Thursday, June 30, 2011


Here is Herself, egg laying today in a privately-owned wood in NW Bucks. The photo needs some photoshop work but in the original you can make out the egg coming out of the abdomen. She was laying remarkably low down, on both narrow-leaved and broad-leaved bushes, including on 2m tall sucker growth growing out of a ditch.

Here's the freshly laid egg. The egg changes colour after a couple of days -

And here is Herself, a veritable minx at the best of times -

On Wednesday 29th I visited Savernake but struggled to see lone males in three of the seven top territories I searched, suggesting that the butterfly was only just starting there - it is a 'late' site. Did anyone see it any earlier????

Tomorrow, at dawn without breakfast, I head for Fermyn Woods for a long weekend, staying in the cottage in the woodland meadows. I wont be able to blog direct but will send verbal reports via a Kindred Spirit... I seek Iole, nothing less...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Perplexed, or should that be purplexed

I bumped into Chris Dennis at Finemere Wood today when shortly after this male iris made an appearance. Chris had already seen three males all at the same time on the main track. Maybe the season is sparking to life.
We followed him for at least half an hour in which time he moved over a dozen times but never going far. He always returned to the path to continue taking up salts. Something very strange appeared to happen during this time. When he first arrived it was quite difficult to see the purple sheen, care had to be taken to get the correct angle to the sun for it to show at all. Even then the purple colour was quite subdued. However as time passed the purple colour appeared to become more and more intense. After half an hour the purple sheen was not only intense but could be seen from nearly any angle. During the sighting the sky filled in from broken clouds to overcast and rather grey. I also took a lot of photos during the sighting which when reviewed in sequence appear to confirm the colouring up phenomenon. I have no explanation for this apparent behaviour and wondered if anyone else had witnessed anything like it.


Brother Neil in (rather than on) ecstasy - near Billingshurst, W Sussex, Tues 28th June, just before the thunderstorms... The storms were utterly amazing. At their zenith - with rolling thunder and horizontal lightening all around - a male iris was batting about in a W Sussex wood? Nb in 1975 I watched a 3am flight of iris during the best sheet lightening storm I've ever seen...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Concerned Of Sussex

Today I was joined by Matthew Oates in a raid on Botany Bay. But rather than a shed-full of grounded Emperors, ideal conditions brought only 3 males out to play, despite much looking. We are both getting rather concerned that we have a poor iris season to contend with. Although Matthew has seen good numbers of White Admiral and Silver-washed at AHF, a similar malaise seems to have affected all of these summer woodland species in Sussex and the Surrey borderlands. Hutchinsoni Comma numbers are down here too. Perhaps all of these species, which operate to a similar calendar, have been adversely affected by the abrupt change from excellent to rubbish weather at a critical time? At least those magnificent beasts that did show up performed well, with repeated returns to the forest floor, finger-sitting and prolonged periods of tongue-wiping (on the leaves of low foliage) to remove silt particles from the proboscis after 'salting'.

Oakley Wood car park

Sightings of iris around the Buck/Oxon border have been hard to come by so far this year. One site that has provided several sightings is the car park at Oakley Wood, Bernwood Forest. At least a couple of males have been regularly coming down to the track leading into the wood from the car park. This male was imbibing something unpleasant there this morning.

Alice again

Popped back to Straits at about 9.30 this morning with a friend and we were only 100yds into the ride when a pristine male landed at my feet for aquick photo - perfect. He diddn't hang around long and made two or three tentative landings before ascending into the oaks.
After walking right down the main ride there was another high up on the way back but I think it was the one seen earlier.
No more sightings here so went over to Abbots wood at about 11am where there was one oak edging in the ride up to the car park and one on territory in the pines.
At Goose Green two were present in the chesnut adjacent the wayleave and both decided that a passing swallow was fair game and set off in hot pursuit.
Stopped off at Straits on the way back and walked the whole ride and found one oak edging betweenthe two deer towers.
In all I think there were six individuals across the three woods.
Mark T

Oversley Wood, Warwickshire

I had a successful trip to my local Emperor wood yesterday (26th June). Immediately upon arrival at the congregation area at 1:30pm, i was greeted by the sight of 2 males in combat flight at the top of the pines. Plenty more sightings over the next 45 minutes, especially from one male who seemed to enjoy swooping from perch to perch over a small area he had clearly claimed as his own. At one point, a poor bird stupidly flew a bit too close to his Majesty's perch and was chased away at top speed. I left the congregation area not long after and had a walk around the wood, hoping to see a few Emperor's flying over the Oaks at known hotspots but no luck. Returning to the congregation area at 4:30pm, there was more activity in the same area so its likely that these individuals were the same ones as seen previously. Another sighting of the 2 males chasing each other was rather entertaining to watch, as was the one male that decided to land so close to the edge of a pine stem, he got blown off his perch by the wind.

