Thursday, July 30, 2015

From David Murdoch

At 1230 on 28 July 2015 Mrs Iris Small (I kid you not) was at lunch in Wonston, ~8 miles N of Winchester, when she noticed a large butterfly inside her kitchen that she thought was probably a White Admiral.  Mr. Small released it onto the buddleia in the garden, when He revealed Himself as His Imperial Majesty Apatura iris.  He graciously consented to remain nectaring on this buddleia for at least 2 hours and to permit his admiring subjects to photograph Himself.

A previous incarnation of His Majesty in rather better condition graced the same buddleia in Wonston for several hours in the summer of 2014. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

it's not over until the fat lady sings

In a tiny wood near Bicester, which always returns good numbers, four were seen today: three males  clashing on the main territory, with one perching for most of the time.
The sightings were made between 3.45 and 4.45 in intermittent sunshine, 17 degrees.
So keep looking folks: it is always interesting to note when the season ends to get an estimate of the flight period. Looking at the UT data over the last 11 years, it has  been 5 to 6 weeks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Great Chattenden Wood

A year ago Twitter informed me of a record of iris at Cliffe, near Rochester in Kent.  Today I called in at Great Chattenden Wood, by Cliffe.  This is where the British obsession with iris really began, back in mid-Victorian times.  Anyone who has read Frohawk, Tutt or even Heslop (and Stockley) will appreciate the significance of the place.  Chattenden is also effectively the type locality for iole / lugenda vars, as it produced quite a few of them (the Fermyn of its day).  It is of immense importance in the history of butterflying in the UK, actually predating collecting in the New Forest.  It is therefore the spiritual homeland of the People of Purple Persuasion.

I am more than delighted to report that iris is indeed back in Great Chattenden Wood (if it ever left).  The weather was just a little too cloudy for adults today (a shame as there is a classic sheltered high point male territory, which is probably the same spot where the bulk of Victorian specimens were collected, an oak-crowned hill top as described by Frohawk and Tutt).  However, I found an egg on one of the abundant caprea-type sallows down the lower slopes.  Habitat conditions are really good for the butterfly, due to extensive coppicing in recent decades.  I was hugely impressed by the quality and quantity of the sallows.  
Chattenden is currently in the news, for the eastern half of it is Lodge Hill - the top Nightingale site under threat of development for housing, as an MOD sell off.  The War Dept took over Chattenden during WW1, much of it was turned into a camp.  We want it turned back into sallow jungle...  

leaf size for ovipositing

These two eggs were found on the same bush. Obviously, size of leaf does not play a role during ovipositing

Sunday, July 26, 2015

short season?

Looking at the last few blogs, it seems as if we've had a really short season, with numbers by about the 25th really low. In most places we agree about the peak being between the 8th and 12th. In a private wood in Bucks where I saw at least 20 [32 sightings] in one hour on the 11th, one week later  the numbers were down to single figures , and yesterday, two weeks later, I saw none [but found two eggs a few days old]; so, in the last two weeks the numbers have declined dramatically in Upper Thames. Yesterday, however, in two small neighbouring woods in Oxon, the Campbells, saw 6 on the three territories. The concentration is high in these two woods, making it easier to spot them, especially as, year after year,  they are very loyal to their high point territories.
The season in UT started properly on 30th June [I discount the two extraordinary sightings far apart on 14th and 15th June], so it will have lasted barely one month ; normally, it is about 6 weeks.
Matthew puts the rapid decline down to a mixture of high winds and poor weather after the peak.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dismal day at Fermyn

With the weather forecast for the next few days being rubbish at the best, we decided to go to Fermyn for the last time this season. Entered the woods at 9.30 this morning and it was soon obvious Fermyn has taken a heavy beating from the rain and wind of last 24 hours. By midday in reasonably good conditions not a single emperor was seen. .Finally at aprox. 1pm a female was seen gliding past the log pile, and then another one appeared by one of the deer hides. It was obvious that the second one was engaged in egg laying, returning to the same stand of sallow for about 10 minutes. It would appear that the males were massacred in last nights weather as none were seen by us or any of the other visitors compared to a count of over 60 a fortnight ago.
On a brighter note, a total of 6 eggs and a freshly hatched larvae were located in between the bouts of sunshine. It would appear Fermyn's season has been brought to a premature end, with only three females seen all day today. Farewell to Fermyn till 2016 . Next year Knepp here we come :)

Disaster in Savernake

Today I conducted my annual 'peak season count' of males in territories along Three Oak Hill Drive at the southern end of Savernake Forest, N Wilts.  Weather conditions were good, with only a light - moderate breeze, for a change, and plenty of sunshine.  Note that this is a late site for iris, though today's visit may have taken place a few days past actual peak season.  I think they started here around July 10th (and would welcome clarification on this), possibly a little later. 

