Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Double Take

A report sent to me from Stuart Hedley, footloose in the Balkans. I enjoyed it so much I've posted it in full - Derek


Sat 15th June
Round about lunchtime came to a delightful and memorable thing.  Stopped in a lay-by for some fruit and nuts and a swig when what should happen but a butterfly flew past, and in the sun for a split second a dazzling flash of purple.  A purple emperor!  Another one of those things one wants to see or hear or do, and lo!  Circumstances deliver it up unto you before you go looking for it.  I was thrilled.  Got out my Canon and vowed not to leave that lay-by until I had captured the magnificent beast on camera.   

After my first few attempts I began to realise that they were much more skittish than I thought.  Quite quickly I got a picture, but predictably it was a mere dot on the screen with closed  wings.  After a while I got one with open wings, but of course angled so that that stunning irridescence wasn't visible.  They would go down onto the hot tarmac, but no sooner had I got six feet from them than up they'd go again.  And they were powerful fliers - in seconds they could be twenty metres away.  They traversed back, though, along the line of the verge, and after I while I realised that I was in the middle of a territory.   
Nothing like a crappy lay-by to bring out the best in iris.

Stunned, it dawned on me that this crappy lay-by on the DN10 with its indolent, live-in rabid dogs was purple emperor heaven.  I was surrounded by tall, mature oaks through which the twisting trunk-road had sliced a series of sunny lay-by glades, and in these the typical Homo sapiens of Romania had dumped all the crap that Homo sapiens dumps in Britain: banana-skins, rotten fruit, litter, used nappies, and the shit of the feral dogs to boot.  All manner of revolting stuff with the strong south-european sun warming it all nicely and sending up irresistible plumes of molecules to the butterflies. 
Suddenly, I remembered from various friends that all I had to do for the perfect purple emperor photograph was to piss out a big puddle of wee in the middle of the sunlit tarmac and wait until they came in to take my 'mineral salts'.   

Sadly, I can't wee as forcefully as once I could, and I had had one about ten minutes previously.  After a bout of frantic rehydration I managed to squeeze out half a glassful.  I spat my cherry pips out too, hoping that spit and ripe fruit would reel them in.  

Attempt after attempt proved futile.  And my wee was not proving attractive, either.  There was, however, the small matter of attracting attention from other motorists stopping.  Why is that man pointing his camera at that puddle of wee? Once, there was such a long gap between a male disappearing and reappearing, that I very nearly gave up. Then three would come along at once and have a dogfight in a particularly brilliant sunbeam, clattering like amethysts in a lapidarist's barrel.  
As the day wore on, I realised that in fact, the most productive area was on the opposite verge, more fully in sun, and with some cart-ruts still holding water from the previous night's rain.  As I looked on several came down to these very puddles, jewel-like, but with the twisting fall of an autumn leaf.  I went over and homed in on one.  Up they went again!  A little mauve maelstrom later and down they came, one puddle being particularly irresistible in harbouring a child's white sock, ground into the mud.  
Two out of the three european Apaturinae That's got to be some quality wee!

It might have been the tenth or twentieth time when I finally found a butterfly so absorbed by its soup that I got my first decent picture with the camera on zoom.  With great stealth I moved in, being careful not to block the sun, and in the end I got there.  One of my greatest trophies of the ride.  It was only months later, in processing my Romanian memories, that I discovered that in one instance I had captured both the purple emperor Apatura iris and the lesser purple emperor Apatura ilia in the same frame, apparently quite a coup. 

The latin is, rather wonderfully, Apatura iris.  When you think of all those apertures that must have been so carefully selected, and the iris, well, it was just about the most brilliant colour I have ever seen in temperate nature.  Made the gentians of Widdybank look dull.
Spurred on by this lovely happening, and by the usual picturesque horses and carts that clattered by, I went on towards Berca, where I took a much better lodging.  Tired, hot, dried out and hungry , I had goulash shoup followed by a chicken burger and chips.  Later a chocoloate éclair too.

Stuart Hedley


Peter Eeles said...

I'm pretty sure that all of the critters shown are ilia and not iris. An ilia image is at which has more-pronounced orange rings on the forewings.

Derek Longhurst said...

I'd better take responsibility here, as Stuart asked me for identification.

The best diagnostic I've found is the presence (in ilia) or the absence (in iris) of the ocellus on the forewing.

So, looking at Stuart's pictures, I reasoned no ocellus (and therefore iris) in the top picture, and (possibly debatably) no ocellus on the right hand insect in the lower picture.

Your thoughts?

Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy said...

I'm with Pete on this one. The hindwing band in the first butterfly lacks the tooth, tapers out to finish at v.2 and is concave on the inside. In addition, the white submarginal spots are characteristic of nominate ilia (not clytie). It's still a double-take, though, getting nominate ilia and clytie in the same shot!

Derek Longhurst said...

OK, fair enough. I'll have to revise my "ocellus" test (and send a note to Tristan for his second edition!)

Thanks for your inputs.