Monday, July 29, 2013

Winding Down...

The 2013 flight season is very much winding down - today's torrential deluges will not have helped at all (though mercifully the downpours were not accompanied by strong winds, which kill off adults mercilessly). 

Yesterday, Neil and I visited our new mega site in Sussex but saw less than half the numbers seen the previous Sunday, including this old, battered and tired female (she did not, I hasten to add, seek to lay on that exposed yellowing small-leaved sallow - had she done so I would have kicked her, and taken the egg for captive breeding) -

NB  This blog functions all year round, not just during the flight season.  Keep visiting, keep posting.

Female behaving badly

Today, 29th July, found an egg in  a naughty spot: see picture.
1] Sallow too small with exposed sprigs: normally, bushes with lots of foliage are chosen
2] Egg laid on south-east facing part of bush: the north or north east part is usually chosen so that the young larva is not exposed to the afternoon sun because they can quickly dessicate.
Clearly, a poorly educated female, or, as Matthew has been known to call errant females: 'a vixen'!

Final flurry and some thoughts

I have now seen HIM every day since the 9th July so that is twenty consecutive days - a tribute to good weather for once, a good emergence and locating himself at a couple of woods close to home meaning I could make short evening and lunchtime visits - off on holiday today so it is probably the end of my season.
I visited Queen Elizabeth Country park today to see if could paint it purple for Ashley. This is a very  large wood of several hundred acres on chalk downland to the south of Petersfield. Due to the size i took my bike and spent four hours scouring the rides.
 It was a bit of butterfly dessert unfortunately, with very little seen at all. The woods are mainly beech and the rides are very enclosed and dark. Not much sallow - only counted twenty or so, although it was good quality. 
It  may be here but i think there may be better, and easier, prospects elsewhere.
Took myself off to Straits to get probably my final fix and despite Matthews assertion the gates were open.
Saw five males all oak edging and one female trying to avoid attention.
Pleasingly I have begun to join some dots, and have seen HIM in four small adjacent woods locally adjoining the A3 and identified a dozen or more small patches of wood that will be investigated next year. I really think the A3 between Portsmouth and Guildford could hold significant numbers as there is good amounts of sallow all the way along - not a particularly relaxing place to watch for HIM though :)
Couple of observations for comment:
1. At Straits this year there has been very little grounding compared with previous years - in fact I have only seen them on the deer tower and one on my field bag. I note  in 'Notes and views' that Heslop also noticed a similar change had occurred in the early part of last century stating "Whereas the collectors one hundred years ago stuffed their collection with hundreds of bait caught specimens; by 1920 the only sort of bait that seemed in any way effective was stinking mud from the bottom of a pond and even this attracts infrequently now." Could it even be cyclical? I saw numbers of groundings in Surrey, and obviously at Fermyn, so it was local to Alice Holt (only one grounding for me at Abbots). Has anyone else noticed similar changes on their patch? It will be interesting to see if it continues next year?
2. One day at straits, recorded in a previous post,  I saw over 50 males in about 90 minutes after walking the whole ride just once.  It was so incredible i am beginning to think i dreamt it! On every other visit this year, before and since, half a dozen was the norm. Whilst I inevitably recorded some twice there were undoubted large numbers and saw two chases of four males, someting i haven't seen since before the sallows were destroyed. Some were fresh and others were very worn with pieces of wing missing. Why had seemingly all the males in the wood descended on this ride?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Ashley Whitlock
I went to a new site today called King Johns Hill, the wood there is sat on a very steep hill and at 1115 I saw a male Emperor flying in and around a very high Ash Tree. The wood has great potential as an Emperor Wood, with many areas of good Sallow, and the King John Hill is potentailly a good Assembly Point, which will need investigating in the future.
I then moved on to Alice Holt Forest for the last time in 2013 probably, the weather wasn't great with very cool cloudy conditions mainly, but when the sun did shine then it was for long periods, and the temperature really shot up. At Abbotts Wood Inclosure I saw (4) males oak edging at 1200, near to the small car-park, another was seen flying north at 1215, another a minute later at 1216 oak edging towards the car-park, another male at 1232, near to the cross-ways, then another male at 1240 seen flying onto an oak sprig at the 'T' Junction on the main ride. There was one male on station at Alice Holt Forest (1) and two across the road doing battle. I think it was far too breezy at Alice Holt One as this is the highest point in the wood. There wasn't any males at other assembly points except Goose Green where only two were seen occasionally chasing down the wayleaves at 1342, despite the cooler cloudier conditions. Ive noticed this year there are several Assembly Points not occupied, yet there has been far more activity in the wood, with well over (30) males seen on a good day a few weeks ago. There certainly hasn't been this many up at the Assembly points, which suggests to me there must be other Assembly Points we don't know about, or many males don't visit these sites?

