FROM FRANCIS FARROW
Around mid-July there was some exciting news for Norfolk Naturalists with two sightings of Purple Emperor butterflies in Sheringham Park. These impressive butterflies have not been seen in Norfolk since they were resident in the early 1970s (apart from some recent infrequent sightings). Further to the Sheringham Park sightings a third sighting was made on Beeston Common, near Sheringham on 31st July. This site, which lies within a mile of the coast, is a mixture of habitats including heathland where the butterfly was seen.
Your dedicated website for the Purple Emperor states in its introduction ‘This is not an insect you will stumble upon, unless you are blessed with extraordinary luck.’ I believe I was extremely lucky as I literally stumbled upon a Purple Emperor on the ground.
This was a female, not the impressive iridescent purple male. The butterfly was on a path less than two metres ahead of me imbibing mineral salts from the soil. This was my first ever sighting and as I had missed out on an earlier Butterfly Conservation excursion to Fermyn Wood in Northamptonshire I was particularly happy to have found one on my local patch. Apart from moving around slightly while still imbibing the butterfly remained with its wings closed for about 20 minutes. Then there were a few tentative movements of its wings before finally the butterfly spread its wings, revealing its ‘eye-spots’, before taking off and ascending to around 10 metres after which, it glided some eight metres down to around three metres before flying off strongly to the south-west (the direction in which Sheringham Park lies). This last act was a great thrill – such an impressive insect.
One theory is that the recent Norfolk sightings are casual migrants, individuals from re-introduced Suffolk colonies that have done well in the last 10 years rather than deliberate releases of captive-bred stock. Hopefully enough of these large and beautiful butterflies will arrive and start their own colonies in Norfolk woodlands.