Friday, July 31, 2009

Fluttering Fermyn Fermale

WEDNESDAY 29TH JULY: Back in Fermyn Woods, where the odd Emperor remains. I saw one, sex uncertain, and also found a freshly laid egg. Eggs and larvae are incredibly hard to find here. There are millions of sallows, and it may be that the females lay the odd egg hither and thither, mostly thither.

There are few true Salix caprea trees here. Most of the numerous broader leaved sallows here seem to be hybrids between caprea and cinerea, and I don't think Iris particularly favours these hybrids. The taxonomy of the narrow leaved sallows here is complicated, and I can't make any sense out of it (using the BSBI Handbook for the Identification of willows and poplars). But, I've only seen one female visit a narrow leaved sallow here, high up -which means I don't know whether she laid or not - so I don't know the extent to which they use these narrow leaved sallows either.

In effect, I'm floundering - but the ratio of iris adults to the abundance of sallows must be far lower here than in the other sites I've worked, a curious thought.

The plot thickens....


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Larvae left in situ

Back in Alice Holt for the day. The season is winding down here. One freshly laid egg (blue-green) was the nearest I got to Herself, then 2 males at each of the 2 main assembly points; 3 were predictably old, worn and torn but one was in quite good nick - nice and black-looking - and cannot have been more than 4-5 days old. Looks like one or two males and a few skulky females will make it into August here.

Now the egg lay here looks to have been quite good. I also found 3 1st instar larvae, 2 of which were on the same branch and can be monitored easily (I've never had one last longer than Xmas). 2 of the 3 were skin-changing. But I also found 2 egg bases and no sign of the resultant larvae. I left the lot in situ.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Wilts worn but not wasted

Back Emperoring again after an involuntary break. Despite recent foul and abusive weather Iris is still flying quite nicely in Savernake Forest, N Wilts. A thorough tour produced a tally of 8 males in 5 of the 8 territories I've found along the straight ridge crest ride leading to The Column. This compares to a peak count of 17. Three of these territories held pairs of squabbling males - one pair of which were very active, regularly clashing and chasing. Some males looked very worn, and two had lost much of their hindwings.

Two females were seen, egg-laying high in tall sallows. One was very worn and faded, the other in reasonable condition.

The Savernake Iris seem to have an unusually long flight season, and specialise in lingering on after other sites have apparently finished. It seems to be a 'late' sight.

Message: this season hasn't finished yet.....


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Last Of The Best?

It was with a little sadness that I descended Graffham Down on Saturday afternoon (25 July), having led a very enjoyable walk for Butterfly Conservation. In beautiful surroundings and under blue skies, we had watched a faded but still regal Emperor patrolling his now lonely territory - surely the last I will see of Him this year. I consoled myself with thoughts of betulae to come, but when the last iris has been seen the year is in decline.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Herefordshire hardly happening

Thanks ever so much to Jon for posting the important news that iris has appeared at Minsmere, presumably as the result of natural spread from the recently introduced colony at Theberton Wood. This is a really valuable piece of information. If my memory serves well there is a large area of sallow carr at the back of Minsmere, closer to Theberton. I need to visit... .

Today? I was in Haugh Wood, Hereford, which isn't Purple - the sallow leaves don't seem right (too shiny perhaps).


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Iris makes it to Minsmere

Don't know if it's of any interest but a male Purple emperor has been around for a few days from Canopy hide at Minsmere, Suffolk.

The species has never before been recorded on the site as I understand it. Given that Theberton woods are only a few miles will no doubt cause some debate about the butterflies origin..

Jon Gibbs

upper thames report 4

It is definitely not over yet; not including this amazing season, we are normally happy if we see up to 5 in an hour or two in one of our woods; on various days this July, 16 were seen in Doddershall Wood, 9 in Chinkwell Wood, and 18 in Bernwood Forest. The total sightings are approaching 250, which is more than twice as many as ever before in the UT.
Today, 5 were seen in Waterperry Wood, including one tatty female with large bits out of her wings, but she still managed to put on a very graceful 'low-level glide show' to delight us.
Question: is it so, that, on one occasion in one place you can see a lot of activity, but one day, or even one hour later, you see either nothing or far fewer?
We have at least two examples: on the 14th of July, in a small wood, where only 2 or 3 had been seen in previous years, at least 9 were seen in various parts of the wood. The wood was visited the very next day, in high winds, and only one was seen. In Bernwood Forest on July 4th, 9 were seen in very active mode along a 300m stretch of ride, while, on the way back 45 minutes later, only one was seen along this stretch.