High Altitude Nocturnal Emperor

A great record received from Steve Vaughan:

"I thought you might be interested in this sighting and photo which I took last night (27th July). I was looking over the moths attracted to the lights at the window around 10.30pm and noticed a large Nymphalid butterfly roosting on the window ledge. After some effort I took the attached photo of a rather fine Purple Emperor. Despite several efforts I couldn't get a good view of the upper surface of the wings, but the butterfly was clearly alive and had flown off by the morning. We live right on top of Blackdown (grid ref SU920310), altitude 238m, mixed broad-leaved woodland with oaks, sweet chestnut and the odd willow. Heathland nearby, but we are definitely in the woods. Although we have Silver-washed Fritillaries here every year (on the wing for a week or so now) I have never seen a Purple Emperor here. The nearest site I know of is Ebernoe woods, which must be 5 miles away at least. I don't
know of any sightings around Blackdown, never mind on the top - do you?"

Congratulations Steve. 780' (238m) amsl beats my own record for Sussex, set at Heyshott Down in 2009 at an altitude of 745' amsl.

83rd Sussex Tetrad (2 Km Square) Turns Purple Since 2010

News from Sussex stalwarts Michael & Clare Blencowe:

We took a hike today (28th July) from Horsted Keynes to Kingscote. A great walk through some lovely Sussex scenery. We recorded butterfly species along the way to fill in some gaps for the Sussex Butterfly Atlas. At Kingscote we jumped on the Bluebell Railway and headed back to our starting point. The sallow-lined network of fishponds just north of Horsted Keynes looked like a likely place for Purple Emperors so I kept an eye on the canopy as we passed by. Sure enough I had a brief glimpse of the Emperor high above the anglers - another purple square on the Sussex Butterfly Atlas. We now have 83 tetrads in Sussex where Purple Emperor have been found since 2010. Can we get to 100?

Dorset Remains Purple

Having spent the first half of silly season going back and forth to guaranteed sites such as Fermyn , Finemere , Bentley and Surrey , i can only agree with other enthusiasts of HIM that it has certainly been the best Emperor year that i have experienced . With this in mind for the remainder of the season i decided to concentrate my search more locally in Dorset . This has also allowed food rationing in my house to cease as i don,t need as much diesel :-) . With several surveys having been made by BC Dorset over the last few years , several areas of likely habitat were identified and HIM was indeed discovered in a wooded complex which straddles the Wiltshire/Dorset border east of Tollard Royal . I went there this weekend having been tipped off by a friend that the Emperors were there as he saw several whilst on an early evening walk mainly drinking from the ditches . The wood was alive with White Admirals and SW Frits in fantastic numbers including several valesina . Everything about the wood felt right although it was obvious that it is sparsely planted with broad leaved sallow , only finding 4 trees in the walk i did however they were all in good condition and in ideal locations for egg laying . It must be known locally as an Emperor wood as evidence of " baiting " was scattered along the rides . Finally after an hour of searching a Emperor was  spotted on the ground feeding on horse poo . It took off as i approached flying straight towards me circling twice , giving me clear flashes of purple then went up to the oaks . A minute later it was back and did exactly the same thing as if to confirm his presence in these woods . HIM is alive and well in Dorset albeit only just inside the border . I suspect the numbers have always been low here judging by the lack of sallow , but the four trees i have found so far will be worth a search in a few weeks as they may well act as magnets to the females .         

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Congrats to Bill Seagers and Nigel for cycling round Fermyn on July 15th and 18th on these -

Note diluted shrimp paste bottle 

They win the Hulme Prize for Eccentricity 2013.

Fermyn's non-purple males

Fermyn seems to specialise in non-purple males.  I think these specimens are simply lacking in scales and are not genuine aberrations (though we certainly need an official ab. fermyni).  Here's one male I photographed there on St Swithun's Day -

Head on this male was only this purple -

As opposed to a typical fresh male which head on looks like this -

I've only noted these unpurple males there in very hot weather.  Any ideas (in plain English)?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Assorted Doings

Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain all day - which means we can sleep all day.  Bring it on!  I'm seriously knackered, heading towards the end of one of the most memorable, and one of the best, of the 44 iris seasons I've experienced.  No prizes for guessing who'll win my annual Butterfly of the Year Award (it will take a massive Clouded Yellow invasion or equivalent to stop HIM).

Recent personal doings include -

Surveying for iris on the NT Slindon estate in W Sussex, which is next to the FC's Eartham Wood (which is seriously Purple in places, and well maintained for iris).  Great to find males assembling in scrub woodland at the top of the South Downs dip slope on Bignor Hill.  Stand at precisely SU97047-12809 and enjoy.  I managed to see 11 iris in all, including 2 females.

Had a difficult time at Headley Heath, near Leatherhead, where there's a known male territory at Bridges Oaks - only the males weren't settling in that territory yesterday afternoon, but wandering through it rather annoyingly. 

Linking up with Neil to survey an estate in Sussex which is so seriously Purple I'm going to have to move there.  We've got to keep quiet on this until we've talked things through with the owner, who's currently in Aus giving them a hard time about the cricket.  This is not conventional woodland habitat, far from it.  The implications for our understanding of the butterfly are significant.  Watch this space. 

Doings of note by others include -

Discovery of a small population on the NT Coleshill & Buscott estate in W Oxon by Dr Oliver Fox.  This is an important piece in the jig saw puzzle. 

Discovery in Hatfield Forest, just east of Standstead airport.  It may have been released here too but I've long been confident of natural occurrence. 