A thorough search revealed only five males, all in reasonable condition (looking quite dark).  This compares to six seen along the same route in rather cloudy conditions on Thursday, and a par for the course of eight or nine.  Last year's peak count was a dismal five.  

My guess is that either yesterday's rain (25mm or 1") has depleted numbers or the butterfly has again emerged here in poor numbers, or both.  Usually, the adults are quite adept at surviving rain (with the exception of the great deluge of 20/7/2007), providing it isn't accompanied by strong winds.  As they roost high in the tree canopy they are extremely vulnerable to gales.  Yesterday's winds were light.  They do, though, tend to be quiet after a very wet day - drying out perhaps.

What worries me is that if numbers here have been depleted by heavy rain relatively early in the season - before many eggs have been laid, then what will the egg lay be like?  The relatively good news is that two females were seen around Three Oak Hill Drive today, though not by me.  But more rain is forecast for tomorrow, and then more windy weather...

Here's one of today's males, framed by beech branches - 

In the early 2000s the FC opened sections of Three Oak Hill Drive, generating a much-needed new generation of sallows.  Many of these sallows were used, for the first time, in 2013.  However, squirrels have recently stripped bark from a great many of them.  Most affected trees will now die.  Here's an example - 

Next time I'm taking my cats...

Friday, July 24, 2015


I am sure Ashley will have a view on the Hants performance this season but my general view is that it has not been as good as last year in terms of overall numbers however there are some ups and downs.
Straits Inclosure - I failed to see a single individual at this year, despite several visits in good conditions, although others have seen low numbers. The Forestry Commissions efforts have not helped at all and  I fear this Heartland will take some time to recover to  its former glory.
Abbots Wood - was comparable with last year and on the best day I saw eight individuals but I only encountered one female  in the whole of AH which was very poor. The sallow around some of the cleared areas in Abbotts is starting to mature nicely so there will some good opportunity to rebound in the medium future.
The maximum I saw in any of the territories at Alice Holt was three.

Creech Wood - sadly failed to see them [where I think Ashley drew a blank also] but they are never numerous here nor are they easy to see.
West Wood and Crab Wood also failed to see any, but I only made one visit in less than optimum weather,  which was disappointing as I had good numbers last year.
Havant Thicket seems to have been reasonably comparable with last year although it failed to turn up  Herself for me.   

However - I did see himself at two new woods, for me:

Whiteley Pastures near Fareham, where I saw at least five males on 11th July
West Walk near Wickham where I have searched for the last three years, only one male but a very pleasing result.  

Difficult to assess but I think peak was 16th/18th
Altogether a bit disappointing except for a visit over the border to Knepp which distinctly brightened the season

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Peak in Northants

The peak was probably even more condensed in Northants, with 10th to 12th July providing 40-60 sightings on each day, poor by Fermyn's recent standards. The first sighting was on the 3rd and numbers were slow to build and have tailed off since the 12th, though the weather has been very changeable. Few females have been reported. A maximum of six were seen on a field trip in Salcey Forest on 11th. Adults seem to have been reluctant to fly and have been hard to find in woods where the colonies are smaller. Most other sites have only yielded single butterflies, though three appeared in Yardley Chase today, two sections here visited in previous weeks drawing a blank after good showings last year. It ha sbeen recorded for the first time in Fineshade Wood in the very north of Rockingham Forest and Everdon Stubbs in west Northants.

The Peak

The peak in Upper Thames [berks/bucks/oxon] was between the 8th and 12th July. I get the impression from your blogs that it was the same in other regions: was it?
It certainly would be interesting to know, for example, if it peaked earlier in Sussex than in Northants.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Purple Emperor, ab iole (lugenda) at Lady Wood

I took these recent photos of a very dark specimen of the Purple Emperor (ab. Iole (Lugenda) at the 'junction' in Lady Wood (Fermyn Woods) on Thursday 16th July 2015.
Time: 3.58pm.

It didn't stay down for long but long enough to manage a few photos.

I have just read Matthew Oates' blog on the Purple Empire website which showed this very same aberrant butterfly photographed by some others at this location on the same day.

I thought I had been the only person to have seen this particular specimen but pleasantly surprised that others had also been fortunate.

I thought, therefore, that you might also like to see my versions of this stunning and unusual specimen.

It looks like a male because the second of the two photos (showing some underwing) does show a slight trace of purple on the upper wing.

In view of this, do I also qualify for a Iole Fellowship badge? Or am I too late?

It would be interesting to hear your comments.

