Monday, 3 July 2017

A Purple Pair 2nd July 2017


Today's promised sunshine duly arrived and found me at an early hour back at the entrance track leading to Finemere Woods Nature Reserve. Crossing over the wooden stile I made my way down the by now familiar dusty track leading to the entrance to the woods. Left uncut, all the summer flowers were contributing their individual splashes of pastel colours; yellows, purples and pinks, white and cream to the predominant and varied greens of the verge by the track.  The delicate, honeyed scent of a myriad frothy, cream topped Meadow Sweet came to me on the breeze. A large field of rapidly ripening barley, pale tawny with bowed, stiff, brush like heads kept up a constant murmur as the wind caused the unyielding heads to rub one against another.

A couple of Comma's, bright ginger and marked irregularly with black squares and spots on their upperwings, basked on their particular leaf, individual launch pads, ready to intercept any intruders, even including me. Flexing their jigsaw cut wings, luxuriating in the rising warmth of the morning sun, their delicate pale legs found implausible purchase to hold them in position on a seemingly impossibly smooth leaf.



Commas
Passing through the metal gate I was in the wood, embowered in the green trees and at the beginning of the main ride running through its centre. It was along this narrow grass ride  gently rising to a low summit that I planned to concentrate my attention. Time was my ally as it was still early, around eight thirty, but butterflies were already active as Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites went about their low level business in the lush vegetated ditches either side of the ride, together with belligerent Large Skippers and their diminutive relatives, Small and Essex Skippers, all of which on settling, unfurled angled bi-plane wings of golden brown on each side of their body.

Large Skipper
I had a dual purpose today and both involved the word Purple and to which you can add Emperor and Hairstreak. The latter took no time at all to discover as their tiny, grey underwings caught the sun and became shining silver as they whirled in a rapid and random flight around leaves of Sallow and Hazel growing below their favourite  Oaks, seeking a suitable leaf from which to imbibe aphid honeydew. Their populations here are having a very good year judging by the numbers present.

Purple Hairstreak
The commonest of our hairstreaks and said to be the only hairstreak to regularly open their wings when settled, I found them capricious in this regard and only once did a male partially open his wings, revealing surfaces of deep lustrous purple, whilst all the others kept their wings firmly shut. Appearing, when settled, as tiny grey triangles, they slipped into and out of visibility as they walked in circles drinking the honeydew on the leaf, visible when perched sideways on and then virtually invisible, no more than a sliver, a grey line, as they slowly turned to face away or towards me. Often I thought an individual had gone only to 're-discover' it as it turned broadside.





Purple Hairstreak
I knew my second object of desire would not give itself up so easily and consequently was fully prepared for a long wait until the sighting of a regal Purple Emperor would trigger that longed for rush of adrenalin and triumph as it swooped down from an unseen perch high in the Oaks. I walked up the ride, as bright orange Silver washed Fritillaries sped past me on their high energy flights, occasionally stopping for the briefest examination of a Bramble flower before moving on, ever restless. 


Silver washed Fritillary
Unlike my prior visit, White Admirals were invisible or absent today until I stopped by a large patch of sunlit Bramble flowers and there, amongst the more familiar Meadow Browns and my first Gatekeeper for this year, one was taking nectar from the flowers, floating gently from chosen flower to chosen flower but then, chivvied by an aggressive fritillary, flicked its wings to glide up and effortlessly away through the branches of a nearby Oak.

White Admiral
The morning moved on, an hour or two, a pleasurable time of expectation and anticipation in the sun that was now warming and illuminating the ride. Walking back down the ride and then making my way back up the ride again to the very spot where I had earlier seen the White Admiral, I was standing looking at another Purple Hairstreak feeding on a bramble flower when a dark, unmistakeable shape powered down  at speed from the blue sky, crossed the bramble and came to rest on a Hazel leaf. At last! Hopes and dreams were realised as here he was, His Imperial Majesty, a male Purple Emperor. He sat in the sun on his green throne, his yellow proboscis curled onto the leaf, sucking up aphid honeydew for all he was worth. 










Purple Emperor

Magnificent in size and aura, regal and spectacular as he flexed his wings to show not only the purple upper surfaces but the equally attractive and intricate underwing patterning, the large eye spot on the underwing instantly catching one's attention. Perched on the tip of the leaf, silhouetted in the sun he was a picture of transient grace and beauty, a prize with a lifespan no longer than a few weeks but for me he would only grant a view of minutes in his all too brief reign before leaving me, as ever each year, feeling unfulfilled. Five minutes passed and disturbed by a clumsy fly he took to the air and flew fast and low up the ride. Had he gone? No, back he came, wheeled around me, flashing purple and white and settled again on another Hazel leaf. A minute or slightly more of sublime viewing enjoyment, a supreme indulgence and then he was off up the ride at such speed it was hard to follow but then, as before, back he flew in a glorious, careering fly past, ever ascending until he was lost in one final sling shot of flight up and over the surrounding tall Oaks.

It was over in minutes.































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