Thursday, July 31, 2014

Last Of The Many

This afternoon (31st July) I did a circuit of the Knepp Castle Estate Wildland Southern Block, with the specific aim of saying goodbye to the Purple Emperor for another year. I think it's highly unlikely that I'll see another adult this season. A thorough search came up with just 4 males and a female, which of course would be a good mid season tally on most sites! However, those who have experienced the magic of Knepp will appreciate that these numbers signal the very end of the flight season here. As always this species will go down fighting and I did see a spirited chase between two very worn males.

In retrospect the season in Sussex will go down as "a little better than average", although I suspect it was below par in some counties. 2014 failed to produce the fireworks of 2013, but I have seen far worse. As always it was a little sad to see the last one head off over the crown of an oak, but hopefully plenty of seed has already been sown for next year. To celebrate the closing of another season, during which many happy memories were made, here's a close-up of a male's wing.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Season Ending

Spent two hours checking the main male territories along Three Oak Hill Drive in Savernake this afternoon.  Managed to see four males, chasing pairs in two territories (and learnt of a 5th seen by The Column). 

One of these territories is used only late in the flight season, I know not why.  The other, the Dead Beech Glade, is the most favoured territory.  There was one, seemingly lone male on territory there throughout my visit, perched on top of a giant (90' tall) beech tree -

However, a minute after I took this photo a second male came in, and the duo flew off into the ether, spitting teeth and expletives.  That's the Purple Emperor for you, Britain's premier butterfly. 

This might well be my last encounter with the Emperor this year, as I'm heading up north tomorrow for the week.  Hopefully, there will be one or two left in Savernake next weekend, but the season may well end soon in this ongoing heat.

Who will record the last Emperor of 2014?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

iris in Richmond Park

Just received a (genuine) record of a Purple Emperor in Richmond Park on July 17th.  Not in the least surprised. 

Also, delighted to hear of one being seen near Cooling on the Cliffe peninsula in NE Kent on July 24th.  That's close to the Emperor's old heartland, Great Chattenden Wood.  I visited what's left of Chattenden a few years back and felt it was still suitable.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Latest Doings

I've just put my car through the car wash, to remove the last vestiges of shrimp paste solution.  That means the Emperor season is ending, though there should be another week left in it at 'late-flying' sites like Savernake. 

On Mon and Tues this week I worked the evening flight at Knepp Wildlands, W Sussex.  There the season is definitely winding down, but a handful of males were nicely active until about 7.15, beating the living daylights out of assorted aerial biodiversity up in the oaks. Purple Hairstreak was incredibly scarce, whereas it often abounds throughout that whole landscape.  Maybe they'd all been shot down by irate male iris?

However, on driving back from the pub at 9.30pm, on Tues 22nd, when it was darkening due to dense cloud, who should I catch in my headlights but Herself - flying along the hedge before disappearing into a sallow bush!  The minx!  I've long suspected that the females are active on warm evenings, or even nights...

Then, on Thurs 24th, Amy from Knepp saw one, sex uncertain, feeding on a low sap run on an oak there at 8.30pm! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Good Things come in Small Packages

A brief visit to Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, to find my first Purple Emperor ovum of the year - of the "plum pudding" variety! It's amazing how something so small can give so much pleasure :)

Iris in the Kent High Weald

Delighted to be able to report the discovery of The One Butterfly in Kilndown Woods, on NT's Scotney Castle estate, Lamberhurst, on Mon July 20th.

I was leading an event for staff and volunteers so only had a little time, but managed to see two males around an avenue of tall Beech trees which are prominent in the landscape, at the top of the slope - 

and seen from the famous garden (the moat there supports 23 breeding species of dragonfly!) -

That line of Beech is a classic high point territory.

I was also shown the wing of a male found in a garden just north of Lamberhurst.

This rather begs the question of how widespread iris is in the High Weald?  Very, I suspect...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Attraction Test2

Another short video detailing the exposure of more recently eclosed male A.ilia specimens to another potential male bait/attraction compound. Unlike the first rapidly dissipating compound, this second compound is much more stable and therefore emits a continuos flow of active volatiles. This second compound is also more along the lines of 'classical' attractants and is similar to some of those investigated by Honda (1973) on Sasakia charonda. More tests are to follow.