Emperor on Buddleia

Just found your blog. Yesterday I had the thrill of seeing a Purple Emperor here in Kent (Otford, on the North Downs) - feeding on buddleia. I know they're not supposed to do that, but it was (and I filmed it). :)

I've attached a couple of the pictures I took with my phone. It fed for about 5 minutes, then flew off.

I'd seen it about 20 minutes earlier flying around a bramble/old man's beard hedge and knew it was something I hadn't seen before, but couldn't see it clearly then.

There is a goat willow in the garden, and I think there are a lot of goat willows in a wooded area nearby.

From Di Napier

From Ashley Whitlock

Today was probably my last venture into Alice Holt Forest for this season, and today was a pretty good day all in all. The males are certainly not flying with much conviction now that the Females have all been mated and there is no need really for searching through out the wood for that elusive female. However there were a few exceptions today at 1035 a Male was seen oak edging and flying from the southern end of the wood at Abbotts Inclosure towards the north over the large 'King' Oak in the small triangle near to the small car-park.Another male was seen at the 'pottery' triangle going north at 1200 high over the oaks obviously making its way up towards one of the Assembly Point's. Another male was seen at 1206 Oak edging at the main triangle heading East. At the Assembly Points Alice Holt (1) two males were really going for it battling like the clappers they were round and round and up and over the highest trees at 1320, and this went on for a good 20 minutes for what I could see of it, as I have to use a step ladder now to see anything. At the Abbotts Wood Assembly Point it was relatively calm compared with over the road, but there were two on station and they did meet several times and give chase. At Goose Green there were at least three on station, and in the warmth there were some good chases and at one time three were chasing at the same time. I left there at 1440, happy to have seen at least (10) Purple Emperors. I just like to share with the readers just what a life a female Purple Emperor leads, looking all magnificent and regal as some do now but once they have finished laying their eggs, and swooping in and out of Sallow is no mean feat, with birds like Jays ,Tits and other birds ready to strike them when there unaware. I don't know if I've ever shared this photo with Hampshire Butterfly conservation, but it is a sorry tale of a female caught by a bird strike, and she has only the left wing, the other has obviously been hen pecked by a bird whilst she was egg laying and she was found on the forest floor. She was brought to me by Andrew Brookes many years ago in a box, and we fed her sugar solution on cotton wool, for about 15 days, before she finally died. That's the nature of this very hardy butterfly, the beauty we see on the forest floor wings spread open with Purple/Blue sheen shining in the sun, but lets stick up for the regal girl without her battles in the sallow there would be no Emperor for the following year.

Not easy when it's breezy

Saturday morning dawned bright in the Fens, the sun was strong but the temperature rose more slowly with a stiff breeze creating a subtle cacophony rattling the Poplar leaves and shivering through the stands of phragmites.  At Woodwalton Fen there was a trickle of pilgrims craning their necks to the canopy however, unlike days in the previous week, there were no gliding flights of Emperors from the Oak crowns.  With plenty of Hairstreak action and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth around the treetops it was a pleasant enough vigil.  Thoughts drifted to the 4 hours of intense electrical storm, torrential rain and wind that had circled the southern fens a couple of nights before, could this have finished the season early here?  It didn't seem plausible but we did decide to give the wider area a look.  We didn't need to move far, a Red Admiral drew attention to itself flicking through the open understorey and taking to a branch where there must have been a sap bleed as a  Comma and another Red Admiral were also in attendance.  Expectations were high and, in a few short moments, fulfilled as an Emperor spiralled around the bough and alighted to join the congregation. 

More activity ensued under the canopy as two males and Herself were located on two boughs.  The female had a bleed to herself, only a Hornet challenging and disturbing her.  The lower bleed was more of a melee with the Emperors to-ing and fro-ing and not settling for any extended periods.  Eventually parental duties pulled me away from the wood, perhaps my last visit this season to Woodwalton. 
Yesterday I felt summoned in a different direction and took the opportunity to organise a Purple Picnic for the long suffering and Jnr #2 at Ditton Park Wood in the south eastern corner of Cambridgeshire.  Blanket down with a view down the grove identified last year, we popped a bottle of Elderflower, the little one gurgled in approval and we waited.  We'd seen an Emperor hot wing it out of the pathside sallows and up into the canopy on our walk into the woods so the main objective of ascertaining the continued majestic presence had been achieved. There was not a lot doing by the time we'd munched through to the doughnuts though and it was getting more overcast and blustery. I took a walk beneath the grove to a slightly more sheltered position and sure enough a war torn male weaved across the gaps in the canopy initiating the interest of another that followed with little chutzpah.  After plenty of flight views one eventually settled in view and the sun came out but didn't half get a battering as the wind tossed the Maple leaves around in great arcs. He (or is it She with all that white??) stood firm. 


