Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Suffolk update

Rob Parker, Suffolk recorder has emailed me the following update for publication on the Purple Empire -
I have done a bit of asking around, and can now offer an update for you to post on the Purple Empire:
On 28th July, Matthew Oates wrote: Incidentally, we have received no reports from the introduced population in Suffolk this year. How's it doing? Also, we never receive any reports from Kent, or on the introduced population in Essex. News welcome on these fronts... SUFFOLK UPDATE Since John Quinn made his freelance introductions at Theberton Wood circa 2001-2004, and the population became public knowledge in 2005, iris has continued to fly in that small wood. John agreed not to make any further releases thereafter so that we could be confident that it really was self-sustaining. Happily, they went from strength to strength, and observers watched them 2005-2011, whilst forestry work thinned the conifers, retained most of the sallows and opened rides and canopy somewhat. A number of sightings were also made at RSPB Minsmere (just 3 miles away to the northeast) suggesting that the population was doing very nicely, and in 2011, one male turned up at North Warren, 6 miles to the south east. Enthusiasm continued after John's death, and Theberton Wood is tended by Sam, a forester who is generally to be found amongst the July enthusiasts. It is understood that he was involved in a sallow cutting operation, presumably in 2011, after which a thorough search of the fallen branches discovered iris larvae, and 11 were taken into captivity to overwinter safely. Apparently they survived very well, as Sam was able to release at least 4 in the first week of July 2012, separately, as they emerged, and possibly before the wild population had taken to the wing in a year of extraordinary fluctuations of weather that would probably have delayed emergence of the wild population. It is unfortunate that this release has masked the performance of the truly wild population, but it can be argued that they were Theberton stock that would otherwise have perished. The Emperor was certainly observed at Theberton in 2012, but as usual, valid counts are difficult to obtain, and the County Butterfly Recorder has not received many sighting reports or subjective judgments of population strength. The best, on 26th July, identified 4 separate females (3 with distinctive damage, and one fresh-looking perfect specimen) and one male - a minimum of 5 still flying at that date, and the females engaged in apparent egg-laying behaviour. Can anyone correct or add to this? I do not have a phone or email contact for Sam (or even know his surname). When I visited in July, I had missed him by 20 minutes. I am not in touch with Eileen Quinn either, but I would like to be able to provide Matthew Oates with a more authoritative answer. Sam made no secret that he had taken 11 PE and 5 SWF (presumed chrysalises or maybe caterpillars) into captivity to be overwintered. But I do not know whether he released the same numbers. I think the date of Sam's release was 6th July 2012, but am not certain that this was a one-off event. Rob Parker

Bookham Closes Down

Not being content with seeing the first Purple Emperor of the year (on 29th June) the immortal combination of Bookham Common and Ken Willmott now claims the last!  A single male was seen there by Ken on Sun 26th August, though none was seen there yesterday (28th).  'In my end is my beginning'.

Can someone please push for a September iris?  I managed it in 1977. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It probably is over in Hertfordshire?

After a warm sunny morning, arrived at the Northaw assembly area this afternoon to be greeted with a 30 minute bank of cloud, to right and left blue sky but not where I was watching! At 2.40 I had 30 minutes of 100% sunshine followed by a further 20 minutes of sunny moments.............the only activity in the assembly area was by two imposters - Red Admirals that flew up high clashing! Otherwise sadly nothing - Liz

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Upper Thames sighting was on August 19th in Little Wood by Mick Campbell. The first in this wood was seen on July 8th, making a flight season of 6 weeks in this wood. The first sighting in this region was on July 4th. I had a surprising experience, looking for larvae yesterday, in a mid-Bucks wood. See picture [zoom in to read writing!]: on the big old broad leaved Sallow on the left of the ride I found one larva; on 25th July a female spent some time in and around this Sallow. On the other side of the ride, exactly opposite, is a narrow leaved Sallow; to my delight and astonishment I found 7 larvae [both 1st and 2nd instar] and one egg here. I've never before found more than two larvae/eggs on one Sallow in the UK, and I've no idea why this particular Sallow was favoured.

