Friday, July 30, 2010

valezina egg - laying

Couldn't resist sharing this one on oak bark at Bentley wood.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big Butterfly Count

Gentlemen (including Sir David)

We are being asked by a sister organisation to spend 15 mins counting butterflies this week, and to submit our results via a website link: see

My count produced 2 male iris, fighting - and nothing else, apart from a hornet that got tangled up in the melee and pulverised. These I determined from Brother Neil's excellent picture (Fermyn Woods, 2009) on the official identification chart, though the insects in question looked nothing like that, being old and faded, though far from knackered.

May I suggest we all do likewise, and skew the science...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

last chance saloon

My first post on the blog & it's last week's news.

Attached photos of an old male enjoying a sap run high in an oak in Bentley wood - with occasional Hornet disputes.
Still up to 6 males on the wing including one remarkably fresh & 2 females egg-laying on 23rd July.
Experimenting with extreme lenses to get behaviour shots. These included 1200 mm & flash !
The wonders of digital.
Also another tired individual enjoying banana.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Old news

Having been reminded of the St Swithins Day gales, I remember now that I forgot to post some more news.

Enroute to Norfolk on the 15th July I went by the 'garden' and had the pleasure of seeing iris flying around the assembly area in a sheltered area.

The following day where in Norfolk the wind was just as strong as the previous day, Andrew decided to look at the map of north Herts. He wanted to find a wood with a sheltered high point that would be visible from a field edge. He found one such wood, went along to it, looked across to the wood and through binoculars he spies an emperor fly out from the canopy. A closer inspection by the wood confirmed - he had found another assembly area. This wood is very close to the Bedfordshire border near Luton and in the historic catchment area around Hitch Wood.

A few reports came in at the end of last week but otherwise Hertfordshire has now gone quiet.


Our thanks to Andrew Swann for rescuing a female from his swimming pool outside Penn Wood, in the Chilterns north of High Wycombe. Herself recovered and flew off back to Penn Wood.

I have made quite an effort to watch females these last two weeks, and have witnessed only two egg-laying runs and the odd bit of skulking in the bushes (as above). Moreover, Brother Dennis and I, who both unashamedly practice the Dark Art of looking for eggs, have as yet struggled to find any. I am beginning to feel that the females may well have been clobbered by the St Swithin's Day gale, and that this year's egg lay is poor (whereas last year's was miraculous, despite poor weather during the egg-laying season).

Yesterday, in an around Savernake, I managed only one female - flying low and fast through a male territory. But I counted 12 males in the territories along Three Oak Hill Drive, including a pulse of four together. Six of the nine territories visited there were occupied, albeit by ageing males. One came down to feed on The Column, and thence to the ride and to my left foot. The butterfly should make it into August in that district.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saving Species

Devotees of Radio 4's Saving Species programme will want to know what happened to Oates's wild iris larvae when they became full grown, as it wasn't quite clear from the last broadcast. In brief, they ate him alive: many wandered (0ne moved 9m), and there may have been a tendency to crawl up-tree, and at least one pupating larvae got crunched. Eventually, after hours of searching for pupae on occupied trees, including lying prostrate on the ground staring up into the canopy through binoculars (much to the chagrin of unimaginative dog-walkers, while every other butterflyer was having a great time with Large Blues and Black Hairstreak), he found 3 pupae. That's when his troubles truly began.
First, 'Edward Thomas' pupated and turned into Edwina (for it is easy to sex iris pupae).
Second, 'Sara Coleridge' pupated and transmogrified into Samuel.
Finally, 'Ted Hughes' pupated and became Sylvia Plath (Hughes's first wife). She emerged on 15th July, and is featured above (this photo was taken approx 5m up a sallow tree).
Someone else can crack the pupation habits of Apatura iris... I have had enough... .

From Ashley Whitlock

Visited my local woods today (Creech Wood-Forest of Bere) to see how the Emperor was getting on after the bashing after St'Swithens day. I arrived at 10:40, and walking along a very narrow ride with good areas of Sallow and Vistas I saw a magnificiant male quartering a vista, and then began oak edging. 10 minutes later I saw another in much the same area, he was in good condition also, I think these woods on the Southwick estate are maybe a few days later than a lot of woods in Hampshire as they are protected by Portsdown hill to the south of the area. At 12:10 after a lull in Emperor activity, I was walking along a wide ride , the main ride in fact when out of nowhere came a lovely female, she was a lovely bit of skirt, perched on a small Beech about 8 feet from me and about 5 feet off of the ground. She was wing waving a lot and just staring at me, as I looked on. I think she may have been laying eggs, and needed a rest, She stayed with me for about 5 minutes, a typical female I guess!Further down the ride where the Sallow is a lot thicker and higher, I observed a rather tatty male quartering a vista, he looked somewhat forelorn, shredded to bits. I decided to go and have a look on the eastern side of the wood where the high ground is, and as I parked up at 14:10 I got out the car,a female exitied a Sallow bush and flew away, right by the main road. A good mornings Emperoring!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

