xoxo

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    1. I'm hanging on to the feeling, Mel :o) x

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  9. Lovely photos as always. Good Luck with PE hunt - will be popping off to Oversley Wood near here in search of them again next weekend hopefully. Only one reported sighting so far here in Warwickshire as far as I can see. I had concerns last year about confusing PE with White Admiral as both occur at Oversley especially if it was a sighting high in the tree tops! Never saw either species so it wasn't a problem but if I do get lucky just hope I see one on the ground so can be certain!!! Have a good week :)

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    1. Do you follow the purple emperor blog? (see my side bar if not). It sounds as if PEs are coming out all over the South this week and in great numbers in some places, including a female turning up in Winchester Cathedral's Green today! Still waiting on another view here.... Good luck with your hunt too :o)

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  10. I loved reading this post! I do love butterflies (stop by my blog and see my recent butterfly encounter photos)! It's fascinating that the Purple Emperors are there such a short time and hard to spot! Best wishes on your explorations and may one (or more) reveal themselves to you!!

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    1. Thank you, Janice. Loved the pic of your swallowtail :o)

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  11. Great photos CT, you saw plenty. A lizard too, I'm green with envy lol.

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    1. But I don't have any baby frogs in my pond, Ian, so you're up on me there :o)

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  12. I do hope you get to see one, especially after missing the Beavers, you still got to see more Butterflies than I have ever seen. I would love to see a Common Lizard..too.
    A very large thunderstorm stopped play with the moth trap :( lets see what happens to night :)..
    Amanda xx

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    1. Good luck tonight- I'm dying to know what you get :o) xx

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  13. Other Purple Emporer would be more than welcome in my garden! ;-)

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  14. I knew I'd have to visit you blog to get an id on a butterfly. I've seen oodles of Meadow browns (I know what they are now) in the field I walk Rocky hound. I'm very impressed with Ted's fierce guarding skills. x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x