Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More on 2011 Egg Lay

The situation is even more tricksy than I suggested in my previous posting, for there appears to be less suitable foliage around this late summer / early autumn than during the previous two years, at least from ground level.

I've searched and graded (subjectively but hopefully consistently) a large number of sallow trees three years running, and have so far found that few that were deemed suitable in 09 and / or 10 are looking suitable this year. This may be due to the early spring, or the poor summer. Certainly, foliage growth varies a lot from year to year. I've even had some sallow trees change from being broad-leaved types in 09 to looking distinctly narrow-leaved in 11, and vice versa! Shape shifting... .

I need to ascend some sallows. It may be that more eggs than usual were laid this year on the sub-canopy isolated sprays that the insect generally favours.

Any excuse to climb trees... .

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Egg Lay

I'm now able to issue a provisional estimate of the 2011 iris egg lay in and around Savernake Forest, Wilts - and it's bad news: unless I discover a couple of serious hotspots it looks as though the 2011 egg lay is around half that of 2011, itself a poor lay.

Having sampled much of the forest, it looks as though I'll find about 30 eggs & larvae this year, compared t0 60 in 2010 and 141 in 2009 (an exceptionally good year). Today, I searched 10 good trees that produced nine ova / larvae in 2010 and 16 in 2011, and found four.

The situation may be better in Bucks, Herts, Northants and Oxon where for reasons unknown the butterfly seemed to be in better numbers this year, and should consequently have laid more eggs. But the egg lay may be even worse in Sussex.

At this range it seems highly unlikely that 2012 will be a good iris year, but I'm more than happy to be proved wrong...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Emperor in August

On the subject of the Emperor in August I have one sighting in Hampshire on the 05 August in Benyons Inclosure which is near Pamber Forest. Also I have seen a photo of a female Emperor on the ground in Alice Holt Forest on the 29 July and she looks almost in perfect condition. How she managed to stay like that through the wet and windy July heaven knows, unless she was a very late specimen, and managed to avoid the terrible July. I bet she was never mated either, which would seem such a waste. I'm sending you the picture so you can see the lovely 'girl' in all her glory!

Ashley Whitlock

Monday, August 15, 2011

In my beginning is my end...

On 13th June Rob Hill saw the first iris of the year, at Bookham Common. This was His Imperial Majesty's earliest (known) appearance since 1893.

Today, at 3pm, Rob and another gent saw what must be the year's last, a pale worn female seemingly engaged in egg laying, again at Bookham Common.

This is only the second August sighting reported (so far), after one at Loxwood, W Sussex, on Fri 12th. It may well be the year's final sighting.

In my end is my beginning...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Larval Doings

A day searching for iris larvae in the N Wilts woods whilst listening to Test Match Special was rather downheartening: larvae were horribly scarce, until I struck a mild Purple Patch late on, finding 3 larvae and 2 about-to-hatch ova. Test Match Special, I hasten to add, was far from downheartening - especially as the results of recent matches must have upset the Australians considerably... . One larvae was in the early second instar (+ horns), and 2 were skin changing from the 1st instar. It's too early to tell yet but my fear is that this year's egg lay is even poorer than last year's, at least in this district.

Today, Brother Dennis and I met to discuss the more obtuse passages of the Book of Ezekiel whilst searching in a superb privately owned wood in NW Bucks. This wood is managed by an enlightened owner who bears His Imperial Majesty firmly in mind (ever since he was attacked by a posse of 4 males whilst mowing the rides a number of years back). We struggled to find three second instar larvae, and three leaves bearing seat pads + feeding damage +/- egg case bases but no signs of larvae. It looks as those those three had already succumbed. Although this is needle-in-haystack country, as all the rides are gloriously lined with sallows, we should have done better than that.

Watch this space... And enjoy the 4th test.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Matthew's Latest!

I notice that Matthew's name has turned up on p35 of last weeks (August 7th) Sunday Express. Just a pity that young Stella Woodbridge was pictured with a Morpho instead of his Highness! For those interested the associated text reads:

"Nature lovers join the butterfly beauty hunt" There has never been a better time to be a butterfly spotter. This summer has produced a bumper insect crop with warm temperatures and sunny spells bringing many of Britain's 46 species out in force. Unlike the VIctorians who netted the creatures, killed them and mounted them on boards, today's butterfly hunters are content tp photograph or simply admire them. The pastime is now so popular the National Trust is running a "love butterflies" weekend and encouraging the public to use internet site Twitter to post the names of species they see and where they are spotted. Trust conservation adviser Matthew Oates said "If all goes well, you're left with beautiful pictures and treasured memories".

Emperor Photo Competition

All over by the look of it, so let's wrap it up.

As always, some magnificent photography from bloggers. I'm constantly amazed that we can rustle up a good few dozen images, any one of which would have been an exceptional picture twenty years ago. It was only the cost of running through 35mm film that was holding us back!

So, my own personal and highly biased view. Out of an exceptional field, the following I rate primi inter pares:

Nick Butt's great twosome in depth:

Ashley Whitlock's iris with attitude - real personality in this one.

Matthew's great females - difficult to find, and rich fulvous colour. Great technique.

Neil's Miss Iris - how could you go past this one?

Rob Hill's duelling ires

Mike Coleman's lovely underside - a classic, almost cliched, but great technique and out of focus background. And a similar shot from Neil, both really getting value out of those macro lenses.

And then we still have Neil's ab afflicta series - just reward for the many many hours that Neil puts in for protection and promotion of this and other species.

Quite frankly, I can't and won't separate these. Great pictures all, so different and yet every one illustrating a different aspect of his, and her, majesty. Well done everyone, and bring on 2012.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Your Help is URGENTLY Needed...

One small flutter for his highness, one giant leap for his highnesses kind...

On going research work being conducted behind closed doors on his highness (and his closest Apaturinae associates) has taken a leap forward today with the confirmation that I will have access to a powerful GC-MS (Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometer) machine with which I intend to analyze the chemical composition of specific areas of male iris wings. The chemical(s) I hope to identify on the portions of the male iris wings, are however relatively unstable and unfortunately rapidly oxidise in atmospheric air. As a consequence of this chemical degradation, the analysis must therefore unfortunately be performed on fresh (less than 1 month old) samples if any hope of the expected chemical(s) are to be detected. Considering that the UK iris flight season is now almost over, I write in absolute desperation of finding a lone wild male specimen with which this critical analysis might please be able to be performed. Although the ideal specimen for this analysis would still have wings which are in a reasonable condition, my desperation means that I will accept almost any male, just as long as it has been obtained from the wild. Although I do also need a captive reared specimen for use as an essential control, the most critical male specimen must unfortunately be obtained from the wild. Already dead male specimens would however also be ideal for this analysis as their natural lives would thankfully have already served their purpose. I therefore write in order to please appeal to all of your over riding scientific minds, whilst re-iterating the significance with which a lone male specimen, which is undoubtedly already at the end of it's natural life might please help us to re-write the natural history books, regarding what is currently known about this most remarkable butterfly species.

I would not write this message unless my request was of the most sincere nature and due to the severity of my desperation, I urgently hope that one of you might please be able to help locate a single lone (ideally already dead) male which can be used to further our understanding of this most magnificent butterfly species.

Next years generation coming along nicely

One of next years generation that appears to be doing well. Several of the larvae that I have sleeved have now shed their first skins, all appear to be doing well. Some simple maths indicates that the earliest of these were laid as early as the 1st July, give or take a day or two.