Tuesday, 11 September 2012

His Majesty , the Purple Emperor Fermyn wood july 23 2012

Today was to be my first ever visit to the Home of the Purple Emperors , Fermyn wood in Northamptonshire , part of the Royal Forest of Rockingham , yes a 180 mile drive for me from the wirral , but i have always wanted to visit :)
 i had been keeping my eye on the Purple Empire blog for up to date sightings, so i would go on the best day.  as it turned out the weather was very warm and sunny over the previous week and the weekend especially so!   that was good for emergence and quite a few Emperors had been seen on the saturday/sunday so my trip on the monday was looking great.  i gained much needed knowledge of where to park and where to look from Matthew Oates , he is renowned in the butterfly world,  and he said he would be going also :)
After a long drive i arrived just after 9.30 , already it was quite warm and the car parking area near the entrance to Lady wood was packed with cars, such is the allure of the Purple Emperor, people visit from all over the country to these famous woods to see the enigmatic Emperors.

i started walking down the main track through Fermyn wood heading to the best areas around Lady and Souther woods with another butterfly enthusiast who had seen a few on the sunday . it was at this point that Matthew drove past , said hello, then carried on driving!  "thanks for the lift" i thought at the time! lol.

Beautiful countryside here, walking past the cornfields and eventually into the edge of Lady wood i noticed Matthews car stopped under a large sallow tree and as i got close he was staring up at an Empress , in fact it was a rare aberration  Apatura iris ab lugenda.   it had rested on his car number plate and then on the ground before settling up in the tree, where it apparently stayed for 42 minutes!  this is the best image i could get with a 70-300 lens.

                                                Here are Matthews images of Her Majesty

A few other people congregated to see her , and mentioned they had seen a few grounded Emperors just down the track. so off i went having already seen my first Emperor of the year in just a short time in the wood:)  i got to this point , just couple hundred yds down the track and saw a Grounded Emperor! Yay! that didn't take long.

 Resting on the ground with wings open!  a classic shot to start the day. the angle of sunlight on the wing scales determines how strong the purple/blue sheen shows.  not that strong in this image!

only the males have the purple colouration ,they come down to the ground to feed on minerals in the mornings , especially soon after emergence,  before settling in the tree tops in the afternoons. so early morning is the best time to see them, after about 1 pm i have heard they are rarely seen!  this one soon flew up into a tree, where i managed this image.

walking down this track above  ,in just a very short distance i spotted two Emperors flying and eventually Grounding!  this was amazing , so many seen already. a couple of people coming the other way said they had seen quite a few also . it was at this point an Emperor landed on the camo trousers of one of the photographers!    i managed to get this image :)   the colours really look beautiful!

then another one dropped to the ground very close to us, showing his beautiful colouration , before closing his wings.

then the first one landed in a perfect position, i had to lie down on the ground to shoot these side on images,  stunning!

Further on down the track, more Emperors are flying past me, its getting to the point of  "no need to chase one, another will be along very soon! "  haha.   i just cant believe how many i have seen , they are in fact very illusive butterflies so looks like this is going to be a very special day!     continuing around the wood, my number of sightings climbed up past 16 .  strangely i have not seen any White Admirals or Silver Washed Fritillaries , but not a problem  lol   all sections of the track seem to have Emperors grounding to feed on minerals, & on poo!

Entering Souther wood the tracks were more open but still plenty of butterflies showing!

Walking around the top end of souther wood i haven't seen any Emperors for ages , then suddenly one flew past me and i noticed a Purple Hairstreak fly past and land on the ground in front of me, how lucky is that!   i have never seen one one the ground, let alone feeding!

By now it was just after 12.30 so i made my way back to Lady wood . my total was now 22 Emperors! Amazing, way more than i could have hoped for!   i met  Matthew again as i got back to the main path, he was going to search for them in their favoured spots from previous years and hopefully see a few fighting above the tree tops:)    he did mention the fact that most people had already gone, as the wood was very quiet now,   we soon found a couple flying past  so it looked like all those who left were too hasty:D  Walking down the small paths towards a deer hide there was a big pool of water , and Matthew virtually trod on an EMPRESS ! she must have been drinking   OMG!  i wont repeat his words that rang out thorough the forest ,but he did say later  "thank god it wasn't a Sunday" so funny :)

                                       and perched on the tower....................................

they are everywhere today!!!!  walking back along this track we spotted another female flying through the trees  and then a pair of males in aerial combat!  so exciting :)  you can see one in this pic :)

We walked down another small track but no sightings , so headed back towards the main track again.

Back on the main track again we soon found more Males flying, and a very obliging grounded individual :)     This one climbed on my finger and started to feed !    here i am shooting it, shot by Matthew.  I brace my shooting arm on knee to help keep steady:)

                                                        what a wonderful experience!

      then after seeing a few White Admirals along these smaller paths but unable to shoot them i finally managed a shot on the main track :)  they are smaller than the Emperors but still very beautiful

                                   its now late afternoon and they are still coming down!
                                        i got the light angle right showing strong colour :)

Just before this corner a rather obliging Emperor allowed himself to be photographed in numerous places, on the ground, on a passing cyclists nose,on my shoulder,in the bushes and finally on
                                                                  Matthews HAT !!!!!

                                                                     a passing cyclist :)

                       the shot everyone wanted to see :)  Matthew with an Emperor feeding on hat !

                                              and an obligatory finger shot to finish with :)

   What an amazing day,after seeing another 3 flying past me on the way back to the car, my final total was 3 females and 38 males.
as it happens the following day nowhere near the same number where seen grounding ,it has been suggested that because so many where seen flying and grounding all day today, even as late as 7 o'clock !  that might have been the reason. anyhow, i was there on probably the best day of the Emperor season   ,  so happy!

                           all images shot with canon 5d2, 70-300 is and 100mm L macro


  1. Beautiful photos - love the one of you taking a photo as well...quirky!
    Glad you got such fab shots.

  2. You've certainly got a way with butterflies mate..Must take a lot of patience..

  3. Absolutely fantastic shots, very well done....

  4. What a fantastic day for you. So pleased it was worth the trip. Fabulous photos as usual too :-)

  5. Absolutely stunning shots & just love the way your photos take us all on the walks with you to meet the butterflies! Thank you again for sharing!