Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Ab. atava?

 On Saturday we decided to visit Ellenbrook Fields to the west of Hatfield (Herts), for a quick family walk. Seeing an opportunity to search for Purple Emperor (despite very blustery and mostly cloudy conditions!), we followed a circular route that took us along the eastern edge of Round Wood and forested Home Covert, an area where Malcolm Hull (Chairman, BC, Herts & Middx) had spotted high-flying PEs last year. We stopped to look for butterflies at a 90 degree corner on the main path, forming a natural amphitheatre in the canopy, a point that seemed ideal for Royalty ( TL 20074 08924 ) .... and as I looked one way, my wife looked the other, and promptly, and very brilliantly, casually asked me "what's that butterfly"? Well, how fantastic, as I turned to look, a Purple Emperor was gliding away from us, but turned back, and would you believe it(?!), landed barely a metre from us on the path. Not a great background, but beggars can't be choosers as they say, and I was afforded a thrilling minute to fire off some shots before it flew off. 

It was a massive male, the biggest I have seen, and slightly aberrant - looking at the British Butterfly Aberrations web site ( ) it agrees fairly well with the description for "ab. atava" with orange scaling on the upper side of the FW delineating the under side eye spot, and some limited orange scaling around the upper HW subapical and postdiscal region. Shortly after he flew off, the sky became totally overcast and we headed home shortly after. What an amazing encounter, and were it not for my wife, I would surely have missed His Purple Wonderness entirely, or would have scared HIM off after he had landed so close to my feet. Another highlight (non-butterfly) of this short walk was at least two pairs of yellowhammers, a species I have barely seen in recent years in this neck of the woods.

BTW, we have a larger colony of Purple Emperor at Heartwood Forest to the north of St Albans where I spotted a single PE fly overhead a couple of days ago, but no photo. I had 6 down on the ground in one day there last year, and I'm keeping fingers crossed for the same or better this coming week! I'll let you know what happens ....


All the best,

Andrew Neild


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