Thursday, June 22, 2017

Midsummer Madness As British Emperoring Record Tumbles

Exeter University student Harry Drew had never seen a Purple Emperor before arriving at Knepp, for what must inevitably become an unforgettable summer as a resident research volunteer.

I met Harry rather late in the morning, for an introduction to Knepp and its emperors, but wasn't expecting the fireworks we were about to experience. This was about to become a Midsummer Day I will never forget, and nor will he. I had already commented that this year's population size was hard to call, as the searing heat over previous days had clearly suppressed activity - but by how much?

Heat again subdued activity, but this time only between 3pm and 6pm, with the slight breeze preventing burn-out before this period of quiescence. Our meticulous and methodical count, between 10.30am and 8.00pm, of 148 individual Purple Emperors could thus have produced even more.

Of the 148, only 6 were female, and almost every butterfly appeared to be in excellent or good condition. We saw 6 or 7 different bundles of 4 males, and between 15 and 20 bundles of 3. Some oaks hosted clusters of 4 and 3 simultaneously - the air was at times thick with them.

The Knepp emperors are now coming to ground with increased regularity. We witnessed 3 groundings and I'm aware of another 3 on the day. We watched one 'rejection drop', with the disgruntled female being pursued by a couple of males. Chaffinch, Great Tit, Chiffchaff, Jay and large dragonflies were attacked.

As the light of the longest day began to soften, and the oak crowns became alive with twisting clouds of Purple Hairstreak, the emperors finally decided that they'd done enough to confirm that Knepp is now one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the great British countryside.


Yesterday my friend Nick and I spent a long day at Knepp and had our best-ever day of emperoring.

I’m pretty sure Neil Hulme will have more enlightening updates shortly as I know he was racking up some serious numbers at the site, but Nick and I saw approximately 90 emperors including some memorable encounters and a superb, hotly-contested territory.

First off, at about 9.45am I saw a grounded male on the path near(ish) to the hammer pond. It later transpired it was on or near to a spot that Neil had baited – Neil asked me to post the photo to the blog. Here it is. The emperor was flighty. 

Later in the day (2 pm-ish) we were watching beautiful demoiselles in the ditch in Green Lane when we suddenly realised we were looking at an empress sitting so still in the mud that we hadn’t initially noticed her. She appeared to be drinking at the edge of the water in the ditch, and soon flew off.

Thanks to a conversation with the site-owner, Charlie, during a break in the Go-Down, we then searched what is a new stretch for us – the circuit adjacent to the hammer pond - in which we found a ride that was a stunning hotspot with a territory consisting of two or three oaks next to a prominent dead oak.

In this little stretch we experienced emperor madness: within minutes we saw a battling sextet of emperors with another pair in the same air space flitting around 20 metres or so away from the main cluster – by far the biggest emperor scrap I’ve seen. Not very surprisingly we walked up and down this ride for a while and saw many groups of four, three and two males fighting. I’ve never seen such a concentration of emperors in one 200-yard transect. 

The high level of activity continued almost unabated and it was notable that in this stretch the emperors were “flirting” with the ground and often landing obligingly low in the sallows along the path. (We saw similar behaviour in Green Lane in the pm, though with lower numbers).

We decided to retire briefly again to the Go-Down to recharge before a final evening stint, and in the evening light, a few hundred metres past the first tree house, we almost stepped on a male emperor feeding on a fox scat. He was pretty settled and returned for a second grounding in a different spot. 

There were plenty of emperors around this ride at that point, with quite a few coming low and one landing further away on the path but not allowing us to come near. They were notably more obliging than earlier in the day and I’m guessing evenings are good at Knepp during these blisteringly hot days – meaning a quick evening stint could be really rewarding for anyone local enough to make it. 

We also saw white letter hairstreak (thanks to Neil), purple hairstreak and white admiral.

It was an amazing day at Knepp, and was notable for more groundings than I’ve seen there before. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alice Holt

Emperors have been scarce at Alice Holt with just the odd one or two showing during the day - probably due to the heat I guess - so I paid and evening visit which paid off. I had three grounded males between 6:15 and 7:15 and half a dozen were oak edging looking for females.
Kind Regards

Too hot for HIM? At Fermyn

A reasonable day at Fermyn and Lady wood. Plenty of sightings but only a dozen or so groundings despite the odd baiting along the rides. One male rudely refused the proximity of my bait only to settle and imbibe aphid dew on the leaves of a nearby bush. I was pleased to see one female gliding low along the track margin giving me a frustrating pursuit for a distance before finally settling long enough for a photo. Perhaps with temperatures predicted to drop, Fermyn will kick off properly in the next few days.

Knepp showing strongly

Myself and my girlfriend made the long journey from Dorset to Knepp today to get our fill of purple . On arriving the heat was intense with just meadow browns and marbled whites showing . Fearing it was too hot we got to one of the main "hot spot " rides which was on the shadier side and instantly the Emperors showed themselves . Most of them making brief flights over the sallows then back to the oaks for shade . Occasionally a few battles took place but it was only half hearted . Highlight was a female getting intercepted by a male and after a brief chase they settled high up presumably to pair up . The difference in size between them in flight was striking . In total we had 21 sightings with a supporting cast of a White Admiral and a few Purple Hairstreaks . My holidays will now interrupt the Emperor season but hopefully they have not burnt themselves out in a fortnight for a return visit . Sadly no photos as no groundings and those we could see were out of camera range .

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Impressive photos of serial violence, by Tony Rogers, at Knepp Wildland - 

Upper Thames first sightings

Several were seen in the known territories of Waterperry Wood and Little Wood Oxon on the 17th, which is several days earlier than usual.