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Tuesday, June 27, 2017
On Monday I joined Matthew and Exeter University student Harry Drew, to monitor Purple Emperor and other butterfly numbers over the Knepp Castle Estate Wildland. This was another very thorough and widespread survey, extending over much of the Southern Block, starting at 9.00 am and continuing until the emperors finally stopped flying at 7.40 pm.
Using the 4x4 'mule' we were able to penetrate deep into the seldom-visited parts of the wilderness, to experience a grand finale of 'big sky' and spectacular sunset, as an already-mated empress spiralled to the ground, in an attempt to shake off her suitor. At times being at Knepp can really feel like being in Africa.
The hard-won tally for Harry and I reached 138 Purple Emperor, with Matthew seeing a very similar number, having taken a slightly different route at times. The species has reached peak but the numbers are so vast that the season will run for some weeks yet. Only 8 of those seen were females, several being on sap-runs. Activity was supressed by heat for much of the day, but things became really lively after 6.00 pm. During our travels we also saw 3 Silver-washed Fritillary, 2 White Admiral, 2 White-letter Hairstreak and my first Gatekeeper of the year.
There has also been a huge emergence of Purple Hairstreak, which is best seen in the early and mid evening. We found 6 freshly emerged male hairstreaks on the ground during the morning, which seemed to be searching for moisture amongst the Fleabane and grasses. The numbers seen after 6.30 pm were simply phenomenal, with bundles of up to 15, and 20 - 30 seen simultaneously on some trees. Matthew commented that this was the best showing he has experienced since the long, hot summer of 1976. This is the year to look for this species.
One wonders just how good the Knepp Wildland can get. There is simply nowhere else quite like it.