Monday, 30 July 2012

THE PURPLE EMPEROR: An Audience with His Imperial Majesty!

I received the most wonderful birthday present a few days ago. No, it wasn't the lovely earrings or the pile of Nature books...not more Nature books? Yes, afraid so ;-) No, it was something very, very special, so special that books have been solely devoted to it and pilgrimages are made year after year by its subjects who travel many miles for just a glimpse of its extraordinary beauty. Sumptuous banquets are held for it with white clothed tables bearing many varied and exotic dishes. It is of course the much sought after but very elusive Purple Emperor!

 Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

When we arrived at our destination which was less than an hour's drive away from home I was well aware that these magnificent, regal creatures held court there but also well aware that to actually see them at close quarters is a rare privilege, so my main quarry was the lovely Silver-washed Fritillary which I had high hopes of seeing. And see them I did...but...every time I spotted one it was a case of 'here's one'. Zoom!...'It went thataway' ;-) So that was the end of that idea. Of course I kept a very close eye out for any sign of His Imperial Majesty but much more in vain hope than any real expectation.

Enter, one half of the Butterfly Brothers! We hadn't been walking for long when we saw someone coming towards us with camera round neck. Now, usually I will smile, say hello and carry on but buoyed up by the sunshine and an eagerness for any help I could get ;-) my usual reticence (shyness!) took a back seat and I asked if he had seen anything interesting. ''Yes, I've seen three or four and got some photos", he said!! 'He must be talking about Silver-washed Fritillaries', I thought. "Of course the best time to see the Emperor is between about 10:00am and midday which is when I saw them", he continued!!! As it was just after 2:30pm I resigned myself to possibly getting a glimpse high in a tree canopy if I was very, very lucky. He told us his brother was further down the track and after wishing me luck we went our separate ways. It wasn't long before Butterfly Brother 2 hove into view, we exchanged smiles and hellos and carried on.


 'Above the sovereign oak a sovereign skims,
The purple emperor, strong in wing and limbs.'
(George Crabbe)

It was a very hot and sunny day and although I find extreme heat very difficult it was such a joy to be out in the sunshine after the last three to four months of continual rain. Meadow Browns were everywhere, thankfully they at least seem to be doing well. As I mentioned earlier I did see Silver-washed Fritillaries but none were interested in settling, they would dart from the forested area into the sunny glade and back again without settling at all.


We were eventually pleased to find a seat to rest on, sip some water and enjoy the surroundings for a few moments and while doing so I suddenly saw a very large butterfly, larger than any other I have seen.. my very first sighting of His Imperial Majesty, The Purple Emperor! Unfortunately, he wasn't interested in a lowly subject like me and regally flew on his way giving me only a fleeting glimpse and not even time to raise my camera in deference!


A pleasant walk produced more Meadow Browns and some Marbled Whites. I have seen and photographed Marbled Whites in five different locations recently, another species which seems not to have suffered too badly this year :-) Eventually we decided to retrace our steps and work our way back to the car park. After a while who should we see coming towards us but Butterfly Brother 2! We had a bit of a chat and he told us that he and his brother travel all over the UK in pursuit of butterflies and had been to Scotland last week to see the Scotch Argus. He also said he does butterfly transects in his own area and voluntary work coppicing etc. in the Winter months. He was clearly very knowledgeable and if I hadn't known better I would have sworn he was a certain blogging friend of mine from Kent ;-)
I asked where his brother was and he said he was lagging behind and as we were talking I spotted Butterfly Brother 1 in the distance. The next moment an enormous bellow rent the air "Purple Emperor! Purple Emperor!"


Needless to say we scurried down that track as fast as we could towards BB1 and there, sure enough, gliding back and forth from one side of the track to the other was His Majesty in all His Imperial Glory! We stood entranced, loyal subjects worshipping at the court of the sovereign! I truly expected him to disappear into the trees never to be seen again, when all of a sudden he dropped to the ground and proceeded to feed, probing between the aggregate with his long and impressive, yellow proboscis in search of salts and minerals.