Honda, K. 1973. Olfactory response of adults of butterflies to odorous compounds I. Sasakia charonda Hewitson. Nat. Insect 8:21-24

Hertfordshire still hasn't stopped

I enjoyed a very agreeable afternoon watching one and then two Purple Emperors at the Northaw Assembly area. I arrived just after 2 as the cloud dispersed and good sunshine commenced and almost immediately an emperor made a flight across the gap. He was a bit bored at first so he chased some bees and then a crow and some more bees...........but about 2.45 he was joined by another emperor (almost the same time last week kicked off) and their tussles continued for about 30 minutes when one finally disappeared for good, never to return. Which one it was is hard to say although I suspect it was the first one I saw that went. Both appeared to be in good condition so no obvious identification points although the second one might have been just a tad bigger? I left at 4 with one still flying in the gap in the sunshine having also chased a pigeon and a Purple Hairstreak.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Herself Still Going

Yesterday (22nd July), while at Botany Bay (Chiddingfold Forest) photographing the newly emerged, second brood, mud-puddling Wood Whites, I flushed a very impressive and solid looking Empress off the path. She came back down to probe for moisture a little later, revealing Herself to be in remarkably good condition. Dan Danahar later saw a female flying low through The Triangle. The witches are still at large.

Herself nectaring, correction

Cut and paste did not work! [Dennis]

Here is Martin's report, verbatim:
"On Saturday 19th July, my wife saw what she thought to be a White Admiral on our garden Buddleia in Chinnor Oxon. I was away, so wasn't able to see it. However, on Sunday 20th, my wife called me when she was hanging out the washing and told me it was back. I raced home from Bernwood where I was looking for the Purple Emperor, to no avail, only to discover that the White Admiral was in fact a female Purple Emperor! It stayed a good 3 hours nectaring....see photo. How amazing is that!! What was it doing in my garden?"

Herself nectaring

From Martin Phipps:

"On Saturday 19th July my wife saw what she thought to be a White Admiral on our garden buddleia in Chinnor, Oxon. I was away so wasn't able to see it. However on Sunday 20th my wife called me when she was hanging out the washing and told me it was back. I raced home from Bernwood (Bucks) where I was looking for Purple Emperors, to no avail, only to discover that the White Admiral was in fact a female Purple Emperor! It stayed a good 3 hours nectaring - see photos. How amazing is that!! What was it doing in my garden!"
Note from Dennis; Chinnor is at the foot of the Chilterns escarpment, and about 2km distant from the woods on the escarpment. Never underestimate a butterfly! [this is unashamed plagiarism]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Preliminary A.ilia Male Bait/Attraction Test1

A short video detailing the exposure of a recently eclosed male A.ilia specimen to a pure solution of my predicted male bait/attraction compound. The active component rapidly dissipates. I think this initial test confirms that further investigation is certainly warranted. What do you all think?


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Evening Flight

In hot weather (days with a max of >23C) the males tend to take a mid afternoon siesta before becoming nicely active in the early evening.  Old males are particularly prone to do this.  Late in the flight season they are often inactive during the mornings and are very much afternoon - or early evening - butterflies. 

In the present weather conditions it is well worth looking for males from 5pm onwards, until about 7.30.  The challenge, though, is finding where they are, for activity is distinctly localised and not necessarily in known afternoon territories.  They move with the sun and congregate in discrete places - sheltered but sunny tree summits, gaps and corners, out of the wind.

On Friday, Savernake Forest put on an excellent evening flight during this period.  I even had a male in fair condition come down to the ride surface (5.20).  They are still going quite nicely in Savernake, but it is a 'late' site.

Friday, July 18, 2014

last flurry?

Since we've only been seeing a few during the last 5 days in UT, we have assumed that 'the end is nigh'. However, our best observers, Wendy and Mick Campbell observed 10 yesterday in a relatively small area of woodland. Matthew, what is the shortest season you have encountered? For me, it is not less than 4 weeks. Since we started seeing them properly on June 20th here, then I would hope we would continue to see some, at least, during the next seven days.

