Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blackadder Returns

Another delightful morning spent in the company of Matthew, monitoring Purple Emperor larvae in a Wiltshire Wood, before heading over to Winchester for the UK Butterflies winter social gathering. This time we returned to the area where I found my first ever iris larvae and ova a few months ago. We quickly relocated the few that we knew were there, but also decided to give one particular sallow a really thorough search. Now that the sallows are largely devoid of leaves, any leaves that were left warranted a closer inspection to see whether or not they were attached with silk to the branch, a sure sign that a larva isn't too far away. I managed to find such a leaf pretty quickly and soon found a hibernating larva on an adjacent stem. I then realised that this was the 3rd larva I'd ever found - Blackadder returns! Matthew then surpassed himself (again) by getting us well into double figures for larvae on this one sallow and taking his own tally to over 225 for the season - amazing!

Spot the larva

Blackadder returns

Leaf stalk attached by silk



Going walkabout

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Last Minute Rush

In the wild, iris larvae rushed belatedly into hibernation during the second half of last week.  On Tues Nov 19th only eight out of 25 larvae I checked were in hibernation.  By Sun 24th, 25 out of 28 larvae seen were in hibernation, one was crawling off to hibernate, another was spinning a hibernation pad and just a single larva was still on a leaf.  By yesterday, the 26th, it seems that all had gone into hibernation, though there were still a fair number of greenish leaves on many of the breeding trees.  2013 remained a 'late' year to the very end, it never caught up after the late spring.

Provisionally, it looks as though an unusual number have chosen to hibernate in forks this year, like these two (spot them!) -


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Slowly into Hibernation

iris larvae are going into hibernation in the wild distinctly late this year.  On Tuesday Nov 19th only eight out of 25 larvae checked were in hibernation, though four others were crawling around on stems looking for hibernation places, like this -  

One of the larvae still on leaves was only about 1/3rd coloured up.  Here it is -

In contrast, in 2009, when I had a similar sample size, all were in hibernation by Nov 15th, with the last one being seen on leaves on the 8th. 

The previous latest I've recorded wild larvae on leaves are singletons on 16/11/10 and 14/11/11, but those were atypical retards.  This year I may even find one or two on leaves in December.  Many of the breeding sallows still have green leaves.

The impact of the late spring is still evident.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gallic Greetings

Heather Mason sends this great shot of the Lesser Purple Emperor, form clytie, from SW France. Seems we only just miss out in the UK - apparently it's fairly widespread over the channel in Normandy.

Apatura ilia, form clytie
Personally, I've always been a bit puzzled by those species that exist in two quite different forms side by side - is it geographic, climate related, genetic propensity, or what? I'd be happy to read an explanation if anyone feels inclined to provide one.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kent/Surrey iris

A note received from Jim Yeeles

I live in Tatsfield on the Kent/Surrey border and thought you might be interested in a Purple Emperor sighting on 22nd July reported in our Parish Magazine.  I've attached a map with an arrow indicating the area where they have been seen before, apparently, but not for a few years.

I think I recall Mathew Oates tweeting about a larva found at Clacket a while ago.  I've never seen a PE but think I may need to pay more attention in future.

(Yes,  Matthew reported a larva at the back of the M25 Services - we also have iris reports from Sevenoaks in 2011 - Derek)

Double Take

A report sent to me from Stuart Hedley, footloose in the Balkans. I enjoyed it so much I've posted it in full - Derek


Sat 15th June
Round about lunchtime came to a delightful and memorable thing.  Stopped in a lay-by for some fruit and nuts and a swig when what should happen but a butterfly flew past, and in the sun for a split second a dazzling flash of purple.  A purple emperor!  Another one of those things one wants to see or hear or do, and lo!  Circumstances deliver it up unto you before you go looking for it.  I was thrilled.  Got out my Canon and vowed not to leave that lay-by until I had captured the magnificent beast on camera.   

After my first few attempts I began to realise that they were much more skittish than I thought.  Quite quickly I got a picture, but predictably it was a mere dot on the screen with closed  wings.  After a while I got one with open wings, but of course angled so that that stunning irridescence wasn't visible.  They would go down onto the hot tarmac, but no sooner had I got six feet from them than up they'd go again.  And they were powerful fliers - in seconds they could be twenty metres away.  They traversed back, though, along the line of the verge, and after I while I realised that I was in the middle of a territory.   
Nothing like a crappy lay-by to bring out the best in iris.

Stunned, it dawned on me that this crappy lay-by on the DN10 with its indolent, live-in rabid dogs was purple emperor heaven.  I was surrounded by tall, mature oaks through which the twisting trunk-road had sliced a series of sunny lay-by glades, and in these the typical Homo sapiens of Romania had dumped all the crap that Homo sapiens dumps in Britain: banana-skins, rotten fruit, litter, used nappies, and the shit of the feral dogs to boot.  All manner of revolting stuff with the strong south-european sun warming it all nicely and sending up irresistible plumes of molecules to the butterflies. 
Suddenly, I remembered from various friends that all I had to do for the perfect purple emperor photograph was to piss out a big puddle of wee in the middle of the sunlit tarmac and wait until they came in to take my 'mineral salts'.   

Sadly, I can't wee as forcefully as once I could, and I had had one about ten minutes previously.  After a bout of frantic rehydration I managed to squeeze out half a glassful.  I spat my cherry pips out too, hoping that spit and ripe fruit would reel them in.  