Another Aberration

Male 'semi-iole' photographed by Doug Goddard in Fermyn Woods on 23rd July, 'Big Bang' day in Fermyn.  I saw it in close by flight, but it wouldn't settle for me...

The nightmare truth is that I may well have walked past it when it was feeding on the ride, wings closed, for there is little to tell from the underside that it was a variation (white bar on hind wing somewhat reduced, and slightly less of the reddish-brown surround too).  The lesson is obvious, check each specimen... -

I know of at least nine iris aberrations that were seen this year: seven in Fermyn Woods, Northants, and singletons in Bentley Wood (possibly two), Wiltshire, and at Knepp Castle estate in West Sussex.  Most were photographed.

And at this stage it looks as though the last iris of the year was seen in Herts on 23rd Aug...  Any more late sightings?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More from Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe

A rather nice black selene next to an acute paphia. 

A day's takings in the New Forest in mid July 1910.  Like all collectors Sir Vauncy had it in for poor valezina...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fat Lady Time in Savernake

I failed to see any males in the main territories in and around Savernake yesterday afternoon and suspect that the season may have ended there, somewhat suddenly as two males in reasonable condition were battling away in the best territory on Sunday 19th. 

Worse, initial searchings for ova & larvae on some of the most favoured trees have been decidedly disappointing.  I fear that the 'egg lay' there has been very low, which surprises me as the females have had a decent run of good laying days - more reasonable laying days than in the last two flight seasons together.  We shall find out...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exam Results

As thousands of British schoolchildren were getting their GCSE results this morning, Tiberius was poised nervously on a leaf in a shady corner of a Swiss wood, waiting for his:

At about lunchtime he got them - and he had passed! Yippee! Here he is at 20h00 today, in his new class, freshly showered by an alpine storm:

If I can find him I will take better pictures tomorrow during daylight.

He spent 12 full days in the first instar (today being his 13th day), the last two immobile on the same leaf while his shoulder patch (with the horns inside, I'm reliably informed) grew. He seemed to eat quite heartily during the first ten days but rarely on his resting leaf - there was evidence of nibbling on lots of other leaves. He changed resting leaf three times in total.


EDIT: a couple of pictures in natural light from 24th August, day 14 (with an inset from day 1 in the first):

It still ain't over yet in Hertfordshire

At 2pm this afternoon after a morning of sunshine, a rather tatty male flew across the Northaw assembly area but didn't stop! It then went cloudy so Andrew came home. Liz

The Science Behind Larval Wandering…

In response to the comments (Re: The Mysteries of Pupation) in Matthews’ recent ”British Wildlife” journal article, I thought I’d high light a couple of important articles which have already explored this ‘mystery’ in some detail. Links are below:

Although the experimental work (mentioned above), was admittedly conducted using Manduca sexta, as stated by the authors, their findings relating to larval wandering behavior are expected to be analogous across other Lepidoptera species. In summary, the take home message from the experimental work conducted by Dominick and Truman appears to be as follows: Similar with the induction of diapause (see my previous “Larval Diapause” purpleempire post, 6th November 2011), pre-pupation larval wandering appears to be induced and controlled by the dose and the duration of release of the insect moulting hormone 20-Hydroxyecdysone (or Ecdysone as it is more commonly referred), in the inverse proportional absence of another insect hormone (Juvenile hormone). Release of 20-Hydroxyecdysone (from the corpus allatum) within the larvae is itself influenced/controlled by photoperiod and occurs in three distinct pulses. The second of these 20-Hydroxyecdysone pulses appears to be highly influenced by the duration of the scotophase (night) cycle, 15 hours prior to the initiation of wandering. Although this initiation trigger is also likely to exist within the Apaturinae, the specifics regarding the duration of the scotophase cycle involved in the trigger are likely to highly species specific.

The experiments performed by Dominick and Truman also showed that the initiation (not stoppage) of wandering in 5th instar larvae could be prevented by the pre-wandering administration of Juvenile hormone. Unfortunately however the administration of Juvenile hormone to these larvae also consequently prevented any subsequent developmental (i.e. pupation) progression.

