Friday 4 July 2014

Back to Bernwood 4th July 2014

Delighted by my success with the Purple Emperors in Bernwood Forest yesterday I was pleased to see that today promised to be even more sunny and possibly warmer. I have always fancied running the length of the track and back through Bernwood Forest, some 2.5 miles, so rose early, grabbed the camera and donned my running gear, bringing along a pair of normal shorts and tee shirt to change into after my run. I figured I could combine some healthy exercise with some Purple Emperor worship. Not a bad combination I think you would agree.

Arriving at Bernwood Forest the sun was just getting into its stride and was only pleasantly warm which was ideal for a run. I was pleased to see hardly any vehicles in the car park which signified that there were not many of the dreaded dog walkers about and no one was looking for butterflies. I hit the gravel track and ran the mile or so to the far end and then turned for home accompanied on the way back by numerous Silver washed Fritillaries and countless Ringlets rising from the grass as I passed by. It was now around nine and I was sure that there would be some butterfly enthusiasts wandering the car park on my return but when I got there no-one  was about. Yesterday there were at least half a dozen people looking for Purple Emperors but not today. Very strange.

Deserted sunlit car park at Bernwood Forest
I changed back into my normal shorts and tee shirt and with camera in hand first checked out the large bramble bush guarding the corner of the sunlit car park that led to the track. The profusion of bramble flowers were attracting a good number of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Large Skippers, even a Small Tortoiseshell plus a few Silver washed Fritillaries all busily feeding on or examining the flowers. 

Male Silver washed Fritillary
I busied myself taking pictures of the fritillaries and for no accountable reason looked down, noting a pile of old dog poo at my feet. As I looked, in amazement I saw a Purple Emperor literally at my feet feeding on the unsavoury pile. Its wings were closed and it was virtually invisible so well camouflaged was it. How long it had been there was anyone's guess but I just gawped, thrilled at this almost instantaneous find of what is often a frustratingly elusive butterfly. It carried on extracting whatever it was after from its unappetising source but after a few minutes rose and flew up onto some overhanging oak leaves positioning itself facing out towards the sun and became motionless.

I kept my eye on it and after a short time it flew again but to my utter delight landed on another oak leaf right by me and at head height. Fantastic.

I watched its primrose yellow proboscis picking presumably honeydew from the leaf and then it furled its proboscis and sat there motionless, swaying as gusts of strong breeze rocked its chosen oak leaf. The car park was devoid of cars so there was no disturbance and the two of us just shared the moment with me standing a few feet from an enigma that was motionless on an oak leaf. Occasionally it would slowly open its wings as if to gather in the sun's rays and then firmly close them again. This situation persisted for quite some time but I was in no hurry as an experience like this is to be enjoyed to the maximum and made the most of. The wing opening behaviour became more frequent and then to my consternation the emperor flew out and around me but to my relief it flew down low and fluttered over the ground until it found presumably what it was looking for and settled to probe the dust for who knows what, but it certainly seemed to like whatever it found as it remained feeding there for some time. I felt frustrated as it was often impossible to see the purple iridescence due to the position of the butterfly on the ground and the angle of the morning sun. It was also feeding in shade a lot of the time which did not help photography.

I carried on watching, alone in my vigil, until it flew once again. Oh no! Where was it going now? Please don't fly away. It flew low in that characteristic fluttering flight that they adopt when looking for a food source but then appeared to change its mind and flew up to a hazel and settled low down on one of the green leaves with its wings open facing the sun and showing in all their magnificence the purple on both wings. The angle was just right and any butterfly photographer will tell you this is the ultimate, to get both wings showing the iridescence at the same time. 

My opportunity did not last long though as it soon left its sunny perch and again fluttering low over the ground headed off down a shaded path and most appropriately was last seen passing the Black Audi before it was gone into the trees. I looked at the time. I had been watching  this beautiful insect for over forty five minutes untroubled by any other person. Left to myself to savour this most delightful experience.

I wanted more, you always do, but it was now ten thirty and my solitude was soon over as both dog walkers and butterfly enthusiasts arrived in a steady stream. I wandered down the track a short way on the off chance that another emperor would show itself but my luck was out. Purple Hairstreaks, their undersides shining pale silver in the sun fluttered around high up in an Ash and numerous Silver washed Fritillaries careered through the open woodland by the track but of an emperor there was no sign. A Brown Hawker dragonfly chased and seized a skipper, flying off to consume its victim in the trees.

Ever hopeful I returned to the sun baked car park now strangely empty once again. An Emperor Dragonfly cruised over  and around the deserted space and then disappeared in pursuit of yet another unfortunate skipper. I walked towards the gap in the grassy retaining bank around the car park and there in the dust of the gap was, you guessed it, another Purple Emperor, diligently feeding on apparently nothing, its yellow proboscis probing probing all the time. I almost trod on it and would have done if I had not noticed it. So intent was it on feeding it never flinched as I stood within inches of it. 

The Purple Emperor was feeding between the two posts

I watched it feeding, just like the other one, noting subtle differences that told me this was a different individual and after about fifteen minutes it too cruised around the car park a few inches above the ground, settling briefly on a number of occasions but obviously not finding anything to its liking. It followed the narrow path out of the car park and rose up into the trees that were shading the track through the woods

What a fabulous morning at one of my favourite places, Bernwood Forest

The track through the woods - this section is a favoured haunt of Purple Emperors

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