Herself at a distance

See blog 'immobility of iris'.
These are the photos which Tim Watts, warden of Calvert Jubilee Reserve, Bucks,

took. Her Majesty is about 10m up in the Ash and about 15m distant from where Tim was. His equipment is impressive.
Further sightings have been made here, so another piece of evidence for HIM not being confined to woods.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


She is a lady of no small consequence (to borrow Voltaire's immortal phrase). 

Most of the time she looks Down on us, like this:-

But this next photo, taken by Richard Roebuck at Knepp this July, really shows her character best - and what we're up against:-

This must be the best photo ever taken of a female iris

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Winding Down?

The 2014 Purple Emperor season is starting to wind down.  Many males now look like this ragged fellow (who was, of course, intent on fighting to the very end, at Knepp last Sunday; taking on all-comers, and winning).  Both sexes are likely to become 'heat suppressed' over the next two days, as outside the magical first few days of its flight season iris is lethargic in high temperatures.

The forecast heatwave may well prove too much for many tired old boys, and for some egged out females, especially if it is followed by intense thunderstorms on Saturday, as is forecast.  However, iris should remain visible in the larger colonies, and at late-emerging sites like Savernake, for at least another week (in fact, iris should remain on the wing in Savernake into early August, though much depends on the weather).   If you haven't seen this butterfly yet this year, or haven't seen enough of it, then this Sunday represents your last big chance (Saturday is supposed to be seriously wet).

The males have been relatively well behaved this season, partly because there hasn't been much assorted biodiversity flying about in the canopy to wind them up - there's been a general shortage of bees, hoverflies etc up top, and the Purple Hairstreak seems to be in low numbers (certainly so in Sussex).  Nonetheless, a goodly number of birds have been splatted, especially tits (We Hate Tits!).  This seriously testosterone-loaded male, seen at Knepp last weekend, and already illustrated here by Neil, has won our annual Vicious Thug of the Year Award, for shooting down an entire flock of mixed tits -

Note  This blog functions all year round, not just during the flight season.  Please continue to visit and post things up.  Emperor season without end...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grounded female

Determined not to see the season out without seeing a grounded iris, I ventured out to the forest in Arundel. Having spent an hour searching an area, I put out a mayday to Colin Knight who gave me the exact location I needed to be in and that he would join me.

On arrival at the new location, Colin dispensed a foul smelling liquid that he assured me was an attractant from his accessorized purple spray bottle. I had an unfortunate whiff that nearly sent me running.

We then checked to footpath and then off into the woods for signs of activity in the tree canopy.

An hour elapsed before we returned at midday to find nothing was down on the baited patches. Then as luck would have it, a female descended between two parked vehicles and started to feed on salts. Allowing for some good photo opportunities I managed a couple of record shots.

She then moved off down the track into the woods and flitted into the trees at low level.

An hour later she reappeared and whilst Colin was getting his fill of photos, I stood back and watched another iris (sex not determined) come in from the left an sit on some foliage before becoming invisible and vanishing into the woods.

The original iris then came down again and we noted that she to have a stupor to her left side whilst on the on the ground and Colin noted that he had seen this with the individual a few days before. Has anyone observed this in the species?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Knepp Emperors Still Performing

Today (13th July) Matthew and I led the last of the Knepp Wildland Safaris to see Purple Emperor this year. Despite being quite late in the season the butterflies put on a good show for us, with 21 individuals seen, including 4 females.

We later returned for an early evening walk in a different area, adding a further 9. One particularly violent male attacked 5 passerines in as many minutes, including both Blue and Long-tailed Tit. By 6 pm the main target was Purple Hairstreak and we watched a bundle of 4 get mixed up with a couple of clashing iris. Towards the end of the day we saw a chase of 4 males in a vista, which is good by any standards.

Numbers at Knepp are certainly down on last year, but 30 individuals on a late season afternoon confirm this site as being second only to Fermyn Woods.

