After reading Mr Hulme's recent blog on this site and desperate for emperor action my girlfriend and I took the day off and headed to Knepp wildlife safaris today (after drawing a blank, not very surprisingly, at Alice Holt this morning). It was our first time at Knepp and we will be going back..a lot. I have no doubt that Mssrs Oates and Hulme will elaborate more knowledgeably after their emperor tours there, but in brief, Knepp was amazing.
We saw dozens of Iris there today, between the hours of about 2 and 5.30 pm. From the first tree hide and thereafter along the purple emperor tour on the map that they give you at the visitor centre, it was consistently good with particular hotspots here and there, one just after the pond heading away from the hide. I am no expert and I don't know how many were repeat sightings, but there were a lot around, behaving much more accessibly than at Alice; flying lower, showing in much greater numbers and going to ground (in the distance, in our case). I had to pinch myself at how many there were and how well they were showing.
At one stage we had three battling a couple of metres above us along the pathway, with another two oak-edging higher up. Later on, we saw one swoop down behind an oak and appear to land on the far side of the trunk, so we crept around behind the tree and there it was, drinking sap. I got to within a metre of it but it was in shade and we saw no purple; still a great moment though.
We also saw two on the ground but did not get close, alas. The day was rounded off when a large adult common frog plonked itself on my good lady's exposed big toe, eliciting a shriek. And of course we saw deer, buzzards, red kites....and pigs.
I don't know Knepp but all I can say is that based on the numbers of Iris we saw today, it must be a fabulous site. Not surprising given the huge stands of sallows which are everywhere. Given that it's only the fourth day or so of the season there, we saw a crazy amount of emperors....is this usual here or have we witnessed the start of a bumper season at Knepp? I will be returning next weekend to find out.