Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another Christmas Present

Prints available of oil painting featured on front cover of new book on BB's Butterflies.  £35See 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Hibernation

Last Sunday all the wild iris larvae I checked were still in full Lincoln green.  Normally, a fair few have started to colour up by then (Oct 20th) and the odd one may even be in hibernation.

They've been colouring up fast this week, both in captivity and in the wild, so that today in the wild only 3 out of 28 seen were still in full Lincoln.  Most were about 20-50% coloured up, and the first hibernating larvae was found.  Here he is, in a fork of 1cm diameter twigs.

Interestingly, several were seen adding silk to their seat leaf stalk, to strengthen it to cope with the developing wind.  Unfortunately it was too windy to photograph that! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Some 40 years ago The Muse visited me and left me with the following:-

My eyes have seen the glory of the Purple Emperor,
He was flying round an oak tree that was very very tall,
He got pestered by a hairstreak that was very very small,
So he.................................................................................. .

Unfortunately, or perhaps mercifully, The Muse departed before I managed to finish the thing.  Do feel free to complete it...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Record Egg Lay!

Delighted to report that my annual standardised search for Purple Emperor larvae in & around Savernake Forest has produced a staggering total of 179, comfortably beating the previous record of 141 in 2009.  It is all the more amazing as I found just 24 in 2012. 

These figures are derived from 40 hours of searching on a representative selection of trees - i.e. not merely homing in on the best-looking trees in known hot spots.  The data include eggs (only I don't search for them much), live larvae, the distinctive seat pads & feeding leaves of failed larvae plus or minus associated egg case bases. 

Interestingly, the breeding grounds have shifted this year. 

Also, larvae of Buff Tip, Pebble Prominent and Dot Moth are all unusually numerous on sallow foliage this autumn, though the Sallow Flea Beetle is not having a particularly good year. 

Here's one larvae that didn't make it (though it still counts as one of the 179 finds).  This is only the second perished larva I've found during the five years -

And here's a happy caterpillar doing a poo... 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


The following piece of naff tack is for sale in National Trust shops, presumably Made in China.  It is deeply insulting to People of Purple Persuasion, and even more insulting to iris himself.  Feel free to complain to the Trust...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Christmas Present

All you ever wanted to know about 'BB' (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) and the Purple Emperor.  Chapter by our very own Doug Goddard of Northamptonshire, Foreward by me.  Very Purple indeed.  Essential reading, especially for anyone who has visited Fermyn Woods.  Limited edition.  Will become a rare book.  £45 incl p&p. 

Put details in front of your other third's nose now before you get bought socks & slippers.  see

Christmas Present Review!

Since Matthew mentioned Ken's new book, I thought I'd share my review, which can be found at: Highly recommended!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bath time

After a business meeting in Cirencester, I decided to pop into the Wiltshire Wood where I've been following the fortunes of several Purple Emperor larvae. I'm pleased to say that most of those I've been monitoring are still there, although most have moved a little way from where I first found them. The changing colours of the leaves is starting to make them slightly more visible and so, as described so well in Matthew's article in British Wildife (Vol. 23. No. 5, June 2012): "Adventures with caterpillars: the larval stage of the Purple Emperor butterfly", I'm really looking forward to seeing the larvae change colour also as they move into position on a branch to overwinter.
Bath time!
The leaves are starting to change colour

Big Bang Day in Fermyn

Oates's diary for 15/7/2013 -

Mon July 15th    St Swithin
Cloudless, still and very hot. 27C. Hazed over a bit after 6pm.
Lady & Souther Woods, Fermyn Woods. 8.10-3.15 & 3/50-7.10.
Stupendous day in which I saw a probable 127 individual Purple Emperor, including one ab lugenda male, a weak ab iolata briefly (male) and witnessed a pair in cop, from start to almost finish (she was one of only 3 females seen). Purple Emperor started here on Thurs, there was a good emergence yesterday but today was Big Bang Day, the main male emergence day, and the weather was perfect – possibly a bit over-perfect as they were still active when I gave up, expired, after 7pm. It was so hot that they had a modest siesta mid afternoon, from 3.00-5.00 when they became active again, with a fair few descending to the rides for afternoon tea. For the record, I met up with Doug Goddard & Andy Wyldes and John Woolmer.

Males were already up and about, high up on the trees, when I entered the woods just after 8am. I had 9 sightings of at least 7 individuals down the W Ride, 8.12-9.05. Initially they were all high on the oaks where they’d roosted, but they gradually started flying lower and lower. Some inspected pine trunks for sap.