News from Fermyn Woods

I've just spent a day and a bit in Fermyn Woods, where I caught up with the local butterfly people.  My visit occurred a little past peak season, but with the males still in reasonable condition and frequently searching the sallows (which they cease doing late in the flight season).  In five hours I saw 19 males and two females, finishing with the most spectacular rejection flight (mated female rejecting amorous male) I've ever seen - she said "I'm washing my hair tonight", he was having none of it...

By all accounts, iris has appeared in relatively poor numbers in Fermyn this year - 'relatively' is the operative word here, for everywhere else bar Knepp would be delighted by such numbers.  2015 is the poorest year I've known for the butterfly there, in 12 years of diligence.  My guess is that had I visited during the main pulse of emergence - Big Bang Weekend, as we call it - on the 10th-12th July, I would probably have managed to count 50-60 apparent individuals, only.  

It's hard to pinpoint why, though this is only a modest Purple Emperor year - but seemingly better than last year.  There has been no major habitat change in Fermyn, though many of the ride vistas are narrowing as the young woodland develops.  Perhaps Northants was hit by inclement weather at a sensitive time (or two) in the insect's development?    

Even the people who live in the cottages and regularly drive through the woods have seen little of the butterfly.  One daily driver only saw her first grounded male on the 20th.  

I did hear a report of Iris Rage, when fisticuffs nearly occurred among photographers - Gentlemen, we can do better than this...

And of course, there's the superb ab. lugenda, photographed in Lady Wood by Dave Holden on the 16th and by Bill Seager on the 17th.  This was the first iris I saw when I entered the woods on the 20th, flying among Scots pines just past Poplar Corner.  So Fermyn's still producing Quality (I don't know of any other aberrations this year, anywhere).  Here's Dave's photo, which qualifies him for the Iole Fellowship badge (Bill and I think Nige also qualify) - 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

iris deceased but pristine

When we find a dead Emperor it is usually in a sad state of disrepair, usually as a result
 of a bird attack.
On this occasion, one of our members found this perfect, but deceased, male near Hook Norton. So how did he come to this end, so early in life? A sudden downpour perhaps? Your theories on a purple postcard, please.

flurries or bursts of activity

It has happened to me on several occasions that I have had a report of good activity in a wood; I go there as soon as I can, either within hours or at least on the next day, and see nothing! I got lucky this year [see an earlier blog] when I saw about 30 sex starved males frantically looking for females in the sallows in one hour on July 11th between 10 and 11 am. This private wood in Bucks has transect walkers visiting regularly, and nobody has seen so many on any visit so far. Luck plays a huge role in this I believe. you just have to be in the right place at the right time.These mad bursts of activity involve males only and probably only lasts for an hour or two. In fact, on July 11th, when I returned to the start one hour later where I had seen 10 in 15 minutes along 100m of ride, I saw only two.
 I would dearly like to know your experiences please.
Of course, it does not apply to the top habitats, Knepp and Fermyn, where the numbers are so large that you will always see activity
It has been an average season so far in Upper Thames, with big variations in numbers in our 'good woods'.
It did not get going properly until the second week in July, so we should still see them until mid-August, unless the weather intervenes and knocks them out.


Here is some more evidence that iris is getting out into the wider countryside. The map shows a part of north oxfordshire. If you look at a Google aerial map of the region you will find no large woods, just copses and spinneys. The four red crosses show where iris has been spotted, since 2011, all singletons, apart from Worton Wood near Ledwell  [0.25 square km] where 3 were seen last year. The scale at the bottom indicates how far these four localities are apart. The other three sightings were at Hook Norton in a small narrow wood, at Heythrop in parkland, and at a tree nursery in North Aston. These sightings are surely too far apart to have been the result of releases. Apart from Worton Wood, the sightings were 'accidental': i.e., people were not looking for iris.

Nottinghamshire Emperors!!

Thank you for your interesting and informative blog.

I am in my second year as Nottinghamshire recorder and still have a lot to learn.

I wonder if news of a PE colony in Nottinghamshire is of interest but  I feel a little out of my depth considering the experience and expertise of your contributors.

The colony resides in an area of mixed woodland called Cotgrave Woods locally but is marked as Cotgrave Forest on maps.

The habitat seems perfect with oak amongst other deciduous trees and a nearby tract of Salix in a damper area of the wood.

There are only anecdotal records of Purple Emperor in Nottinghamshire so three definite records last year came as a great surprise. All were  males.

 Understandably there was much skepticism about their provenance amongst the longstanding Notts butterfly community and after taking advice I decided not to include them in the annual submission to BC.

Even so, with great expectancy there have been many visitors to the area  this year.