spread of emergences

In Little Wood Oxon today, Mick and Wendy Campbell [ when all of us in Upper Thames were thinking that the season was almost over] saw two fresh males exhibiting typical territorial behaviour, clashing and chasing over a large Ash which is always used in this wood. Mick could see one of them through his bins and it was certainly a fresh specimen. Activity over this tree was first seen this season on June 28th, three weeks ago, suggesting that emergences can be spread over about 21 days.
I would appreciate your comments/experiences.

Further Doings

The Emperor season is now winding down at most sites. This is because some places have shorter seasons than others, and some are 'early' sites. As examples, I felt the butterfly was very much on the wane at Oversley Wood, Warwicks, last Friday and in Southwater Woods, W Sussex on Saturday, though it should last for another week at the latter.

Savernake Forest, on the other hand, seems to be a 'late' site - I've no idea why. The first male was seen there on 30th June and a female definitely emerged there on 15th July. Yesterday, many of the 15 or so males I saw looked black and intact. Moreover, they are still coming down to the ground, though they have lost much of their purple iridescence. Yesterday, two males were imbibing from the C18th column, one came down to the ride about noon (and to some lucky man's clothing - 'This has made my year!' he said), and one came down to my car around 4pm. Males largely visit the rides etc to feed during the first half of their season, and it is unusual for this number of males to be seen down after mid July.

Here are some of yesterday's pictures. I took the liberty of baiting my car with shrimp paste solution (though it has since been run through the car wash, on health & safety grounds). This attracted 3 red admiral, 1 peacock (most unusual, see below) and a huge male iris.

Now this iris was Huge and fooled three of us into thinking it was female, only for some of the photos to reveal some fading purple. It was definitely male. It may have been ab maximus, the giant emperor aberration named by IRP Heslop. The problem with that aberration is that you can only identify it through a set specimen, as it has to meet or exceed certain wing measurements. Typical Heslop!

Finally, I'm taking the liberty of posting one of the unique photos taken by Graham Cox at Savernake on Sunday, when a giant Empress (ab maximissima surely) attracted an amorous male (I assume she rejected him by dropping, he followed her down; neither bottomed out as usual; they both crashed, and he carried on courting her). This is the picture we all want: congrats Graham! Eat your heart out Neil Hulme...

I expect iris to last in Savernake to the end of the month, only don't expect to find them after next weekend (location details are on this website).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Natural History Museum

Nice to be able to say something nice!

Last Thursday, totally unannounced, I turned up in South Kensington and asked to see the British Butterfly collection. Apologetic that there was nothing on display, I was escorted by two delightful members of staff into the bowels of the Museum, where the Rothschild collection is housed in a vast modern compactum, carefully tended by respectful entomologists. I spent a very happy hour disturbing their researches and pestering them with questions - good to see it all in such good condition, in spite of the Lonely Planet proudly declaring that "the Musuem has long ago discarded the dusty cabinets of butterflies in favour of new, exciting, interactive exhibits."

Emperor in Bucks

I've come across the Purple Empire having thought I saw an Emperor in our wood last weekend.
We own a 4 acre chunk of Gayhurst wood near to Newport Pagnel in Buckinghamshire. It is plantation woodland about 25 years old on an ancient woodland site. The plantings are mainly spruce, pine, ash and oak but includes a small proportion of sallows along with alder and field maple.
I have to confess that the sallows were low on my interest list and I'd planned to coppice some of them to let some light in & encourage some young growth. Then, last weekend, I entirely failed to get a good look at a large black butterfly with a white band which shot by at speed. Size, speed and the glimpse I got suggest that it could only really be a Purple Emperor which I'm pleased as punch about.
Clearly the presence of Emperors will change my planned management of the sallows - both limiting any cutting and keeping them in some degree of shade.
I'll keep looking and see if I can spot more adults, then have a search for larvae in a few weeks.
I was interested to see that one of your contributors has been finding Emperors at Finemere which is only about 10 miles from us and I think BBOWT have them in Little Linford Wood just over the M1. Given their speed I would imagine they have the potential to travel some distance.
Anyway, I'll let you know if I find any more adults and also whether I am successful in finding larvae.
Many thanks for such an informative and entertaining web site.
All the best
Ian Wilson,