Matthew's Summer in Pictures

Add Image

Weather: Vile, an autumn gale. This Emperor season is rapidly ending, blasted away. As the poet put it -

That ends so sudden in the rain,
The cold embittered autumn rain
That blows before the emptying of time.
Gathered from the lifeless, deathless
Windblown waves that rage on wintry seas.

Wildlife presenter Mike Dilger being presented to His Imperial Majesty. Fermyn Woods, July 9th.'

'Beeb filming shopping expeditions in advance of the 2009 Purple Emperor season... . This particular oriental store ran out of shrimp paste.'

The Emperor's Breakfast table, Fermyn Woods, July 5th. Complete with Pimms, horse manure, Stinking Bishop cheese, and 7 different types of shrimp paste.'

Erecting the Emperor's Breakfast - or rather, moving it to another location where the ruddy insect was being more cooperative... . Note Dilger and TV crew on right.'

Rare photo of Hulme and Oates sober and dressed (Emperor-spotting for BBC Nat Hist Unit, Fermyn Woods, 9th July).'

And if they foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, for it is better to hop into the kingdom of Heaven ...' (Matthew 18:8 & Mark 9:45 - or thereabouts)

'Normal for Fermyn...'.

'Temporary plaque inscribed to commemorate the divine visitation of Iole, Alice Holt, June 29th. A permanent version will be installed, in Greek, with Latin sub-titles - as soon as we can find a decent classicist...'.

'Oates attempting to support Australia. National One Sock Day, Botany Bay, July 1st. The experiment was an abject failure.'

Rare shot of iris attracted to banana, a frequently-used but rarely successful bait at Bentley Wood and elsewhere. The secret is to let it fester in your lunchbox for a week in the car boot, and add a Pimms - and have one yourself. Fermyn Woods, July 4th.'

'Pickled mud fish, probably the most foul-smelling bait possible - unfortunately, it works. Fermyn Woods, July 9th.'

'Dilger prostrate before the Emperor of the Woods. Fermyn Woods, July 9th.'

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Poles apart

Similar submission has been noted at Southwater.

Polish paphia Podophilia Predilection

Lucy Cordrey reports strange behaviour observed recently in Eastern Poland, with paphia and iris sharing a predilection usually reserved for the darker corners of the internet.

upper thames report 4

The recent blogs re iris 'reinventing itself' in areas well away from woodland are fascinating. So, all that is needed is a vast amount of sallow somewhere, with a small copse of nice tall trees not far away, for HIM to be content?

Matthew's report re sightings on the Downs prompts me to report that every year we see a few in the Chilterns, spread across the whole area from Tring in the north to the south-west of High Wycombe in the south. It is a difficult area to investigate, and I've yet to find a territory along any of the high ridges. Any tips as to how and where to search would be very welcome.

I hope you can see the map attached. It shows where we've found HIM in 15 woods along the so-called 'Bernwood Forest remnants' axis: about 18 miles. Some of these woods are very small [ca. 0.25 sq. km and less], but close enough to each other to allow this powerful insect to fly between the woods.

The only one of these woods we cannot enter is owned by a swarthy Italian. One of our members met him in the company of his gamekeeper: a huge man with ginger hair, sporting a gun; they made it clear that we cannot go in!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apatura iris 'cretaceus' - Emperor Also A Species Of Downland Crests!

We can now add 'downland crests' as a further habitat association of the Purple One! Following on from sightings over several years, by Biddy and Paul Dimmer (guardians of the stunningly beautiful Graffham Down Reserve - see right), Bruce Middleton (Murray Downland Trust and South Downs Joint Committee) and myself, further effort has been focussed on studying these 'most irregular' colonies.

On 4 July I watched two males clashing above the downland crest near Storrington, at an elevation of 558' above mean sea level. These are not just 'hill-topping' males - the butterfly breeds here. Prior to the demise of the 'Magic Sallow' (foully killed by tree-rats), I have previously watched females lay eggs, and have monitored larval and pupal development on the site since 2006. The surrounding lowland is arable, so there are no woods from which the butterfly is ascending.

On 13 July, following reports from the Dimmers, I visited the crest of Graffham Down near Midhurst, with Hannah Sanders and Susie Milbank. A total of four 'apparent' males were observed, together with an egg-laying female at an altitude of 728' amsl. Although the butterflies may well ascend from the wooded slopes and lower areas of Charlton Forest to the south, they clearly live and breed here, in this most lofty of habitats. I have since seen a photograph of an egg-laying female taken by Paul Dimmer two days previously. The image to the left shows the margin of the main stand of nursery sallows (near left), and a male assembly area in the pines (far right).