2 more Emperors were seen late morning on the ground by John Carter, one only fleetingly but the debate is on as to whether they were male or female. These sightings are the first in Warwickshire so far. On my best count last year, i had 19 sightings and an estimated 12 individuals. Lets hope Oversley Wood has an equally successful Emperor season this year!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

berks/bucks/oxon 26th June

Four of us went to eight of our best woods and managed to see just 4 in 11 hours hard searching. No 'mass emergence' here, for sure, and judging by the modest numbers reported from Alice Holt and woods in that region, we have reason to believe this will be a poor to average season. As Matthew has pointed out, the gales last July at a critical egg laying time, followed by the small number of larvae found, all point to a not very purple July.
Let's hope it's just not happened properly yet.
Sussex Speeds To Snail's Pace

On a BC guided walk at Southwater Woods on Sunday (26th June) we did manage to scrape together 3 Emperors; a battling pair over the Marlpost parking area and the previously observed singleton at Madgeland MTs. Summer woodland species continue to under-perform spectacularly here, with disappointing numbers of camilla and paphia at present. I'm hoping this mini heatwave will stir things up a bit, but the rides seem strangely lacking in butterflies.

The Odiham One

Spent a few hours in the local area this afternoon (Phew...What A Scorcha).

At 3.30pm one very large and fresh male evident in the Odiham village territory that was very good last year. Continued on around the Dogmersfield area but no sign of anything else all afternoon. We usually have a late start in this part of Hampshire so won't panic yet but certainly numbers are rather low at the moment (or maybe it was siesta time).

Tony B

Alice Holt

Promised Sarah that I would get her first sighting on the ground today - what a mistake!
Got an early start this morning as the forecast was so good to be greeted by mist and fog!
Was at Botany Bay for the first four hours and walked right through to Tugley Wood and Oaken wood and back again - nothing! Spoke to number of likeminded folk who also reported nothing so set off for Alice about noon.
Got to Alice at about 1.30pm and parked at the South end of Abbots wood and walked right through to tht car park in VERY warm sunshine - nothing on route.
I pointed out the territory at the car park to Sarah and said 'that's where I saw some' and immediately a male set out from one of the pines - we watched for about twenty minutes and saw several sorties and eventually a tussle between two - so at least the day was part saved.
Drove over to Goose Green Old car park at about 3pm and saw one on the chesnut within two minutes.
We watched the territory for about 45mins and there was one pursuit of three males across the road which was quite spectacular. There was one male in a gap in the oaks and I estimate that in total probably five were present - so hopefully things are looking a bit brighter.
Finished off a HOT day with a walk up the main track at Straits but nothing again!
Didn't get the promised viewing on the ground but got plenty of purple flash fixes from the pursuits at Goose Green so all was not lost.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Slow Start In Sussex

At 11.35 hrs on Thursday (23rd June) I saw my first Purple Emperor of the year. But the single male which made several unopposed circuits of the Madgeland Master Trees remains my only sighting to date. I hope that things pick up spectacularly, but I have a gut feeling that the 2010 mid July gales may have rendered this season very average. Only one toenail has been painted purple.
Posted on behalf of Matthew who is having IT problems.

PE seemingly just starting in Alice. Struggled to see 2 (possibly 3) males at Goose Green Old Car Park and only briefly active. Suspect this is Day 1 or Day 2 here - 11-12 days later than Bookham. Bit worrying.... Don't think this augurs a big emergence.

One White Admiral ab obliterae, just out. A lot of battered specimens but males are still emerging and there are more to come. Silver-washed Fritillary females just starting to emerge.

Myriad clegs.... Be warned!

Tomorrow could be superb - big emergence of everything.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not Out in Sav

Failed to see any in Savernake Forest today in 2.5 hours of searching seven primary territories. Not out there yet, but must be imminent. Sav is a 'late' site for many butterflies.

first female?

In Shabbington Wood, Bernwood Forest, Oxon, yesterday [23rd], David Redhead watched a pristine female swoop down to the main ride. It landed, so he was able to confirm the sex. Would it be 'The First Lady' of this season? It is certainly the first Upper Thames Lady!

