Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Memories are made of this

Yes, it's September, and the flight season is long gone.

To cheer us all up, here's a picture from Nick Wynn, memories of a magical day.

Here she is, caught in the Hemp agrimony on 26th July 2002 in Bentley Wood. Although not obvious in the photo, she was exploring the flowers with that amazing yellow tongue and was so engrossed that I was able to pull the flower heads down and take the shot without disturbing her.
This pic was taken with my old film camera and scanned into the computer.

Nick Wynn

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Red Book and Apaturidae - Mark Youles

Following on from our previous email exchange back in June, I write to enquire if you (or any of the thepurpleempire.com colleagues) are aware of any centralised data for the global red list/red data classifications of the Apaturidae genus and iris in particular?

Having so far been unable to find any such existing data, I have been able to compile the attached table (within a word.doc) and wondered if you (or any of the thepurpleempire.com colleagues) know of any additional data that is not already mentioned within? If so, I would be most grateful if these could please be forwarded onto me (with relevant references) in order to improve on the limited amount of data that I already have. The C.ulupi/Se.chandra India data I am currently awaiting confirmation of final classification which was awarded.

I thank you for any assistance that you might please be able to provide in regards to this matter. Regards, Mark

Can anyone help Mark Youles with his researches? You can download the document to which he refers here:


and you can reach Mark here:



As a child in the late sixties I am ashamed to say that my interest in butterflies lay in catching and killing them. At this time I was never fortunate [!] enough not to even see his majesty let alone catch him.

Time passed and my interest waned but in more recent years a chance encounter with a Silver Spotted Skipper reignited my enthusiasm for butterflies and subsequently a camera replaced my net.

Obviously with this renewed interest I wanted to see those species that had eluded me in my youth - especially the Purple Emporer.

It was in 2009 that I trawled the internet to find the best local site to see himself and through Alan Thornbury's excellent website set forth for Straits Inclosure.

That year, during the first couple of weeks of July, I became thoroughly entranced with many close encounters of a butterfly that I once thought I would never see - even seeing a flypast of four at once!!!! During this time I found the Purple Empire website and was relieved to find that I was not the only one that had become similarly entranced by the same creature.

Plans were made to take advantage of my new found knowledge for various forays this year and my first - if distant - sighting was at Bentley Wood on the 2nd July.

The following day I made a hesistant return to Staits Inclosure as I had become aware of the havoc wreaked by FE and it was every bit as bad as I had feared. However just 50m along the track I found a pristine male displaying on the path for me and had a few further sightings during the course of the morning.

During this time I reestablished my acquaintance with Ashley Whitlock - the Hants and IoW Purple Emporer recorder- who I had met at Straits the previopus year. He quietly pointed me over the road to Abbots Wood Inclosure where he had some good sightings -THANKS!

Over the subsequent days I made a number of visits here, making frequent sightings of both himself and eventually herself. This culminated in a courting pair circling around me when I could clearly hear their wings clashing before the disinterested female dissappeared deep into an adjacent sallow.

Just as the season was drawing to a close my dad sadly died after ashort illness.

In order to console myself and reflect on dads life I took myself off to Abbotts Wood in the vain hope that I would get a final sighting.

I walked right through the wood and back again , checking all of the spots where I had sightings previously but despite good weather - nothing. Dissappointed I sat down by a large oak to eat my sandwiches before heading home.

Just then I spotted a movement in the gloom beneath the oak. Thinking to myself 'White Admiral' I casually walked across to see a very battered Emporer perched on the trunk where it seemed there was a sap run. I took a couple of poor snaps of what what was surely my last encounter of this year and felt very contented.

As I walked back across the track to get my bag I glimpsed a movement out of the corner of my eye and immediately froze. Sure enough it was himself come to say goodbye. As I stood there he circled me three times, clearly showing purple from his one intact wing, before landing on my shoulder for a second and flying back to the sap run.