In light of the comments mentioned within these papers, I suppose that the take home message from these publications, relative to the ‘disappearance’ of mature, pre-pupation iris larvae, is that it is all part of nature taking its natural course and aside from caging specimens, there unfortunately doesn’t appear to be very much that we can do to prevent or stop it. Although certainly not ideal, I suppose the injection of internal, digital tags of some kind (the cogs are still slowly turning with respect to this one) could potentially provide some invaluable insights as to the ultimate wandering locations which are preferentially chosen by these larvae as natural pupation sites. Certainly food for further mental processing…


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe

Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe (1846-1924) was a serial collector of Everything.  His main house, Calke Abbey near Ashby de la Zouch, is preserved by the National Trust as a crumbling monument to Victorian collecting ideology. 

He had the habit of descending on the New Forest in July, taking over the Crown Hotel at Lyndhurst, and bagging an inclosure - keeping out the riff-raff for a week or two by stationing flunkeys at all entrances.  Unfortunately, curation wasn't his strongest forte and most of his collections seem to have fallen apart.  Also, there are few data labels.

I visited Calke today to look at the remains of his great collection, in particular and obviously iris.  Unfortunately, I could find only a small series, of unusually large females taken in the Forest ca 1900 - 

These are seriously Big Girls by the way.  I've got the horrid feeling that some of the store boxes containing nothing but empty pins are all that remains of his main iris collection but will return another day to do a proper search and inventory. 

Pride of place in his collection is this amazing cardui var featured in Newman -

Finally, here's a tray of paphia vars taken in the Forest during the immortal summer of 1983 (think 1976, and double it) -

More from Sir Vauncy another time...

Ain't over at Bookham either!

Bookham Common opened the 2012 UK iris season back on 29th June.  Yesterday, 20th August, at least one male was still present in the Hill Farm territory there - 53 days on!  Thanks to Ken Willmott for the record. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Certainly ain't over yet in Sav!

An Extreme Butterflying day, with a memorable ending. 

Began with an early morning visit to Shipton Bellinger Roughs, West Hampshire, in hope of seeing Brown Hairstreaks pairing (only the 24 I saw all seemed male, and they had quietened right down by 11am).  Then off to Broughton Down in hope of seeing Silver-spotted Skippers laying eggs, only they were few and far between, hyper-active and inapproachable in oven-like weather, but I did see some egg-laying females.  (Memo: don't work SSS in extreme heat, it makes them hyper).

En route home I dropped in at Savernake at 3.45, and was delighted to see two frayed males slugging it out at the Dead Beech Glade (No 1 territory), where there was only a single male yesterday.  There must be several days left in the flight season here, though this may be my final encounter with the Monarch of all the Butterflies this season.

And the ending?  Counted 65 Peacocks on Buddleias in our garden at 5.15!

It ain't over yet (in Hertfordshire)!

After a day that started by looking for Brown Hairstreaks over the border! We arrived back at Northaw at 1.30 just after a short deluge. Within seconds of looking what appeared to be a very frail old man turned up, who did a few twirls and flew off. Returned again only to be accompanied by a very smart young man but the frail old man was in hot pursuit and not vice versa! They did a few big twirls and then the larger Emperor took over. Only for a short while later for the smaller Emperor to return. When viewed through the binoculars he wasn't frail just very small and still appeared to be perfectly formed! The smaller male made less appearances but we were quite surprised to see two active Emperors at the Northaw territory on the 19th August when our first sighting there had been on the 4th July! These certainly hadn't got a battering in the recent winds although I believe our side of the country didn't get it quite so bad? Liz with Andrew and Laurence

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Final Hobby Outrage

This hot afternoon I went to the Savernake area to do what comes naturally to someone of Purple pursuasion this late in the season, whilst listening to an enthralling day's play in the Lords test match.  

A worn male was present in the Dead Beech Glade, the No 1 territory in Sav, but there was no one for him to play with - no birds or hornets were flying through, and it was very hot - so he was quiescent, wings closed.  I probably saw a second male, briefly and from a distance, at another territory about 200m away. 

