Following the previous day's exhausting count of Purple Emperors over a large area of the Knepp Wildland, today (25 June) was all about the more relaxed enjoyment of the current glut of this magnificent butterfly. I spent a few happy hours with my father, during which we enjoyed plenty of action, including a fresh male emperor on one of my shrimp lures. At one point this butterfly flew in through the open door of my car and fluttered around the dashboard.
After a short break, I returned to Knepp, but then didn't escape again until after 8pm, when the emperors were still flying. I watched empresses gliding around the canopy with up to four and once five males in pursuit, and observed one pairing (which lasted 3 hours 17 minutes) at the top of an oak. Many emperors were seen visiting sap bleeds; one at head-height. A grounded male (on an organic cowpat; these days, most are plastic) demonstrated an unusual marbled pattern, which I've seen before and suspect is caused by still-soft wings. This theory was supported when it raised its abdomen and ejected a stream of meconium while feeding.
On a couple of occasions I watched classic rejection drops, when an already-mated female tumbles down to avoid unwanted male attention. A male/female chase at 7.30pm initially appeared to be similar, until the female finally shook off her suitor and landed in low scrub; it turned out that she had only just emerged and was not quite ready to copulate, as her wings appeared to still be damp, and she too squirted meconium.
It was great to spend some time with Purple Emperor aficionado Dennis Dell (visiting from Sheffield) and wildlife photographer David Woodfall, among many others.