I’m currently reading Patrick Barkham’s excellent book The Butterfly Isles in which he describes the summer when, as an amateur enthusiast, he travelled throughout the British Isles seeking out all 59 species of native British butterflies in one year.
Now this may sound a bit geeky and quirky (it is!) but if you like butterflies and have done so since you were a child (like me), reading it becomes a bit compulsive. It kept me quiet over the Christmas holidays.
It’s a well-written travelogue which reads like an adventure/detective story as each butterfly is sought and seen in various UK locations. Some of the butterflies I’ve seen, some I’ve yet to see, and I know I need to get my ID of the various kinds of fritillaries worked out a bit better than they are now. But I can ID quite a few species without help from a book. One of those is the magical Purple Emperor.
I’d seen plenty of illustrations and photos of this magnificent butterfly but, until a few years ago, had never seen one for real. My first sighting of this large, stunning butterfly was in France, in the Dordogne region. It was special. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the purple flash and sheen on its wings. It landed on the ground outside the facilities block on the lushly vegetated campsite I was staying on. With a nearby fig tree already dropping ripened fruit, it may have been attracted by this. I had no camera with me; I was on the way to the loo, but it made my day seeing my first Purple Emperor.
A year or so later, on a rough country path by the same campsite, I saw another Emperor. This time I had my camera and the butterfly ignored me as it gorged itself on horse manure. A royal feast for Emperors – they go in for “disgusting” in a big way.
Having read Barkham’s description and experience of this butterfly, I now see, looking at my photo, what he means about its muscular, hefty body and its yellow proboscis probing deep into the manure as it feasts. A treat for the Emperor, and a treat for me too, to see it at such close quarters.