At this stage in the season the males are doing a lot of this -

Or if it's hot, this -

Congrats to Chris Tracey for managing to photograph HIM on the most appropriate part of the inscription on the Column (18th century bollox) in Savernake -

Congrats to me for managing to photograph this on a young lady -

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Catching Up (Part 2)

Saturday & Sunday 20th & 21st July: I spent a couple of very exciting days in the field with Matthew, surveying a large site somewhere in the depths of Sussex. We can't say too much at the moment, as the owner is out of the country, and would probably be a little miffed to find his land invaded by hordes of butterfly photographers on his return. We saw a very large number of Purple Emperors.

Wednesday 24th July: I started the morning at a beautiful, isolated spot just west of Petworth, where Michael Blencowe recently discovered a small colony. It didn't take long before I'd notched up a couple of males, so headed off to look (unsuccessfully) at other potential Emperor sites within Petwork Park. I'm sure they're in there somewhere, but the rarity of suitable sallow precludes a population of any size. In the afternoon I visited Springhead Hill on the Downs near Storrington. In the meadow and surrounding areas, amounting to less than a hectare, I recorded 24 species including a large Empress, observed laying eggs from close quarters.

The season continues to look rather good in Sussex, particularly following a couple of poor years for the species here. New sites have been discovered at Henfield, Steyning, Pulborough, River Common, Slindon, Burgess Hill and Ardingly in just the last few days. We're seeing iris well away from traditional woodland sites, over farmland, along hedgerows and on top of the Downs. Plenty of pioneering stuff going on here, despite what other commentators would have you believe!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

1] Disturbance of territories and 2] Ashley Whitlock

1] How does HIM react when his main territory is disturbed during the winter months? Does anyone have any experience of this?
One of our woods in UT is tiny: 0.75 sq. km.  It is on a steep slope, and the territory has been a very large Ash, two Oaks and some smaller Silver Birches, all within about 30m of each other, at the top of the slope. Every season we see, most days, up to 4 or 5 iris around these trees, with fewer further down the slope into the wood.
During the winter, as part of a dormouse conservation project, felling took place in the vicinity of these assembly trees, making them more exposed.
This July, we have seen fewer specimens at the top of the slope, sometimes none. What has surprised us, is that HIM seems to have 'decamped' to the bottom of the wood: on different days, observers have seen double figures here.
2] We commend Ashley Whitlock on his initiative to persuade members to survey more Hampshire Woods. Every season in UT, members go to new woods, and sometimes discover HIM, thus adding to the number of habitats. This is a very worthwhile activity. Of the 22 woods visited so far in 2013, three are new localities.
It takes great willpower to go to a new wood, knowing that you will probably not see HIM, when nearly everyone else seems to be going to Fermyn !

Is Hampshire Purplest?

From Ashley Whitlock:
I'm trying to get Hampshire the Purplest county in England, and with your help I could achieve this.
With such great records coming in thick and fast for the Purple Emperor I thought I could put my coordinators hat on and appeal to anyone willing to make an effort this weekend or the first weekend in August to the following sites as these have not had any records now for several years, and there is about (2) weeks flying time left now before they have burnt themselves out. The following sites are : Wokefield Common SU676651, Wellington Country Park SU714633, Queen Elizabeth Country Park SU729204, Crab Wood SU430295, Hen Wood SU664471, Ashford Hill SU727258, New Forest SU Anywhere! possibly along the A337 Road, Oakhanger SU780352, Squabb Wood SU333216, Stockbridge Down SU383344, Rogate SU805230, Butterwood SU716520, Blackwood SU536428, Harewood Forest SU403428, Church Crookham SU811522. If thats not enough to be getting on with then theres always Weston Common, Coxmoor Wood, Coombe Wood, Baddersley Common, Emer Bog, just to name but a few!
Obviously this will only appeal to Hampshire readers, but if there are any recorders willing to hop across their respective borders for Queen and country I would be grateful!
Ashley Whitlock
Purple Emperor Co-ordinator for Hamphire
Tel:02392 731266

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Catch Up on some Oversley Wood Sightings

Visited Oversley Wood in Warks yesterday morning (Monday 22nd July), for about an hour, and was pleased to see Emperors still flying above the perimeter track to the east and south of the wood.

All activity, which was concentrated into a 20 minute period beginning at 11:20, was as follows:
11:20 - 1 Emp flying around the top of a Sallow on east ride near the junction with south ride
11:29 - 1 male Emp flew into and perched in an Oak tree about 12 feet up, at the corner junction of east and south rides. Plus a flyby at the same time by a separate Emp.
11:30 - 1 Emp flying around same Sallow on east ride near junction with south ride
11:35 - 1 Emp flyby at head height towards the eastern end of the south ride
11:40 - 1 Emp flyby mid-way down south ride

As I've only just got logged onto the Purple Empire for the first time, I've also included some notes from earlier 2013 excursions to Oversley.

Thursday 18th July
1 flyby on the south ride at 1432 but no other sightings around the perimeter track so I walked up to the congregation area, at the highest point of the wood. Had 20 separate 'flight sightings' up amongst the tops of the pines there over a 22 minute period from 1447, involving a total 'seen count' of 32 Emperors. Think these flights represented a minimum of 9 separate individuals. All sightings bar two were at the extreme eastern end of the area, with the remaining two in the middle part.