There have been over twenty different sightings with a definite minimum of six individuals including at least one female perching high in what we believe is the master tree / king oak.  The sighting stretch over an area of nearly 1km square.

We are about a week behind all the exciting records from the south of England.

The woodland is managed for game shooting and one of the gamekeepers, noting all the interest, has said that these 'large dark butterflies' have been landing on the track in summer for at least the last five years and probably well before.

I would be interested to hear comments and thoughts from those really knowledgeable about the Purple Emperor.

Richard Rogers
Nottinghamshire Butterfly Recorder
East Midlands Butterfly Conservation

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Beginning Of The End

Another great day on the Knepp Castle Estate Wildland, this time in the company of BBC journalist Emma Ailes and her parents, all of whom were keen to experience the Purple Emperor for the first time. At various points we were joined by Charlie and Issy, several Knepp regulars, and a large number of visitors from as far afield as Devon. Charlie had kindly installed a ladder up to one of the many sap runs which are currently drawing in large numbers of Emperors - particularly the females.
Of the 30 or 31 individuals seen today almost half were Empresses, some still being in fine condition, but many now showing the signs of middle age. The vim and vigour of the males has been largely lost and at times they were notably quiet, despite the favourable weather. This is far from the end of the Emperor season, but it is the beginning of the end. Elsewhere in Sussex, and perhaps nationally, the season has been rather modest. The daily maxima at Knepp, including counts of 126, 77, 62, 54 and 51, are therefore all the more remarkable. Who knows where this incredible story will end. If you have not visited Knepp yet this season - go soon.
Today we were privileged to watch no less than three tumbling rejection drops, in which already-mated females attempt to shrug off their suitors. Twice, this allowed us very close views of a disgruntled Empress, as she waited for the departure of the unwanted male.
We watched three different sap bleeds attracting single or multiple visitors. This behaviour is often observed during the later part of the season. On several occasions I was close enough to see the curious rocking motion of the butterfly, as it appears to be forcing its proboscis deep into a fissure in the bark.
At one point we watched as a female’s rejection drop was immediately followed by a swoop upwards, to hunt down sap directly below the amorous male’s perch. It would appear that the draw of sap outweighs even the desire to shake off these pests.
Once again, many will have left Knepp with the sort of memories which only high summer and the Purple Emperor can provide. I’ll be back soon, to store up more, before another season starts to fade.

Doings in Alice Holt...

A short day in Alice Holt.  

The Straits Inclosure has fallen into shadow: the western half of the wood was heavily thinned this spring (nesting season...) and most of the breeding sallows there were felled; now, the entire width of the main ride has just been mown, thistles and all...  Managed to see a lone Purple Emperor male as I was entering the wood.  He was in the process of leaving...  

An hour in the major male territory at Goose Green Old Car Park, at Bucks Horn Oak, revealed three males, consisting of two sparring over the summit trees (beech and smaller sweet chestnut), and another male in a glade to the east.  However, it is rather hard to see emperors here at present, as the roadside hedge trees have grown up immensely, reducing vistas greatly.  This hedge is now tangling with wayleave wires, and will surely get cut back soon - perhaps next year the vistas will be restored.

Here's a male on territory on the Summit Beech -  

And here's Herself visiting the sap run at Knepp yesterday - 

Oak Sap Analysis (SPME Head-space)

Following on from Matthew's very recent post (Sap Flows at Knepp!, dated 17th July), I thought some of you might like to see this new, very appropriate data. Last week I analysed a sample of Oak sap (plus a control, similar wood sample) by GC-MS SPME (Solid Phase Micro Extraction), Head-space analysis. Although a similar sap sample had previously been analysed by Omura (2000), my own data however has identified the consistent occurrence of a series of volatiles (red arrows), which differ only in the Carbon chain length of the compounds (C3-C16). This data gives direct support to the potential synergistic mechanism of attraction of such compounds as proposed by both Omura (2003) and also by Cosse (1996).

I confirm the validity of this new data with a biological assay showing a positive Proboscis Extension Reflex (PER) response (of both male and female Sasakia charonda specimens) of the sap sample against the negative PER response of the control (similar wood) sample.

As Matthew reports in his recent post, this newly acquired data has serious implications for the potential attraction of female as well as male Apatura specimens.

Omura, Honda, Hayashi (2000), Identification of Feeding Attractants in Oak Sap for Adults of Two Nymphalid Butterflies, Kaniska canace and Venessa indica, Physiological Entomology, 25, pp281-287.

Omura, Honda (2003), Feeding Responses of Adult Butterflies, Nymphalis xanthomelas, Kaniska cance and Vanessa indica, to Components in tree sap and Rotting Fruits: Synergistic Effects of Ethanol and Acetic Acid on Sugar Responsiveness, Journal of Insect Physiology, 49, pp1031-1038.

