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.
Our exploration of the Fens continues from Fens 1.
Next day we drive south, circle around Ely, and across to Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve – the National Trust’s first nature reserve, established in 1899. With some of the largest unspoilt areas of Fenland, this seems a good place to begin our explorations. The site is well marked, with a good range of information boards on wildlife and Fen history.
We learn a lot about fen life – the great abundance of eels as a staple food, the techniques of mass murder used to capture much of the then-abundant birdlife; plover netting and a huge shotgun called a punt gun, both of which could kill or capture many birds in one go. They must have seemed wonderful wheezes, but of course this was never going to be sustainable.
The edge-of-fen area around Wicken is criss crossed by manmade watercourses called lodes, created during the Middle Ages primarily to prevent flooding, all draining into the River Cam.
Fen Cottage, a pretty, historic cottage and garden, suggest a glamour to the Fen life that I’m sure wasn’t always there. Information boards are more realistic about what life was really like in the Fens. After all, they were living in a large bog. But there was always lots of wildlife providing free food to those who could catch it.
The boardwalk (featured image) around the large reedbed is not accessible to dogs, so we take turns. But there are miles of other walks for dogs on stone tracks. Immersed in nature, we see a dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and birds, and listen to invisible warblers.
In the 18C the Fens were for some years drained by windpumps, inspired by Dutch experience; one of the few remaining specimens is here at Wicken Fen.
Back at base, the greylag family has enlarged, and the dog enjoys trying to chase geese, goslings and ducks, prevented by a short leash.
I just rediscovered photos from May of this large moth on the drive, maybe 1-2in long.
I think it is probably a lime hawk moth. The colouring, shape, time of year and location near a birch tree are all right. although the markings are not quite as in the examples on the web. Attractive pattern anyway!
The next day after the previous post, another dragonfly appears in the vicinity of the garden pond, and stays still on the crocosmia, presumably waiting for its wings to develop after emerging. This was maybe between one inch and an inch and a half long.
It seems to me that this demonstrates one of the many benefits of a garden pond in providing for a diversity of wildlife. Unfortunately, garden ponds are no longer as popular in UK as they were in my memory, probably due to the work involved in maintaining them. It’s so much easier to mow a lawn, put down plastic grass, or tarmac it over.
You know how dragonflies are always on the move, usually continuously patrolling their territory. So it was a surpise to see this large one just basking on a loganberry stem in the garden. The insect was probably a couple of inches long.
The British Dragonfly Identification Guide suggests that this is a common hawker. We realised that this was probably newly emerged, maybe from our garden pond, waiting for its wings to fully develop.
Another revelation was the following zoom closeup taken with my Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone, confirming that high-end modern smartphone cameras have caught up with many of the capabilities of my previously favoured compact superzooms Panasonic TZ80/TZ200. And this shot has been reduced to 2500px width.
Apparently, they hop to propel themselves and fly away when threatened.
It is good to research and name these unknown (to me) species, although there is also a good argument to just be in, look and marvel at nature – rather than compulsively needing to name everything. Left and right brain – best to engage both!
A brownish moth was flying around at Garner State Park and suddenly went to ground, seemingly vanishing. Close inspection revealed this oak moth‘s excellent camouflage among the dead leaves of the park.
The wide range of birdlife is usually the main attraction at Brazos Bend State Park, but this time we were welcomed by this rather large butterfly resting in the bushes. It turns out to be a giant swallowtail.
According to Wikipedia, this is the largest butterfly in North America (5-8 inch wingspan), and is abundant in parts of the Eastern states.
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
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.
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…
It’s been a bad summer for butterflies in England. Most common are the whites, small and large. Occasionally we come across the green veined white, seen here at the National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire. With wings spread out it is similar to the small white, but the underside shows clear green veins.
Hidcote also gave the bonus of a nice fresh peacock butterfly.
This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.
According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.
These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.
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.
Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.
Click to see closer.
Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:
Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).
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.
In my experience, dragonflies are difficult to photograph because they are constantly on the move, often patrolling their territory. I was probably lucky to catch these male black tailed skimmers basking in the sun, by the lake at the National Trust’s Ickworth House in Suffolk.