Assorted Doings

My server's been down hence lack of posts...  Various brief reports:-

Fermyn Woods
Helped BBC Countryfile film a short piece on Northants naturalist-artist-author 'BB' and his work with the Purple Emperor on Thurs 10th.  I first discovered the Purple Emperor in BB's wonderfuly childhood adventure story Brendon Chase, which was published 70 years ago.  Not sure when the piece will be transmitted, but look out for it in 2-4 weeks time. 

On Fri 11th iris was still coming down to the rides in reasonable numbers, including this remarkably fresh specimen -

Conducted my annual peak season count of males in territories along Three Oak Hills Drive in Savernake Forest on Saturday 12th.  I totalled 12 males, which is above average and far better than I had expected. BUT I think I over-recorded as conditions were perfect, the butterfly was at peak season and the males were nicely active.  I'm not sure how valid this sort of data is anyway.  Anyway, it suggests that numbers there aren't anything like as bad as I'd feared.

Back at Knepp today, Sun 13th, with Neil.  The season is on the wane here but we managed to see 30 apparent individuals, including five females.  The males were nicely active on the more sheltered oaks until 7pm: we even saw four males in a vista (two pairs of chasing males) at 6.40. 

I've really struggled to see Herself this year.  Like the Ent wives, the females seem to have gone missing.  Has anyone else struggled similarly or is it just me?!  What have I done wrong?!

More anon...

The next generation

I spent a couple of days last week prospecting some new woods but for zero return in great weather.
Having checked two more sites on Saturday morning  with no sightings, however there is one I will return to as it had a good feeling.
Subsequently I  popped in to Abbots Wood, in the Alice Holt complex, to speak to Ashley Whitlock who was leading a guided walk for Hants BC. We soon spotted a couple of males oak edging which were well received by those in attendance.
I then moved off to cycle around the woods to see what I could find. As it was around lunchtime I was hopeful that I might see my first female of the year.
Generally, so far, it has been a very quiet season at Alice Holt with a maximum of 5/6 males being seen across the wood during any one visit.
Again weather was good, warm with sunny intervals, but I failed to spot a single further male which was very disappointing, I fear Matthews prediction of high predation during the winter has come true here unless they have all crossed the border over to Sussex!
However whilst scanning a couple of mature Sallows a movement caught my eye around a very small sapling which I at first though was a White Admiral - however it was Herself. Is it my imagination or do females just seem to appear from nowhere?
My camera was on the path about 20ft away and I wouldn't take my eyes off her for fear of losing sight of her. As she flitted around between the spindly branches she settled on a leaf and I managed to focus on her with my binoculars. Lo and behold she laid an egg in front of my very eyes - the first I have been able to observe.
It was laid at about head height in the centre of a small bush about 8ft high with the thickest branch only about the diameter of my little finger on a fairly moth eaten leaf.
To say I was made up was an understatement, my first ever wild egg, so I fired off a few shaky shots which show the newly laid green egg just a minute or so old.
I will return at some point to see it in its 'mature'  state with its purple band and hopefully when it has hatched.
Kind Regards

Immobility of iris

We all know that HIM spends a lot of its time in trees doing, apparently, not very much at all. We don't often get the opportunity to find out how long; how many of us, on seeing iris perched in a tree, wait till he flies off?
On the 11th, the warden of a local Bucks nature reserve, a water filled ex quarry surrounded by sallow and hawthorn scrub and Ash trees, was on watch, mainly for the birds. He was there for a total of 4 hours. HIM had never been spotted on this reserve. It is about 2km from the nearest iris wood. Whilst scanning the Ash trees with his telescope he fixed upon iris about 10m up. The specimen was partly hidden, but he was able to get good photos. He first saw it at 11.43, and it finally took off 3h 33 min later!
I wonder how many we miss because they are up in the trees out of sight and immobile for long periods?

