Sunday, 10 July 2016

Back to Bernwood 11th July 2016

I don't know about you but Purple Emperors really do it for me. It will be no surprise therefore to learn I was back to Oakley Wood today for the chance of more encounters with His Supreme Highness of the Oaks.

The weather as usual in this so far dreary summer was totally against me but there was a slim chance of sun around noon according to the weather forecast, so I set off once again on the not unpleasant forty minute drive through rural Oxfordshire to Oakley Wood, part of the Bernwood Forest which lies on the borders of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

I got there at eleven thirty and getting myself organised with camera and bins had no sooner locked the car than a dark, gliding shape circled low around the small dusty car park and settled briefly in the middle. Before I could get close it took off again, came near, as if checking me and then circled once more and headed up into the surrounding Oaks. A Purple Emperor! 

Well how about that for a good start? I had held out little hope of seeing an Emperor today and it would have been so much better if it had stayed put but that's the way it goes sometimes. It's what makes this butterfly simultaneously entrancing and exasperating. You just never know what will happen when one appears. 

There was no sign of a break in the clouds and a strong wind was blowing as I walked the short few metres from the car park to the main track through the forest. Today being a weekend meant that the track was busy with dog walkers and people out for a stroll. I stationed myself as per usual half way along the track, some hundred metres from the car park as this was the best position to scan the track both ways for any sign of Emperors coming down to the ground.

It looked like being attritional as grey cloud was still dominant but I comforted myself that as I had seen one Emperor in the car park in such unpromising weather there might be a chance of another coming down onto the track. Sadly it did not work out that way. I stood and stood for almost two hours and saw nothing but a high flying Purple Hairstreak, a Comma and several Silver washed Fritillaries. 

In the meantime a small child, returning from a walk with its parents, threw a tantrum on the track and the parents walked off but kept a close but distant eye on the child. The toy the child was carrying did not leave the metaphorical pram but certainly landed a long way in the grass where it took sometime to retrieve as the squalling tot finally worked out it was not going to get its parent's attention no matter how loud it screamed.

Another lady coming up the track with the inevitable dog asked me accusingly 'Is that yours?' pointing to the by now hysterical child. I explained that the screaming monster rolling around some way up the track was learning a life lesson and its sensible parents were just hidden behind that tree up by the car park keeping an eye on things. 'See?' and I pointed them out.

A pleasant man with a South African accent was next down the track walking along with his elderly black labrador and stopped to tell me how there were up to forty people here yesterday (the Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation branch had an organised butterfly walk here yesterday) so I explained this to him.

He asked me what special butterfly I was waiting to see and I told him about Purple Emperors and fielded questions about the butterfly and its lifestyle. Having visited and worked in southern Africa I recognised his accent and enquired what part of South Africa he came from and he told me Cape Town. We chatted about South Africa and I told him about how my wife lived in Cape Town before we were married in Zimbabwe, and as you do we then went on a sentimental verbal journey through mutually familiar places in Kaapstadt (Cape Town). The conversation moved onto the weather and how we missed the guaranteed sun in Africa and then onto the fact we were now out of the EC and what an asshole Boris Johnson was but both of us then realised once on that subject we could be talking for hours and life was just too short. 

Well that used up the best part of forty five minutes and the sun finally came out but still there was no sign of any Purple Emperors. Another butterfly enthusiast who had come all the way from London stopped to ask me if I had seen any Emperors and I told him of my encounter in the car park some hour and a half ago. He wandered off to try his luck there. I remained where I was.

The sun went in, then it was out again and then in. Peek a boo. It was now gone one o' clock and I decided to head for home. I looked for the final time  down the track to where a less well trodden path crossed the main track and just beyond, about one hundred and fifty metres from me, espied through my bins a collection of white Tilly Hats. This could be only one thing, a group of butterfly enthusiasts. Normally when encountering such a sight the result is my making rapid progress in the opposite direction.  However I could see  they were huddled in a group and they were all pointing cameras or phones at the back of a man with a check shirt who was standing stock still.

These days I consider myself reasonably experienced in the ways of Purple Emperors so it was fairly obvious the man probably had one settled on his back. I have had them settle on my bare arms in years gone by presumably to absorb the salt from my sweat. I got down there as fast as possible and there was a Purple Emperor with folded wings clinging to the man's shirt whilst his colleagues paparazzi'd away to their heart's content.

Inevitably someone with only a phone got too close and the emperor took to the air but instead of flying off glided around for some thirty heart stopping anxious seconds before landing further down the track.We followed and the emperor thankfully remained in situ, before walking  purposefully in the direction of a choice dog turd lying by the side of the track.

The sun went in and the emperor promptly folded its wings, extinguishing the purple and showing instead the intricately patterned underwings before mounting the unsavoury deposit with yellow proboscis extended in anticipation.

It proceeded to fill itself with hopefully nutritious minerals. There then followed a rather comical but by no means unusual occurrence whereby several of the assembled number, as befits worshippers of a lepidopteran deity, prostrated themselves on the track to get the ultimate shot.

The sky was now getting ever more dark and soon a short rain shower ensued but the Emperor was not to be deterred, delicately probing the unmentionable whilst wandering over it and took no notice of the rain. Another lady with a dog arrived and asked what we were looking at. We told her and she exclaimed 'Thank God! At last! My friend has been driving me mad with her pictures of Purple Emperors on her phone, as she seems to see one every time she walks her dog here. Now at last I can hold my head up high'.

She took several pictures of the Emperor, still with wings firmly closed, on her phone. I suggested she wait until the sun came out again because she would get much better pictures, as then the Emperor would probably open its wings and she would get pictures of it in all its purpled glory. We waited and waited and finally the sun arrived, the butterfly's wings opened and she got her pictures. 

It's a pity about the aesthetically displeasing turd (we named it Gove) but then you take what you are given these days if you are wise, especially where Purple Emperors are concerned.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ewan,
    nice blog!
    I was the leader of that upper thames purple emperor field trip, and I was also the guilty one who got too close with my mobile phone! I don't why I felt the need: I already have scores of iris photos from members over the years