Monday, June 30, 2014

Spot The Difference

'Shot of the year' must currently rest with this impeccable image of one of Paul Fosterjohn's excellent Purple Emperor Pin Badges. Susie Milbank has cleverly accessorized the badge with a real Emperor from Botany Bay (30th June). Great work Susie!

Golden caterpillar awards

 Despite my best intentions it is with regret that I announce that the badge award project has been postponed indefinitely. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

More Botany

Here's a nice head-on study of iris at Botany Bay (29th June) by Paul Cox. You might recognise the Gorilla's Finger.

Bay Watch

Today (29th June) I managed to squeeze in a last trip to Botany Bay, before heading to Mecca with Matthew (Fermyn Woods). It was an unprofessionally late start for me, so it came as no surprise to see a huddle of photographers as I climbed the slope above the concrete bridge. A slightly worn male Emperor was deeply engrossed in particularly large, dark scat. I have my own classification system for these; this one fell into the category 'Gorilla's Finger'. A better example (of iris) had been seen earlier in the morning by Dave Miller and others.

After laying some particularly pungent baits (the smell seems to get worse each season) there was little in the way of further action at ground level until well into the afternoon. However, up to 3 males at a time were working their way around the canopy above 'The Triangle' around midday and sporadically throughout the afternoon.

At 4 pm things started to happen and I was paid my first visit of the season, with a male landing on my boots and moleskins. Before 5.45 pm, when it clouded up, I had a further 3 grounded males. A couple of these were unblemished, and probably emerged this morning. Still early season here and all to play for.


Just Starting in Savernake

Savernake Forest, near Marlborough, is a 'late' site, regularly clocking the country's last male of the year.  Several people failed to see any there today, including me - until the last minute of my allotted time (well, 90+5 mins actually) when a male on his maiden flight was seen.  My conclusion is that iris is only just starting there.  As already stated, I'm not expecting a sizeable emergence there this year due to excessively high levels of predation during the winter (and spring), though much depends on flight season weather. 

Apparently it hasn't got going in Bentley Wood yet either. 

Tomorrow, Neil and I are off to Fermyn Woods, Northamptonshire, for a couple of days.  And we want this -

And this -

In which case it will be Trousers On The Head...

From Christoph Zöckler

 My friend Dr James Fowler and I were very lucky to have chosen yesterday to go out to Fermyn Wood. We enjoyed a great day and a feast of butterflies. Among a total of 13 species we enjoyed such beauties as White Admirals and at least three Silver-washed Fritillaries. 

With some luck and maybe some divine guidance my friend James spotted the first male Emperor in the oak canopy early on in the morning. 

Many more followed well into the afternoon, certainly into double figures, displaying their rich purple colours on the ground. Some even followed us, curiously exploring our boots. Very enjoyable indeed and it was a great pleasure to also meet the delightful and knowledgeable Rev. Prebendary John Woolmer.’

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Eartham Emperor

A single male Emperor spotted sallow-searching at the southern gate to Eartham Woods (SU940106) early this afternoon. Eartham is known to be Purple, but is seldom visited. This was my first sighting here. The wood probably warrants more attention.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First Female

I spent this afternoon on the Knepp Castle Estate with Matthew, Amy Nightingale (Knepp Safaris and a group of West Sussex County Council rangers and volunteers. The strong, gusty southwesterly undoubtedly suppressed aerial activity, but we still managed to chalk up 40 Emperors, including the first female of the season.

The wind tended to cool things down a little earlier than we would have liked and I watched a male deliberately searching out a roost for the night, eventually disappearing deep into a high, leafy ash spray at 5.15 pm.

Matthew had earlier located a few White-letter Hairstreak around a small group of elms near the Knepp Safaris glampsite. By 6 pm they were very active and we counted at least a dozen squabbling around the host trees and adjacent oak. This is a good record for Sussex, with known populations showing a strong bias towards the coastal DED control zone. It is, of course, greatly under-recorded.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Doings: Out in Fermyn Woods

Our friend the Rev. Prebendary John Woolmer saw about 25 males in Fermyn Woods, Northants, today.  Obviously it's coming out there with a bang, and Fermyn will be well worth working this weekend (weather permitting). 

On Tuesday July 1st the Rev. Prebendary will officially Bless the 2014 Fermyn Woods Purple Emperor season.  10.30am, 'Poplar Corner' at Lady Wood Head.  I'll be there.  All welcome, clothing optional.

Also, look out for John's customary letter to The Times on the state of the Purple Emperor season (assuming The Editor accepts it). 