blog from Matthew, 16th July, posted by Dennis

Today I visited Oversley Wood, Warwicks, a 100ha FC wood where iris was introduced 8 years ago. The population seems to have taken off, though judging by today's sightings (2 old males and 4 largely ragged females) the season may be ending here fast. Last night's gale will certainly have reduced numbers a lot.
The sallow resource here is eminently suitable -- a large amount of shaded old S. X reichardtii hybrids, a good scatter of S. Caprea -- their favourite -- and little in the way of the unfavoured narrow-leaved sallows [rusty sallow]. An unusually high percentage of the sallows have the favoured leaf colour and texture.
One sheltered high point territory, amongst Scots pines.
Good to see a female egg laying before visiting a broken oak bough to feed. The main Doings concerned a courting pair: at 2.10 a female flew past a male on territory on a ride-side oak, a 3 minute courtship flight followed, they nearly joined on a Scots pine before the female suddenly changed her mind -- the minx -- and rejected him, dropped down before ascending into the sallows. My colleagues missed this drama as they'd all shot off down-ride, attracted to the clarion call of 'Camberwell Beauty'. This I chose to ignore, and rightly so as they didn't see the beast!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Doings in a Howling Gale

The weathermen got this afternoon's forecast wondrously wrong - it was very sunny in Savernake, though horribly windy. On the debit side, iris adults can be knocked out by strong winds - as happened in 2001, 2005 and 2007, and may well happen now.

Savernake put on an interesting if eclectic show (13 males and one brief sighting of Herself). However, only the most sheltered territories were occupied, with the most favoured territory (the Dead Beech Glade) being unoccupied for the first time since it was discovered in 2002. Males were still coming down to the ride surfaces, and my car (which is rendered Highly Attractive in season...). Two males were also seen feeding on The Column, an C18th excrescence erected in praise of God and King George 3rd. One favoured the inscription, which sadly is not in Latin and does not contain a quote from the great C18th poet James Thomson (or James Thomfon), as illustrated.

berksbucksoxon update 15.7

First egg found today in Rushbeds wood; it was obviously a few days old.

The picture is of a female taking Oak sap in Bernwood Forest on 11.7, by Dr Peter Gasser, a Kew Gardens botanist

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Exciting news from Hertfordshire

Further to the post on Sunday we can now confirm that the sighting in someone's bedroom, wasn't a random vagrant. After a failed attempt on Tuesday (because the sun never shone)
Andrew returned yesterday and had at least one male fly around an oak tree in the garden of the cottage. Sorry folks we are not disclosing the exact location as this is the first assembly area in someone's private garden!

However, this to us is so exciting as this confirms that the species still exists in its original stronghold of North Hertfordshire. All the historic reports came from Hitch Wood or Knebworth but since 1986 there have been no positive reports (submitted to the branch) although we are aware that someone has reported seeing them (private verbal communication - nothing on paper).

This also means that the species needs to be managed for on a total landscape scale plan not just where it turns up. We have been saying this all along but no one ever listens to us! They just say but 'it hasn't been seen' SO???

Sallows continue to be removed at one of our exisiting sites - the one I was banned from visiting because I complained. Incidentally the emperor wasn't seen when Andrew paid the entrance fee to visit.

Assorted Meanderings

July capitulates yet again... .

Today, amongst other visitations, I surveyed a part of Savernake that had not previously been surveyed for adults. Despite much gloom, two soakings, and just a few short sunny spells, I discovered a lovely 'master tree' - a grove of gigantic beech and oak, with dense foliage that afforded shelter from the S and W. Here 3 males were battling against everything, including the wind.

Also, a wild female pupa hatched today. The wild larvae I had been following gave me a hard time once they entered the final instar - nearly all vanished; whether they went walkabout or got crunched, I rather know not. I managed to find 3 wild pupae (it would have been 4 only one pupating larva disappeared - I suspect it got crunched). The last of the three hatched today - high up. This insect pupated right at the end of June (between 28th-30th). I suspect that she is the last of the 2010 emergence. Note iris seems to start and finish relatively late in the mid Wilts woods.