Cosse, Baker, (1996), House Flies and Pig Manure Volatiles: Wind Tunnel Behavioral Studies and Electrophysiological Evaluations, Journal of Agricultural Entomology, 13(1), pp301-317.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fermyn Patrol Friday 17 July

A day for the connoisseur at Fermyn, where the overnight storms had created a very humid atmosphere. The long periods the sun was obscured by cloud cover was broken up effectively by the strong breeze only later in the afternoon. We almost had the woods to ourselves this day, which produced just two groundings of faded males up to 12 noon. However, tree top activity was observed, and a switch of tactics to go into the sallow rides in Ladywood produced good results, with 3 females and double that number of males. To see this action, go down the Ladywood ride and turn right to the Deer hide, and right again at the hide - there is a tall oak close by and some good sallows all along here - and plenty of Emperors. After returning to the car park for a late lunch, we decided to revisit the area, but got waylaid by brother Quercus on the track to Assarts coppice. This was lucky on two counts, firstly, a nice purple vision, and secondly because we then met Dave "Lucky Lugenda" Holden, who informed us of his outrageous good fortune at 3pm the day before, when he saw and photographed this: (Matthew, I submit a request that Dave, new to the purple persuasion, be enrolled in the IOLE fellowship, and that this picture will enable him to be awarded one of your treasured badges?). Nige and I scooted off at once to Grid Reference SP974845 and were ambushed by this beast at 15.07 precisely. I think I am right in saying another of this tribe was spotted in this same area only two or three years ago? No pictures for us, but a sighting that kept us in the area until 17.00 hours. In all, a good day. I stopped counting at 24 individuals, which includes the three females and the Lugenda. Good Luck to all this weekend who visit the site. But beware pickpockets! Bill Seager: Fermyn Light Horse

Sap Flows at Knepp!

Amazing evening at Knepp.  Dropped in for the evening flight, arriving at 5.50.  Planned to finish at 7.30.  Stayed till after 9.00, and then left only because it was raining...

At 7.00 I found a large old oak tree with three small sap runs. These were attracting at least 7 males and 3 females.  Although I never saw more than 4 on a sap run together, the foursomes consisted of at least 6 different males and 2 females.  The best sap run was 20' up.

The main action finished around 8.30 but two males kept going till 8.50 and one was still there at 9pm, by which time it was almost dark, with thunder threatening.

Photography was difficult because of the light and the distance, but we'll put a ladder up close by today...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alice Holt - from Ashley Whitlock

saw up to (25) in Alice Holt Forest today Abbotts Wood Inclosure

Today I've spent the best part of 6 hours on tour around the rides and vistas of Abbotts Wood Inclosure and many of the Assembly Points.I didn't hold out much hope of seeing much as the sky was the colour of dishwater, with very few glimpses of sunshine. It as quite warm and humid, and for the fact that the 'Empress' is around now was really the fact that I saw up to (25) Purple Emperors throughout the day.I arrived at the small car-park triangle at 11:00 and almost immediately saw an Emperor heading North Sallow searching and this is what I saw all the way up to the main car-park , they were either Sallow searching in the big sallows at the edge of the rides or higher up Oak edging. One male was seen edging along some Pine trees, and in a smaller ride a Male came right down close to me and almost sat on my hat, but he didn't stay long enough, as he was more interested in the sallows nearby. I also saw two chasing each other down one of the main rides, one went one way when they split and another went over to another part of the ride. I also saw one Oak edging whilst having my lunch at the small car-park, so in all they were very widespread. A one of the Assembly Points there were three Emperors chasing at 1325, and one male was almost constantly on patrol, around his vista.I sat at this vista which is the one I took everybody to during the field trip a few weeks ago, and I watched for up to 30 odd minutes. At Alice Holt One there was just one Emperor circling his territory, but this site is now almost redundant because I have to stand on a Step-Ladder in order to see anything! Down at the other end of Abbotts Wood in a Assembly Point called Buckshot Hole there was nothing, this site has not been Emperored now for several years, which is a shame as its got great viewing. My first visit to Goose Green was slow when I arrived at 1425, but I saw one male on 'George's tree,named after an Emperor by MRO years ago. There was some blue sky now and the warmth got them started and there were two chasing soon over a Sweet Chestnut Tree, I think there may have been two sets of two, so in all there was up to five on site. There were many chases , over the main road and back, and this is how I've calculated 25 Purple Emperors today.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sissinghurst Comes Out...