The image to the right shows a male 'on station' near the top of one of these pines, about 40' above the very highest point of the downs here (c.760' amsl!).

We walked west along the South Downs Way and came across another male iris, just short of the triangulation point at Heyshott. He was crossing an open meadow on the very peak of the downs at an elevation of 745' amsl, travelling from one stand of ash to another.

Back towards Storrington, male Emperors have been recorded sitting on the chalk path of the SDW above Rackham village, at an altitude of 623' amsl.

We clearly still have much to learn about this butterfly - and long may that be the case!

A Purple Lunch

Could only manage an hour or so around lunchtime on Thursday so wandered through the local sallow scrub up to an identified high spot here near Odiham. Managed four male sightings (one very clearly sallow searching) and a female in and around the lightly wooded scrub but nothing at the high point.

It's certainly worth looking at any patches of land with decent sallow coverage in central southern England, however close they are to recognised Purple colonies. Was quite surprised to get a reasonably high count in such a short space of time at this stage of the season.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Empire extends southwards

A decent day at last, but much damage has been done by recent foul and abusive weather and iris is now decidedly on the wane, especially the males. It's the wind that knocks out these canopy butterflies.

Today, Neil and I looked at iris colonising the 'abandoned' fields of the Knepp Castle estate in W Sussex, just S of Marlpost Wood etc. Here, the owner, Charlie Burrell, is taking 3000 acres out of intensive agriculture and managing it through extensive grazing, in huge compartments, mainly by Long-horn cattle. It will run to wood-pasture, with sallows being prominent for a long era. Many former arable fields have been colonised by dense sallows, whips in the 2-3m range mainly. We saw a male over some boundary oaks and then one of the best sightings of a female I've had - a superb Empress on egg-laying runs over the young sallows before drifting effortlessly away eastwards. Tomorrow I search for eggs in these jungles.... It looks as though iris is quite an early coloniser. Again, here it is by no means a woodland butterfly, let alone a creature of dense forest. It needs sallow jungles, sallow-rich landscapes. I'm not even sure if it needs tall trees... .

Later, we visited the main known spots in Marlpost + Dogbarking woods to the N. We saw 6 males and 1 female. The main Dogbarking territory held only 1 quiescent male (4 at peak) but we were pleased to see 2 at the Marlpost NW gate site. Best of all, 2 late in the day at my beloved Dragons Green, including 1 visiting a sap run high on oak.

We applauded the England captain's century by the Dogbarking Wood 'master tree'.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

St Swithun not happy

St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain na mair
Seems there's a bit of historical background to all this - take a look here:

St Swithun's Day

Not a pleasant day, and after a wild, wet and windy night. Methinks that wretched jet stream has jumped south - tho it may save us from getting stuffed by the Aussies.

Iris was hard to find today in Alice Holt. They may well have been decimated during the night (they get blasted away by gales, as do the arboreal hairstreaks). I managed only 8 all day, including 3 females.

But, had I been a collector I would have gone home with a bag of 4 paphia var ocellata (3 males, 1 female), 1 rather torn camilla var obliterae, and a lovely c-album var suffusa! 2009 would have gone down as a great aberration year, presumably due to high temperatures whilst pupae were forming in late May / early June.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alice males look second class!

Back home in Alice Holt, showing Mike McCarthy from The Independent his first Iris. Of course, just after he left, Herself appeared (at the main male assembly point at Goose Green Old Car park) and immediately attracted 4 males from trees I thought held only 2. Chaos ensued. She led them a merry dance, then vanished; and then it clouded up. She minxed the lot of us. I hung around for ages of course, eventually watching 3 males joining in Brother Quercus's evening flight - at last a decent evening flight of PH.

Also today, a freshly emerged male in Straits Inclosure, tho all the others seen today were faded or torn or both. I saw 11 there (2 females) which is less than half peak season numbers. A couple of males were still sallow searching - quite late for this stage in the season.

At Goose Green I nailed a nice male paphia ab ocellata which I'd walked past, only for Mike to spot it.....

I've now seen Iris for 21 consecutive days, the longest run since 1975 when I did the whole season. I have lost all sense of time, place, distance, perspective and reason - it it so enliberating: I'm talking about Freedom..... 'Our life is no dream, but it should and perhaps will become one' (Novalis).


Reg Still Watching Emperors At 89

The following is taken from a report posted on the Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch website.