Attempt after attempt proved futile.  And my wee was not proving attractive, either.  There was, however, the small matter of attracting attention from other motorists stopping.  Why is that man pointing his camera at that puddle of wee? Once, there was such a long gap between a male disappearing and reappearing, that I very nearly gave up. Then three would come along at once and have a dogfight in a particularly brilliant sunbeam, clattering like amethysts in a lapidarist's barrel.  
As the day wore on, I realised that in fact, the most productive area was on the opposite verge, more fully in sun, and with some cart-ruts still holding water from the previous night's rain.  As I looked on several came down to these very puddles, jewel-like, but with the twisting fall of an autumn leaf.  I went over and homed in on one.  Up they went again!  A little mauve maelstrom later and down they came, one puddle being particularly irresistible in harbouring a child's white sock, ground into the mud.  
Two out of the three european Apaturinae That's got to be some quality wee!

It might have been the tenth or twentieth time when I finally found a butterfly so absorbed by its soup that I got my first decent picture with the camera on zoom.  With great stealth I moved in, being careful not to block the sun, and in the end I got there.  One of my greatest trophies of the ride.  It was only months later, in processing my Romanian memories, that I discovered that in one instance I had captured both the purple emperor Apatura iris and the lesser purple emperor Apatura ilia in the same frame, apparently quite a coup. 

The latin is, rather wonderfully, Apatura iris.  When you think of all those apertures that must have been so carefully selected, and the iris, well, it was just about the most brilliant colour I have ever seen in temperate nature.  Made the gentians of Widdybank look dull.
Spurred on by this lovely happening, and by the usual picturesque horses and carts that clattered by, I went on towards Berca, where I took a much better lodging.  Tired, hot, dried out and hungry , I had goulash shoup followed by a chicken burger and chips.  Later a chocoloate éclair too.

Stuart Hedley

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wont Go To Bed!

His Imperial Majesty is proving very loath to go into hibernation this autumn.  Today in Savernake I checked 34 of the larvae I'm monitoring: only six were definitely in hibernation, though five others which we not found had probably gone off into hibernation.  Two of the 23 found on leaves were still quite green.  I suspect they'll hurry into hibernation during the coming week, but in the previous four autumns most had gone down for the winter by Nov 10th.  It is, though, a late autumn for many trees, including sallows. 

Great to watch No 94 going into hibernation this afternoon.  He crawled 1.1m from his feeding station, found a scar in the underside of a ~12mm thick stem and then spent 6 mins spinning silk there. Then he turned round, span a bit more silk and then conked out.  Here he is at work -

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug

Those of us familiar with the book will know that half way through Chapter VIII Bilbo sees dark purple butterflies in the tree tops in Mirkwood - perhaps Iole no less, in abundance: 'he saw all around him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and there were everywhere hundreds of butterflies.  I expect they were a kind of Purple Emperor, a butterfly that loves the tops of oak-woods'.  These were 'a dark dark velvety black without any markings to be seen.'  Had Tolkein heard rumours of ab. Iole occurring in nearby Bernwood Forest?

Unfortunately, in the film these seem to have transmogrified into Morpho x Papilionid hybrids.  See 

Consequently, Gentlemen, we will have to boycott this film.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

BB's Butterflies - a Review

I've just posted a review of BB's Butterflies on the UK Butterflies website and thought that visitors here might like to know! Click here to read the review.

Colouring Up

A good morning spent in the company of Matthew searching out the many Purple Emperor larvae that have been found in a wood in Wiltshire. Matthew kindly showed me an area of less than 10 square metres that is the home to over 25 larvae - and we found a couple of new residents today too. The larvae are in various states of "colouring up" ranging from almost "Lincoln green" through to a very dark grey/green. Many larvae have moved away from their original position and are quite difficult to find as a result. Matthew found one larva moving around at the end of a twig - a totally unsuitable position for a larva looking to overwinter! Earlier I'd found one larva next to a sallow bud. Some shots below.

2013 season in Berks/Bucks/Oxon [BBO]

It was the best season since we've been keeping detailed records [2003], with 490 sightings from 35 tetrads, the previous best being 390 sightings in 2010. As last year, it was a late starter. Although a single specimen had been seen on July 1st, no more sightings were made until July 8th, when the numbers slowly picked up. The peak was between July 14th and the 23rd, when double figures were seen, daily, in several woods, including 30 on each of two days, July 17th and July 23rd, in one wood. To put this into perspective, the previous best day in this wood was in 2010, when 16 were seen. Remarkably, in one very small wood [0.125 sq km, 12.5 hectares, 30 acres], 19 and 15 were seen on two separate days during the peak period.
The last was seen on August 21st, the latest observation ever in BBO, making it a longer season than usual, at 6 weeks.
Matthew and Neil have observed iris far outside woods on several occasions, and that has been our experience too, although most of these were in gardens not far from woods. Noteworthy was a sighting on the ground [with photographic evidence] of a male in a tree nursery, about 5km distant from the nearest  wood where iris had been seen, in north Oxfordshire.
'Special' events: 1] For the first time in BBO, ab lugenda was seen. 2] On August 1st, 4 females were seen at sap in an Oak knothole in Rushbeds Wood, and this behaviour continued until August 6th. 3] In  the very small wood mentioned above, a member observed 6 males pursuing a female high up in the Oaks.
All in all, a season to remember.