This time last year I turned up iris in Scotney Woods, Lamberhurst, Kent.  Today I managed to see two males briefly in Roundhill Wood, Sissinghurst, just before it clouded up.  There must be a very small colony there, as there's only a scatter of sallows, though the quality is high.  My guess is that the butterfly is quite widespread in the High Weald, occurring mainly in small colonies. 

Got back to Knepp, in West Sussex, at 6.15, for the last half hour of activity (the butterfly often goes to bed around 7pm); in time to see a male feeding for 5 mins on a small sap bleed high up on a tall oak 

This photo shows that adults feeding on sap are easily missed...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Purple Dreams

Inspired by pictures from Google's Deep Dream in the media, I offer these transformations of some of my own images.

First, the threatening world of the purple emperor caterpillar, where nothing is as it seems:

This is an adult male taking minerals at limestone, transported back to the prehistoric oceans where the limestone was once alive ...

Finally, the same emperor on my hand, surveying the march of time across dry land:

Did someone say, 'silly season'?


Monday, July 13, 2015

extraordinary differences between neighbouring woods

On the 10th July, a friend saw 10 in the wood mentioned in my 'testosterone' blog for 11th July. On the same day [10th] I was in a wood just 1km away and saw none, looking hard for 2 hours; this is a wood which normally produces good numbers, but not more than about 3 have been seen on any one day this season. Also on the 11th, a field meeting with 40 present in Bernwood Forest, produced only 6 sightings, when I had 31 sightings in the private wood at the same time.
See photo: on the second day of that field meeting [12th], our UT chairman, Nick Bowles, is using his initiative with  'an instrument' to locate a resting female for the benefit of the uninitiated.

so much testoterone but not enough females, yet

An enlighted landowner manages his big wood in Bucks for iris. It is  wall to wall Sallow along the rides. I only had one hour on saturday morning, from 10 until 11. Once before, two years ago, I had a similar experience: 31 sightings, at least 20 individuals, all males. The extraordinary thing was that they were all behaving identically: very rapid flights in and around the Sallows, keeping very close to the vegetation, sometimes in the Ashes behind; no landing whatsoever. Because there were so many, inevitably they clashed, but not for long, because they needed to get back to looking for the ladies tout de suite.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Great Day in Hants - from Ashley

 Date: 11 July 2015
Weather: Dull and overcast until 11:15 brief interludes of warm sunny periods
Temperature: 60f-75f
Recorders: Ashley Whitlock and Field Trippers
Location: Havant Thicket and Bells Copse
As usual today started off very cloudy and breezy and there didn't seem to be any hope of engaging without target species the Purple Emperor. We walked along the main ride from about 1030 and were generally looking at the rides where there were many Small Skippers, Large Skippers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, and Marbled Whites. It gave everyone an opportunity to see the various species with wings open and shut just waiting for the sun to come out. We had got about two thirds of the way down the main ride where the Oak stands were now predominant, and the Sallow was getting very tall and very common on both sides of the rides, and here on a very large Oak I espied my first Emperor Oak edging, at about 1115 the sun had come out, and it was zipping in and out the tall oak sprigs going south along the ride.
We got to Bells Copse and I Explained about Assembly points and the Sallow stands along the Oak rides, and again at 1155 another male was seen going from east-to west. We were walking through Bells Copse counting the White Admirals, and Silver-Washed Fritillaries, when we saw the ‘Valezina’ species, which was probably the same one I had seen earlier in the week. What a treat to get so close to such a shy species! At 1215 another male was seen oak edging in the main ride, the weather by this time had cleared up and was very warm and sunny, and the males were now flying with much enthusiasm. Another was seen at 1230, and he was quite close to the ground and went up again into a sallow bush.
We had reached the area of the car-park and were all getting ready to eat our lunch when we all stopped in a small ride very close to the car-park, at 1300 when above our heads we saw three males two engaging in a chase in and out of the sprigs of oak, on an oak tree that was very small they were about 15 feet above us what a spectacle, in-out the chase went, then one went one way and the other went the other way, and then another male was seen on the opposite side on another oak, then they would come together again and the chase was on again, it wasn't Assembly Point 'fisticuffs’ think they were just frolicking in the sunshine. This behaviour went on for a good twenty minutes, and it was a joy to watch, were these Emperors just engaging in male testosterone antics or was it all in aid of looking for the female of the species. At one point I thought one of the males was a female as it did look a bit larger than the other male it was being chased by, but it wasn’t really behaving like a female. I had over the last few years had always thought this small ride should produce some sightings, but never on this scale. It is very sheltered here and with the warm sunshine these were ideal conditions for the Purple Emperor, and the oaks have lots of smaller sallow thickets, ideal for sallow searching. The oak where there was a lot of ‘engagement’ is only a small oak and the Emperors could be seen very easily, about 15-20 feet above our heads.

