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Thursday, June 22, 2017
Midsummer Madness As British Emperoring Record Tumbles
Exeter University student Harry Drew had never seen a Purple Emperor before arriving at Knepp, for what must inevitably become an unforgettable summer as a resident research volunteer.
I met Harry rather late in the morning, for an introduction to Knepp and its emperors, but wasn't expecting the fireworks we were about to experience. This was about to become a Midsummer Day I will never forget, and nor will he. I had already commented that this year's population size was hard to call, as the searing heat over previous days had clearly suppressed activity - but by how much?
Heat again subdued activity, but this time only between 3pm and 6pm, with the slight breeze preventing burn-out before this period of quiescence. Our meticulous and methodical count, between 10.30am and 8.00pm, of 148 individual Purple Emperors could thus have produced even more.
Of the 148, only 6 were female, and almost every butterfly appeared to be in excellent or good condition. We saw 6 or 7 different bundles of 4 males, and between 15 and 20 bundles of 3. Some oaks hosted clusters of 4 and 3 simultaneously - the air was at times thick with them.
The Knepp emperors are now coming to ground with increased regularity. We witnessed 3 groundings and I'm aware of another 3 on the day. We watched one 'rejection drop', with the disgruntled female being pursued by a couple of males. Chaffinch, Great Tit, Chiffchaff, Jay and large dragonflies were attacked.
As the light of the longest day began to soften, and the oak crowns became alive with twisting clouds of Purple Hairstreak, the emperors finally decided that they'd done enough to confirm that Knepp is now one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the great British countryside.