Thursday, July 2, 2020

Apatura iris on Banana...

Having stated, rather didactically, in His Imperial Majesty that Emperors do not feed on bananas (Page 127) I humbly reproduce the following photo, taken by Colin Whitehead in Fermyn Woods in 2018:- 

However, this is a female, and Herself is quite capable of doing anything on a one-off basis (and Lord knows what had been added to the offending banana, under the Normal for Fermyn principle)...

Also, and I think more interestingly, we have a record of a male feeding on pine sap today, again from Fermyn, plus suspicion that pine sap may be being used at a wood in Hertfordshire.

Constant vigilance please...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


The weather has collapsed horrifically, with the Emperor at or approaching peak season (depending on whether you're at an early- or later-flying site...). Few eggs will have been laid yet. 

The butterflies get decimated, in the modern sense of the term (such that one in ten survive), by gales, especially nocturnal gales and in particular the males (the females tend to roost lower down). The wind during the night of June 28th-29th will have done untold damage.

The big hope is that there are still a number of pupae to hatch, even at the earlier-flying sites.

This could be a longer than usual flight season, as some early-developing larvae pupated around May 21st whilst some late ones didn't pupate until mid-June, after the ten day cold period in early June. 

Whatever, it is now clear that 2020 is not the annus mirabilis for the Purple Emperor that I and others had so eagerly anticipated.... Numbers at Knepp and the nearby woodlands have been decidedly disappointing (and Knepp is heavily prone to wind damage, being a more exposed site). 

However, whereas other butterflies have bad seasons, there is no such thing as a bad Purple Emperor season. Keep going, to the end, and beyond!

Here's a couple getting plastered on oak sap at Knepp, from June 26th -

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Windy Bucknell Wood 28th June 2020

Despite Matthew's pessimism about weather conditions today I ventured over the border to Bucknell Wood in Northants. Arriving at 8.30am it looked like I had badly miscalculated as it was mainly cloud and little sun but slowly the sunny periods became more frequent and the ride I concentrated on was sheltered from the strong gusting wind shaking the tree tops. After three hours spirits were beginning to flag but at 1145am His Excellency descended to feast for ten minutes on some rain soaked horse dung allowing me to approach as close as I wished. There was a slight tear on his right upperwing but nonetheless he was a fine sight especially after such a long wait. At 1156 he walked off the horse dung, flew around me  a couple of times and then powered off up into the trees, brushing off an inquisitive male Emperor Dragonfly as he went.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Apols for lack of news these last few days but I've been subsumed with helping the filming of PEs for two major BBC programmes (which wont get broadcast for sometime, until I'm 70 in all probability)...

The heatwave was superb, though PEs did rather conk out in it, during the main afternoon heat. Neil took this photo at Knepp, which I think is the best photo of a wild male ever:-

The issue now is wind speed. Emperors get decimated, in the modern sense, by gales during the flight season. We haven't witnessed this since 2010. We will find out how damaging this spell of windy weather has been once the winds abate, but I am seriously worried - the butterfly hasn't emerged in the expected numbers anyway, though I'm sure more are due to emerge.

Tomorrow looks so windy that it may not be worth venturing out... Save your energies...

Close encounters with the 'Noble Fly' at Souther Wood, Northants

Friday 26th June, 2020. Late decision to get to Fermyn due to improved weather forecast for the day, which had previously predicted heavy thundery showers all day. Thankfully these did not materialise and it turned out to be a perfect Emperor day. To save time to get to the Purple epicentre that is Souther Wood, I rode my blue, trusty ab attractor folding bike.

Did not have to wait long for the first grounded male at 9.30am. Perfect, bar a small chip in the hindwing. He constantly glided around our legs and settled on our person, camera bags and the like. Not to be outdone a White Admiral joined in on the act. As the morning wore on more groundings along the track before we retired for lunch under the famous fir trees. For me ham and mustard sandwiches. For HIM Mollasses with a hint of rum smeared on the trunks of the fir trees. It wasn't long before a perfect male accepted the invitation to dinner, occasionally 'flicking' at an ant to reveal that beautiful iridescence in contrast to the flaky bark. He put on quite a show. During the usual Emperor siesta between 1-3pm, we spotted a pristine female on the ground. First I have seen this year.

Reluctantly had to leave early due to a domestic commitment, but before I left a perfect male led us a merry dance for half a mile down the track, settling frequently to display that 'double purple' that enthusiasts so crave.

All in all an excellent day, a dozen Emperors seen, ten of which were on the ground and a perfect female t'boot.

A Worn Emperor at Bernwood Forest 26th June 2020

A visit to Bernwood this morning and at around 1030 a very tired looking male drifted down onto the main track. Looking through the camera lens I could see its wings were badly torn and it looked scruffy and faded as it fed at the side of the track. It took off and flying low and slow with many glides turned down a ride to land on the ground, its distinctive 'yachtsail' profile showing up well on the bare earth. Finally it glided further along the ride, veered right and settled on a hazel leaf in partial sunshine just a couple of feet from the ground where it sat with wings almost closed and then partially open before, after ten minutes, flying up and into the overhanging oaks. Meanwhile a male landed briefly on another person at the end of the ride but rapidly departed. We saw another prospecting the ground on this same ride but it did not settle and flew off into the surrounding trees. Finally another was seen flying around the dog waste bin near the car park but again did not settle. Four Purple Emperors in two hours was good for here. Maybe more to come in the next few days although the worn individual would indicate that some have been out for some time.

Purple Emperor shows itself in Whichford Wood, Warwickshire Friday 26th June

Whichford Wood is a SSSI between Shipton-on-Stour and Chipping Norton on the south-west tip of Warwickshire. I was going with my family for a walk there as it was central meeting up place for us. On arrival I parked (Grid Ref.  SP 29554 34334) waiting for the others to arrive and got a totally unexpected fly-by down the road by His Majesty. What a surprise a Purple Emperor gliding down a B road.
We headed into Whichford wood down the gated path and went almost due south along the track going up hill, not the one which turns right in front of the conifers.
Within 50 metres of the paths splitting a Purple Emperor was found already grounded happily probing away with his proboscis oblivious to us all gawking at it. This was 11 am and the temperature was around 27oC and clear sunny skies. In our family group I was the only one who had previously seen them so the family were suitably impressed.

We watched him for a while as he flashed his royal Purple to all who wanted to see. 

A wonderful and totally unexpected encounter.