This Weekend!

Dear People of Purple Persuasion

This weekend is going to see a significant emergence of iris (though I doubt that this is going to be a great iris year). They've been stuck in the pupal stage for ages and will be bursting out en masse. Cancel all weddings, christenings, anniversaries etc., including your own, - and get into the woods. In IRP Heslop's immortal words: 'To the woods, without breakfast'! Or to quote Horace: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.


Further Little Wood activity

I saw my first two iris on Thursday at Little Wood, Buckinghamshire. Two males were sparing for the best territory near the large Ash tree at the top of the wood. This site is consistently the first to become active in the Bucks/Oxon area. Interestingly it was also the last active site last year by a margin.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

berks/bucks/oxon I

The first sighting was on the 20th from a new locality: Buckleberry Common Nature Reserve [just to the north-east of Newbury]; the sighting of a male was made at SU5570, just north of the Common.

Yesterday, Wendy & Mick Campbell went to Little Wood in the afternoon and saw three in a spiralling combat flight around the massive Ash tree on territory; a fourth was seen around an Oak at the same spot.

Home Emergence

The first of my home grown iris has emerged - after a staggering 31 days as a pupa! He shot straight up into the canopy, as bred males invariably do. The females usually hang around for a photo call but this is a lousy way of obtaining photos of males...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Further Outrage

Yet another outrageous photo by Rob Hill at Bookham Common.

Most of us still haven't seen this butterfly yet this year, and many of us have never seen three together...


Fair enough then, let's make it an official photo competition. Best photo of his (or her) imperial highness this season. I'll judge it, as there seems little chance of my getting north of the Tropic of Capricorn this season to take part. The prize - instant and eternal recognition, and honorary membership of the Loyal Order of Apaturians. (If you're not enrolled as a blogger, send to and I'll post it on your behalf).

Greatest Show on Earth!

Bookham Common, Tues 21st June 2011, Rob Hill. Beat this photo if you can...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hertfordshire is off the starting block...

Just after 4pm today Iris floated into the Northaw territory although not very enthusiastically.

Message posted on behalf of Liz and Andrew by Katherine

Monday, June 20, 2011

Surrey Forges Ahead!

Surrey continues to forge ahead. This afternoon Ed Drewitt saw Himself at Ashtead Common, Leatherhead, and Rob Hill saw three battling males at the main Bookham Common territory / Master Tree / Sacred Grove (call it what you will...) and took this superb photo of a fight.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not Out in Alice!

Surprised to find iris still not out in Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire, today - and I searched the key areas well in sunshine. Also, Brother Neil failed to see any in Botany Bay, on the West Sussex / Surrey border. So, Bookham seems well ahead of anywhere else at present.

But, seriously impressive numbers of White Admiral, including quite a few females. iris tends to appear when camilla is well out - and it is well out in Hampshire now. Only a few paphia though, all male, and only a lone Purple Hairstreak, and just 2 fresh Ringlet.

The equation for the appearance of iris seems to be -

WA females+SWF+PH+Ri = PE

He must be imminent...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slow Progress ...

June is falling apart (I was reduced to looking for water beetles today, albeit Agabus brunneus which is the H20 beetle equivalent of the Large Tortoiseshell, and in a Heath Fritillary combe on Exmoor to boot). Note that the Met Office predicted a wonderful June (they should be impaled on Nordick walking poles and used as bait for iris).

The only other sightings reported are of two chasing males at the Hill Farm sacred grove at Bookham Common on Thurs 16th (Rob Hill), where one was seen on Mon 13th, and Susie's possible sighting in Southwater Woods on Wed 15th.

The race for second place is therefore still firmly on ... we may all come in second on Sunday...

Re Susie's sighting. Distant momentary sightings are difficult. Some are iris, some are camilla, some are atalanta, some are paphia and some are wonderful hallucinations. With anything better than distant momentary sightings, if you're in any doubt it is not iris!

Re 1893. The best account I have of that remarkable summer is in a horticultural book, but it was a cracker.

A brief glimpse

Apologies for the tardiness of posting but I believe I had a glimpse of Him at Marlpost Woods, Southwater, on Wednesday morning when the sun briefly shone. No photo to back up my suspicion though.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Old Records - thoughts revisited

Thoughts revisited

Having thought more about old records and early dates and looked at my notes from the NHM visit, I need to correct my original post.