Rather than give the larvae boring numbers I named them all after great poets of the English language. My comeupance occurred when the surviving three pupated, for it is quite easy to sex pupae (even at a distance through binoculars). First, Edward Thomas turned out to be Edwina, then Sara Coleridge turned out to be Samuel (and I'd already had a Samuel); then, to crown it all, Ted Hughes pupated and turned out to be Sylvia Plath. Sylvia emerged today. It is time I gave up Verse... .


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

As Seen on TV

Lady, Gentlemen, we are going to have to clean up our act - today this website has been mentioned, nay promoted no less, on BBC Radio 4. Listen to Saving Species on R4 this Thurs evening at 9pm, and find out; only have a large glass of quality red first. From now on, nudity is not to be mentioned herein; no one is to cover themselves with shrimp paste, clothed or otherwise, in any wood; and we are going to have to recognise the existence of women in our movement (well, Liz at least, who is our first Lady).

Being educated persons, those of you who listen to this week's Saving Species will instantly recognise my paraphrase and interpretation of Eliot. This is because the second canto of Burnt Norton provides the perfect training on how to find Purple Emperor 'master trees', or 'sacred groves' as I prefer. Here is Eliot's text, with the Purple explanation in italics -

'At the still point of the turning world.
At a sheltered arboreal high point, somewhere above the breeding ground.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
winged and scaled;
Neither from nor towards;
Careering around all over the place;
At the still point, there the dance is,
There each afternoon throughout the Season iris males beat the hell out of each other;
But neither arrest nor movement.
Out of sight and out of mind.
And do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered.
(This is a typically obtuse piece of Eliot, just ignore it: it refers to the timelessness of the Emperor season)
Neither movement from nor towards,
Chasing each other around all over the place,
Neither ascent nor decline.
High and low.
Except for the point, the still point,
They only do this in certain, special places,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
Absolutely nothing else matters, in all existence.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
Keep these places secret, for Heaven's sake. (note bad punctuation)
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

Unless people complain vehemently, I shall conclude this translation of Eliot forthwith... including, the ultimate interpretation of 'Garlic and sapphires in the mud clot the bedded axle-tree... ' by reputation, the most obtuse passage in English verse.

Matthew (competely sober of course).

Downland Beauties - And Strange Goings On In The Back Of A Horsebox

On Sunday (11th July) I took a short break from the tedium of writing articles for the BC Branch newsletter and Annual Report (apologies to members... I do enjoy this in the winter months), and headed up onto the Downs behind Storrington. It was very obvious how drought conditions have suppressed the chalk grassland flora this year. The banks that are usually a riot of blues and purples in high summer, looked sparse and rather subdued. However, the butterflies were there in good numbers, including freshly-emerged Chalkhill Blues and second brood Brown Argus. I just love mint-conditioned CBs!

It was then I heard the call "coooeee, are you the butterfly man?" (I have a number of conservation projects on the go up here, so am part of the furniture). A Purple Emperor was fluttering around a horse's bottom, as he stood in his box. I thought to myself 'patience is a virtue', as it was pretty obvious what the butterfly expected. I later saw another male launch itself at a Wood Pigeon, as it flew low over the canopy of ash. This is another of the unusual, high altitude iris colonies of West Sussex, at 558' amsl.

addendum to berksbucksoxon 10th & 11th July

In spite of the many sightings this weekend, very little activity high in the trees, no territorial behaviour and hardly any oak edging or sallow searching. We saw almost exlusively rapid low level flights, or 'up and overs', apart from a few females which were content to sit around in the oaks and sallows.
Why so little 'up on high' activity?

doings until 6th July in berksbucksoxon

Having read all the blogs to date, I see that Matthew does not allow me [or anyone] to talk about very good iris years, so I won't. I'll just call this instead another herrliches Jahr, to rival 2009 in this region. I also know that Matthew does not like the numbers game, so I shall desist from the boring statistic that, up until 6th July, 84 sightings were made in 16 localities by 13 observers [which includes one M. Oates]. We just had our regular annual field meeting in Bernwood Forest, which attracted 26 purplers, even someone from Gloucestershire, Matthew! They were not disappointed; the usual landing on dog poo, but this delicacy was incredibly pungent, and the male stayed there for a full 50 minutes imbibing. Several females settled obligingly low enough and long enough for the many photographers. The best lady flew into the darkest depths of an Oak and gorged herself on sap; I'm waiting for the photo taken by a Doctor of Botany who works at Kew Gardens but could not identify a particular poplar tree. Shall I tell his boss?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doings (several)

A hurried report of recent doings -

1: Brother Derek failed to get my BlackBerry to blog... . The National Trust has rendered the thing unbloggable.