'News for Sunday 12 July: A massive 41 people attended the BC outing to Southwater Woods today. The Purple Emperor once more proved to be a major crowd-pleaser, providing many people with their first sighting of this spectacular butterfly. He again arrived 'on cue', appearing above the outing assembly point at precisely 11am. By the time the 'official' walk had ended we had seen a minimum of 8 different Emperors, with many in spectacular aerial combat. However, it was one of those magical days when many did not want to go home! At 5.30pm a still sizeable group were treated to the amusing spectacle of a mass 'punch-up' between the Purple Emperors and the Purple Hairstreaks, high above the canopy. First one species would start, keeping the argument amongst themselves, then the other would charge in and cause mayhem. By this time we had seen a minimum total of 14 (probably 15) Emperors and were lucky enough to have witnessed the spectacular, tumbling, male-rejection behaviour of a female. I still wasn't finished and stopped off to watch the evening flight of another 2 Purple Emperors, along a meadow margin towards Dragons

However, the highlight of the day for me was spending some time with Reg Trench and his lovely wife Sophie. I sincerely hope that I am still full of the same enthusiasm that Reg shows at the remarkable age of 89 (and the mind, body and soul to indulge this passion we have). A mile or two over rough ground and stiles - no problem! Reg started watching butterflies in 1930, so he would have already been a young man by the time we experienced the greatest ever invasion of rare migrants in 1945, when Britain was blessed with good numbers of Queen of Spain Fritillary, Long-tailed Blue and Bath White!'

Monday, July 13, 2009

Odiham Observations

Dull and showery, with a few brief sunny spells - then cleared up for the evening, but with a brisk W wind.

Tony Baines is looking brilliantly at the distribution of Iris in the Odiham area, N Hants. It is clearly well established in that landscape, occurring in colonies which may well be loosely connected. But it is not a true woodland butterfly here, let alone a forest one; rather it is a creature of sallow scrub in diverse situations. These include the Odiham by-pass, a 2 mile long construction ca 30 years old, which is lined with sallows. Turn uphill into Odiham from the roundabout at the by-pass's E end, and you will find Iris males assembling in a sheltered high point (oak and ornamentals) at the driveway entrance of a big house. And there's a lovely assembly point along the Basingstoke Canal, where we saw 3 males in lousy weather. The main breeding ground must be abundant sallows along the edge of a lake - we saw 2 males and 1 female there in 15 sunny mins. And it must along be breeding along the canal. The dense ancient woodland of Odiham Common is rather an irrelevance, incredibly, despite its size. Iris continuously reinvents itself...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mea Culpa

Apologies to bloggers and webbers alike - I spent the weekend mending my roof and watching the cricket, so I haven't been able to keep up with cross-posting from the blog to the web and vice-versa. It is all up there, just in the wrong order, so read down until you're safely into the beginning of last week before you're sure you've seen everything.

It will be re-organised, only right now something else calls - the dreaded WORK!

BTW - great posting, everyone. I'd like to eventually organise things so that the blog is live and current, and the web a repository of information for research and winter browsing - a kind of on-line "Notes and Views.." We're just about there.


july 12: Looks like the 09 Ashes series is taking over from where the 05 series left off. Most of the drama was listened to in Savernake Forest, N Wilts. This is an odd site for Iris, as they fly round the crowns of gigantic beech trees, in the 80' range, and look tiny.

Today I counted 17 apparent individual males along the 1/4 mile long straight ride leading up to The Column (a piece of C18th bollox). It might have been as many as 20 males. This is by far the most I've seen here. It included 3 groups of 3 battling males, and 4 lots of 2. Some looked old and worn, one had almost lost his hind wings, but some were fresh-looking. No sign of Herself though.



Frenetic day trying to finish 2 different TV pieces, with 2 film crews, mercifully both Beeb. We managed it, thanks to some decent weather and some cooperative but ageing males. All the males seen close up today were faded, even battered - apart from one which looked pristine and may have emerged this morning. Good to see them savouring the delights of Vietnamese shrimp paste and pickled mud fish. My car attracted one old male - and rightly so as it stinks, having had its bodily functions modified for the season, to attract iris. My first male was seen at 7.40, when the temp was only 13C, and my last at 6pm.

Females are now relatively prominent in Northants, though there might be one or two still to hatch. We saw one huge recently emerged female. Another was seen rejecting a male in the classic tumbling down flight. Neil Hulme saw one down on the ride - something I virtually never see.

The oak sap run was favoured again, on and off from 9am to 5pm, with a max of 3 at a time. They keep getting booted off by hornets - something which their more aggressive counterparts in W Sussex would not tolerate.

