After our success at Oversley Wood on Wednesday afternoon, Simon Primrose and I decided to spend the entire day Purple Emperor hunting on 11/07/2013. Full of excitement and anticipating a successful day, we arrived bright and early at 8:30am but soon discovered that we probably should’ve paid more attention to the weather forecast. A nice and chilly 11 degrees greeted us as we got out the car – out came the jumpers and fleeces! Needless to say, not much of anything was flying at that time, despite the sun being out. By 9:30am, it had warmed up considerably and Ringlets and Meadow Browns were now wide awake all around. But no Emperor’s. And no White Admiral or Silver-washed Fritillary either. I thought that perhaps our first sighting of a Silver-washed would quickly be followed by our first Emperor and I was correct! Our first Silver-washed swooped by at 10:15am and by 10:30am, we were giddy at the sight of the first male Emperor of the day. It descended from the canopy to perch briefly on a hazel leaf, before gliding to the ground to have a lick of the path. Clearly not satisfied, it decided a taste of my camera bag was in order. With 3 of us poised to take photographs, it teasingly darted upwards and zoomed off over an oak tree. Charming.
Not to worry though! More and more males came down for a slap up meal throughout the day with a total of 13 grounded, including one that just wanted to fly past our noses as we gazed helpless on as it zoomed off up the track at top speed. One male took a liking to my jeans whilst another forced me to sprint after it for half a mile around the wood, constantly keeping me at a very, VERY long arm’s length. I got some very strange looks from the dog walkers I left in the dust whilst shouting “ STOP! STOP! COME BACK!” at the Emperor (with some cursing thrown in). It beat me in the end; just as I felt like I was about to die, it soared up into the canopy and disappeared.
The males mostly came down onto the bare path, also to muddy puddles and nice fresh dung and dog poop. A couple landed on plants to bask. One even started feeding on a leaf which clearly had some sort of secretion on it. I was forced to lie down in mud, dust, frog spit and dung to get some photos but its always well worth it to observe these beautiful butterflies eye to eye.
There was a huge amount of activity at the main congregation area as soon as we arrived up there at 1:30pm. Constant clashing males with 2 or 3 chasing each other every 2 minutes or so. An incredible sight! Their territories seem to be a lot closer together than in previous years. The highlight of the day for me was when a bird tried to take out an Emperor at the top of the pines. To give the bird credit, it was quick – but not quick enough! Angry at being disturbed from his perch on high, the Emperor darted up, smacked the bird in the face a few times with some rapid wing-beats and then proceeded to circle his tree possessively before eventually landing back on his favourite perch. The bird was easily defeated. Cue some loud cheering from the 4 of us below and a small celebration. They were all still incredibly active when we left the congregation area at 3pm.
All in all, we had 13 grounded males, 1 fly by and a definite 8 individuals up at the congregation area. This was certainly my best ever Purple Emperor day at Oversley Wood and I think it bodes very well for the 2014 Emperor season.