2: Most important, Dorset has been declared in purpuratum. Congratulations to Roger Smith and his team from BC Dorset branch, who after 5 years of hard work have turned up The One That Matters in the county (albeit just, as the site is close to the Hampshire and Wilts borders). Suffice it that His Imperial Majesty occurrs in Cranborne Chase, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

3: My own Doings are varied. Brother Neil has already reported on last Friday's Doings in Southwater Forest, which produced >22 iris. We also staged an Extraordinary General Meeting of the People of Purple Pursuasion (inner circle) at the George & Dragon in Dragons Green, the most important conclusion from which was unaminous agreement over the adoption of a zero tolerance approach to Nordic walking in Emperor woods forthwith, and fifthwith to boot.

I then spent the weekend in Alice Holt, covered in raspberry juice. On Saturday, I turned up 14 iris in Straits Inclosure, including my first definite females of the year (the more I see of this butterfly the less confident I am at telling the sexes apart). That was a good tally considering that the main breeding ground there was decimated in sensu hodie during the winter - only 20 breeding sallows remain along the main ride there... . The main assembly area at Bucks Horn Oak (the sacred grove, as in Heslop's lux non lucendo) produced only 6 males, in blistering heat, but the ageing young plantation below it, which is the main breeding ground served by this grove, has just been (quite sensitively) thinned, and some sallows have (understandably) been lost there. The other known male territories in Alice were pleasingly well occupied.

On Sunday I visited a previously unvisited part of Alice, and did rather well there, before spending three hours watching egg-laying females in a sallow jungle in Abbots Wood.

It seems to be a good year for iris in Alice, and a staggering year for camilla - I have now seen >15 'black admirals' this year, including 5 on Saturday alone.

Generally, people are suggesting that this is an even better iris year than last. I'm not quite of that opinion myself, but some of the sites I know well have been adversely changed, and the butterfly is certainly out in good numbers everywhere, and excellent numbers in some districts. The truth is that there is no such thing as a bad Purple Emperor year, only (mere mortal) butterflies suffer those, He doesn't.

Today, Monday, I surveyed part of Savernake Forest where iris had not previously been seen, and turned up one seriously good assembly area - a classic sheltered high point, of cathedral beeches (the sacred grove indeed), and two other good territories. And a nice White-letter Hairstreak colony. The main Doings here is that to the long list of cowardly birds seen flying in ignominious retreat before the ire of the Monarch of all the Butterflies, please add the illustrious name of the common Treecreeper - it got badly splatted.

Finally, do listen to Saving Species on Radio 4 tomorrow (Tues 13th ) at 11am, repeated on Thurs (15th) at 9pm. The programme features a 5 minute piece on His Imperial Majesty, which should include an illuminating explanation of the hitherto obtuse second section of the second canto of TS Eliot's inpenetrable poem Burnt Norton. You have been warned... .

Busy weekend in Hertfordshire

Several reports this weekend, including confirmation that an assembly area has been located in Bricket Wood, a nice highpoint Andrew & I found on the map but when we looked it was cloudy. However, using our advice the assembly area was subsequently confirmed.

Yesterday I received the exciting news of a male (edited as photo now seen - it's a boy!) emperor in someone's bedroom. This is close to an historic area near to Knebworth and St Paul's Walden. Hitchwood was the original site in Hertfordshire and not far away. We had visited all these areas in previous years but as with a lot of sites in Hertfordshire - its still like looking for a needle in a haystack especially when the Hertfordshire emperor is at such low density!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

High Altitude Emperors

From a report on the Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch Field Trip - Heyshott to Graffham Down, 10th July:

'But the stars of the show were of course the high-altitude Purple Emperors of Graffham Down. The first sighting was of a large female, which soon disappeared as she was clearly on a furtive egg-laying run. The male assembly point here is 728' amsl, and we watched a total of 4, constantly doing battle across their territory. Several times we watched a pair of males indulging in a dogfight worthy of 'The Blue Max', tailing each other to heights in excess of 100' above the very crest of the Down, silhouetted against a crystal clear, azure sky. For me this is the very pinnacle of butterfly-watching - pure butterflying ambrosia!'

Emperors At Peak

Last Friday (9th July) I started the day with a visit to Botany Bay, which I suspected would be the last chance to see Emperors in good condition 'on the deck'. Although it will still be possible to see males descending to the rides for some time, the number of close encounters is definitely beginning to tail off now. I met Bob Eade, Peter Farrant and Keith Capon - and four male Emperors. All came down, some perched 'just too high up' in oaks, and another visited a sap run. One specimen was still in pristine livery, but the 'all Purple' shot I was just about to get was scuppered by a pesky cleg, which bit me at the critical moment.

