"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Butterflies at Oversley Wood

Last Sunday we went on our annual pilgrimage to Oversley Woods in search of the Purple Emperor butterfly - that most magnificent of butterflies that has enchanted lepidopterists for centuries.

As we walked along this ride from the car park it was obvious that there were loads of butterflies in flight which was a relief considering the paucity of butterflies I've seen elsewhere this year.

Ringlets, Silver-washed Fritillaries and various species of white butterflies were in flight where ever you looked. A White Admiral fluttered past followed by a gentleman in pursuit asking what species I thought it was - I replied it looked like a White Admiral whereas he exclaimed I think I saw a flash of purple as it flew past me! Whatever species it was I wasn't prepared to count it - there is no way I am "ticking" this species unless I get a decent look and 100% positive id preferably with a photo. He did show us a superb photo of a male he had taken earlier that week and told us the best sightings to be had this year were in 2 oaks just to the right of some conifers a few hundred yards past the area known as the "triangle". So instead of heading left at the triangle as we usually do we carried straight on and soon found the area he had mentioned. We spent half an hour there without success although there were many Purple Hairstreaks fluttering around the oak leaves - a species I saw for the first time last year in the same woods. The beauty of this woodland is that, even if you don't see a Purple Emperor, there are still dozens of other butterflies to keep you happy including some very special species.

We returned to the "triangle" and I continued on the path we normally take (I was reliably informed a few years back by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation that this path led to the best area for PE's). Within minutes B and D were shouting and gesticulating and giving a thumbs up sign - I returned and had to disillusion them that the butterfly they were getting all excited about was a White Admiral!

White Admiral




Yet again we failed to connect with the species we had gone to see but we did spend two hours watching many other species - Large and Green-veined Whites, Brimstone, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Large and Small Skippers, Red Admiral, Comma, Silver-washed Fritillaries galore and more White Admiral and Purple Hairstreak.

Not too many photos this year compared with previous years as the butterflies were rarely alighting to feed (perhaps it was too hot and sunny or late in the day).




Large Skipper

Green-veined White

The Silver-washed Fritillary and Purple Hairstreak photos are from last year's visit


The edges of the rides are full of wild flowers - a selection in the photos below (sorry, the pictures are a bit "iffy" as I had the 70-300mm lens on my camera which isn't ideal for flower photos).

Despite not seeing any definite Purple Emperors it was a lovely afternoon out. Next year I may go to Fermyn Woods (a more reliable site for PE's) if a trifle further from home. I would love to go to Knepp and see them there along with re-wilding in action but sadly far too far for a day. Perhaps one day in the future.....

*D Photos taken by D with the CanonSX50


Simon Douglas Thompson said...

You aren't serious enough, I thought to find purple emperors you had to smear yourself in excrement and rotten bacon or something

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - lol!! Shrimp paste is the best or so I understand - last year I took some with me - forgot this year. Normally I moan like heck about dog excrement left in woods but this time I was actively seeking it out because they are often found on it!

Chris Rohrer said...

It looks like an amazing afternoon out! Your butterflies are gorgeous. That lens can be tricky for butterflies and flowers.....especially flowers but you have beautiful close ups of the plants. Purple emperor sounds like a stunner. I'm in love with your Brimstone shots! That is a stunner! Looks just like a leaf.

Chris Rohrer said...

I just read the comment about smearing excrement all over. LOL! Gross! But I've seen people do some crazy things to attract their butterflies and moths like smearing orange fanta soda and rotting bananas on trees, etc.

Countryside Tales said...

I did the same thing in Bentley wood on Monday and didn't see any PEs, despite 6 being spotted there the previous day! No white admirals either which surprised me. Lovely to see yours. There was either a PE or a white ad in our garden over the weekend. I only caught the white lines before it flew off :-(. X

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks so much for the comments Chris - yes, it was a super afternoon. Purple Emperor is indeed a stunner if only I could see one and share a photo!!! :) Brimstone are lovely butterflies.

I've not heard of any actually covering themselves with anything so gross!!! but people do take smelly items like prawns and pastes and smelly cheeses etc. etc. to lay on the floor or even tables as the Purple Emperor does have a "taste" for smelly items and they may well attract his attention!!

Countryside Tales - A shame re: Bentley Wood and lack of sightings - there have been quite a few seen at Oversley but numbers there are not I think high. We saw about 5 or 6 White Admirals although some may have been the same individuals. When you are not that familiar with either species White Admiral and PE do seem to have similar markings from a distance which is why I would need a close view and/or a photo. Although Brian did say the initial WA seen which the man thought was PE was flying in a different fashion to WA seen later so who knows? Just like last year one possible sighting but none definite :(

Countryside Tales said...

Not unlike an experience I've just had down on the river- almost 100% certain I saw the back of an otter break the surface but have a nagging doubt it could have been a trout! X

Rosie said...

You saw some wonderful butterflies, some that I have never seen before. Great photos too:)

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - lol!! :) I've had quite a lot of experiences like that myself - so frustrating and irritating that you will never know for sure :(

Rosie - Thanks so much Rosie - had to travel a bit for those species. Oversley is about 50 minutes from home! South Warks seems a lot better for unusual butterflies than North in my experience!

Pam said...

What a shame you didn't see the Emperor but it looks like the other butterflies just about made up for it! :)

Millymollymandy said...

Awww how wonderful! I'm sorry that you didn't see the Purple Emperor but what a wealth of other really interesting species! I saw my first ever Ringlet whilst out MoHoing recently and at the same place the first White Admiral I've seen in Brittany. I could have spent all day there but my brother and husband would have got a bit bored, lol!

Ragged Robin said...

Pam - Thanks very much - you can't get downhearted when there were so many other lovely species to see :)

Millymollymandy - thanks Mandy - perhaps next year I will see it!! Oversley Wood is a great site though for butterflies - so many in number and species :)

So pleased you saw the Ringlet and White Admiral - great news :) I know David keeps happy just taking photos but I was a bit worried when Brian decided to come along as he gets bored looking for insects normally but to be fair once he had chatted to other PE enthusiasts there he was searching high and low himself for a sighting! :)

Wendy said...

Some lovely butterfly sightings and super photos, too. That is a shame about the purple emperor. I've looked in a couple of PE spots this summer with no luck (including the place I saw one 3 years ago). I'll have to try again next year! Like you, I've been delighted to see any butterflies this year as it's generally been such a poor butterfly summer.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thanks very much Wendy. So sorry you haven't seen one this year either :( They appear to be elusive unless you go to one of the PE "hotspots"! Would have considered persuading B to go to Fermyn last week but David was at work and it didn't seem fair to go without him as he has accompanied me on the unsuccessful quests over the last 3 years!
Despite much hotter, sunnier weather insect numbers in the garden still seem very low - lavender, buddleia and marjoram flowers just have the occasional bee :( Did see a Red Admiral and Small Skipper yesterday though when doing Big Butterfly Count :)

Toffeeapple said...

At least you got to see more than the two or three species I have seen all year, here. I have been able to identify only one of them (Brimstone) as the others have been too fast and disappeared before I could see it properly.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks - was a relief to see more species there as I also had seen very few up until then. Have had similar problems with id too as so many whizz past without stopping. Hope you see more with the advent of this hot weather!!