Iris and ravers

This was the second day of our [UT branch] annual iris field meeting in Bernwood Forest. Yesterday was very successful with 45 participants, including the Ashmolean Society, and fine weather. HIM did his stuff and allowed some of the participants who had never yet encountered His Eminence good photo opportunities. Many of the specimens, mostly engaged in Oak edging, were quite worn.
Today was quite different; the poor weather put people off, clearly, and only four turned up. The party included BC president elect Dr Jim Asher, and a couple who had never seen HIM. I thought we would see nothing, but, with Matthew's encouraging words "never underestimate HIM" ringing in my ears, we set off down the main drag. We noticed lots of young people in cars trying to get out of the forest, but going in the wrong direction: we pointed them in the right direction. Nobody is supposed to drive in this forest, so they had obviously got in in the dead of night. We feared the worst regarding habitat destruction, but, thankfully everything seemed in order. There was also a police presence, so there obviously had  been a rave party during the night: not for the first time here. 
We came across a parked car at the crossroads of the main rides. This was being 'buzzed' by iris. I then saw a second specimen inside the car! It had entered via a slightly opened window. Then we saw a girl slumped out on the back seat: she was breathing, but clearly drugged up to the eyeballs. We managed to persuade her to open a window to allow iris its freedom. She then slumped back down and we left her in peace.
So if it wasn't for the rave party, that couple would probably not have encountered iris at close quarters!

Cambridgeshire gets a Purple tinge

Following photo's of Cambridgeshire Emperors on the local BC sightings page this week I took an anticipatory look around Ditton Park Wood near Newmarket once the grey wash had broken to yield sunshine yesterday afternoon.  As to be expected being well into the season and with a low density, it took a while to find a Majestic.  After an hour or two's work, which was an amazing feat of patience on the part of the toddler I had in tow, I had chalked up 5 sightings on 2 apparent territories.  All canopy capers but there's a nice looking path and a dirty shed roof that have grounding potential, there are also evident sallow clusters along the more open rides.  The first Emperor of the day was memorable glide across a sacred grove where much of the sporadic activity was focused. During the week there have also been Emperors seen and/or photographed in Cambs at Woodwalton Fen (2) and Castor Hanglands, it's great that the county is establishing a regular tinge of the best shades of iridescent Purple.

There are a couple more pics of my close encounter with HIM at Fermyn last week on


Friday, July 11, 2014

New iris pin badge sold out

Sorry folks,

For everyone that reserved the new iris pin badge, you are very lucky. They have all sold out and I will not be repeating the feeding iris design again until next season at the earliest.

Big Girls

Here are Colin Knight's two grounded females at Houghton Forest yesterday. Good effort!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Less Known Sussex Woods Come Good

With every visit I become increasingly impressed by the Purple Potential of Eartham Woods. I used to visit this site in my childhood on family walks, but it wasn't much good for butterflies in those days. Things are rather better now, largely due to the sympathetic management by FC Ranger Rob Thurlow and his colleagues (Rob used to look after the Pearl-bordered Fritillary in Rewell Wood at Arundel before it was returned to the castle).

About eight years ago, during a phase of thinning, some large scallops were cut into the margins of the towering beech, and then left to regenerate naturally. Good quality sallow has managed to get a firm foothold in most of these areas, along with ash, hazel and bramble.

My count of 16 White Admiral was the best I've managed in Sussex since the species took a nosedive a few years back. Silver-washed Fritillary and Large Skipper both exceeded 20 and it was nice to see 4 Marbled White trundling along the rides. Other highlights included 7 freshly emerged Peacock.

It was Emperors we were really after and a small group of us (Rob Thurlow, Malcolm and Joyce Hill) managed a combined total of 8, comprising 3 males, 3 females (one pictured) and 2 unsexed. They were still flying well at 6 pm and I'm fairly confident that a new territory has been identified at a high point in the middle of the wood, along Stane Street. This beautiful wood is slowly beginning to give up some of its secrets.

Meanwhile, at Houghton Forest (Arundel), Colin Knight managed to photograph 2 females down on the main ride. One was in mint condition and the other scored 8.5/10. Females are usually very skittish while on the deck (there are exceptions of course), probably because they are just after moisture and don't become as engrossed as the males do in nasty stuff, so he did well to get fantastic images of both (hopefully to appear on this website in due course).

thank heaven for watsonian vice counties!