Then it was off to Southwater Woods to meet up with Matthew Oates. Unfortunately time is just too tight this Emperor season (precluding even my pilgrimage to Fermyn), and I was sad to have missed Derek Longhurst (webmaster of the Purple Empire), who had just headed off to the New Forest.

Having had the benefit of the morning session here, Matthew's count of male PEs went well past 20 for the day, and in the late afternoon sunshine we watched Emperors in some far-flung and seldom visited parts of the wood. At 6.30 pm they were still doing battle with bundles of Purple Hairstreaks, with frenetic action above the Marlpost car park assembly area.

How the sites compare

In the last 10 days I've visited Fermyn Wood, Bookham Common, Botany Bay and Alice Holt. From talking to fellow searchers and my own experience, here is my "score" out of 5.

Fermyn 5

BotanyBay 4

Bookham 3

Alice Holt 1

At the last, Straits Inclosure was a real disappointment with no sightings in 2 hours of fine warm sunshine. But the sallows along the main ride have been cruelly treated and virtually all destroyed, presumably to widen the ride. There was activity in the old car park at Goose Green, but only about one sighting per hour. At Bookham we had a male on the ground for 10 mins in the main (Tunnel House) car park at 6:30pm and earlier there was high-level activity along the eastern ride towards Mark Oak. People at Botany Bay had several males (at least) on the ground last Sunday, enough for most people who came to get good viewing opportunities. But Fermyn was definitely the best with good sightings pretty much guaranteed for anyone prepared to wait for an hour or two, and sometimes several PEs on the ground together.

A few photos to show PEs taste in cars, trees, shrimp paste and my trousers. I've not yet seen a female this year (to July 9th am). Anyone able to comment on why the newly-emerged (I think) Purple Hairstreak at Alice Holt has a white spot on its forewing?


Tring Park

Just had a report of a sighting at Tring Park yesterday - the first for several years.

Purple Emperors were seen at Broxbourne Wood NR during a field trip, then at one of the private sites in the assembly area. Finally at Northaw two were in the canopy gap. One was perched and the other flew in but rarely clashed. Most known assembly areas have been visited and emperors are present again.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Coffee-coloured Costa

Actually, it's orange. Full report of a trip to Bentley Wood today at:

(July 8th entry) but the critter below (in common with others seen) has a particularly red costa - is this a known aberration?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Take Two...

Visitation to the cab of a 4-wheel drive buggy, in a mid west Bucks wood, 6th July 2010.
Christopher Prideaux (landowner) and Dennis Dell.

Emptying the dog poo bin at Bookham Common (Ian Swinney, NT).
Folks, I'm going back on my travels again and so wont be able to post anything until I return home, whenever that is.

Recent Doings

First, doings on the dog bin at Bookham Common, by Ian Swinney, NT warden -

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Further Doings...

Looks like a serious year for iris aberrations. To the woods, Gentlemen, and don't come back till you've scored... .

Today, Dennis Dell and I visited a delightful wood in mid Bucks which the landowner manages strongly with iris in mind - prolific sallows are encouraged. I saw at least 12 individual males, maybe as many as 18, which is impressive. No females yet (Ken Willmott reported one egg-laying female at Bookham Common yesterday).

Meanwhile, here's the underside of my Fermyn lugenda -

Early Purple Season In Pictures

An untimely overload of work, both in my 'proper' job and for Butterfly Conservation, has severely curtailed my Purple activities this season, and pretty much scuppered my attempts to post news either here or to the BC Sussex Branch website - where much Purple activity in the county has been reported by others. I even failed in my plans to join Matthew at Fermyn, where I might have shared his wonderful sighting of the luscious lugenda (congratulations on achieving such a terrific photographic record, on top of the experience itself!). In terms of reporting, the best I have managed, is to keep up (just) with the personal diary I've been running all year on Pete Eeles' superb UK Butterflies website, at This lamentable situation is likely to continue until next week, when I hope that normal business can be resumed. So for now, a brief history of my Emperor season to date, in pictures.........

iris ab. photos

Some very nice iris aberration photos, similar to Matthew's, can be found at:

taken by Paul Kipling at Fermyn. Marvellous!