Tithonus at last appears in Northants, 2 fresh males; and a black admiral, a full nigrina. There are virtually no Purple Hairstreak here this year; I stayed on for the evening flight and struggled to see 2. Yet there has been no outbreak of Tortrix viridana, which has defoliated oaks massively in the western Weald.

The forecast for the weekend is Vile: be warned, Iris and other canopy butterflies can be decimated by strong winds, which are forecast. Last year's good emergence was severely depleted by a gale on the weekend of the 5th-6th. It looks as tho something similar is about to happen - tho it may save an insipid England from defeat in the 1st test...


BBC to breakfast

Frenetic day trying to finish 2 different TV pieces, with 2 film crews, mercifully both Beeb. We managed it, thanks to some decent weather and some cooperative but ageing males. All the males seen close up today were faded, even battered - apart from one which looked pristine and may have emerged this morning. Good to see them savouring the delights of Vietnamese shrimp paste and pickled mud fish. My car attracted one old male - and rightly so as it stinks, having had its bodily functions modified for the season, to attract iris. My first male was seen at 7.40, when the temp was only 13C, and my last at 6pm.

Females are now relatively prominent in Northants, though there might be one or two still to hatch. We saw one huge recently emerged female. Another was seen rejecting a male in the classic tumbling down flight. Neil Hulme saw one down on the ride - something I virtually never see.

The oak sap run was favoured again, on and off from 9am to 5pm, with a max of 3 at a time. They keep getting booted off by hornets - something which their more aggressive counterparts in W Sussex would not tolerate.

Tithonus at last appears in Northants, 2 fresh males; and a black admiral, a full nigrina. There are virtually no Purple Hairstreak here this year; I stayed on for the evening flight and struggled to see 2. Yet there has been no outbreak of Tortrix viridana, which has defoliated oaks massively in the western Weald.

The forecast for the weekend is Vile: be warned, Iris and other canopy butterflies can be decimated by strong winds, which are forecast. Last year's good emergence was severely depleted by a gale on the weekend of the 5th-6th. It looks as tho something similar is about to happen - tho it may save an insipid England from defeat in the 1st test...



I visited another iris site in Northants toady, Bucknell Wood near Silverstone. Four individuals were seen, including this egglaying female. She settled on a small sallow, 11.15 a.m., basked momentarily, before striking a couple of sallow leaves to lay eggs.

Woops - July 6th!

I met up with Matthew Oates for the first time this season in a secluded part of Fermyn. We had nine iris in less than ideal conditions. The most interesting piece of behaviour noted was this male feeding from the frame of a deer tower.

Doug Goddard

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fermyn Diaries - Day 6

We saved the best till last - lovely sunshine! Two BBC crews arrived today. Dilger et al. were there to finish 'The Emperor's Breakfast' off very nicely, with Mike getting seriously Purpled on the way out of the woods.

The BBC NHU continued filming Matthew and I in seriously competitive Emperor-baiting. Unfortunately the best action occurred before the cameras arrived. Just before 9am I had 3 different males on the deck, all of which sampled both of our delicacies, including my trusty Hau Loc belachan and Matthew's Pickled Mudfish. At one point I had one on my finger and one on my boot as I shuffled about trying to make calls on my mobile. Surprisingly, one of the males was in very good condition - no more than a couple of days old. By now the vast majority were showing serious rain-inflicted wear and tear.

In the afternoon I saw 2 big females on the tracks, both probing for moisture in the shady areas. One particularly large girl was clearly fresh out that morning, still showing that almost 'wet' lustre. As always (in my experience) the females were much harder to approach when on the ground, as they are not there to become engrossed in the pursuit of mineral salts. She evaded the shot I really wanted.

I left the woods with that 'back to skool' feeling in my stomach. As I reached the end of Cherry Lap I was treated to a last fly-past by Britain's best butterfly.

Fermyn Diaries - Day 5

A much better day at last, with good spells of sunshine during which iris 'made hay'. Matthew spotted that a sap bleed high up in the oaks had started to weep, bringing Emperors in from all corners of the wood. Up to 6 of them, including the odd female, jostled for position with beating wings. We saw more classical male-rejection behaviour from one girl who seemed to enjoy leading the males on. Here she is, sitting close to a group of males - all 'fur coat and no knickers'.

I managed a few more shots of Emperors on the ground, and my trousers, and my boots. More importantly, even my father managed to get some very nice images, having been desperately unlucky last year. Beds & Northants BC bods Doug Goddard and Stuart Pittman, and butterfly buddy Jack Harrison were amongst the many Purple People that turned up to join in the fun.