Saturday 13th July
Visited Oversley Wood this morning for the fourth time since Tuesday, spurred on by the large number of sightings on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Arrived at abut 10, in full sun, and it was already hot - around 25C. Walked up the track from the car park on the usual route, turning left at 'the triangle' and following the track around the south side of the wood. There were several other people already searching and they had all seen HIM. One guy from Stourbridge reported that he had got to the wood at 9:30, had an immediate sighting on the track near the car park, and had already seen 10 separate individuals by 10:15.

My sightings were as follows:

10:15 : 1 male feeding on low growing vegetation beside the track - mid-way down the east ride

10:25 : 1 male flying low over the track, skimming the ground but not landing - mid-way down the south-ride

At 10:35 I decided to pay a short visit up to the congregation area, just to check there was no activity up there. Waited around for 10 minutes but with no sightings there, returned back down to the perimeter track.

10:49 : 1 male feeding on bracken just off the track - towards the western end of the south-ride

11:14 : 2 males, one low (7 foot?) in an oak feeding on honeydew, another close by down on track, briefly, then flying off down track in an easterly direction, stopping for a second or two at regular intervals - mid-way down south-ride

11:41 : 1 male flying high amongst oaks near 'the triangle' (junction of east-ride and track up from car park)

11:59 : 1 male flying high amongst oaks - mid-way down east-ride

12:19 : 1 male flying over track, at head height, occasionally skimming the grouind - mid-way down the north-ride

At 12:30 I returned to the congregation area, figuring that as activity down on the track was rapidly diminishing, then the emperors would have returned up-the-hill. As soon as I reached the top I saw one flying around the top of a pine, about 30 metres away from the eastern-end of the 'congregation area path'

Further sightings as follows - all at the extreme eastern end and all flying high around the tops of the pines:

12:45 - 2 flying together plus a third about 5 metres away
12:46 - 1 flying for 5-10 seconds in canopy
12:47 - 1 flying around in the wood, slightly lower - around half-way up from ground level to canopy
12:49 - 1 flying for about 5 seconds then immediately after, 2 sparring together
12:50 - 1 flying for 5-10 seconds in canopy

Monarch's Way

Having managed to track down his Imperial Majesty at Havant Thicket I decided to see if I could find HIM in a wood over the road called The Holt.
Unfortunately the wood is private but fortuitously a public footpath runs right through the centre and looked good on google earth.
The first section is across a farmers field but on entering the wood the path followed a wide way leave bordered by mature beech and oak with only a few sallows but they all looked of excellent quality.
It was around midday, so I took time to stop at each of the sallows to look for females and on my third stop a beautiful large female just appeared from behind and settled just inside the bush. 
Is it just me or does Herself sometimes just seem to arrive 'silently'  without warning?
I watched as she appeared to lay two eggs and then disappeared over the top of the bush out of sight. Unfortunately I was unable to examine the leaves in detail to see if eggs had been laid as I had no binoculars and was in work attire and the bush was in head high bracken!
And the footpath - why of course it is the The Monarch's Way the 615-mile footpath that approximates the escape route taken by King Charles II in 1651 after being defeated in the Battle of Worcester.
How appropriate.
Yet another area becomes purple for me in this fantastic season.

Brief Catch Up

I've been so frenetic, in what is proving to be an excellent iris season, that I simply haven't had time to post anything.  Very briefly, recent Doings include:

- Counting over 100 apparent individual iris on three consecutive days in Fermyn Woods early last week.  Please don't think that's an easy, or a sensible, thing to do.

- On those days the butterfly was scarcely going to bed, being up before I entered the woods at 7am and still down on the rides, or flying about, when I left (exhausted) at 9pm. 

- Driving my car safely over a feeding male without disturbing it, on two occasions.  It was feeding in the middle of the track, the wheels passed to either side. 

- Surveying some exceptionally interesting terrain in Sussex with Neil. 

The flight season has now entered it's second half.  Few males will descend to feed on the ride surfaces from now on, so look up rather than down.  He will become more and more of an afternoon butterfly, and more and more territorial.  Look for Herself around the sallow stands, especially during the middle part of the day. 

Here's a superb shot of a female entering a Sussex sallow bush by Richard Roebuck -

Iris on TV

His Imperial Majesty, the Monarch of all the Butterflies, the Emperor of the Woods, the High Spirit of the Midsummer Trees, the One of Whom the Nightingale Sings (to list but a few of his epithets) will make his customary appearance on our TV screens this Friday.

Watch the Springwatch Guide to Butterflies & Moths, BBC2, 9pm, Fri July 26th. 

Other highlights include His Grace the Duke of Burgundy's love life, and our dear and beloved friend paphia, the Silver-washed Fritillary. 


Letter to The Times

Our friend John Woolmer wrote his customary letter to The Times concerning the state of the Purple Emperor season.  This was published on Sat 20th July.  It's an excellent letter (sorry, but I cannot find an on-line link), stimulated by a memorable visit to Fermyn Woods, where 'during a five hour walk covering about 10km of forest tracks I counted an amazing 101 emperors.'  He mentions the re-occurrence of var. lugenda, and concludes: '"Vive l'empereur", as one Victorian butterfly collector somewhat incongruously toasted the deceased butterflies he had netted' before signing himself PREBENDARY JOHN WOOLMER, Cropston, Leics. 