- Pete

Emperor Weekend

"Emperor Weekend - back of envelope sums.
Fermyn had at least 25 visitors each day, most people taking perhaps25 shots of “His Majesty”. That totals 1,250 photos taken at Fermynalone.Add to that the other hotspots such as Bentley, Southwater, Alice Holtmakes a total of some 5,000 Emperor photos. I suspect that is a veryconservative estimate. It can of course never be proved, but Iwouldn’t be at all surprised if in excess of 10,000 Emperor photoswere taken over weekend 3rd & 4thJuly."
Jack Harrison

Monday, July 5, 2010

2-1 to Fermyn?

Perhaps there can be more than one extreme aberration.

I've just joined so that I can report a male with virtually no white on the upperside, seen in flight on Sunday afternoon some 3.5k NW of Lady Wood at the entrance to Old Dry Hills. It circled me a couple of times at waist height, threatened to land on my car then climbed swiftly and disappeared over the trees. No chance of a photo but no doubt that it was an extreme aberration. The brief glimpse of solid purple as it passed close by was stunning - an image I'll never forget!

I have reported to Doug Goddard (Northants recorder) who hopes to check the area today.

Colin Bowler (aka Slow Right Arm)

Here's the pic

The wretched thing wont attached itself ....

Fermyn Strikes Back!

Not to be outdone by Alice Holt producing an acute aberrant iris last year, Fermyn Woods produced a near-identical male yesterday, see attached - ab lugenda. The same individual (there surely cannot have been be two of them?!) was seen again today, 1/4 of a mile from where he was seen yesterday. Also, a nice ab iolata male, though he refused to come within camera range. Basically, he was like a bog-standard White Admiral ab obliterae, if obliterae can ever be bog-standard.


Hi thereI know very little of butterflies, but i saw one today and am having difficulty in identifying it. Can you help?I have seen an actual real Purple Emperor in France (the Dordogne, a couple of years ago), and I know it was because the first thing i thought was ‘wow’. The one i saw today did not make me go ‘wow’, but rather, ‘what the bloody hell is that?’It was black and white, with more black than white. It was around 2.30 to 3.30pm. The weather was warm to hottish (when the sun came out) but very windy. We were at Waverley Abbey, Surrey (near Farnham) and there is a lot of rough pasture/meadow and associated plants, many types of deciduous trees, including oak and various willow types. We were standing next to an oak tree on the banks of the River Wey at the time.Having scoured butterfly websites, i think i might have narrowed it down to either a white admiral or a female emperor. My husband thinks perhaps a white admiral, but the description of the gliding flight of the admiral do not in any way match up to what this butterfly was doing, which was moving at very high speed with fast wing beats.I’d be quite happy with a white admiral, but happier with a female emperor.Can you help me????YoursNiki Lall

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Doings in Fermyn

This is from Matthew, posted by Dennis.
Gentlemen, I am pleased to recount the appearance of Apatura iris ab lugenda [iole] in Souther Wood late this morning, a pristine male. I spent 45 minutes in pursuit of the wariest iris I've ever encountered, along half a mile of ride, often at speed. I managed to obtain some photos of both upps and unds, though none definitive. The specimen was very similar to the one I photographed last summer in Alice Holt, though darker with slightly less white. I must have seen about 40 iris today, in Lady and Souther Woods, all male.
Also, a Comma ab suffusa; Jack Harrison saw a Marbled White in Lady Wood, and two locals [Gary + Paula] photographed a lovely WA ab obliterae in Lady Wood.

Fermyn is rocking.............

strange goings on in Berkshire

Forgive me, dear friends, but this blog covers several years. After another 'strange' Berks sighting this year, I have realised that I have a small collection of records from this Royal County which are bizarre and which I'd like to share with you:
2006: the headmaster's wife at Bearwood College near Wokingham was entertained by HIM on her living room carpet; the College is in the middle of a wooded area
2007: Richard James found a male beating against the window of the Easthampstead Conference centre [on the western edge of Bracknell]; from the house, there is a long oak/beech lined drive leading to a deciduous wood
2008: Our own Ashley Whitlock while loading shopping in the Asda car park, Earley, was 'bombed' by a female iris; this Asda is in the middle of a built up area, not very near at all to any woods
2010: Graham Sumners saw one on the carpet at the entrance of an office; it then moved to concrete just outside the building. This is near Padworth on the edge of a large area of forest.

Do you think the Queen has ordered all iris resident in 'her' county to behave themselves, stay indoors, and only shop at Asda?