'Stay near me—do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!'
(William Wordsworth)

In keeping with their reputation he was completely unperturbed by us and we humbly gathered around him to pay homage. Moments later there was an anguished cry from one of the Butterfly Brothers, "Oh, no, I don't believe it! Bl...y dogs!" "Keep the dogs back, control the dogs!" they both shouted, and amazingly the owners did. I would never have been brave enough to have done that...I could have kissed the Butterfly Brothers :-) Moments later the same thing happened with more dogs and owners and again the BBs triumphed and we continued our reverence.

For all its regal airs this beautiful creature has the most revolting dietary preferences and likes nothing better than a good old helping of dog pooh or fox scat! All of which brings me back to the tables laden with white cloths (His Majesty has been proven to have a preference for white!) each adorned with a fat candle and groaning with delectable dishes bearing such delicacies as king prawns, rotten bananas, horse manure, shrimp curry, crushed grapes, pickled mudfish, honey water and a particular brand of shrimp paste so rancid it had been pronounced unfit for human consumption in the UK! 'The Purple Emperor's Breakfast,' held in the glade of an ancient royal hunting forest, was a contemporary art event arranged by an art gallery as part of an experiment to find out which bait the butterfly was most attracted to. More information can be found here.

We must have worshipped at The Court of his Majesty for getting on for an hour, carefully moving around him and marvelling at the iridescent sheen on his magnificent wings, the hue varying from several shades of blue through to purple as the light struck them from different angles. The even more elusive female is deep brown with the white markings but lacks the purple sheen which the male's dark brown wings show as a result of light refraction.

'O butterfly on whose light wings,
The golden summer sunshine clings.'
(Richard Watson Gilder)

Just as we were wondering whether it would be impolite to leave His Majesty before he had finished dining he rose, replete from his meal and left us without a backward glance. What an encounter it was and one I will never, ever forget. Some people spend a lifetime hunting for this incredible butterfly without success. I feel very, very privileged to have had such a close encounter with His Imperial Majesty.

I hope this hasn't been too long and tedious but I felt The Purple Emperor deserved a post all to himself, there is so much more I could have included! Thank you for indulging me and staying until the end.

N.B. There was a debate as to whether we dared remove the grass which was throwing unwanted shadows on to the butterfly but it was decided it wasn't worth the risk of disturbance. Consequently, and oddly, in some of the photos the butterfly's white markings appear to be on the blade of grass! I assume it is something to do with reflections on the lens.

 Until the next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.


  1. really beautiful! hooray to the butterfly brothers for their assistance! :)

  2. How beautiful! I know the feeling of butterflies flying away. In fact, so much so (in my case) that I have yet to photograph one. Perhaps one day. :) In the meantime I will continue enjoying such beautiful photos as yours. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. So wonderful butterfly!

  4. ShySongbird ,
    Firstly , congratulations on attending the court of His Imperial Majesty , as a you say , a lifetimes ambition for many people , now yours is complete .
    A great read , and as I did so , I couldn't help but wonder whether I know one of the BBs . I know it's a very , very long shot , but did the name Keith come into use at all ? Alternatively , did they say where they were from ?
    I'm probably way out , but you never know .
    Great pictures , and your excitement came through in the story-telling too .
    Really pleased for you , well done .

  5. What a memorable encounter - and great shots. Congratulations!
    Those wing markings are exceptional, and the yellow proboscis quite startling.

  6. Fabulous account and photos Jan. I was actually holding my breath while reading that.

    Belated best birthday wishes to you.

  7. Superb Jan! Well done you and a cracking birthday present! (Happy Birthday, by the way! :) )
    A butterfly I have yet to see, despite visits to Fermyn Woods, a supposed stronghold!
    Follow me at HEDGELAND TALES

  8. Corrr!
    What stunners! Ive never seen the Purple Emperor, how exciting would that be ;-)

    An exciting well written post Songbird, I bet you're still smiling :-)

  9. Hi Jan,

    Beautiful photos of a stunning Butterfly!!!