At least one reader then had to look up what a Prebendary is...  (an honorary canon, I think).

It is of course vital that The Times receives an annual letter on the state of Britain's national butterfly...

John Woolmer at work in Lady Wood, alongside Japanese film maker Tomoko Take who is completing a film on the cultural significance of His Imperial Majesty (watch this space.  I'll announce it when it's ready). 

Catching Up (Part 1)

Finding time to keep my diary up-to-date has proven difficult of late, particularly as almost every July day has been sunny, meaning minimal time indoors. Even better, the Purple Emperor has been having an excellent season on most of the sites I've visited.

Wednesday 17th July: Back to Botany Bay where at least a dozen male and two female Purple Emperors were active. I trousered my eighth Emperor of the season. Some males were still emerging, with the very newest specimens showing that characteristic blotchiness over slightly damp wings.

I then travelled on to Straits Inclosure (Alice Holt Forest), where activity was really quite subdued. I watched 3 males 'oak-edging' and a further specimen perched on the first deer watch tower.

Thursday 18th July: I travelled up to Fermyn Woods for the day, despite knowing that the 'Big Bang' was over for another year. Although the very best period had passed, and the morning session was steady rather than spectacular, I was still treated to a very generous evening flight in a forest now empty of people. By close of play I had seen between 60 and 70 Emperors; only half of what had been on offer over the preceding days, but more than enough to please anyone. I trousered another 3 specimens, breaking double figures for the season. Many thanks to Mark Joy for taking the shot of an Emperor on my rucksack.

Monday, July 22, 2013

From Peter Farrant

sat 20/7/2013. had a day at the Bluebell Railway, East Sussex. 9F steam train pulling coaches, all very nice, on way back down line, we left Horsted Keynes station at 5.36pm, as we were travelling i was looking at the butterflies flying up as the engine passed, at 5.41pm a meadow brown flew up and a Purple Emperor with it , as we were not travelling very fast i had time to get my eye in, it flew along in line in a northerly direction over vegitation then turned to the east towards an oak and group of trees TQ 372 271 just west of Tremains Farm. very unexpected. also 3x male Purple Emprerors up ay Markbeech, Kent. Peter Farrant

The Wonder of Whitely

After reading Alan Thornbury's excellent blog, I was inspired to visit Whitely Pastures today. He had seen 2 males here a couple of days ago, one down on the track.
Whitely Pastures holds a special place in my heart, as it is where I saw my first Purple Emperor in the mid-80s. At the time my wife Melanie and I had been searching the wood fruitlessly and having not seen one had given up. We returned to the Mini only to find a male imbibing on our front tyre. From that day I was totally hooked.
Whitely Pastures is a difficult place to see Iris as the population is low density most years, the public use the wood for jogging and cycling and the surrounding area has been well developed with offices over recent years.
Today I struggled, but eventually saw 2 females. One at 13.30 purposefully gliding high over the main ride and another sallow searching at 13.45.
I did speak to two elderly ladies who told me they had seen 8, and then promptly pointed out a White Admiral saying 'There's one'!!!
Perhaps they had seen HIM, but if they had seen any they had all cleared off as soon as I arrived on the spot!

Two sides of the Emperor!

Roger Musgrove photographing both the purple emperor and me photographing the purple emperor!

Somebody else did take a photograph of Roger and me taking these photographs, but my unflattering pose would not put me on the front cover of Vogue!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

From Ashley at Creech Wood, Forest of Bere

Went to one of my favourite Purple Emperor woods today, and it didnt disappoint, mind you it took a while before I actually espied one. At 0907 one male was seen oak edging along the wayleaves in the wood, and then it all went quite quiet, the next Emperor seen was at 1045 another male oak edging, and then another at roughly the same time coming through the wayleaves and out over the ride. 1220 another male seen oak edging, and by this time I had decided to walk up to the highest part of the wood, and here I was greeted by a magnificent female who promptly flew around my head and into a sallow bush at 1220. Again at 1235 I saw a female egg-laying inside a sallow deep within the bush itself, she did actually come out and flew around me, and then disappear into the sallow again. Another male was seen sallow searching at 1245, and a minute later a male and female were seen in a chase along the oak edges heading west. At 1250 I then saw a bit further up the ride a female searching around a sallow obviously looking for a good area to lay her eggs.

 Purple Emperor 2013.jpg
795K ViewShareDownload
Purple Emperor 2013 (1021x1024) (798x800).jpg
504K View Share Download
 Wayleaves Creech Wood 2013.jpg
642K View Share Download

From Chris Rickards in Brittany

Slow, Slow, Slow start to the Emperor season here in Brittany, France.
The first male A iris was on the wing at Lanoueé, July 14 and concerned, i concentrated my efforts to A ilia.
Ilia is usually on the wing a week or so before Iris...
On the 14th, Ilia and Iris on the wing together, battling it out above the Salix... in our back garden.
A female Iris patrolling, diving and laying behind the house and 2 or 3 male Ilia resting high in the fig tree..
f.clytie is 50% this year.
Heart gladdened. All is well and the summer is fine.
Chris Rickards
ROHAN, Bretagne, France.