Thursday 1 July 2010 A trip to Southwater Woods again this morning to show Sue and Julie the wonders of our local butterflies turned into a spectacular Purple Emperor encounter. We found five on the ground, three at one spot which we shared with other enthusiasts. We also met a roe deer on the path.

Colin Knight

Friday, July 2, 2010

More from Hertfordshire

Andrew Middleton and Laurence Drummond had two iris in the usual area (small gap only) at Northaw. Nothing spectacular though - more to come I am sure???

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hertfordshire news

Had a first report from Hertfordshire yesterday but from a new area - Bricket Wood which is near to Watford. An area where we have predicted iris should be present but until yesterday not proved. A male was seen to fly up from a damp patch at 4 pm by an experienced observer.

Site is large and is on a plateau so determining the highest point has been one of the big problems here.

Not quite the picture you were expecting!

In Norfolk there is a class of sailing boats called a Yare & Bure One Design (called white boats locally as opposed to brown boats or norfolks..........) . There are now over 130 boats in the class, originally they were made of wood but now the hulls are GRP.

They are all named (well nearly all) named after butterflies or moths and the first boats were built over a 100 years ago. A friend of mine has just had No 3 restored which is called Purple Emperor and would have been named that over 100 years ago.

She was until this year in a very sad state.

So here is a picture of her - as my friend says a 102 year old memorial to our favourite creature, 30 minutes post pupate in April


Can anyone help Matthew with posting from his Blackberry?

I log on to blogspot the same as from my laptop with no probs.

I had to enable Java location support, by going to the Browser menu, hitting options, and in Browser configuration, checking "support Javascript". Any other suggestions?


Just read your blog regarding the above.I thought I had better get in touch as it was probably my wife and I who thought we had died and gone to butterfly heaven.We arrived at the wood for our first ever visit last Monday the 28th and within 5mins from the car park spotted the first Iris high up in Oak canopy along with 2 White Admirals.After another 400yds another 3 were viewed flying at knee height.We then rounded a sharp open bend in full sun and another 3 were seen at the same time one of which tried to land on my wife.We then carried on for another 3/4 mile and everwhere we went Iris were present,attempting to obtain salts from the paths.Sorry to dampen your expectations it wasn,t 50 spotted but we counted about 40-50 occasions they were seen.By counting back we are safe in our minds that we saw 18 different individuals and the sight of minature shark fins every 20 or so yds in full sun still haunts.We became so blase at one point, that when photographing an Iris in dappled light I happened to spot a White Letter Hairstreak 6 inches in front and that became top priority for the next 20 mins.In all, a once in a life time experience,the emergance must have just occurred as the entire area was either Goat Willow or Oak and we happened to be there at the right time.We visited the wood again on Tuesday didn,t see one in the previous area but counted 6 different individuals elsewhere and visited again today 1st July and another 6 were spotted but on both days none were photogenic.I hope this confirms your request. Kind Regards Dave Williams.

July Flies In

Gentlemen, in 3 hours of intense effort I struggled to see 3 male iris in my beloved Straits Inclosure, Alice Holt, which is well below par by recent standards but hardly surprising as the main breeding ground was almost clear-felled in February. What was impressive, though, was camilla, which is probably having its best year there since the late 1970s. I saw four 'black admirals', including one that may well have been full nigrina. paphia was also excellent, though all 'type'.

Great to see a minimum of 5 males at Goose Green Old Car Park in Alice, including 4 in a vista (plus another male in another territory further along), between 1-2pm. Can I scupper rumours that the FC have felled some of the favoured perching trees here. They have not! All they've done is dumped cord wood in the old car parking area, extracted from a very sensitive thinning operation in the ageing plantation just downslope of the Emperor territories - during which most sallows have been left, and a few pollarded - fine.

Off to Fermyn now. This means I wont be able to blog anything until Mon evening at the earliest (unless anyone tells me how to do it via my BlackBerry)?

We're off as well!

A male conducted two short flights in the canopy yesterday (30th June) at Ruislip Park Wood (Middlesex) seen by Steve Pash

Nothing as yet reported for Hertfordshire but I am sure it won't be long. Middlesex tends to be just ahead of Herts (same as for White Admiral)


bucksberksoxon first sightings

It kicked off here on 28th June when Wendy & Mick Campbell saw several in two tiny adjoining Oxfordshire Woods near Bicester. The territory, a very large Ash, several Oaks and Silver Birches, at the highest point in one of the woods, has been a reliable observation spot for several years. Dennis went on the next day and saw the same, with a couple of the birches being the preferred perch.