Has anyone seen HIM at Fermyn yet?

I know that Fermyn tends to lag behind some of the others, but just wondered if anyone has tried there yet? I'm planning a visit on Saturday with my two daughters. What I lose in patience and ability to cover long distances I gain in two pairs of eyes that seem to lock on to butterflies better than mine do!

Wishing everyone a Purple Weekend!

A fantastic sighting in Hertfordshire

Some of you that contribute to the Empire will remember Nick Sampford who sadly died a few years ago. He was a great fan of the Purple Emperor and supporter of the Herts & Middx Branch having contributed countless fantastic photos in the early days of the branch website.
I received this email a few minutes ago from his daughter Katie! I think it is simply wonderful! The village is about 4.5km from our known nearest site and 2km from my back garden!!!

"Something really strange happened yesterday and although people might not believe it I think it was a sign from my dad Nick Sampford ( one of his favourite butterflies was a purple emperor ). Yesterday 25th June I had a purple emperor in my garden in Thundridge. It was here for about an hour and a half it was actually landing on my son, daughter, uncle and me I got hundreds of fantastic photos. I will send some photos over in a different email as think maybe that's why the other email never sent as there was quite a few. Not sure if these can be used for anything but I know my dad would have been very proud of them and been very jealous I got to experience such a beautiful butterfly in my garden "

Getting Serious...

This fell out of a sallow tree at Knepp, W Sussex, yesterday; poised briefly on an alder leaf then shot off to squabble with a posse of three other males.  #Normal4Knepp

Neil and I are running Purple Emperor tours, as part of Knepp's Wildland Safaris venture, these next two weekends.  Come along: here's the link 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More Tales of Alice

I must have just missed Matthew at Straits today but on my first ride down, at 13:30 to put some bait down (one had been photographed on the ride on Monday so I thought it was worth a try), I encountered a grounded male in the new drainage ditch. I approached very carefully but he was extremely skittish and moved into shade 20 m away with wings wide open clearly showing oodles of purple through the binoculars.He was determined not to be photographed and flew off into an oak to sulk.
On the ride back I disturbed one other male which landed on hazel but was off, again high onto an oak trunk, at the sight of the camera.
One more chance came when I spotted  one on my newly laid bait but same result again - despite leaving him to settle for five minutes he was off before I got within range.
Despite several more journeys up and down various rides only one more high level encounter.
I went home smelling of Belachan (an occupational hazard at this time of the year), but was happy having seen three possibly four different individuals.

Alice Opens Up!

At last my first Purple Emperor of the year.  He was spotted squabbling with another over a high point territory amongst pine trees, then they shot off together in pursuit of a wandering Buzzard.  Here's the canopy glade -

The males quite often establish territories in conifer stands.  It is a myth that they are dependent on, or even strongly associated with, oak. 

The main territory by Bucks Horn Oak (Goose Green Old Car Park) produced only a brief sighting of a lone male.  It's still early days there...

Knepp is getting better by the day

Spent the day with Neil Hulme and by 5.00pm we had seen 45 Iris. Although I will be honest I spied only 41 of the 45. Several scraps took place around the site and some wonderful views of Iris were had. The photo is of number 39 that was a rather enigmatic individual.
Having missed out on any sightings of HIM at Alice Holt on Sunday after much searching I was very pleased to receive my Purple Emperor Badge today. I can honestly say it is brilliant and sort of made up for my temporary disappointment. I am going to wear it on holiday and will be looking out for the other 39 owners over the Purple Emperor season. By the way my badge is number 22 in the centre of the picture.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A first male at Little Wood

A slightly late post but I saw my first male iris of the year at Little Wood on Friday evening. This small wood on the Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire border holds a good population of iris. The male was holding territory in the very large Ash tree at the top of the wood.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Alice Holt

After much searching over the last four days eventually had my first sighting at last knockings yesterday. I decided on one last visit to Goose Green before heading home. At 16:41 two males appeared very high directly overhead playing follow the leader, only a very brief sighting but the first of many I hope.

Knepp Explodes

This morning I discovered that Charlie Burrell and Amy Nightingale had opened the Sussex iris season with an equal first Emperor during a short visit to the Knepp Castle Estate Southern Block on 21st June.

It didn't take me long to chalk up my personal first today, after only five minutes wait (10.15 am). By 6.00 pm I had seen 18 different males, with numerous chasing pairs, one clash of 3, one attack on an unspecified passerine and just one brief grounding.

Expect plenty of fireworks here. Knepp has a very bright and Purple future.

Oates Fails...