  From Ashley Whitlock
Working on a saturday is not good for the Purple Emperor sole, however I ventured to Southleigh Forest again after last saturday's venture there. I arrived in the wood about 1400, and immedaitly saw a Male on station flying around his vista, he was quite active flying in and around the large oak he was using. Despite the windier conditions and cloudier parts of the sky. I did see another male out of the corner off my eye, on another oak but they never seemed to meet, except once when they did clash there was a good chase at 1500. I had walked a fair length of the main ride and was quite impressed with the Sallow content of the wood, and the very mature trees. I did see another male in another vista further along, but he was just passing through I think. I left the main arena, and started walking towards the entrance of the wood when a female came and 'buzzed me'she was a magnificiant speciman, flying quite close to the ground and flying like the clappers along the ride. I suspect she was trying to get away from an amourous male there abouts.
Southleigh Forest Highpoint 2013.jpg

 Boot Power Part 2.jpg
 Close up male Emperor imbibing.JPG


From Neil Freeman
Thursday 18th July.

My son Chris and myself had both booked a day off work to go to Fermyn Woods today (Thursday), Chris having never been there before and his only previous sighting of a Purple Emperor being a fleeting flypast last year at Oversley Wood.

I had seen the reports and tweets from Mathew Oates and Gillian Thompson and their 100+ PE sightings on Monday and Tuesday and so was hopeful that there would still be a few around.

We arrived and parked up by the gliding club at about 08.15 with about a dozen cars already parked there and set off down the main ride which was still in shadow with the sun lighting up the higher reaches of the trees.
We had only gone a hundred yards when a Purple Emperor took off from the ride right in front of us :o . We had nearly trodden on it as we were chatting and not expecting to see anything in that first stretch on the ground which was still in the shade.

We walked on through Fermyn Wood, seeing a couple more Purple Emperors flying around the sunny upper reaches of the trees and carried on to Lady/Souther Woods.
Gillian Thompson had very kindly e-mailed me the location of some promising animal droppings that had been ‘laced’ with shrimp bait, including some Fox scat that we first made our way towards. On our way we saw a few more Emperors including some on the ground being photographed by fellow enthusiasts and took some photos ourselves.
We found the fox scat easily thanks to Gills directions and approaching slowly were pleased to see it occupied by three PEs with a fourth one on the ground a few yards away.
Fermyn 18.07.2013 038resize.JPG
Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Fermyn 18.07.2013 049resize.JPG
Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Fermyn 18.07.2013 066resize.JPG
Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We had already taken some photos of Purple Emperors on various ‘piles of pooh’ but I was keen to get some more shots on different backgrounds if possible, so we carried on, at one point meeting Sussex and UKBs own Neil Hulme on is little bike who stopped for a brief chat, great to finally meet up in such a fantastic place.

We had already noticed a few dried up patches on the paths that looked like they had been baited over the past few days and at one junction towards the southern end of the woods found one such patch occupied by two male Purple Emperors and a Red Admiral.
Fermyn 18.07.2013 110resize.JPG
Emperors and Admiral - Fermyn 18.07.2013

This gave Chris a chance to prostrate himself in worship of HIM, and take a few photos whilst he was down there.
Fermyn2 18.07.2013 006resize.JPG
Chris prostrating himself before HIM

I also got down but the articulated screen on my FZ150 made things a little easier for me.
Fermyn 18.07.2013 087resize.JPG
Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Fermyn 18.07.2013 096resize.JPG
Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Fermyn 18.07.2013 116resize.JPG
Purple Emperors - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We then retraced our steps back to the Lady/Souther/ Greenside circuit and wandered around there for the rest of the morning seeing loads of PEs, often up to four down within view along the rides at once. By mid-morning they were tending to keep their wings closed in the heat and only briefly flicked them open, even when we put our shadows over them.
Fermyn 18.07.2013 147resize.JPG
One in the foreground, one in front of Chris and another out of shot in the trees to the left.

Fermyn 18.07.2013 149resize.JPG
PE cleaning proboscis on leaves.

Fermyn 18.07.2013 218resize.JPG
Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Fermyn 18.07.2013 228resize.JPG
Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

We also met Neil Hulme again in Lady Wood where we spent a while enjoying the benefit of his experience.
Fermyn 18.07.2013 232resize.JPG
Demonstration of technique

Fermyn 18.07.2013 243resize.JPG
Purple Emperor - Fermyn 18.07.2013

Around 1.00pm it was getting very hot so we made our way back to the car to have a bit of lunch and get some more water before heading out for a second session.

We wandered back to the Lady/Souther block still seeing plenty of PEs on the way but with most of them now flying higher up although some were still coming to ground, most noticeably in patches of dappled shade rather than full sun.

We did a slow circuit of the rides but after 2.00 things had noticeably quietened down although we did see some good aerial displays, usually of two or three male Emperors swooping and diving around each other. We also still saw a few on the ground, which normally would have been a good result but far fewer compared to the morning.

By 4.00 we felt like we were melting in the heat and we were on our last drops of water so we decided to head back to the car and home.

Whilst it was apparently a quieter day than Monday or Tuesday, both people wise and with fewer Purple Emperors being seen or coming to ground, this is a very relative thing and I still saw more PEs in one morning than I have ever seen in total up until now.

