Friday, August 30, 2013

Recent Doings

Today I made a brief return to the Wiltshire Wood to check up on Egbert, Blackadder and Baldrick. All are doing well, but only Baldrick was on the same leaf. And Baldrick's no longer "bald" (and therefore technically "Rick") now that he's changed into his second instar and his horns have appeared. I also managed to find one of the other first instar larvae and watched it move off its seat pad to feed on the same leaf, before it returned back to base!
Purple Emperor larva - 1st instar munching away

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Egg Lay

It looks very much as though iris has laid a remarkable number of eggs this year, and has wandered far and wide in the process. 

Searching for larvae from early Sept through to late Oct after good egg lay flight seasons is an efficient way of finding new colonies.  The larval damage, around leaf tips, is quite salient.  Concentrate on bushes with mid-green coloured foliage which is soft and matt in texture.  Avoid foliage exposed to mid day sun.

As well as carrying on my monitoring of egg / larval numbers in and around Savernake I'm going to visit some places where the butterfly has not recently been recorded, outside the butterfly's current known range.  I particularly want to declare Swindon, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Purple...

Today, I'm fairly certain I saw an adult iris, briefly and at a distant, gender uncertain, 20 mins after Pete Eeles left me.  The trouble is that it didn't return, suggesting it wasn't male.  Was it a vision or a waking dream? 

Three in a Row

For the third day in a row I've visited the Wiltshire Wood - this time in the wonderful company of Matthew Oates. What a superb day - definitely one of my "top" butterflying days of the year, despite failing to see a single adult butterfly (immature stages are equally, if not more, fascinating)! Matthew is clearly very experienced in finding the immature stages of iris, and turned up quite a few larvae (and an egg) that I'd completely missed the previous two days - sometimes found based on feeding damage or, believe it or not, the remnants of the egg base! But the highlight was definitely picking up so many tips from Matthew - who explained the importance of tree species, tree position, shade, shelter, leaf size, leaf colour, leaf "thwackiness" (the sound a leaf makes when you flick it), the significance of mildew and so on. I feel a lot more knowledgeable than I did at the start of the day for sure!

After 3 hours of searching, the "stats" are that we found 22 larvae and 1 egg, with an incredible 11 larvae (and the egg) on the same tree. Aside from the egg, approximately half of the larvae found are in their 1st instar, and the others in their 2nd. Matthew also found a larva that had only just changed into its 2nd instar and had yet to devour its old skin (photo below). Given the number of larvae, I've stopped naming them after Blackadder characters with the intention of following them through to adulthood, and will stick with Egbert, Baldrick and Blackadder for the time being! And my thanks to Matthew for being so generous with his time and knowledge.

1st instar larva
2nd instar larva surviving the drizzle
2nd instar larva in its own private water droplet
2nd instar larva
2nd instar larva found on a discoloured leaf that looked totally unsuitable!
Larva that has just changed into its 2nd instar
The master at work!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wiltshire Wood - Part 2

This stuff is addictive - as evidenced by others that have succumbed to iris and I can see myself making several trips over the autumn and winter to check up on progress! And my first return visit was today; I just had to go back to see whether or not that egg had hatched and, indeed, it had! And so welcome to the world, Egbert :) (I needed something to remind me that I found him as an egg!). When I found him he had eaten all of his eggshell and had moved to an adjacent leaf and was spinning up a silk pad. By the time I'd left he'd finished and had turned himself around to face the base of the leaf.
Purple Emperor - larva - Wiltshire Wood - 24-Aug-13.jpg
Purple Emperor - larva - Wiltshire Wood - 24-Aug-13-5.jpg
Purple Emperor - larva - Wiltshire Wood - 24-Aug-13-4.jpg
What I didn't realise is that the larvae will sit on the edge of a curled leaf and out of sight - something I hadn't been checking. And so I thought "this must be a good tree since Egbert's mum selected it" and almost immediately found another larva - this time a 2nd instar larva with horns, and clearly the result of a different set of parents given the difference in age. I've christened this chap "Blackadder" for no other reason that I wanted to christen the first larva I found yesterday "Baldrick" since he's missing his "horns" and is therefore "bald". Anyway - something that will help me remember what stage/instar I found these guys in! Almost all Blackadder characters :)
Purple Emperor - larva - Wiltshire Wood - 24-Aug-13-6.jpg