Moving to another favoured area, a cathedral of towering beech trees, one worn male was reasonably active, suggesting there might have been another close by.  England were fighting back well, which is when the outrage occurred: a Hobby came patrolling by over the giant beeches, iris duly launched himself, albeit rather lazily, and was promptly nabbed.  

This is the second such outrage involving this thug of a bird this season, after an similar strike witnessed by Rob Hill at Bookham Common.  Clearly, Hobby numbers must be reduced, I'm joining Songbird Survival - I WANT TO SEE SOME PREDATOR CONTROL ...

This reminds me of an outrage that occurred at the end of the (very good) 2002 season at Alice Holt.  Just after Hoggard had bowled Tendulkar and then Ganguly first ball, on the afternoon of 28th July, a pair of Spotted Flycatchers ganged up on a stroppy male - he launched himself at one of them, but the other came up from below and took him.  2 wings spiralled slowly to the ground.  I am still outraged...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Last Sightings?

This weekend could well bring the last sightings of the 2012 season (Wednesday's gale in western parts of the Empire may have knocked lingering adults out). 

The race is on: who will see the last of the year? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Sussex Silliness

There are not many Emperors in the traditional woodland sites of Sussex this year, perhaps because they've all left in disgust and have decided to spread themselves evenly across the entire county. Here's another report of a misplaced singleton, this time from Richard Roebuck on 12th August.

"I then went to check out Wolstonbury Hill to look for Silver-spotted skippers - previous visits recently had drawn a blank. I parked at Pyecombe Street and as normal set off up the track which leads to the bridleway. Part way up I suddenly froze, as sat on the corner of a garden Flint wall was a female Purple Emperor. It was hot and the sun was beating down she was there just gently opening and closing her wings at 12.50p.m. She was sat directly under a tall Buddleia in full flower, but immediately next to her were three wheelie bins, one was slightly open with Bluebottles flying in and out, she was showing a bit of wear around the tips of her forewings but otherwise was in good condition. She took off flew round me once and then flew straight over the roof of a house opposite. She had flown some 50 feet upwards in seconds. I waited around for a bit, my camera was still in its bag, that weird feeling as what to do now descended on me yet again. Anyway she was gone heading south perhaps towards the Bright lights of Brighton? Then the questions, where had she come from, the wind direction suggested perhaps from the wooded side of Newtimber Hill opposite or perhaps woods slightly further away where I saw another Purple Emperor flying up whilst walking up a road a couple of weeks back. Most intriguingly, what was in that Bin?"

Gale Warning

A bit worried that the forecast strong winds could close the 2012 Purple Emperor season.  This butterfly has a bad track record at surviving strong winds - hardly surprising as it roosts high up in tall trees. 

The following interesting sightings have been reported -

A tattered male on an oak sap run at Hale Purlieu on the NW edge of the New Forest, 5th August, Dr Sue Clarke.  

A windblown male around and then settling on the Chilterns Gateway centre building on Dunstable Downs, Beds, on 4th August, Jon Powell. 

Sex uncertain, doing a twirl around an oak tree at Cookham & Maidenhead Commons at 6pm on 9th August, Pete Brash. 

Keep them coming, the sillier the better...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Doings in Dorset

Dorset only came out and declared itself Purple three years ago, when a small population was discovered in Cranborne Chase, close to the Wiltshire border.  Despite much effort by BC Dorset members, only two sightings were made in the Dorset part of the Chase this year. 

This further backs up the overal picture of a very patchy season, with reasonable or even quite good numbers in a few districts but low or very low numbers elsewhere, with all the smaller populations having particularly poor seasons. 

A proper summary of the season will appear on this blog when more information comes in - feel free to wing stuff in, purely to be shared on this blog.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Slightly Less Irritating

I'm sure some people will like this vase but I would prefer it if commercial artists in the USA would kindly leave England's national butterfly alone - the butterfly means quite a lot to quite a few of us over here...

Deeply Insulting

The Race Is On...

