Admirals and Emperors

As a childhood lepidopterist I had a recurring dream of seeing a Purple Emperor. (OK, confession time: I’ve had this dream as an adult as well.)

Three years ago, I chased the dream and saw my first Purple Emperors, in Ashdown Forest, high up in the trees; then, last July, took the 1.5-hour trip to the incredible ecological project that is Knepp Wildland, to photograph these rare butterflies.

Knepp’s website explains that it is:

a 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham, West Sussex. Since 2001, the land – once intensively farmed – has been devoted to a pioneering rewilding project. Using grazing animals as the drivers of habitat creation, and with the restoration of dynamic, natural water courses, the project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife. Extremely rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding here; and populations of more common species are rocketing.”

Purple Emperor, feeding on sap

My visit to Knepp might be becoming an annual fixture. In any case, I returned today, at the peak of Purple Emperor season, this time with my wife, Janine, again in the hope of some decent pics.

As soon as we stepped out of the car on to the Knepp estate, we were treated to the sight of several Emperors flitting between the oak trees and the roofs of nearby houses. Purple Emperors tend to stay in the trees, often high up, feeding on sap, making decent pics a challenge. Elusive beggars that they are!

Purple Emperor, feeding on sap

We enjoyed watching them in several sites, but as for photos, these were the best I could do.

In fact, everything seemed to be on the move today, making it difficult to get a good snap of any bird or butterfly.

Female Purple Emperor

However, I love just being in that kind of environment, absorbing the richness of the habitat, the hum of nature all around. And we enjoyed plenty of other natural wonders, apart from the Purple Emperors.

…such as the deer that shot out from bushes at the beginning of our walk and ran across our path, causing us shock and delight in equal measure.

…such as these White Admirals: the first I’ve seen for a few years – almost as much of a treat as the Emperors:

A slightly tatty White Admiral
White Admiral

…the Purple Hairstreaks that fluttered around many of the same oaks as the Purple Emperors.

…the ubiquitous Cinnabar moth caterpillars:

Cinnabar Moth caterpillars

…the many Marbled Whites that adorned nearly every field and hedgerow.

Marbled White taking off as I pressed the shutter!
Nothing stood still for long today.

…and these storks (yes, storks!), which are part of a fascinating project to reintroduce the species to the UK, which you can read about here.

Storks in England!

My new dream now will of course be to achieve some better Purple Emperor pictures. But if that never happens, I’ll still be content with having fulfilled the original dream of simply enjoying watching this majestic butterfly.