All biological recorders should use the watsonian vice county system because this is unchanging, and allows historical data to be compared, unlike conventional county boundaries which can be, and are, changed by governments. I have often looked enviously at Salcey Forest, Northants. This is a wonderful, large, ancient forest in south Northants. Historically, there are records of iris, but, until a few years ago it seemed to have disappeared from this forest. In recent years, it has made a comeback. Dave Wilton of our Upper Thames branch [berks/bucks/oxon] advised me that I should look at the vice county border for Bucks, and, to my delight, this shows that the south eastern corner of Salcey Forest is in Bucks! I went there a few days ago with Doug Goddard of Northants branch, and, in the Bucks part, nota bene, we saw 8 iris in different places doing their business around the tree tops. So, a new Upper Thames iris habitat could be noted.
However, the numbers so far in UT are well down on last year, although 2013 was a record year for this region.
This website records iris being seen at Wokingham, Berks, on June 16th. This is extraordinarily early, and I am trying to contact the recorder to authenticate this sighting.

Purple pedicure

I had intended to go to Alice holt today but as I headed up the A3 there was and obvious line of cloud that looked like East Hants and Sussex would be in gloom most of the day (sorry Neil) so on reaching the A272 ( the Purple Highway)  I headed west to winchester and West Wood - thanks for the tip Ashely.
I had my bicycle with me so after parking up I did a circuit of the main track without much joy, although it did turn up a nice valezina which didn't stop for a photo.
This wood is dominated by Beech and Pine  interspersed with a few Oaks but with There seemed a distinct lack of Sallows - even less now that the FC have done their ride widening. However the Sallow that is present os of very good quality dominated by mature broad leaved types with very little narrow leaved.
On my circuit I spied a narrow track that had some lovely broad leaved sallow on the south side so sat down to have some wine gums and a drink. 
No sooner had my bottom touched the floor than a male sailed along the ride at eye level at settled a bit further up the track for a few photos. 
A bit later on I found another seriously giddy male on the main track and it ended up sitting on my toe for 30mins giving me the most magical pedicure!!!! No fish paste was used in obtaining these photos  - all natural ingredients. Who needs moleskins and boots?
In all I saw four possibly five males but no females.
Later I moved across to Bentley Wood which was very disappointing revealing just a brief glimpse of a single female.
Kind Regards


Pine Coning!

The following is from Matthew - back in Fermyn

To the lexicon of Emperoring we can now add the term 'pine coning.' Today, in Fermyn Woods at least 10 males were gathered in the stand of tall open pines just past 'Poplar Corner' in Lady Wood Head.  At one point I saw five in a vista.  They were busy searching the pine trees, inspecting brown cones as if the cones might harbour females (the males of many Browns are attracted to brown objects, notably the Mountain Ringlet, which has a fixation with cast bits of Herdwick sheep wool). I haven't seen iris males 'pine coning' before, and have only twice seen them using this pine stand, but on three occasions I've seen pairs mating high up in pine trees whilst settled on cones.

All told I saw at least 50 individuals, including five females, two of which were on the ground.  A few males are still coming down, but they are distinctly middle aged now.  I did see one male down who was maybe two days old.

Ladies Day at Lady Wood

The unexpected heavy overnight rain had created some large puddles in the potholes on the tracks, which presented minor hazards riding a bike, but excess moisture may have also been one of the reasons why we experienced no groundings during our 6 hour patrol around Lady Wood and Souther Wood on this day. With the prospect of poor weather forecasted for the remainder of the week, we decided to concentrate our efforts at locating and observing Herself. In this, we were successful in the Lady Wood area. The added bonus of a number of grassy rides being widened and cleared by the very efficient cutter the day before allowed us access to search away from the main tracks. Action began as usual, around 10.00 AM. Our count of 16 individuals included 5 females, one of which alighted on the pines at the junction of the two tracks Grid Ref SP973845. She was of an impressive size and seen by a number of followers. The Mid Nene local group of the RSPB congregated at this junction and were treated to action in the sallows to the right of the pines where a female and two males held court. It was a day for binoculars and the ‘Long Lens’. Images are from Nigel’s encounters timed around 1 PM. Bill Seager (Fermyn Light Horse)

From Wayne Clinch

I thought you and Matthew may be interested that Tony Martin saw and photographed a male Purple Emperor at Coate Water today on the path between the two bird hides leading towards Hodson. Steve Covey and I joined him, where we re-found the butterfly which was occasionally flying from the top of an oak.