    If only we could ever get them in our gardens... *sigh*

  10. Hi Jan,

    Beautiful photos of a stunning Butterfly!!!

    If only we could ever get them in our gardens... *sigh*

  11. Jan, I can totally empathise with all the emotions that you felt on meeting such royalty, and what a birthday present!, as I, just a few days ago, along with Keith from Caldecotte also had an unexpected audience with his eminence! We were out looking for Silver Washed Fritillaries (we saw two flybys!!) I knew that royalty frequented the area that we were in but never expected to be so lucky as to have such an encounter.

    A special day indeed and an experience that may never be repeated.

    Excellent post and superb images Jan...[;o)

  12. Thats what I call a happy birthday,
    Well done Jan.

  13. That is the best birthday present anyone could have! Congrats on the find and very very exciting. I can feel the excitement in this post. What a beautiful butterfly! I can see why this would be on many people's lists to spot. Glad they held those pesky dogs back. Some owners aren't so friendly. Love the pictures. I've never seen this beauty before. Incredible!

  14. Great photos Jan. Was this at Oversley by any chance? I had great views there last year but not much joy on the photo front. I'm rather envious of your shots!

  15. You extremely fortunate person you (that was the polite version) {:))
    Well done Jan, just brilliant.

  16. TexWisGirl

    Thank you Theresa. The BBs were definitely helpful :-)


    Thank you Linda. Nature photography can be very frustrating. I hope you manage to photograph some butterflies soon.


    Danke Crissi!


    Thank you Greenie. It was a wonderful experience! I did wonder if you might have come across one or both of them either on your trips or perhaps to do with your voluntary work. I'm afraid I didn't think to ask their names but I think they said they came from Worcestershire...I think Kidderminster was mentioned. I would love to know if it is who you are thinking of?

  17. WELL Happy Birthday!!! What a great present for sure. SO glad you got to see the Emperor, and you got some lovely photos of him and his other butterfly subjects too!!

  18. Jan
    What a stunning post and to see one of these must have made your year, never heard of them down this way. Your images have certainly done it royal justice.
    It May be Purple, Purple, Purple but I am Green, Green, Green,
    Congratulations and really well done.

  19. Stunning photos of a stunning butterfly, and altogether a brilliant post. I wish we had some of these beauties up here.


  20. Fantastic post Jan. They really are superb butterflies. A great account of your encounter, and fantastic pictures to go with it.

    Like Trevor said, we both had a marvelous encounter with this regal flutter last week.
    A lasting memory.

    And belated birthday wishes.

  21. Congratulations with the Purple Emperor and splendid post and images Jan! Your excitement and joy shined through in your post and what a delight it was to read about!
    I am so pleased for you as it has not been a good Butterfly summer but you saw some great species, hooray for the sunshine at long last!
    A Belated 'Happy Birthday' to you, you have some lovely memories and images to cherish of your special 'Regal' Birthday gift!

  22. Congratulations with the Purple Emperor and splendid post and images Jan! Your excitement and joy shined through in your post and what a delight it was to read about!
    I am so pleased for you as it has not been a good Butterfly summer but you saw some great species, hooray for the sunshine at long last!
    A Belated 'Happy Birthday' to you, you have some lovely memories and images to cherish of your special 'Regal' Birthday gift!

  23. Oh Jan - what a wonderful birthday present I can't imagine anything better :) and many congratulations on seeing this butterfly. I bet you are still over the moon with this encounter!

    The photos are truly stunning and a wonderful post showing all the excitement you felt. Thanks so much for sharing as I read it I felt as though I was there with you :)

    A belated Happy Birthday - glad you got some nature books too :)

  24. Rob

    Thank you Rob. It was a very special encounter :-) That proboscis was amazing!

    Midmarsh John

    Thank you John. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the birthday greetings too :-)


    Thank you John and for the birthday wishes :-) I have read that Fermyn is one of the most favoured places to go but opted for Bernwood Forest which is glad I did :-)

    Warren Baker

    Thanks Warren. It was very exciting and yes, I'm definitely still smiling about it :-)


    Hi Liz, Thank you. That would be amazing but unfortunately not likely as they are not at all interested in flowers and you would need a lot of Oak trees and Sallows to attract them!