I must confess that I failed to see iris in Alice Holt Forest today, despite three afternoon visits to the favoured territories at Goose Green Old Car Park, two visits to the site where Ashley Whitlock watched battling males yesterday, and vigils in two other good territories.  Then I learnt that Mark Tutton saw two males at Goose Green some 20 mins after I had left...

I think the Emperor is cross with me for awarding my 2013 Butterfly of the Year Award to the Long-tailed Blue after he had put on a definitive performance (and it was definitive.  Boeticus only won by half a point).  Also, it is obviously very early days in the Alice Holt season: Silver-washed Fritillary hasn't got going there yet, though White Admiral males are nicely out.

More Purple Emperors in Middlesex

At 13:18 a clash was observed at Ruislip Woods ~ St Vincent's Territory followed by regular patrols by a single male until we left for pastures new.

The Northaw territory remains empty ~ although a Barn Owl flew through low, which was a first for us!

Sussex Away

Mark Cadey reports a grounded male from Southwater on the longest day, proving 'the old woods' can still produce the goods. I will be joining the hunt today for the first time, having been distracted by Large Blue and High Brown in the West Country. Here we go again!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hamsphire Kicks Off!

Ashley Whitlock saw 2 males in Alice Holt Forest today (see BC Hants website).  

No reports from Sussex yet, but doubtless Neil will sort that tomorrow.

Purple Emperor in Middlesex

1 Purple Emperor on territory at Whitewebbs Wood, north Enfield today at 1.30

Iris pin badges have emerged!

As you can see from the photo, the Iris pin badges have arrived! I will be putting them in padded envelopes and sending them out on Monday the 23rd of June just in time for flying season.

Friday, June 20, 2014

From Now On...

Everything Must Be Purple!

Purple Emperor in Hertfordshire

A Purple Emperor was reported today from Broxbourne Woods in Hertfordshire

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Indoor Iris

We receive quite a few records of male Emperors coming in door and battering themselves against windows.  Here's one from last year (Surrey). 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Emperors on the wing at Bookham Common today!

Hi all

Checked out the rides at Bookham Common (Surrey) this morning with nothing showing other than WAs and SWFs. Moved back to the Hill Farm territory and almost immediately saw a single male PE perched in the oak canopy. Soon after I saw a pair in combat and then a group of three having a scrap... Left about 3.30pm with the emperors still active. Have added a few pics from the afternoon. Cheers - Rob Hill

Male sat in canopy

                                        Single male in flight

                                         Pair chasing
Three in a fight
Fearless Instinct! Male PE chasing a sparrowhawk

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wokingham RG40

Had a report today from Ian Humphrey of iris on the wing in Wokingham. Have asked for more detail. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Amber Warning

Gentlemen, Lady.  The 2014 Purple Emperor Season is almost upon us.  We are on Amber Alert. 

Given the weather outlook, I would expect the first males to appear at 'early' sites (in Oxon, Surrey, Sussex & East Hampshire) in a few days time, perhaps between the 18th and 20th.  The butterfly should start elsewhere next weekend, perhaps a little later in Fermyn Woods, Northants.

Look for Purple Emperors when the White Admiral is well out and female Silver-washed Fritillaries are appearing, and Look Up, for this -

There may be a fairly lengthy emergence period this year.  The evidence is flimsy, of course, but in captivity here on the Glos / Wilts border four out of 19 are still pupating - after the first pupated on 1st June.  I think there's a similar disparity in the wild in / around Savernake Forest.

I have already stuck my neck out and suggested that adults numbers will not be high, as predation levels on hibernating larvae were horrifically high and predation continued unabated long into the spring.  However, much depends on the weather during the flight season, and there's no such thing as a bad Purple Emperor season.

This is what we're after -

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A sallow leaf in a sycamore tree ...

Up in the Swiss Alps, Hostilian has pupated on the same sycamore leaf he was prospecting (or probably silking up) a couple of days ago:

The change happened last night. Yesterday evening he looked like this:


Monday, June 9, 2014

Captive reared Iris needed for pairing

I have a sole surviving captive bred pupa hopefully emerging 22nd June onwards, having pupated June 4th.
I was hoping to get pairings and I wondered if anyone has a spare adult likely to be emerging around then.
If mine is a female I will be generous with any larvae that may result.
Please post only if you are likely to be able to help with a traceable captive bred adult.
If anyone knows how to sex a pupa also let me know !

Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 Purple Emperor Season: Prospects

There's been a report of a 'probable Purple Emperor', from Sheepleas on the Surrey Downs, today (Sun June 8th).  That would be the earliest the butterfly has been seen nationally since the great summer of 1893...