To see the last iris of 2012.  It could be you...  The last Emperor might be doing this (or anything else unusual) -

My guess is that there's at least another week left in the season nationally.

Whatever, remember that this blog functions all year round, and that many enthusiasts post their summer photos after editing them during the darker months.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Yesterday, 10th, while doing some general butterfly recording in Yardley Chase, I first of all came across this splendid-looking female in a grassy ride. She settled on a small piece of hazel a couple of feet above the ground and fed on honeydew for several minutes before gliding off in search of sallows further down the ride and disappearing from view. This was in Ravenstone Road Copse where the butterfly has been seen for the past three seasons.

I progressed to another section of the Chase, Olney Lane End, where I had not previously recorded iris. Another, this time more ragged, female flitted around the top of an oak before alighting to bask at the top of the tree in the sunshine.

Further along, a male flew over the top of the line of oaks which border this wood. This is the sixth section of Yardley provide sightings this year and the total of woods for the county containing iris in 2012 currently numbers seventeen. As well as the traditional Rockingham Forest sites, the Silverstone woods and Salcey Forest, where it re-appeared last year, there have been sightings in Pipewell and Brampton woods towards Market Harborough within a mile of the Leicestershire border. Are we soon to add another county to the Purple Empire?

Strange Doings In Sussex

Despite having suffered low Emperor numbers in Sussex this year we do seem to have made up for it in terms of strange and silly behaviour. Single sightings they may be ... but take a look at these three postings to the BC Sussex websites on 9th August, courtesy of Tom Forward, Jonathan Ruff and Barry Collins.

Another report came in today (9th) from Tom Forward who writes "I have never seen a Purple Emperor before, nor have I actively tried to seek one out - though have been meaning to do so for ages. Anyway, gathered outside the toilet block next to the main car park in Tilgate Park at 10am this morning, with a group of 20 excited children for a day of bushcraft, when a slightly tatty looking PE landed on the wall of the toilet block to bask and apparently pick up some salts from the mortar in the brick work. We all got a good look at it for a few minutes (why do I never have the camera with me when I need it!!!), before it did a couple of Red Arrow-esque fly-bys low over the kids heads and then made it's way off over the car park!" Will Tom s tatty Emperor be the last Sussex Emperor of 2012? (Michael Blencowe)
I noticed this large butterfly (above) in the garden today. I think it is a female Purple Emperor, but I have never seen one before, hopefully you can confirm indeed it is.... It nectared on the buddleia for several minutes ....... (Jonathan Ruff)

I decided to check a spot where I had seen a Purple Emperor some years ago on a minor road between Aldsworth Pond and Brickkiln Ponds SU760090. I had only just got out of the car when a male Purple Emperor landed on a fence post only feet away from where I was standing it remained there for a couple of minutes, giving me some fantastic views. Unfortunately I had no camera with me (Murphy's Law). It then flew onto some sallow for a while before alighting again and landed on my head briefly and then landed on yet another fence post. (Barry Collins)

Happy Birthday

It was a poor season in my local woods, at least partly because of some rather aggressive clearing of sallow by the foresters. I found just one egg, which hatched this morning into an eager little larva. I have named him Tiberius:

This is Tiberius yesterday, compressed like a Jack-in-the-box into his egg:

Prior to yesterday, the egg had looked quite different, with a dark band around the base and none around the top:


Friday, August 10, 2012

No Fat Lady in Bucks yet either

A large female in good condition drifting around sallows in a private mid-Bucks wood at 3pm this afternoon livened up an otherwise boring transect. 

Doings: 10th August

First thing, I worked Brother Betulae in hedge systems near Minety in north Wilts, searching for active males around hedgerow ash trees.  Males seem quite well out and in 'average' numbers, but no females today.  5 apparent males in 15 mins at one site, and 8 in an hour at the other, = normal.  I saw the first male in this district on 3rd Aug. 