It was the end of the season and I will leave it to you think what it meant to me in the circumstances - but it was a very special moment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In my end is my beginning

Showing an egg about to hatch, with the larva's black head prominent, and a standard middle aged egg. When freshly laid they are a uniform blue-green.

In the wild, iris eggs have (almost certainly) all hatched by now, and there is an even mix of 1st and 2nd instar around. They almost invariably eat the egg case top and sides on hatching, leaving the egg case base intact. This can remain on the leaves for weeks.

The flight season is ended, but in my end is my beginning...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A couple of weekends in England

Dear Purple Subjects:

I found your site when surfing UK Butterflies' site. Wonderful stuff and great value. You guys would fit right in here in South Africa where we have some memorable characters chasing butterflies. Some of the stories had me rolling on the floor laughing...

I used to live in the UK years ago and work for a British company, so I get over there occasionally. Usually in winter... but this June/July I cracked an invite for a conference. I took the trusty Nikon with me and contacted a Saffa expat mate, JP Brouard, who lives in Woodcote - the objective being to photograph some of the species I used to collect 30+ years ago. And of course His Majesty was top on the list, although I knew 27 June was a bit early.

So off we went to Bernwood Forest and Whitecross Green Woods. We had a great time - White Admirals all over the place - and Black Hairstreak too, which was a UK Primary Experience for me, having never found it during my 23 years of living there. This was a real thrill. But no Apatura iris... despite a BBCS member telling us he'd seen one minutes earlier not far from the Black Hairstreaks!

I have to compliment the UK people on how they look after these woods. Well maintained, lots of info boards, no exotic weeds - we in SA can learn a lot.

Anyway, I work for a firm whose HQ is in Wollaston which isn't far from Kettering... and during the week after, one of my colleagues told me to go to Fermyn the next weekend, as well as Michael Field, one of the guys I'd met at Bernwood. But as JP lives so far south, and for sentimental reasons, I decided to go to Broxbourne where I used to look for it (and occasionally succeed...) years ago. The UK Butterflies site said it was active. Then JP called to say his car was kaput and couldn't come, but I persisted with Broxbourne as the weather forecast for Northants looked dodgy. More fool me...

I got to Broxbourne and found it totally changed from when I used to go there. It used to have conifers all over the place and the Emperor spots were buried in the forest where Sallow grew near a few streams. Now, like Bernwood, it is clean and tidy with far more butterflies than I remember there being in the past. Fantastic. And it was hot and sunny!

I hooked up with a bunch of butterflyers who were looking for Purples. Eventually we found one sucking on a turd but he took fright and zoomed off before I could get a decent photo.

There then followed a lot of walking up and down fruitlessly looking at turds. I began to wish I'd brought a Charaxes trap from home. I started thinking - if this was Africa where would I be looking... MUD! And right next to me was a little dried up stream whose bed was full of siff mud, with a male Purple Emperor sitting right on it!

We all looked at one another... and as I've lain down in much nastier stuff than this in Africa I elected to get down 'n' dirty with this Emperor. The first thing I did was to get on a level with him:

Then started the attempts to get a 'Purple' shot. He would NOT open his wings. We tried everything - and he kept taking off, circling us, and landing again. A crowd of people gathered, and got very interested in these idiots grovelling in the mud. Luckily I had my khaki bush gear on, so it didn't show too much! Eventually we found he'd open up for a few seconds after a flight...

But... no purple.

By this stage I realised he'd become habituated, as often happens with butterflies I photograph in Africa. I nudged him and he flipped his wings open for a few seconds - then went back to sucking that mud. It must have tasted nice! I got one of my boon companions to nudge him, he obliged, and I got a bit of purple this time:

But nothing like I'd seen on the UK Butterflies site. Eventually I divined that I was wasting my time, and he was so docile he was ready for a finger shot...

This had all the onlookers gasping - and he proceeded to act like Paris bloody Hilton, showing off, flipping his wings (but I never got a shot of the Purple), landing on people, sitting on faces... in the end I left him to it!