I doubt the butterfly will appear anywhere before June 18th - but all things are possible with this the best of all possible butterflies, and it may just be that the odd larva got way ahead of schedule in sunny Surrey before the weather capitulated in late May.  Certainly, the forecast for this next week is good and camilla, the White Admiral is starting - and iris appears when camilla is nicely out.

My belief is that iris is very much in this stage -

and it tends to last 18+ days in the pupal stage (in very hot weather the pupal stage may last 14-15 days).

As already stated on this Blog, I am not anticipating a large emergence this year, but a) I'd be delighted to be wrong and b) much depends on flight season weather.  This belief is based on the fate of nearly 100 larvae I followed in / around Savernake Forest in Wiltshire.  Losses during the autumn were at normal level, but then losses to predation during the winter were by far the highest I've recorded (from a sample of 63 hibernating larvae this winter), and losses to assumed predation continued at an alarming and unprecedentedly high rate in spring.  But, that's just a single monitored site, and loss levels may have been lower elsewhere - we simply don't know. 

Whatever, there is no such thing as a bad Purple Emperor season.  Other butterflies, mere ephemera, experience poor seasons: He does not. Watch this space...

Iris on sycamore

I have noted in previous posts that one of the iris cats I'm following (Hostilian) has been living on a tiny (under 2m tall), isolated sallow sapling and I wondered what he would do when the time came to pupate. It came last night. He ate his resting leaf then went wandering, transferring to a sycamore branch that had grown into his sapling.

When I found him he was resting on the underside of that sycamore leaf:

 I returned about half an hour later and he was active:

Then he went still again. 

It will be interesting to see where he has got to tomorrow. The main problem with sycamore leaves is they are easier for predators like forest bugs to roam across. However, the violent jerking motion of a purple emperor chrysalis when touched should be enough to throw off a forest bug. Fingers crossed for Hostilian.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Limited Edition Purple Emperor Pin Badge

Announcing the launch of this season’s de rigueur, must-have fashion accessory for the lady or gentleman of Purple Persuasion. Impress your friends and rivals with this limited edition (40) Purple Emperor Pin Badge, designed by Paul Fosterjohn. 

This timeless piece will be released on c.24th June, shortly after the first flight of His Imperial Majesty. Paul is now taking orders at – please provide your name and address to receive payment details at a price of £6 per badge (incl. P&P). All profits will be donated to Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch, who will use the money to make more Purple Emperors.

Hurry, hurry, hurry while stocks last. Wearing this badge will ensure you see more butterflies and have a better life. Vive l’Empereur!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Walkabout

Spent a magical two hours in Savernake Forest today, watching a full-fed Purple Emperor larva on walkabout, looking for somewhere to pupate.  This was No 198, who was initially found on Nov 10th.  He over-wintered on the underside of a branch junction over 4m from where he had been feeding in the autumn, matching the colour of the bark perfectly, chameleon-like.  He came out of hibernation at the start of April, but then disappeared, only to reappear two weeks later, bright green and feeding happily some 4.5m away - not bad for a caterpillar about 1cm long!  He then fed up in that general vicinity, on a late-leafing tree.

But today was his Big Day: he was full grown, and was turning pale - a sure sign of a Purple Emperor larva ready to pupate.  Today, I arrived at 1.10 to check him, and No 77 who lives close by on the same old gnarled sallow tree.  No 77 was sitting on his favourite leaf, comatose, and remained so throughout.  He'll go off to pupate soon.  But at 1.15 No 198 he suddenly crawled off his seat leaf and began crawling up stem. 

All told, he covered a distance of some 16m, including U-turns down dead branches, in 1hr 45 mins.  He was travelling at a speed of 13m per hour, and measures 6-7cm in length.  If disturbed he'd freeze.  When crawling on the branches, he constantly waved his head from side to side, as if searching and testing.  After 40 mins he encountered his first leaf, tested its underside but rejected it. 

Finally, he settled on the underside of the 7th leaf he encountered, a large one in a very leafy spot, and spun some silk there (PE larvae are serial spinners of silk).  Hopefully he'll pupate there, hooking on to a silk pad, though he might just have been resting.  We'll see...

He are some photos of No 198's Great & Wonderful journey -

Whatever mistakes you make in life Never Underestimate a Caterpillar (Erucam Nunquam minoris Aestomate)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Iris is Pupating!!!

Meanwhile, here's a pic of a record batch of no less than 48 eggs of His Grace the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, found at a site near Newby Bridge in south Cumbria.