Then over to Savernake for late season iris.  Failed to find them in two parts of the forest, former strongholds, but saw pairs of battling males in two of the main territories along Three Oak Hills Drive (leading up to the Column).  None at the Column itself, which has been disappointing this season and isn't a major territory anyway - but people go there to photograph males settling on the Column (a piece of 18th century bollocks).  Then I found a new territory, also at the southern end of the forest, again containing a battling pair. 

One of these territories is only used towards the end of the flight season.  I've seen my last individual of the year there for the last few years (bar 2011).  Has anyone else encountered an end of season territory?

So, I only found the butterfly where more than one male was present.  In hot weather, especially late in the season, solitary males can be almost comatose, unless something flies right past their nose or lands on them - multi-occupancy is almost essential for activity this late on.  All six of today's males were intact but somewhat worn.  The odd male should still be present here in a week's time, but this coming weekend is really last chance saloon time for anyone who hasn't seen iris yet this year. 

And as for Herself?  She's tricky in very hot weather late in the season.  So, not a sign of her - until I drove out on to the A4 and started towards Marlborough at 4pm.  There she was, flying westwards along the A4, 4m up, above the double white lines.  She then turned left into Savernake Hospital without signalling, where she undoubtedly created chaos... 

Continued activity in Hertfordshire & Middlesex

It certainly isn't over yet, activity at Whitewebbs (Middlesex) where 1 male was on territory , 2 males at Northaw, male activity at Fir & Pond just yards from the M25 all reported by Andrew Middleton and Laurence Drummond had activity at the site close to the A10 also in Hertfordshire.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

methyl mercaptan CH3SH

good grief! the Iris scientist wishes to use this as attractant? It is the most foul smelling substance it was ever my 'privilege' to encounter during my long career as an industrial chemist. As he says, it's a gas, so his only chance is to generate it 'in situ' at the site where he wants to attract iris. If he tries this, he may attract iris, but he will lose all his friends, because the stink attaches to you and takes ages to dissipate. No, the best idea is from the latest blog from Matthew: the alcohol fermented banana mash: luvly jubbly, as Dellboy was wont to say

Banana Bait

Has anyone actually tried Jens Stolt's fermented banana bait?  See  .  The photos and text are rather glorious - even by the standards of The Purple Empire... 

Sadly, iris seldoms comes down to feed in the cool, cloudy and showery weather that has dominated most of this season, and only descends rarely this late in the flight season.  If one or two of us are lucky, though, the odd individual may descend from on high in the forecast warm spell that's supposed to start tomorrow. 

Accounts and photos, please, on this blog...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cracked it, with virtually 100% Certainty...

With almost 100% (well 99.99%) certainty, I am more than just a little bit sure that
I have finally cracked the attractant for male emperors (well, iris and ilia at least). Immediate problems with the compound concerned and its late season 'discovery' however being that is only available in gaseous form, is only able to be purchased by commercial (not private) individuals and that there is now only a limited amount of the 2012 flight season still remaining. As I would consequently now REALLY love to test this compound, I therefore ask if (and I mean IF) I am able to acquire some of this compound, does anybody still any captive males that have not as yet eclosed and are up for the challenge?

Bookham Common Season

A summary of the season at Bookham Common, Leatherhead, based mainly on records from Ken Willmott, but also from Rob Hill, Robin Daniels, David Rayner and myself.  Two superb male territories have been used at Bookham for some 30 years, originally discovered by Ken (Hill Farm and Mark Oak), plus a small third territory by Mark Oak.

1st seen on 29th June at Hill Farm (one male, seemingly the first nationally).  This is probably an average start date for Bookham, though rather late by modern standards there.

No more seen until 5th July, despite vigilance, when 2 males were seen clashing and chasing at Hill Farm. 

11th July: 3 males chasing a pigeon at Hill Farm, but surprisingly inactive during a good sunny spell. 

12th July: 2 males at Hill Farm in poor weather.

17th July: 2-3 males at Hill Farm and 2 at Mark Oak, the first seen at the latter territory.

20th July: All three territories occupied.  Male photographed on ride.

22nd: Hobby takes one of a trio of fighting males at Hill Farm!  Outrage!  First eggs seen laid.  Decent weather at last!