When I got home, Michael Field e-mailed me a bunch of stunning Purple shots he'd taken in Fermyn Wood that same day - it had been fitfully sunny and the Emperors were opening their wings to sun themselves. I gnashed my teeth as I started planning how to persuade the Firm to hold another conference in July...

I've sent Michael and JP links to the Purple Empire... I'm sure they will join up!



Saturday, August 14, 2010

The 2010 Egg Lay

By mid August I have found 11 eggs & young larvae in 9 hours of searching, at 1.22 per hour, compared with 37 in 16 hours 30 mins at 2.24 per hour by this time last year. Brother Dennis has found 6 in 8.5 hours searching, which is poor by his standards. Both searches were made in areas searched during the corresponding period last year. Importantly, 7 of my 11 must have been laid as eggs before the mid July gales - and, crucially, only 4 thereafter. Yet the females were only just getting into the swing of egg laying prior to the St Swithin's gale, and should have laid the bulk of there eggs after that date.

It seems that the gale killed off a great many adults prematurely, perhaps especially the females (though why that should be I know not). Certainly, I struggled to see females after that date, and I was seriously looking.

At this range, the prospects for the 2011 season cannot be good... .

Friday, August 13, 2010

the last of the ladies?

A new observer.............a woodland owner [so that is useful!]...........saw this sad female on 8th August on his landrover in his yard. She crawled onto the underside of his spare wheel and shuffled off her mortal coil the next day. It is also a new habitat, near Wendover, on the Chilterns

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To The End

Sat August 7th (my birthday...): three iris males still active in three of the most favoured territories in Savernake Forest. One launched himself at a buzzard, which is not bad for Day 40 of the Savernake flight season. Then today, Sun 8th, a more thorough search of six primary territories there produced just two males, one of which was intact though worn, and nicely active. But these might be our last of the year ... . And again no sign of Herself.
Coming soon: a statement on the 2010 egg lay, and it's not good news.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

berksbucksoxon: last of the season [?] and egg problems

A concentrated 2-hour search for eggs in a 'good wood' here by three of us produced just one. This is the worst result I've ever had in 28 years of looking. Normally, in 2 hours, I would find between 5 and 10. Matthew speculates it may have something to do with the week of high winds in the middle of July. Can't think what else it might have been due to; the number of adults seen in this region was higher than ever before. In this 'good wood' there was still activity yesterday [3rd August] with two on territory. The male shown perching on a favourite Oak looks very much the worse for wear, however.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Last of the season at Marks Hall

Iris Newbery, a founding member of Cambs & Essex Branch of BC, showed some of us round the woodland walks at Marks Hall, Essex last Thursday, 29 July. Although generally overcast, we found what must have been one of the last male PEs of the season, and saw numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. The warden told me that there had been a good number of sightings this season and Apatura Iris were well-established here again. I don't have details but they were introduced 10 years ago to a nearby wood, from where they have spread to Marks Hall. No additions have been made for the last 4 years. I shall be searching earlier next season. It's a lovely place to visit and good facilities, but there is an entrance charge. Matthew - I made a Great Butterfly Count return for 15 mins at Marks Hall to include one Purple Emperor, so that's one more on record!
David Newland


The above is one of the many highlights of the 2010 iris flight season, which is now ending. (Fermyn Woods, 4th July, old horse manure revitalised with Ask Not... ).

Yesterday, Sun Aug 1st, I managed to see 2 males in Savernake Forest, plus the briefest of sightings of a female: single males in two of the most favoured territories along Three Oak Hill Drive. I was rather thwarted by cloud. The odd male may last till the weekend.

Eggs are extremely hard to find in Wiltshire this year. I am not sure why but suspect that the windy weather around Swithin's Day knocked many females out, at least in this part of the country. Further north and east, the gale wasn't so severe. Brother Ken, for example reports a hugely successful flight season at Bookham Common, Surrey.

For some of us the Emperor Season is ending, but not for me (I have now seen iris in the wild for 15 consecutive months, which may constitute Obsessive Behaviour; at least I hope so). Watch this space...