An Audience with the Empress.

 After all the excitement of the last few days I visited a local wood to take it a bit easier, however I was soon looking for Purple Emperors, eventually finding a large female gliding over late morning in the heat of the day and a male circling some very high conifers.
 I decided to head back to the car for a rest, then to decide weather to go home or have another try. You guessed it, I decided to have another try. On walking up the track again I noticed a large butterfly down on the ground, it glided along a short distance and eventually settled. It was a female Purple Emperor. Altogether it was down for 45 minutes and imbibing on the track for 30 of those minutes.
 She held her wings open for around 10 minutes, still imbibing. She eventually flew off of her own accord, sailing gracefully upwards.
 What a day! I thing this is the first time I have seen a female Purple Emperor down for this long ever. I have seen them down briefly in the past but never this long.
 I'm off to celebrate.

Feeding on a gorilla's finger

Since the roaring success of the original Iris badge I have been busy designing a different version of Iris that may prove even more popular. The feeding Iris is limited to just 20 pieces and tastefully presented on a gorilla's finger (with warts) backing card for the collectors among you.

If you are interested and wish to reserve one at a cost of £6.50 each (incl. postage) then drop me an email at:

For size comparison, I have photographed it next to the original Iris.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My First Egg At Fermyn

With good weather forecast for Tuesday i got in the car and was soon hurtling up the A43 .On arrival the weather was good and the car park bulging but stinking of fishy baits as were the rides . By 2pm i had clocked up 16 Emperors of which 2 were on the ground . Most of the males  are now showing their age , being in varying stages of wear and tear .Cloud rolled in finishing activity so i called it a day until 4pm when it then cleared . On returning i was treated to a fantastic evening display of males and females flying around the canopies purely for fun as there was no territorial or mating behaviour evident . Leaving at 6pm i had managed a total of 40 sightings for the day . I happened to notice a sallow near the car park which seems to have suffered a lightening strike as was leaning across the ride with its trunk apparently exploded ( see pic ) . I returned today to find activity very slow until 11pm . No groundings at all today despite another circuit of the woods but another 25 sightings with several females clearly looking to lay eggs . As i was walking out of Lady Wood a female swooped and flew into the sallow behind me and started to drop eggs deep in the bush . She finally emerged and dropped her last egg at head height right in front of me then shot off . A total of 65 sightings over 2 days but the groundings are few and far between now . A supporting cast of SW Frits and White Admirals still in decent numbers . Farewell Fermyn till next year .
 The purple on this male hardly showed at all despite taking various shots at different angles .
 The best of the rest .
 Sallow near car park apparently struck by lightening .
Freshly layed egg yet to develop the dark zone at its base .

Iris Hates Wind

Today was too windy for successful Emperoring.  On windy days they gather out of the wind, to the leeward of shelter.  Old, densely foliaged oak trees are particularly good at providing this essential shelter.

Rather foolishly, I attempted to count males in the nine territories I monitor annually along Three Oak Hill Drive in Savernake Forest.  I counted five males in these, which is well below par, but I undoubtedly under-recorded as males must have been deterred from using these ridge top territories by the wind.  So the job needs doing again.  Nonetheless, I suspect that the butterfly is out in below average numbers in Savernake this season.  It is probably at peak season there now.   

Tomorrow I'm back in Fermyn, helping BBC Countryfile with a piece about 'BB' (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), his work to conserve the Purple Emperor there by breeding & releasing adults during the 1980s (and fighting the Forestry Commission over the felling of sallows), and the 70th anniversary of his children's classic nature adventure story Brendon Chase.  The weather forecast is, shall we say, adverse... .

