Sharing with a purple emperor

A purple emperor.
A purple emperor.

I HAVE a purple emperor chair just outside the back door. I have been sitting on it for a few minutes every day for a month.

It is there for a work purpose you understand. I have to know what is going on in the great outdoors of my woodland garden, well call it a glade if you like rather than garden. So that I know what to write about and also to record how this nature reserve alters from year to year.

There was no need for a purple emperor chair 40 years ago when we first came into this house. From about July 4 every year for the first five years, purple emperors would sit on the buddleia bush, five of them once, altogether. Ten white admirals kept them company, together with fifty small tortoiseshells, a dozen silver-washed fritillaries, many peacocks, red admirals and lesser fry such as brimstones, meadow browns, gatekeepers, ringlets, large skippers and day flying moths such as silver Ys and hummingbird hawkmoths. There was even a large tortoiseshell.

Goodness knows where that came from though there were some releases of the rarity on elm hedges in the region where they were supposed to breed.

The buddleia bush is still there, or rather its new coppice shoots on the old root stock. But this year, 40 years later, what do we see? Two red admirals, one white admiral, one silver-washed fritillary, and a large skipper. No purple emperor.

This is where the chair comes in. because I know where the emperor is. And if I sit still long enough it will come out in view of this chair just outside my back door. Twenty yards away up in the gap between the old oak tree and the ash, is the one spot in the sky where a purple emperor will fly if there is one in these woods.

So I started my watch on the opening day of the season, June 30. Not a thing for three weeks. For the first time ever, no purple emperor in the sky.

Then suddenly, on July 23, the sky became alive and I leapt out of my chair to shout hurrah.

A great big brown female was wheeling around high above looking for a mate. Each day I watched her. What an excuse to skive and say in Field Marshal Montgomery’s words: “Time spent in reconnaissance is not time wasted.”

Every day the chair seat was warm until on the days the Olympics opened, all at once the golden girl came right down to the back door and flew around and around my head as she had a look at this strange other living creature that shares her planet.

For 30 seconds she circled, then up she went back up into the trees where she has stayed.

I did see her eventually being chased by her mate and the pair in their last days of life must have mated and she laid her eggs on the willows somewhere in the nature reserve.

I would love to say that my photo of her shown here was her, but it was her mother, taken last July 2011 as she perched for a minute on my wife’s fingers as she sat in the special chair.

What a moment.

Richard Williamson