    The Herald

    Hi Trevor and thank you. Yes, it was amazing! Well, what a coincidence that you, Keith and I were all looking for SWFs and only got fly pasts but managed an audience with HIM!! I'm really looking forward to seeing both of your accounts :-)

  25. Mike Atwood

    Thank you Mike :-)


    Thank you Chris. It really was exciting! The dog owners were very well behaved ;-) I don't think they really had much choice with the BBs in charge ;-) I love dogs but they can be very tiresome in wildlife areas or more correctly, their owners can!

    Jason K

    Thanks Jason. No it was Bernwood Forest! We are supposed to be having a bit of a holiday and Oversley is also on the list for the SWFs but the weather seems to have scuppered us, so frustrating! We went to Bernwood as it is a little nearer but I'm really looking forward to exploring Oversley...hopefully in the sunshine :-)


    Thank you Roy. Probably best you stuck to the polite version ;-)

  26. Great words, great shots, great butterfly, great pity I haven't seen one!!
    I am very envious.

  27. ShySongbird ,
    I said it was a very , very long shot , and so it proved .
    The two brothers that I know and think nothing of travelling to any corner of the UK for a butterfly are based here in the South East .

  28. Sondra

    Thank you Sondra and for your birthday wishes :-) It certainly was a very special present!


    Thank you Monty, You are very well as very green... in colour only, I hasten to add! :-)


    Thank you very much David. They really are absolutely stunning!


    Thank you Keith. What a coincidence! :-) They really are stunning, so glad you and Trevor got to see them too.
    Thanks for the birthday wishes too :-)


    Thank you very much Pam and also for your birthday wishes. It was certainly a birthday I will never forget :-)
    The weather really was wonderful last week but we are back to rain here again this disappointing.

    Ragged Robin

    Thank you Caroline. Yes I am definitely still over the moon about my encounter, it was a wonderful birthday present :-) and I'm so glad I managed to convey my excitement.
    Thank you for your birthday wishes. My husband was reading the comments and he remarked that you had mentioned the Nature books... I told him that you are the naughty girl who encourages my 'habit' ;-)

  29. What a great birthday gift! something I wouldn't mind getting!! Happy Birthday!

  30. Dear Jan,
    Happy Birthday! A glorious gift you received!
    He is gorgeous...absolutely stunning....
    I am so happy you not only saw a Purple Emperor but were able to spend time with this handsome butterfly.
    How very, very exciting. I do understand.....
    Sherry, who dances with butterflies

  31. Mimo iż sama sobie zrobiłaś wspaniały prezent, życzę Ci wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin. Jego Cesarskie Mości są śliczne i pan i pani, mimo iż tylu kolorów nie ma. Piękne zdjęcia im zrobiłaś i nawet ich żółtą trąbkę widać. Gratuluję i pozdrawiam.
    Although she did a wonderful gift, I wish you a happy birthday. His Majesty is beautiful, and Mr. and Mrs., even though there is so many colors. Beautiful pictures of them did, and even they can see a yellow trumpet. Congratulations and greetings.

  32. Hi Jan...I was just checking comments ,and I saw yours...thanks you so much ,and was glad to see it because it reminded me that I had seen your post in my reading list. I so much going on that I was going to get back to it and forgot!
    I can tell you was excited, and so would I be,it is a real stunner the Purple Emperor!! Your photo are just marvelous !!! : }Love this post the suspense was a killer though! ; }!!
    You must be still on your Happy Birthday high over this find ; }!!!
    Looks like you made some of the boy's envious!! : } Women rule!! lol

  33. What a magnificent butterfly and what an amazing experience this must have been, Jan! I feel the same thrills when I see a Monarch butterfly, though they are actually quite common around here.