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A New Boy at Fermyn (day 3), The Money Shot.

 My day did not start well as the fire alarm went off at the hotel I was staying at around 4.30. Needless to say it was a false alarm. However I arrived at Fermyn at 9.30 and saw my first airborne Iris soon afterwards. It was not long afterwards that a rather worn male landed on a gentleman's bottom and made it's way on to his boot. He was very popular with the surrounding photographers.
 I personally only had 5 males down in total, but 2 of these were very fresh. One was down, circling me, perching up nearby then back down again. It was here or hereabouts for over an hour, so other visitors got a chance to see it. This gave me the opportunity to capture the purple on both wings. Earlier it had been difficult to get an open winged shot due to the hot weather, but as some cloud came over, the opportunity presented itself. In total I saw around 15+ but I know other people saw more. Nevertheless there were fewer around today than yesterday and the day before.
 Unfortunately on a sad note a large grass cutting machine was undertaking management work in the wood today ( which was probably essential) however it flattened an unsuspecting male, totally oblivious of it coming along the track.
 I left around 14.00 and saw another 2 as I was heading for my car.
I will certainly return to this magic wood next year now I have seen the promised land.
I will post some pictures when I have sorted through them.

Thermographic A.ilia

A couple of interesting images taken of a female A.ilia specimen during an experimental test session using a theromgraphic camera earlier this morning. Interesting to see that the female A.ilia literally 'lit up' almost as soon as the 250W bulb was switched on. Further experiments now await, just some of many intended to be performed using this seasons batch of specimens.

Apologies that my pin was absent from this particular picture. Must try harder next time.

Thursday 3rd July

Arriving at Fermyn Wood by 07.30 allowed me time to contemplate the grey clouds and feel the cool breeze before the sun finally broke through at 10.05, when the fun really began. Lots of Emperors on the ground at Lady Wood and Souther Wood, enough for everyone who was there – and there were not that many. I put a conservative estimate of 29 Iris that I personally counted (I had many more “sightings” though). There were quite a few “trouserings” and landings on footwear. However, highlight for me was the Empress who acted like a male and came down to the track for sustenance at 15.10. (I doubt she got anything as it was very dry). Cycling back to the car park at 16.00, I put up 3 males on the main ride which was in shade by this time. Bill Seager (Fermyn Light Horse).

Thursday 03 July

If The Cap Fits...

From Duncan Poyser

A retrieval trip to Fermyn today after the grey washout last Sunday.  As this one had taken to me, I tried to point HIM towards Cambridgeshire and whispered a few words in his ear about Castor Hanglands and Southey Woods.  He had a partially rolled right hind wing and a distinct waved kink in the left fore wing so others may have seen this one around Souther Wood over the past few days.   Having landed on my breeches he was quite happy to investigate a bespittled finger before returning to the canopy after 10 minutes or so.  There were reasonable numbers of grounded majestics and I also enjoyed plenty of canopy action, including a fantastic battle of 3 males that drew in little swirl of unsuspecting Purple Hairstreaks.   As ever beguiling stuff.

From Sid Deeming

Last Thursday 3rd July
10.00 am in the visitor centre car park for Rutland Water
I logged it with the centre and with Andrew Harrop at Rutland butterflies.
The 2 photos are of the same butterfly - it changed colour within 5 seconds due angle of sun's rays.
Best Regards

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fermyn without any shrimp paste (continued)

Following my report on Friday's visit to Fermyn, a couple of people suggested that I might post more photos of the gathering of the three emperors high up in a sallow, so that the story of the squabble might become clearer. So, here are all 12 of the shots including the original photo, apologies if that's a bit too many, but I'm not sure which are the key ones. The overall situation was that there were two Emperors doing a lot of flapping, another came over to investigate and the photos cover the next 50 seconds, spaced every 4 seconds or so in chronological order. Finally two of them flew off in the same direction.

irisscientist - thanks for the photoshopped image to enhance the purple - that's a useful technique that I'll have to remember!

Cheers, Ian