Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Beginning Of The End

Another great day on the Knepp Castle Estate Wildland, this time in the company of BBC journalist Emma Ailes and her parents, all of whom were keen to experience the Purple Emperor for the first time. At various points we were joined by Charlie and Issy, several Knepp regulars, and a large number of visitors from as far afield as Devon. Charlie had kindly installed a ladder up to one of the many sap runs which are currently drawing in large numbers of Emperors - particularly the females.
Of the 30 or 31 individuals seen today almost half were Empresses, some still being in fine condition, but many now showing the signs of middle age. The vim and vigour of the males has been largely lost and at times they were notably quiet, despite the favourable weather. This is far from the end of the Emperor season, but it is the beginning of the end. Elsewhere in Sussex, and perhaps nationally, the season has been rather modest. The daily maxima at Knepp, including counts of 126, 77, 62, 54 and 51, are therefore all the more remarkable. Who knows where this incredible story will end. If you have not visited Knepp yet this season - go soon.
Today we were privileged to watch no less than three tumbling rejection drops, in which already-mated females attempt to shrug off their suitors. Twice, this allowed us very close views of a disgruntled Empress, as she waited for the departure of the unwanted male.
We watched three different sap bleeds attracting single or multiple visitors. This behaviour is often observed during the later part of the season. On several occasions I was close enough to see the curious rocking motion of the butterfly, as it appears to be forcing its proboscis deep into a fissure in the bark.
At one point we watched as a female’s rejection drop was immediately followed by a swoop upwards, to hunt down sap directly below the amorous male’s perch. It would appear that the draw of sap outweighs even the desire to shake off these pests.
Once again, many will have left Knepp with the sort of memories which only high summer and the Purple Emperor can provide. I’ll be back soon, to store up more, before another season starts to fade.

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