    Hooray for the Butterfly Brothers for leading you to them; your photos are fantastic. I must admit, though, their banquet doesn't sound too appetizing:) You would think with their regal name, they would feast on nectar and ambrosia.

    Just wondering...did you curtsy to His Majesty?:)

  34. What a wonderfull photographies. Your blog is amazing for me, i miss everything meantime i look it. Congratulations

  35. lucky you! thanks for sharing

  36. Phil

    Thank you Phil, definitely a great experience :-) I hope one day you get to see one too.


    Thanks for letting me know Greenie. Quite a coincidence that there are two sets of brothers with a passion for butterflies!


    Thank you Barbara. It was the best birthday gift and one I won't forget :-)


    Giga thank you, It was a wonderful gift! The colours were really beautiful. Warm wishes to you!
    Giga dziękuję To był wspaniały prezent! Kolory były naprawdę piękne. Ciepłe życzenia dla Ciebie!

  37. A BRILLIANT Purple Emperor, I've never seen one, lucky beast.

  38. Q

    Dear Sherry (who dances with butterflies :-) ) So sorry to have my replies out of order, yours should have been before Giga's!
    Thank you for your comments and for your birthday greetings.
    Spending time with the Emperor was wonderful! I knew you would understand...we both love butterflies, they are so vey special...

    grammie g

    Thank you Grace, Yes, still on that birthday high and yes, it's good to beat the boys now and again ;-) Girl power...yeaaahhy!! :-)


    Thank you Rose. I can absolutely see why your Monarchs would make you feel like that, I would definitely be the same and I would be with your beautiful Hummingbirds too!
    With the amount of knee bending I did to get photos I think you can say I did curtsy to His Majesty ;-)

    Eva de dueñas

    Welcome Eva! Thank you very much for visiting and for your very kind comments :-)


    Thank you Pete :-)

    Bob Bushell

    Thank you Bob. It was very special :-)

  39. Happy Belated Birthday. I love all your gorgeous butterflies. Awesome post and the photos are wonderful. Hope you are having a great weekend.

  40. Oh, how beautiful!
    I know the feeling of your excitement!
    It is a marvel with its purple iridescence!
    Well done, congrats!

  41. WOW!!!

    long and tedious? far from it .. this amazing post really made my day!! much love :-)

  42. eileeninmd

    Thank you Eileen and for your birthday greetings. I had a lovely weekend and hope you did too :-)


    Thank you Noushka. It was so exciting and the colour on the wings when seen from different angles was just incredible!


    Thank you Steph :-) I'm so glad you enjoyed certainly made my day...week even...well, Summer really! ;-) x

  43. Long and tedious? I enjoyed every word! I can't say how envious I am too, I have tried several years running at a nearby location (which is good for Silver-wased too) with several known 'master oaks' but to no avail. By the way, you might be interested to give my blog a look in. Jerry

  44. they're each beautiful in their own right; not something I see often here, maybe the birds pick them up?

  45. What awesome photos Jan! Amazing. I'm so glad you finally got some nice weather after all that rain. And just in time for the Olympics too! It's been way too hot but we finally got some rain and less humidity the past two day. More hot weather tomorrow though. I stay inside when it's hot. Take care and it was nice hearing from you.

  46. Jerry

    Thank you Jerry. So glad you enjoyed it and didn't find it too self indulgent :-) I really hope you get to see one, it is an unforgettable experience!

    Carole M.

    Thank you Carole. As far as I know you don't get the Purple Emperor where you are but I could be wrong. Yes, birds will eat butterflies although some are clever and produce a toxin which makes them distasteful. Snakes and rats will eat them too I think.