My mind had been set that many of the pinned iris in the NHM had actual dates rather than just years on their labels. When looking up my notes this wasn’t the case, most were simply years but several stated bred. There were no actual early dates in this collection. Whereas now, if someone bred iris they would release into the wild back in the 1800s anything bred was destined for the collection, I assume without doubt.

However, although the NHM didn’t have any dates, some other collections did. I had been asking curators to check their specimens because at the time in 2003, I was trying to locate a Hertfordshire iris. Many of the historic Hertfordshire sightings were hearsay with no absolute proof whereas many other county had definite records (pinned specimens)!

One of the museums had one from the New Forest date 10.06.1918 but doesn’t state whether bred whereas others in the collection do………….

Also Dave Miller sent me this….
“The year of the previous earliest sighting was 1893. I believe the climate records for that year actually show that it resembled 2011 with an amazingly warm spell in late April - and 2011 has had the warmest spring since... 1893. It is therefore possible that the Purple Emperor record may actually be genuine.
is a lovely piece of overblown Victorian prose about the year...”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Early Iris

No further reports of early iris, despite vigilance (e.g. Tony Baines searched the main Alice Holt territories on Tues unsuccessfully). It seems that one or two males jumped the gun rather at Bookham.

The National Trust is proud that one of its places produced what seems to be the earliest Purple Emperor since 1893. And it's proud of the levels of butterfly interest and entomological recording at Bookham.

The start of the main emergence may be some days off...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sussex Still In The Starting Blocks

Scoured Southwater Woods today. White Admiral males still building (early days) - no sign of female WA yet. Silver-washed Fritillary males building - just one female. No Gatekeeper, Purple Hairstreak or Ringlet yet, but Small Skipper just starting. Emergence events are all early, but in sync, suggesting we are still 3 - 4 days to first Purple Emperor in Sussex. This Bookham chap has turned up to the party very early.

Old Records

Are we sure that the earliest record from the 1890s wasn't a released specimen?

When looking at the iris collection at the London Natural History Museum, all the released specimens stuck to pins were nearly always early dates.


Bookham Breaks Record!

Gentlemen, Lady, you are looking at the earliest Purple Emperor recorded in the UK since 1893!

This male was photographed at Bookham Common yesterday, Monday June 13th, by Surrey butterflyer Rob Hill. So once again Bookham romps home, albeit ridden by a substitute jockey as its resident rider Ken Willmott is on holiday in Bulgaria (supposedly, before iris begins...). Congratulations to Rob, who should now be suffering from an almighty hangover ... . And congratulations to Bookham.

Meanwhile, I searched hard at Alice Holt yesterday but saw none (and rather struggled to see camilla and paphia, and failed to see quercus there). None of my captive pupae is showing through (though they don't until late on), and the forecast after today is poor.

Monday, June 13, 2011

pupation and emergence

To add to Peter's and Matthew's results this year: I had 3 larvae which pupated on the 23rd May, 5th June, and 8th June. The average pupation time has been 20 days +/- 5 days, giving emergence dates of 14/6, 25/6, and 28/6. I released these three in a local Bucks wood a few days ago.
Purple Emperor now out! One seen at Bookham Common today at 2pm by Rob Hill!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Latest Betting, and Splatting

The betting on the first iris of the year has altered, not least because Ken Willmott's gone off to Bulgaria for 2 weeks (v iris, ilia and metis). The odds are now:-

3-1 Neil Hulme, Southwater Woods, W Sussex

5-1 Ken Willmott, Bookham Common, Surrey

7-1 Matthew Oates or Tony Baines, Alice Holt, Hants

8-1 Wendy Campbell, Piddington Wood, Oxon

10-1 Bar

Latest Prediction: Tues June 14th, High Noon.

It could be you... It has to be someone...

Please TEXT Matthew Oates on 07771 971488, or email, or Tweet immediately.

However, the cool May has prevented the all-time record being broken. This remains 'Beginning of June' in the New Forest 1893, followed by 10th June 1893, West Woods, Marlborough, Wilts - unless anyone has uncovered any earlier records?

Meanwhile, Brother Douglas photographed the following outrage in a Northamptonshire wood. We're not certain that the large green larva is iris, but as a precaution we recommend that All Great Splatted Woodpeckers Be Exterminated at once. My cat has been briefed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pupation on Leaf Upperside!

I've noticed that one of the captive-bred Purple Emperor larvae has pupated on the upper surface of a Sallow leaf - something I've never seen before, but this was known to Frohawk as stated in his classic "A Natural History of British Butterflies"!