Purple Emperor

What on earth is that butterfly doing on that jam buttee, I mused to myself, as I munched into my own. Then she-who-knows-a-lot-about-butterflies got really excited. It’s a PURPLE EMPEROR! Well, yes I did wonder if that might not be correct – it doesn’t look very purple, does it? But then apparently it is a female, and they aren’t purple.

Now, purple emperors usually swan around in the treetops and only come down to eat dung and rotting fruit – unlike most butterflies they don’t go for flowers and their nectar. So this was a most unusual event, and the females are even rarer than the males.

She stayed there awhile, sucking up jam, mostly with wings closed. They almost opened once.

Not a great shot, but then it is the first purple emperor I’ve ever knowlingly seen!

I double checked the jam – it was certainly not rotten.

Fens 5 Welney

The continuation of our exploration of the Fens.

The first large scale work on draining the Fens was completed in 17C by the Duke of Bedford and a Dutch engineer Nicholas van der Muyden. We drive along by one of the main drainage channels, called the New Bedford River (featured image), although it’s not actually a river but an extraction of some of the waters from the Great Ouse River.

The waterway is long and dead straight, with a high bank separating it from the surrounding lower ground. Nearby is an earlier parallel channel, the Old Bedford River. The land between these two channels, the Ouse Washes, is used as a flood relief area when the old River Ouse would have flooded. It’s also good for wetland bird conservation and bird watching, hence our visit here to WWT Welney, where hides that look out over the wetland.

We take turns to visit the hides as there is no provision for dog walking here. There is a fair bit of birdlife around, notably martins, avocets, lapwings. I also see a single black tailed godwit in the distance – evidence that the WWT project to establish a viable population here may be working. The avocets are particularly photogenic.

Following the channel towards the sea, via circuitous Fen roads, we arrive at our second destination, the Denver Sluice Gates near the Norfolk town of Downing Market.

Denver sluice

These sluice gates manage water flows both ways from here up to the coast near King’s Lynn – and specifically prevent the Fens from being inundated by high tides. It is salutary to realise that without these gates this whole area of the Fens would be under water at high tide.

Common buckeye

This common buckeye butterfly at Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza Park in Houston was being quite coy, just revealing one of the three ‘eyes’ on its upper wing.

These are said to be common in North America. They migrate north in the spring, so we probably just caught this one (March) before that event. This really is a rather beautiful butterfly!

Phaon crescent

Just catching up with photos from our March visit to Houston. This butterfly at Brazos Bend State Park took a bit of identifying. It’s similar to some European fritillaries, but this one is called a phaon crescent.

The wing patterns are quite striking. Apparently these are quite common in the Houston area and much of Texas.

Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar

The girls playing out on the cul de sac on a September evening were huddled together, excited. One of them had found this enormous caterpillar crossing the road – around two inches long. it was the biggest caterpillar any of us had ever seen, even the parents.

What on earth was it? It took some time to identify as the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which received its name courtesy of the characteristics of its caterpillar phase. The fake eyes are said to frighten predators off.

This picture from Wikimedia Commons shows what the adult looks like.

Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Gail Hampshire, via Wikimedia Commons

Small tortoiseshell 3

It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.

On white buddleia.
And incredibly hairy.

The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.

Click to see more detail.

Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…

Gatekeeper

During a recent short, sun-blessed visit to the Wales/Shropshire/Cheshire border area near Whitchurch, we saw lots of gatekeeper butterflies. Although typified as ‘browns’, and with the alternative name of ‘hedge brown’, the upper wings include a colourful orange.

Gatekeepers are more typically associated with southern England, but their range is extending northward, no doubt related to climate change.

Small Skipper 3

At first I thought this tiny insect flapping through the garden was some sort of moth. When it tarried a short while on the lavender, it became clear that it was a small skipper butterfly.

The lavender flower gives an idea of size, less than 2cm long. These butterflies mostly appear in UK at the height of summer, mid-June to mid-August.

This photo from a previous post shows the small skipper on thistle flower, with wings extended.

2019

And here’s one on buddleia in typical half-open pose.

2017

Ringlet

We haven’t seen many butterflies so far this summer, but there were plenty of these brown ringlets in the woodland during our recent visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, North Wales. Fortuitously, one paused on a neaby leaf allowing this shot.

The two eyespots at the bottom are characteristic; there may be one, two or three eyespots on each of the outer wings.

According to the Woodland Trust, the ringlet is not a threatened species and is on the increase in many areas.

Small white

The thistle patch featured a few days ago is already no longer, the flowers being replaced by fluffy seed balls like dandelion clocks. These pictures from that time, of small white butterflies click well with the colour of the thistle flowers. The first is an especially pleasing composition, to my eyes.

thistle small whitewhite on thistle 2

The (small and large) white butterflies were very common in my youth and a bit of a nuisance, with their caterpillars all over the brassica plants. Now they’re not so common, so seeing them is a bit more of an event, and photographing them more of a challenge.

Comma 2

The comma butterfly has a quite outrageous outline shape, supposedly helping as camouflage against a background of dead leaves. This was an occasional visitor to our garden, usually only seen on a few occasions during the summer.

comma_2

You can’t see the comma that gives this butterfly its name from the top. For this you need to see the underside, as in this earlier post.

The colour match with the buddleia and phlox is not wonderful, but that’s where it deigned to linger…

Mint Moth 2

It’s nearly three years since I last saw a mint moth in the garden. It doesn’t mean they’ve not been around, they’re just so small (under 2 cm) and fleeting. This one was in a similar place, on a forget-me-not flower by a patch of oregano, which they’re said to like as well as mint.

mint moth 2

These moths fly by day, as well as by night. Seen close up they have an amazingly furry body. This is probably the first of two breeds within the year in England.

This was a telephoto shot, whereas my previous post used the camera’s macro facility and is slightly sharper.

Insects in the Houston garden

As coronavirus gradually reduced our horizons during our recent stay in Houston, it was surprising how many insects one came across in the garden. Surprising because continuous chemical warfare is waged against termites and cockroaches, which would both soon become very widespread without it.

The presence of lizards and birds, such as cardinal, mocking bird and blue jay, does suggest that there are insects around, and if you go in the summer there will be mosquitoes due to large amounts of standing water. Fortunately these were not significantly around during our recent visit. We did see odd cockroaches, the great survivors, but these are not my favourite photographic subjects.

Bees were around on emerging spring flowers, but my two best pictures were of a monarch butterfly and a colourful paper wasp(?).

Click twice to see full screen.