Purple Emperor at Oakley and Finemere Woods, Bucks – 5 & 7th July

My quest for better pictures of White Admiral found me back at the regular local location of Bernwood Forest, Bucks on Tuesday. With an overcast start to the day and a late shift awaiting in the shop at 3pm there wasn’t time to go “out of area” and so I arrived mid-morning at Oakley Wood Forestry Commision car park (SP612118) to tread a familiar route.

For my first hour on site conditions remained steadfastly grey with only fluttering Ringlet in the long grass and occasional Large Skipper to break the monotony. After one circuit to the central crossroads and back I reasoned that if I left the sun would be bound to come out, so I decided to sit in the car and wait. As things transpired that was only for a few minutes before fairer weather took over.

Then I walked part of the woods that in past experience is good for White Admiral. Four Silver-washed Fritillary were active at one spot though not close enough to photograph, and I also encountered Broad-bodied Chaser and Hairy Hawker dragonflies. Arriving back at the main track a group of dog walkers were gathered around something on the path and they beckoned me over. I get recognised in this place. This had to be a Purple Emperor and so it was.

The butterfly before long objected to being videoed with a phone and flew off. When the group dispersed I set off down the track to relocate it. At first it was very flighty moving restlessly back up the track ahead of me. Incredibly so I thought the next dog walkers through didn’t even notice as this wonder of nature flew past them at waist height. I gestured to point it out but concluding they probably thought I was a bit mad I let them be.

The Purple Emperor came to rest close to where it had first came down from the trees. Then it began the familiar routine either of probing the hard surface of the track for whatever it is they extract, or just sitting still looking magnificent. It allowed a very close approach now. Pristine was not the word as it glistened before me in all its freshness.

Eventually a Dalmation appeared at my elbow that I took by the collar to prevent the insect being put up. The owners were the couple I had passed further down the track. They had apparently thought I was some kind of dog poo vigilante but all was now explained and they were very appreciative of being shown such a beautiful butterfly. Having submitted the record to BC I believe this is the first Oakley Wood sighting of the season.

Today (7th) I met up with Ewan at another BBOWT reserve in the north of the Bernwood Forest complex, Finemere Wood (SP721215). The first thing I encountered after going through the entrance gate some time after 11am was another male Purple Emperor flopping around above the surface of the track, before disappearing from view. I then had to inform Ewan of this who had been on site for an hour already without seeing one. We split up to search different parts of the wood, and soon I got a call to say he had relocated the Emperor. Phew, tranquillity could now resume!

When I returned to the entrance gate this butterfly was still posing nicely for a small group of observers that had gathered. It was in a muddier and more grassy location than the Oakley Wood individual and so offered a little different composition (pictured above). These pictures demonstrate how this large butterfly’s appearance depends on how the light catches it, with often only one top wing in the male appearing to be purple.

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