24th: 4 males in vista at Hill Farm, 3 in vista at Mark Oak - probably ca 10 altogether.  Female seen egg laying at 11.25am (early, due to hot weather) and another at 4.10 (late, due to hot weather siesta). 

27th: Egg laying female.

1st Aug: I saw a lovely egg-laying female and a dark-looking territorial male during 15 mins visit to Mark Oak, en route to Box Hill. 

2nd & 3rd Aug: Spectacular mid afternoon activity in all territories, including vista of 6 at Hill Farm.  6 is officially Good (most years have a top count of 3-4).

Hobby again hunting over Hill Farm, on 3rd. 

In all, an above average season at Bookham, despite much poor weather.  And it's not finished quite yet...

Thanks to all, especially Ken. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Photo from 26th July. That's me in the purple top on the left being polite and waiting my turn, even though I wanted to push everyone out of the way! I don't think I need to tell you whose bike that is!

A mixture of PE pics from Bookham

Here's a mixture of shots taken over the past week or so at Bookham. The first shot is of a Hobby that caught one of two sparring males above my head at the Hill Farm territory. Here it can be seen about a minute later patrolling over the same spot. I did'nt see it take any more PEs that day but did see the return of a Hobby at the same place this last Friday. It had an unidentified insect in its claws but was much higher this time? The rest of the shots are a mixed bag of male and female behaviour.

Enfield Emperors

Two males were still on territory this afternoon at the Whitewebbs assembly area.

Assorted Doings

Apologies for lack of postings - IT problems with home server. 

The Emperor season is gradually winding itself down, though people who haven't seen the butterfly yet this year will still be able to do so next weekend at many localities (but note that males have largely stopped coming down to the rides).  At 'late' sites, such as Savernake, individuals will linger on for another two weeks, though activity levels will steadily decline. 

The overall picture is of a patchy season.  Numbers have been quite good at some localities, though the butterfly has been distinctly scarce in Sussex and at some individual localities, including Savernake Forest. 

This pattern has been complicated by the fact that activity levels have been very good on some days but distinctly poor on others, which means that some people have had hugely successful expeditions whilst others struggled to see the insect - in similar weather conditions.  Obviously, the weather has largely been Vile, bar eight stupendous days which coincided with peak season. 

Above all, it's been a season of quality rather than quantity, not least because at least nine good aberrations have been seen - in three different counties.  Interestingly, all bar one of these individuals have been photographed.

Please note that this blog functions all year round, not just during the flight season.  So feel free to post pictures and observations after the busy summer season, and note that several regular contributors also follow the butterfly through its immature stages, in the wild and/or in captivity.  Some of us are big on the caterpillars.  This blog never sleeps...

Essex Emperors

Another interesting post from uk-leps yahoo group:-

The Colchester Natural History Society had a trip to Marks Hall Estate, Essex on 22 July and recorded 6 Purple Emperors and a number Silver-washed Fritillaries. Both species were re-introduced to this locality a few years ago. I just hope the appalling weather we are having this year doesn't ruin the chances of the survival of these colonies.

His Majesty on Dunstable Downs on 4th August

Thought this posting to uk-leps yahoo group may be of interest:-

We drove through heavy rain to get to Whipsnade for lunch in a pub. Then went for a walk along the tops of the downs starting at the Chiltern Gateway visitor centre. By now a sunny gap between the showers had moved in. Lots of meadow browns, a few Marbled Whites and Burnets, the odd Gatekeeper seen. But the highlight was back at the visitor centre where a large odd butterfly was being blown along in the wind. It stopped on the grass and was almost trodden on by kids. It shot off downwind. I went out and took a look, and found it on the glass wall of the visitor centre. Purple Emperor was the last butterfly I expected to see up there! And in the middle of the day too. With its blue irridescence and markings it was unmistakable. I rescued it and took it to a quieter spot away from the kids dogs and parents. After resting a fair while on my hand it started to walk up my arm and then launched and disappeared downwind and was gone. It seemed fairly weak so I guess it was getting elderly. However it looked in good condition. I've only ever once seen a purple emperor from a distance a long time ago. so a very pleasant surprise to find one in an unexpected location today. I didn't know there were any at all in the Chilterns?