I have no idea how many individuals we actually saw and definitely saw some of the same ones more than once as we wandered about but we spoke to one chap who said he had counted sixty which is probably about the number we saw in total with a couple of dozen of those on the ground.

As well as the Purple Emperors there were also hordes of Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Whites, lots of Commas and Large Skippers and a good scattering of White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries. We also saw a few Purple Hairstreaks flitting about high up around some of the Oaks.

All in all, an excellent day and definitely one of the highlights of my butterfly season this year, one to remember :D
Best Regards,
Neil Freeman

Sunday at Straits

Arrival at Straits by 9.15 seemed a sensible option but the blanket cloud cover sowed a few doubts in my mind. Halfway along the ride the first Emperor appeared, a male circling an oak. The cloud cover was stubborn but did not deter Iris activity as we were soon watching up to 5 in the same area hurtling over the oaks. Eventually by the wooden tower up to 10 were estimated. This activity came in sudden bursts; action, a long lull, then more action. As the temperature rose activity became more frenetic, even with the cloud. One male came very close to grounding twice but pulled up at the final moment. A total of 30 were estimated altogether. Females were sallow searching from around 12.30 when the sun was more intense. Then all activity seemed to stop after 13.00.
Moving on to Abbotts Wood, 3 or 4 females were seen up to around 15.00 when we decided to have another go at Straits. Our final session yielded a male with a damaged wing and another female cruising from sallow to oaks.
It does seem behaviour is on the change now more females are present. The cloudy weather may have been a factor early on, but although a good show was put on,  it seemed more unlikely as the day progressed that we would see a male down.

Forest of Bere

I have been visiting Havant Thicket in Emperor season regularly over the last four years for scant return. The habitat looks great with copious sallow and Peter Gammage has made handfuls of sightings in the last two years. Having been on the guided walk with Neil and Ashley last weekend,but blanking on the Emperor front, I thought I would give it my full attention today.
 My previous efforts had concentrated on areas of previous sightings but also areas that 'looked good' - this time I loaded the bike determined to survey as much of the wood as possible. Starting at 9.30 I decided to take a path on the south side which is almost continuous sallow.  About 2/3 along the path to my surprise I bumped into a fellow purple enthusiast - Keith - who I had met at Alice Holt last year. As we chatted about his two sightings yesterday a male glided through the sallows making us both call out 'there's one!'

I spent about four hours continually hunting long the rides encountering five males including one persuing a female over the top of an oak and out of view unfortunately. Interestingly virtually all of the encounters were away from the places I had searched previously. I have identified two or three areas that are likely territories but no joy in these so far.
I also explored an adjoining wood - Bells Copse - adjacent the A3 which so looks very promising - I will be back.


I don't know how I got drawn into the Purple Empire; I think Mr Oates must have brainwashed or hypnotised me when I saw him earlier in the year. The realisation came on Wednesday morning; it had started of as a very ordinary Wednesday morning, but then I looked at twitter!

"Drop what you're doing & visit . Don't come later than Sun."

I think the word "Fermyn" was the trigger; perhaps it had been used in the hypnosis, because shortly afterwards I found myself on the M1 heading north. I'm not quite sure what my boss thought when I rang her at 7a.m. begging to take annual leave and disturbing her morning bath: probably not a lot, because she knows me well!

This was my second visit to Fermyn and I have decided that the sun must shine brightly in Northamptonshire! It was baking! I wished that I had arrived earlier as the paths were emptying of emperors, but I left four hours later glowing (men perspire, women merely glow!), smelling (of fishy emperor food), as red as an admiral, but contented!

I nearly did it all again today when I dipped into Twitter and read 'purple emperor' and 'West Sussex', but I think that would have scared Mr Oates as I've already pursued him twice in the last week! My aim had been to take higher magnification photographs of the scales and the eyes and I think I succeeded! Most of all, though, I just wanted to have another close encounter with this fascinating butterfly and listen to the beat of its wings as it circled round me, and see the sunlight on wings. I was not disappointed.

I felt that the emperor needed to have more pixels than other creatures on my website, so here is a new page consisting of four photos from this year and three from last. I might add more, but for now I hope you enjoy these.

Rachel :)

dispersal and behavioural changes with time?

We try to make rules about HIM at our peril! Nevertheless, with so many of us making lots of interesting observations, thus accumulating lots of data, there is no harm in trying. Matthew and Ken in particular, have a wealth of experience over many years, and can make an important contribution to this discussion.
Matthew noted in Alice Holt yesterday, that the males were almost entirely chasing around the trees looking for females, with hardly any low level ride skimming flights. We have noted exactly the same change during the last week in UT in several woods: in Bernwood one week ago, I saw only ground skimming flights, whereas yesterday they were only in the trees. In another wood [Finemere] there is a long gravel ride where all the photographers gather to get good shots of grounded specimens. Leading off from this track there is an even longer grassy ride, with no hard core at all.  Two days ago, a member saw six amongst the trees along this grassy ride, and less along the gravel track.  With a highly observant friend , however, I saw none along the grassy track four days ago. So, do the males disperse throughout a wood, after a few days of low level, mineral taking, flights?
Comments please.
I attach  graph showing how the numbers have increased in UT.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Alice goes purple