    Thanks so much Ginny. I hope you are keeping well! Yes, thankfully the weather has improved a little for the Olympics but in general it has been abysmal here this year. I hope you get some cooler temperatures soon...until then stay in and relax...HUGS! :-)

  47. Lovely photos from you, as always. You are mentioned over my way, BTW, on the post just up.

  48. That's a gorgeous butterfly and you got him well!

  49. Hello Jan,

    Wow..what a fantastic butterfly!! The colours are magnificent and the yellow proboscis is something one can't miss!! I loved the pictures and I'm glad you you included several.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a message. I took a break without really intending to... Family issues kept away from the computer and then when I wanted to spend time on the Net, the PC acted up again. Finally when it was restored, somehow the enthusiasm of I'm- dying-to-share-this-bit wasn't there. I haven't checked my blog for weeks! I saw your comment and came here. Maybe it'll take me a little more time to get back to regular blogging.

  50. These are just beautiful butterfly images

  51. Susan Scheid

    Thank you Susan, always a pleasure to see you here :-)


    Thank you Chris :-)

    Nature Rambles

    Thank you Kanak. That proboscis was incredible! I took so many photos, it was difficult to know how many to include!
    Thank you also for putting my mind at rest. I was a little concerned because you are usually such a prolific blogger (unlike me!) but I think we all need a break from blogging sometimes and of course 'real life' often intervenes and prevents us from posting. Don't worry we will all still be here when you return :-)

    Julie Hargreaves

    Welcome Julie! Thank you so much for visiting and for your kind comment. So glad you enjoyed seeing the beautiful Purple Emperor. I do hope you visit again :-)

  52. Shy Songbird: I can't thank you enough for taking the time to spot those ID errors--particularly given that you couldn't see the slideshow (and thanks for the heads up on that, too). It was lovely to come back here, too, to revisit your purple emperor. Such a beautiful butterfly, even though his choice of repast (like that shown at hedgeland tales) is a wee bit unappealing! A belated happy birthday, by the way. I was quite remiss in not noting that the first time around!

  53. What a beautiful butterfly. You got some great shots.

  54. Jan.
    What a wonderful days walk you had. Love the photo's of the Purple Emperor. Have yet to see one.maybe one day.

  55. Jan, it's me again! I forgot to wish you a belated "Happy Birthday'! After reading your comment and two more from other blog friends, I finally did a blog post today! I didn't think I'd post so soon. But your words made me feel that I shouldn't be away for too long!!!

  56. Susan, OC, Ken and Kanak: So sorry for the late replies!

    Susan Scheid

    Thank you so much for your further comment and for your kind birthday wishes. I was glad to help a little with your IDs and guessed John would help too :-)
    I definitely would'nt like to share a meal with His Majesty although I do admit to a passion for smelly, runny French cheeses!!


    Thank you OC, very kind :-)


    Thank you Ken. I hope you get to see one someday, they are magnificent!


    Thank you for your kind birthday wishes Kanak. So glad you have posted again but don't ever feel pressurised to do so. As I try to remind myself, blogging should be fun and not a chore :-)

  57. Witam. Nie piszesz nowych postów, nie zaglądasz do mnie, więc przyszłam pozdrowić Cię serdecznie.
    Welcome. You do not write new posts, do not you take a look at me, so I came to greet you warmly.

  58. Giga

    Thank you for caring Giga. Due to various personal problems I am finding blogging difficult at the moment. I will visit your blog as soon as I can though. I hope all is well with you and send warm good wishes.

    Dziękuję za troskę Giga. Z powodu różnych problemów osobistych jestem znalezienie blogów trudno w tej chwili. Będę odwiedzenia swojego bloga jak tylko mogę chociaż. Mam nadzieję, że wszystko jest dobrze z tobą i wysłać ciepłe życzenia.

  59. What a Birthday treat for you, Jan! Wow... a delightful read on (blush, blush) a butterfly I had never heard of :-0

    Oh... but your enthusiastic encounter here tells me just how special this was to see. I'm thrilled for you that you will always have this moment. Great photos too although somehow I think the real regal image is etched in your head :-D

  60. Thank you Shirl, Yes, it really was a very special day! Such a privilege to see a butterfly which is so revered and sought after and you are quite right, the images will stay in my head for ever. That whole week was magical, it was the only real (though very short) spell of good weather we had all Summer and we were able to take some time off and get out each day and explore lots of places we had never been to before :-)


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