 I managed to upload a couple of pics here:

Mike Rubin

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little More From Sussex

Just a single male at the Brickkiln Ponds territory near Stansted Forest today, looking rather lonely. Sadly, this is par for the course in Sussex this season.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hello everyone, I'm Rachel; Derek has kindly invited me to contribute to this blog. I met the purple emperor for the first time last week, and as you can see from this photograph we became well acquainted. I'm not completely sure if I was flattered by his decision to climb on to to my finger, as I believe that he likes smelly, disgusting things! It was a very hot day, but in my defence I had put my finger in a tin of shrimp cat food and then moistened it. A big sacrifice for a vegetarian! I really love this type of interaction with nature and have grown to love and respect butterflies more and more over the last few years. I found the purple emperor to be something special. It wasn't just  the beautifully patterned embroidery on his wings and the flashes of bluish purple in the sunlight that intrigued me, it was the sound of wings as he circled round me and the uniqueness of his fearless, mischievous character. He, not I, was in charge of the situation, and he was calling the shots. Fortunately, the purple emperor chose to pose!

You have probably already guessed that I have a tendency to anthropomorphise. And yes, I do talk to butterflies and other creatures!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sussex Update

Following recent Purple discoveries in East Sussex by Peter Farrant (2+ males at Warningore Wood) and Michael Blencowe (single males at Wadhurst and Middleton Plantation/Brocks Wood), I headed to the latter location with Michael this afternoon. In the breifest of weather breaks, and despite strong winds, we saw a pair of males in combat at 15.30 hrs, followed by a very large female in the wayleave at just past 16.00 hrs. We now know the source of the Emperors which have visited the back garden bird table of a B&B in the nearby village of Streat in recent years.

Elsewhere, despite tragically poor numbers in Sussex this season, single Emperors have been seen on several of the unusual sites found along the very crest of the South Downs, stretching from Heyshott in the West to Lewes in the East. Hopefully next year will see the start of a local recovery.

Emperor Cleans Chair

Here's an excerpt from a posting made to the BC Sussex website by member Shirley Wright.

"Nyewood: App 11am 22nd July 2012, splendid male Purple Emperor flew through open door of our conservatory and spent about 30 minutes (presumably seeking minerals) on ancient, dusty linen chair cover and on edges of an old detached Spanish tile. Purple/mauve wings flashing in sunlight and suddenly it disappeared."

Finemere Wood, Bucks (2nd August)

Having completed a transect there this morning, I loitered over lunchtime in the hope of finding a female or two around Finemere Wood's many sallows but the only activity seen was from a single tatty male, still defending his territory above the Corsican Pines along the main ride.  You'd think by this stage of the season he would have found a nice oak in which to put his feet up until the inevitable happens, but no, every passing bird and insect still had to be seen off.  It can't be all that comfortable perching on pine needles either! 

German bait

Referring to Derek's blog and the nice photos from Germany, he asks whether we've tried cheese as bait. When we were in Switzerland, I read in a German publication on iris that a particularly smelly Austrian cheese called Limburger always works: see picture. Well, I bought cost me the equivalent of £3, and did it work ? Did it h..l ! I reckon all the Iris's in that Swiss wood were saying to each other: " Ve refuse to come down on ze cheese ein
Enlgaender bought!!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

German site

Some excellent photos of the early stages on this German site.

I note that it suggests the adults can be attracted with cheese! I assume they mean the runny German stuff and not a slice of healthy cheddar. Anyone tried it?

Abbotts Wood - Alice Holt

Just a quick note to say that I managed to get out this afternoon not really expecting to see anything. However, the sun decide to appear and I spent a good ten minutes watching a single male on territory flying almost continuously including chasing off what I assume was a hairstreak. Great to see that they are still about here. 


Not strictly Purple Emperor, but Apaturinae are cited in this recent paper that might be of interest to some of you.