July has been extremely dry, with Hampshire having only 2% of the average rainfall and to be frank that was a waste of time, probably evaporating just after it fell. Watering the garden has become essential and I know in times like these one should be frugal with water but I don't want to see a lot of my wife's hard work go to waste. So it was then that I decided to use the static spray to water the beds at around six thirty.
It was a pleasant evening with plenty of sunshine, there are plenty of trees in the garden, mostly Acer and several Amelanchiers, and the garden is about the size of a tennis court with levels.
After about five minutes watering I noticed a large butterfly had appeared and was flying in and out of the water spray, I could see white flashes as it passed by me and from the flight, which consisted of glides through the water spray and then flicks of the wings as it turned to re-enter the water, I was almost certain of the identification but just couldn't believe it!
It flew around me and then flew to the kitchen windowsill where it settled and the identification was settled and I just couldn't believe it, a female Purple Emperor in my garden! I rushed into the house to get the closest camera, my phone. Back inthe garden the Emperor was still there and I could get close.
This butterfly spends most of its time in woodland canopy where it feeds on aphid honeydew, with the occasional close encounter when it comes down to feed on sap runs or, in the case of the male, animal droppings, carrion or moist ground that provide much-needed salts and minerals.
The male butterfly is one of the most beautiful of all of the butterflies found in the British Isles. From certain angles it appears to have black wings intersected with white bands. However, when the wings are at a certain angle to the sun, the most beautiful purple sheen is displayed. The female, on the other hand, is a deep brown, with bolder white markings, but does not possess the purple sheen found in the male, she is also larger than the male Possible confusion species could be the White Admiral, but this species is smaller with rounded wings and flies with a flitting movement and not he gliding behaviour of the Purple Emperor. This one is also showing signs of wear and damage in the wings.
From the window sill the butterfly flew off and circled the garden once more to land in one of the trees where I was able to watch it drinking the water from the leaves.
A typical first-appearance date for this butterfly is between June 20th -25th, with most adults then emerging over a three-week period. The flight period is reasonably short and by early August the adult butterfly season is over. This is the latest I have ever seen one and with the good weather this summer I would think could be one of the latest sightings
So what was it doing here in my garden? For perspective, we live in a close and established estate, there is an oak tree along Lymington Bottom about 50 metres away, but I wouldn't say this was the ideal woodland canopy habitat. Old Down Wood has plenty of oak and I have also found plenty of sallow, I have always been hopeful of finding Purple Emperor and indeed Purple Hairstreak (which also turned up in the garden 13 days ago!) but I have never been able to find any sign or activity or either.
The females apparently will travel good distances to seek out suitable sallow, but how far I don't know, the closest known habitat where Purple Emperor could also be found would be Bentley Wood, which is close to the railway station at Bentley (not the one on the Wiltshire / Hampshire border), and that is again close to Alice Holt. I will never know where it came from but will have to have a closer and more intense search of Old down Wood next year.
I managed to also get some video of her as she imbibed on the leaves. It did mean I became soaked from the spray, but believe me it was worth it.