Fermyn Diaries - Day 4

At least we got a few brighter spells today! We started filming at a location far from the madding crowd, but iris refused to be scripted. While the crew waited for Him to arrive in the designated clearing I returned to the parking area to find the blighter sitting on sound-man Gary's car bonnet. After being shooed away he added insult to injury by sampling my Hau Loc belachan bait a few feet away. I picked Him up on my finger and walked almost all the way back to the film set before the inevitable exit occurred.

The second image shows Matthew being filmed as he breaks 6 bye laws simultaneously.

Fermyn Diaries - Day 3

Weather worse than yesterday. In a very brief period of sunshine I did see a nice female lay a couple of eggs. However, the high-point of the day was a curry with the guys from the BBC NHU in Oundle. I had to retreat to the Jalfrezi option after spending the previous evening on the Vindaloo.

Fermyn Diaries - Day 2

Poor weather kept them grounded for most of the day, although cameraman Manuel Hinge and I saw some nice male-rejection behaviour by a tumbling female. I managed to find a mud-puddler on Cherry Lap, and my parents arrived to be met by a keen hubcap licker at the car parking area.

Fermyn Diaries - Day 1

On Sunday 5 July I joined Matthew at Fermyn, where he was filming another 'Emperor's Breakfast' piece with Mike Dilger and his production team - a thoroughly nice bunch of chaps. I also met some very nice folk who were participants in a party which was madder than the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. It was a great pleasure to help some of them see the Emperor for the first time. We also met Guardian journalist Patrick Barkham, who is collecting material for a book as he tours all of our resident species.

The butterflies performed better in the afternoon and I managed a few nice shots of Emperors on the ground (just click on these images to enlarge them). As is traditional now, I had them landing on various articles of my clothing, including my boots. By performing a contortion that Nadia Comaneci would have been proud of, I managed to get a shot of one sitting on my own size 10.

upper thames report 3

We thought maybe it was coming to an end but it certainly isn't; sightings not at the same level as last weekend, but still very respectable. I was wrong about that platform; we climbed it with the owner.

Lovely view of the largest Oak in this wood.

Sightings total so far for Upper Thames: 156; this is at least 50% more than ever before.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Iris Enjoying Fermyn

Some beautiful shots, courtesy of John Carter, from Fermyn - Sunday 5th July.

Weather we like it or not

THURSDAY 9TH JULY:Much Purple magic between the clouds here in Northants. Great to see up to 6 together on a sap bleed high on an oak in late morning, including a female. They kept getting booted out by hornets. Also, a lovely show around a master oak near Corby this afternoon, with 6 together at one point and several vistas of 5 and 4, and 2 females egg laying high in tall old broad-leaved sallows nearby. Gatekeeper still not out here. We only had a few sunny spells after 10.30 though.

WEDNESDAY 8TH JULY:This magnificent Iris season seems to be falling to pieces. Has the wretched jet stream suddenly jumped south again? Much gloom and doom today, with precious little brightness and associated activity. The highlight, whilst Brother Neil and I were filming with BBC NHU in Fermyn, was a female attracting no less than 3 males, before deciding she didn't require any of them and hiding in a high oak spray, the minx. Test Match Special reigned supreme; it is of course the perfect companion to a day's Emperoring. Turn it up Loud.

Matthew (+ Neil, who remained clad all day).

TUESDAY 7TH JULY:The weather has collapsed, presumably a foul Aussie scheme - cloud seeding - to prevent England reclaiming The Ashes with ease.... How else can they hope to retain the urn? Either that, or it's another manifestation of the ECB's incompetence... .

Today, in Fermyn Woods, Iris bounced into action the moment the sun appeared after a deluge. There will not, though, be any good male specimens left after these rains.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Upper Thames report number 3

the owner of one of our woods is dead keen on making his woods the best in bucks for HIM; he has more sallow per 100 sq m than any other wood around here; this season he was rewarded when 16 were seen along 400m of his rides [3 times more than ever before]. He has also done something for us by constructing a viewing platform: see picture.

I haven't the heart to tell him that it is not high enough!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nothing to report today due to cool and showery conditions. The afternoon was almost a write-off. Iris was up late this morning due to cool temperatures and was confined largely to the main breeding grounds in Fermyn Woods - the dense sallow jungles. These jungles are surprisingly low and open, with much open ground (rank Deschampsia and Calamagrostis - Grasshopper Warbler country) and sallows in the 2-5m range + scattered young oaks etc. I am convinced that iris is a creature of scrubland, not forest, and not necessarily even of woodland.