Just after 9am they started descending to the rides in search of moisture and Lord knows what else – the W and E rides had been quite heavily baited by various folk, mainly with diluted shrimp paste, but plain water proved almost as good in this heat. Sadly, I didn’t manage to keep a tally of the number I saw down on the ride surface today, but it was at least 50. All were pristine. My first grounded male was at Poplar Corner at 9.10, then 4 down along the heavily baited N end of the E Ride ca 9.15, and several others shortly afterwards.

Chaos with a capital C descended at 10.10 when a group of us spotted a pristine ab lugenda male down on the E Ride N end, between Poplar Corner and the E Ride Summit. But he was wary and short off southwards. I followed and flushed up 4 grounded males before I lost him, then got distracted by 5 males down on diluted shrimp paste baits at Log Cabin T Junction. Later Doug Goddard got a reasonable photo of what may well have been the same male, down on the W Ride mid morning.

Between 10.15 & 10.30 I saw 15 males down or low between Log Cabin and Poplar Corner (ca 300m). I then counted 22 in 30 mins along the ½ mile W Ride, of which 20 were down on the ride. At 10.50 I saw a weak ab iolata male in flight along the E Ride, but lost it amongst a couple of type males. Around this time I twice saw a pristine male with very weak purple scales (all angles) down on the ride at E Ride Summit. Neil reckons these un-purple males purple up later in the day. I’ve bred this butterfly for nearly 40 years and have never known them change colour. This male was seen again in the same spot at 6.41.

From 11.30 males were on the ride surface in much lower numbers, and were actually outnumbered by butterfly photographers. By noon only the odd male was down. Most had gone sallow searching, and I saw a lot of that (from ~10.45). I searched some of the territory rides, seeing 5 males along High Seat 382 Ride, including 2 sallow searching. One was on the deer seat itself.

At 1.08 I spotted a male following a female 18” behind her high over the entrance to Lyveden Way Ride, but they flew off into tall maiden oaks and were lost. A classic courtship flight. I’m sure they paired there.

En route up to HS 381 Ride ca 1.15 I passed 2 males and 1 female down on the ride, and saw 2 more males sallow searching. HS 381 Ride then produced 9 males, including two pairs of battling males in the usual favoured territories. Shortly after I found a couple of males in the Scots Pine Territory by E Ride Summit. This territory is only used in very hot and still weather.

I then went to see what was going on over the Lady Wood Head poplar stand. There seemed to be 4 males active on territory (I saw 4 in flight at once, but only clashes of two at a time). Then, at 2.38 a female flew along the poplar line and was immediately accosted by first one then two males, whilst two other males decided to clash and chase nearby. She immediately led the two to the end of a Scots pine spray some 10m up, above the ride opposite the middle of the poplar line, in 70% shade, and instantly joined with one male – whilst the other tried to muscle in. The pair in cop settled wings closed, motionless apart from being disturbed by the 2nd male, who eventually calmed down and settled wings closed nearby. He skulked off at 2.56. Previous pairings I have watched have lasted for ca 3 hrs 45 mins, so I left them to it just after 3, intending to return at 5pm.

I decided to return to the cottages, for afternoon tea and a shower, as activity was quietening right down. En route I saw 3 more males down on the W Ride, including a massive one which probably equated to Heslop’s ab maximus – only I’ll never know for the criteria for determining it as maximus is whether it fits on a 3½” setting board or not.

I returned at 5pm. The pair in cop was still in cop, motionless in the same spot, wings closed, at 5.12 but sometime between then and 5.23, when I next checked, they had separated. So the pairing lasted a mere 2 hrs 33-45 mins – and hour short of the norm. Maybe they got disturbed?

Males started to descend to the ride again at 5.15, but just before 6pm it started to haze over, so they took to the trees again. I saw 3 chasing over the Poplar Corner Oaks at 6.25, whilst looking for Purple Hairstreaks there.

At 6.41 the pristine unpurple male I’d seen twice during the morning around E Ride Summit descended again, looking unchanged. Fermyn is the only place I've seen this odd colourless form.

It hazed over properly around 7pm, when I saw my last iris of the day – at Neil Corner, where I’d seen my first. Shortly afterwards I gave up and went back to the cottages for a meal with Japanese artist friend Tomoko Take.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Christmas Present Ideas

BB's Butterflies  Selection of BB's writings on butterflies, focussing strongly on the Purple Emperor.  Foreward by Matthew Oates, chapter by Doug Goddard.  Due out end of October.  Limited edition.  £40 + £5 p&p.  Roseworld Productions.  See   (details to go live soon).

The Butterflies of Surrey Revisited   Completely new book on Surrey's butterflies.  Lead author: our very own Ken Willmott.  Purple Emperor on front cover.  Being launched at AES Exhibition on Oct 12th.  £16 + p&p.  See