After several mediocre visits, over the last couple of weeks, I was not particularly hopeful about my visit as I drove up the A3.
The morning had been warm and sunny with a stiff easterly breeze, however during my half hour drive a blanket of high cloud with few gaps moved over, resulting in no sun as I arrived in the car park.
A couple of regulars were just exiting the ride as I began my journey down the track, and a quick conversation revealed they had seen good numbers at high level but they were disappointed at no 'on the ground' photo opportunities.
After about 200m I had already seen 13males frantically oak edging and sallow searching, which was significantly more activity than I had during my previous numerous visits, and I realised something special had happened.
In previous years I had found warm overcast conditions to be very profitable for viewing male behaviour, and with neck ache already setting in, decided to return to the car park and try to do an accurate count as I could and avoid as much double counting as possible.
I walked the whole track and between 11.45 and 2pm I counted and incredible 54 individuals 50 males and 4 definite females, two egg laying. This is by far the highest count I have had here.
I had one chase of four and two of three, as males repeatedly flushed others from their perching positions, and as one of these chases broke up the defeated male spiralled down and circled me, landing on my field bag where it stayed for five minutes to recover.
Oak edging males were routinely flushing other resting males every twenty metres or so and I witnessed numerous battles with purple hairstreaks - always with the same outcome. It was good to see Hairstreak numbers well up to too 31 in all.
During this time the only male close to the ground was the one that landed on me,
and I not see a single one quartering the ride, so I suspect that they have had their mineral intake and are awaiting the main female emergence.

After a quick visit to some of the territories I returned about 4.30 and true to form his highness 'had left the building'  with only a dozen or so sightings. 
The big purple bang had definitely happened over the last few days thank goodness!

From Alex Berryman

Thursday 18th July

Alice Holt (Strait's Inclosure)
5 Males seen between 0900-1100 between the car park and the 2nd Observation tower. Including 2 grbriefly grounded individuals at 1000. One between the two observation towers and the other at their favoured congregation point this year; from the car parking place walk approximately 300m. Before the path 'dips' on the right hand side there is a small clearing (more of a layby!) and another 10m or so on there is a dead tree. The Purple Emperors seem to be favouring the oaks behind this dead tree and are grounding themselves daily in the small layby/clearing mentioned. have seen up to 3 individuals here the past few days.

Friday 19th July

Botany Bay
No males seen grounded by myself but one reported at the high point 0915. Several butterflies in flight however including:
1m at high point,
1m at 'the triangle'
3m and 1f along path that runs south west from the triangle.

From Bill Seager
Thursday 18th July 2013 – Fermyn.
By 14.40 the ground activity (by both Emperors and humans) had diminished to the odd individual sighting around the complex. However, there was still plenty to observe around the sallows and tree tops, and we dismounted from our bikes and switched to “Long Lens” mode with the accompanying neck-ache hazard. Our observation point was at the corner of a good stand of oaks along the ride to Souther Wood, where previously these were thought to be “Master” trees (SP975839). Both of us had a number of sightings of behaviour described elsewhere as oak edging, when my attention was drawn to an amazing sight, of what I can best describe as a “shoal” of maybe 10 - or possibly more - Emperors, flying almost at tree top level, and in a gaggle, in the direction of the conifers (SP974841).
They seemed to move as one - but not in single file - dipping and then flying around the front edge of the oaks before vanishing from sight. I ran after them calling to my companion, but found nothing. To my disappointment, Nigel had not observed the phenomenon. It was all over quicker than the time it has taken to describe this behaviour, and I only report it because someone may see the same thing in future years - if we have such an explosion of individuals as we have experienced at Fermyn this season. I assume at least one of the “shoal” was a virgin female? I say shoal because of the effect of so many butterflies together flapping their wings in what was by now, dappled shade, gave me this impression. (The sun has left the path entirely at this location but there was still a clear blue sky above). We continued to watch a number of individuals and one in particular, defending his sallow against all-comers, before retiring around 4pm.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Purple Cambridgeshire

Over recent years Cambridgeshire has had several reports, mostly from historic areas  but appearing to be random sightings!

Today Andrew and myself located an assembly area in SE Cambridgeshire, in a 10km square where there have been no known reports. We saw two males chasing over the wood - it is a private wood. These sightings were about 15km from a site we found last year to the south!
Liz and Andrew

Four Emperors in a row

Hello all

Thought I'd share this moment at Bookham today with 4 chasing males in a single frame. There were actually five but the extra one just moved out of shot as I clicked. Regards Rob

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Assorted Doings...

Briefly -

Savernake Forest, Wilts:  Delighted to count 15 males in the territories I monitor along Three Oak Hills Drive today.  That's good by Sav's standards. 

Firestone Copse, Isle of Wight:  Congrats to Colin Thornton for turning up iris in Firestone Copse on the Island.  Although many of the best sallows were cut back 2-3 years ago the site still looks good and the rediscovery of the butterfly on the Island was long overdue.

Hatfield Forest, Essex:  3 recently seen and photographed here.  Not surprised at all, looks highly suitable.

Bradfield Woods, Suffolk:  Apparently it's been seen here recently, and this is apparently not an introduction site (clarification needed please).