upper thames report number 2

In UT we never have, and we probably never will, match Surrey, Sussex, and Hants, or Fermyn for numbers. However, in life everything is relative. We are all overcome here in berksbucksoxon with the iris explosion. It started on July 4th. We had our annual two day field meeting in Bernwood Forest. Eighteen [people!] turned up on the Saturday, and ten on the Sunday. By our standards we were treated to a feast of purple. On Saturday, 17 individuals were seen, and on Sunday [poorer weather], 10. Of course, these are pathetic numbers compared with what Matthew, Doug, Neil & co are reporting from Alice Holt, Southwater and Fermyn. However, this is at least twice as many as we have ever seen in a weekend in this forest. When I got home, I realised 'something was up' in middle England when the e-mails started coming in from other woods in the UT region. Everybody was reporting 2 to 3 times more sightings than ever before. Our best observer, Dave Wilton [a retired air traffic controller: he misses nothing!] reported 16 from one wood where we had never seen more than 5 in a day. He also visited a very small wood [excellent for pruni], where, before 2008, we had never seen iris. Two were seen for the first time last year: one by Dave, and one by the owners of the wood who ran over a male in their 4WD as they drove down the main ride. On 4th July this year, Dave found 4 there. So, he had a total of 20 in a day, compared with 5 for these two woods in a 'normal' year. This pattern was repeated in several other woods.
From deepest Berkshire, a member has reported that he sits in his garden and every year sees 'several iris' on an Oak just on the other side of his fence which is in a school playing field. The other day, he waited until the end of school [3.30] and ventured into the field. He walked along the line of Oaks and saw '5 to 6' on every Oak. These Oaks are on a high point leading away from a very large forest nearby. I will visit this gentleman this week to see for myself. I will need to take some Valium with me to calm me down, in case it's true.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Emperor's Breakfast

Staging The Emperor's Breakfast in Fermyn Woods, only breakfast rather misfired as it clouded up for the key part of the day. In the end, Afternoon Tea was served - just after Mike Dilger and the BBC film crew departed (one male on pickled mud fish, another on shrimp paste, and a camilla on the table cloth). Lots of silly photos to appear in due course.

Brother Neil appeared, and managed to keep all his clothes on. He also achieved the dream photo of a pristine male showing all 4 wings fully purple. He also had one land on his right foot.

We must have seen a good 50 males, and just the lone Empress. At one point Neil saw 2 groups of 4 chasing males. Lots more 'sallow searching' and at times males patrolling the oak edges adjacent to the breeding grounds.

Why are Fermyn Woods so good for iris? Ans: there are some 600 acres of dense sallow jungle, compared to 60 in Alice Holt, itself a great iris forest (+ good rideside sallows in both). QED.


Rehearsals for Breakfast

At noon today (BST) the Executive Committee of The Purple Empire issued the following instruction to all those of Purple Pursuasion -

On no account is the Scandinavian fermented herring indelicacy known as Surstromming to be used, as a bait for iris or any other purpose. It seriously compromises human, canine, vulvine and Apaturine health and is henceforth banned.

(This is the first time the Purple Empire Executive Committee has ever done anything.)

Lady Wood, Fermyn. Probably at least 40 iris males + 1 female today. I was staging a dress rehearsal for tomorrow's Emperor's Breakfast event. It worked spectacularly well, tho many were attracted down by the delicious aromas only to visit the ride surface. At one point I had 2 males and a Comma down on one small shrimp paste bait. Also saw some nice oak-edging behaviour and sallow-searching, tho it doesn't look as tho there are many females out here yet. Hardly a butterfly photographer all day, which is odd. Presume they were all down south after Iole....

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I met Neil Hulme on 2 separate occasions last year and, both times, he was fully-clothed. This is, apparently, an unusual occurrence that warrants a mention. However, I didn't notice how many socks he was wearing - should any government official ask.

There goes our "PG" rating!

An adherent taking advantage of "one sock day"

Matthew's Anabasis

Weather change, and with it I move location from Hants, Surrey and the Sussexes to the Northants woods beloved by my boyhood hero 'BB'. Here, a grey morning with spells of rain that thoroughly wetted the parched woodland rides, leading to sunny spells from 2pm. I disturbed 5 male iris down on the ride en route to my lodgings in the wood (an isolated cottage + nesting reed bunting, whitethroats and grasshopper warblers).

I have a problem: I am staging The Emperor's Breakfast on Sunday here, as a contemporary art event, with 20 participants and the Beeb filming it - Mike Dilger's presenting it... . The FC (Whom God Preserve) are thinning pine in the woods and have wrecked by number one venue, my number two venue, my number three ..... and timber extraction and the rains have turned most of the rides into a giant breakfast table - and there's me with 6 varieties of shrimp paste, Surstromming, pickled mud fish, stinking bishop cheese, Pimms No 1 etc. Tomorrow's my dummy run.