Ashley Whitlock

Fermyn and Fen

Having worked up quite the sweat at 5 a side football in 26 degrees and blazing sun on Friday I was about to pop in the bath but decided that a decent layer of residual sweated salts may be just the ticket to encourage a closer visit from HIM during Saturdays trip to Fermyn.  We did get buzzed by His Majesty quite energetically but Mark's, undoubtedly well laundered, trousers proved to be the main attraction.

We had lots of opportunity to drink in the magic with plenty of groundings and lots of lower level sallow searching towards midday, particularly on the western edge of Lady Wood.  One took on a low pioneering flight out into the middle of the meadows and looked like he was going to keep going and then thought better of it looping a return back to the homelands of the wood where he headed straight to the canopy. The clouds drew in from midday, although with plenty of warmth activity was still apparent. 

The day was not through though and we headed back to our own homelands on the Fen where we have now gone purple.  The cloud had broken again by 1pm as we walked through the remnant idyll of Woodwalton Fen, Cambridgeshire to a stand of Oaks that shade the Rothschild Bungalow.  This building nestled within the trees was built in 1910 by Charles Rothschild who created the UK's first nature reserve in 1899 when he bought a chunk of Wicken Fen which he later donated to The National Trust.  Rothschild purchased Woodwalton Fen also and built his bungalow on stilts to prevent the dampness of the Fen from soaking the building into it's sodden peatiness. He used it as a base for his field studies and excursions on the Fen and I'm sure he'd be over the moon to know that it now attracts His Imperial Majesty down from the high boughs to seek salts from it's steps, balconies and balustrades. 

Our first views here, typical of early afternoon, were of a male on guard on the highest spray of Oak leaves.  Quite quickly it became evident that there was lots going on up there and at least 6 individuals were seen in almost constant flights.  There were frequent spectacular dogfights, the most intense and prolonged from the canopy top, over the bungalow and cascading to ground level where the defeated briefly grounded on the steps while the victor returned to his sentinel.  

I can't recommend this spot enough for watching iris, it really is lovely and hopefully they will secure a healthy presence at the site over time and provide enjoyment and pilgrimage for years to come.


More from Knepp

Solid cloud all day at Knepp, with light rain for much of the time. However, we still managed to see 11 Emperors, including a vista of 4 in flight together, during a couple of periods of incipient brightness.  (The Duckworth-Lewis Method determined that today's flight was greater than yesterdays...).

Here's a basking male we managed to photograph from way below 

We also found a slightly crippled male on the path, which had presumably be blown out of / fallen out of a sallow before his wings had hardened.  We pet rescued him - 

Meanwhile, here's the moment when a whole bevvy of people joined the Hundred Up Club at Knepp yesterday - 

Looks like we've got two or three poor days coming up - annoying as the butterfly is now at peak season in many districts.  However, it's gales that knock out Emperor adults, and / or precipitous rain, and they should be able to sit out this poor weather spell.  

Doings at Bookham Common

Lovely male photographed today by Philip Wright - it was obviously sunny at Bookham: solid cloud all day 20 mins south in Sussex....

Fermyn Frenzy

Bait at the ready, I was off to Fermyn on Thursday evening, camping nearby for an early start on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately I got lost taking a short cut in and it was well over an hour later when I found myself in the main wood.
I immediately saw a male Purple Emperor down on the track on my way in, by this time it was really heating up, and then it was 'Emperor City baby'.
Different males were down throughout Saturday, zooming back and forth along the rides. I must have seen around 30+, but others saw around 50+.
They were very active in the heat, my last grounding being at 18.00. One individual was flying with a small deformed right hind wing, perfectly ably. It was like Disneyland for lepidopterists!
I was particularly pleased to show a pretty young lady from New Zealand her first Purple Emperor, she was thrilled, she had been wondering what all these strange men and women were doing lying down on the track!
Saturday was quite a different day, sunny in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon. Activity in the morning was hectic, continuous groundings mid morning, so many that some were not noticed by the crowds, this activity tailed off by the early afternoon but they were ever present. Females were seen and photographed on both days, including a male and female together.
I decided to leave around 14.30 as I thought things couldn't get any better. BIG MISTAKE, around this time my friend Steve Guy was walking along a ride when a full lugenda male drifted slowly low past him, he saw it well but it powered off up high over the trees, he never saw it again. This was a time for baiting if ever there was one.
Another superb year at Fermyn, many friendly people, the only down point was the amount of cars going up and down the main track, on two occasions I had a male down to myself.
The crowds came and went, I even heard about near fisticuffs, but all went home happy. Now where's that lugenda, nearly qualified for Matthew's special badge!