Down south, iris is at peak - so if you don't know what to do this weekend: to the woods, without delay! Up here, males are well out and fresh, with more to come along with the bulk of the females. Oh, and by the way, this is a good iris emergence year after all. Enjoy!

PS: You may be puzzled at Matthew's blogs being posted by Derek. Don't be.

Friday, July 3, 2009

No Messing with this Emperor

With the recent sunny spells coming to a grinding halt, a day spent in Bentley Wood started off rather slowly. However, when the sun did come out, so did the Emperors. We had around a dozen separate sightings - the strangest of which was a real hard-nut, hereby named Tyson (for obvious reasons), who continued to enjoy his morning breakfast of "doggy do and lager" (don't ask) while a 4-wheel drive vehicle drove over him. I believe a film of this intrepid character is in the offing.

Iris Continues Evening Sorties

In spells of very hot weather it seems that iris may be far more active during the evening than many people realise, perhaps even more so than early in the morning. I again visited Botany Bay, confident in the knowledge that they would 'kick off' some time after 5 pm. The first sighting came at 5.15 pm, when I watched the prolonged courtship flight of the Emperor, just to the SE of the 'Triangle'. She glided around the oak tops at a quite leisurely pace with initially one, then a second admirer in pursuit. This went on for more than 5 minutes, as if she was testing their 'suitability'. Her final choice was made high in the canopy, out of sight.

At 5.30 pm the males started to descend and at one point I saw two of them sitting on the path within a few feet of each other. I was just beginning to think that they had learned to 'play nicely', when one got up to trash a female blackbird that had the temerity to come within 10 metres. Iris was still going at 7 pm when I left.

Earlier that day I visited Southwater Woods. I had scraped together a total of 13 individual males, but they were hardly busy and the intense heat was clearly suppressing their activity. Dave Sadler had watched a female egg-laying, unusually early in the day from my own experience.

Matthew and the Beeb

Little to report today, as I again spent it helping the Beeb Nat Hist Unit film PEs in Alice. We've got some serious stuff in the can: stupendous 'sallow searching', serial Violence around the Goose Green territory, lots of landing and taking off (they land with a sideways backward flip), a brief bit of courtship, and best of all the disembodiment of a freshly emerged Painted Lady....

Off to Northants now, to film the ultimate Emperor's Breakfast + Mike Dilger....I have now spent 8 days viewing PEs from on high in a cherry picker, and have yet to see one feeding on honeydew or otherwise probing on a leaf for sustenance. Looks like a big myth. How marvellous!

'For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise' (Coleridge, under the influence of 2 grains of opium).

Bentley Wood, Hants

Paul Brock saw at least 5 Purple Emperor at Bentley Wood, Hampshire on a hot day where several purple admirers congregated. Before 9am in the car park, Mark Pike had already found an admirer, which settled on his backpack, Nikon and fleece. Well who can blame the butterfly, he was sweating a little, having walked a mile and a half from West Dean railway station! After half an hour the butterfly had enough.......others flew high up in trees by the Switchback, but often came to the ground sometimes for up to about 30 minutes to take nourishment from dung, or from soil, but mostly only too briefly. Once or twice one landed low down on bracken. At times, they opened their wings and camera shutters were quickly pressed in the hope of an all purple image! Just before 12am, one male expressed an interest in a silver vehicle bonnet in the car park, all too soon it was time to depart. I wonder what turned up in the afternoon?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wood You Believe It?

Following help from Matthew three likely assembly areas have been found within about a mile of each other here in Odiham, North Hampshire. Two are on the edge of small areas of woodland but the third is especially interesting as it doesn't appear to be associated directly with woods. It seems possible that the males may be coming from sallows on the edge of a main road, adjacent hedges or even local gardens. Clearly Purple potential in the landscape generally is greatly enhanced if woodland is not a necessary factor for the success of the species.

From personal experience I'd urge everyone to check in and around local high spots, whether or not they feel promising at first. I'd lived here fifteen years before I realised that the butterfly was strong locally, so even allowing for my poor observation skills it's amazingly easy to miss.

It's just possible that Iris can adapt to open and semi-urban situations much more readily than we currently realise.

Rare form sighted

In keeping with the recent spate of unusual forms of Purple Emperor turning up, I was today treated with a fleeting view of the extremely uncommon var. missingabitae

Well, they say beggars can't be choosers. This was my only sighting on possibly my only opportunity to get to Fermyn this year. Sigh.