Friday, August 23, 2013

Notes and Views from a Wiltshire Wood

Given the "explosion" of Purple Emperor sightings this year, I figured that this has to be the year to go looking for the immature stages - especially since I've never found them in the wild before. The rationale is that if I can't find them this year, I never will! And so I set off this morning to a Wiltshire wood known for its iris population. After 10 minutes of getting my bearings, I headed off down a forest ride, looking at any sallow that was in full or partial shade, as well as the shaded areas of sallows that were in full sun (which is normally "deep inside" the sallow). I don't know if it's beginner's luck, but the 3rd sallow I searched (Salix caprea) had a 1st instar larva (at least, I think it's 1st instar) sitting on a leaf tip, facing toward the base of the leaf (which showed characteristic feeding damage). After another hour of searching I finally found an egg with the caterpillar fully-formed inside and is probably going to hatch within hours! So - 2 immature stages in 2 hours - not the best of records but not bad for a beginner with this species:)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Over in Savernake?

No males seen in favoured territories in Savernake today, and I looked in earnest.  Sunday's male was absent.  Looks like the season may be over there.

BUT, this year's egg lay looks immense.  I've only just started searching for eggs & larvae in Savernake (today was my first proper session) but already, in three hours of actual searching, I have found as many as I found there during the whole of the 2012 larval-hunting season (i.e. some 40 hours of actual searching time). 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Negative in Herts & Middx :(

We visited both the St Vincents territory at Ruislip and the Northaw territory today with no Purple Emperors being seen - we didn't look for females though

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Purple Emperor still flying in Hertfordshire

Andrew and I watched the Northaw territory from 2.30 to 3.30 this afternoon, where a slightly faded male Purple Emperor continued to entertain us with numerous flights and perching up for us to see him clearly. He was accompanied by numerous Purple Hairstreak, more than we had seen all season.

We hope to have another look during the week

Competition to see Last Iris of the Year

This probably my last iris of the great 2013 Purple Emperor season, a worn but very active male seen today in the favoured territory in Savernake.  No others were seen, and I searched a sizeable area for males and females.  He was all alone at the party with nothing to beat up, not even a bumble bee. 

Any later sightings?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Iris in Dorset

Our thanks to Roger Smith (87 and bright as a button) and his intrepid friends for the following info from Dorset.

There seems to be a population around Minterne Magna, north of Cerne Abbas.  Singletons have been seen three years running in Minterne Magna gardens, including two together on Aug 2nd.  There are no large woods in this area, but a matrix of copses and wood belts.  Sallow consists almost exclusively of narrow-leaved varieties.

On July 17th this year one male was seen at Deadmoor Common, near to where one was seen in 2009.  Again, the sallow resource consists almost exclusively of small-leaved narrow-leaved sallows (Salix cinerea).

In addition, the butterfly has been seen for the last three years near Newtown in Cranborne Chase, with a max of 10 on a day in mid July this year.  This is despite loss of sallows due to forestry work.  

Finally, one was seen almost in Hampshire near Alderholt on 8th Aug.

Dorset continues to establish its Purple credentials.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Purple Emperor still on territory in Hertfordshire

This afternoon at 3pm having arrived 5 minutes earlier a Purple Emperor flew around the Northaw territory. This was repeated on several more occasions until heavy cloud arrived at 3.20 and we left. Liz and Andrew

Monday, August 12, 2013

Birthday Cake...

I can't possibly cut it!!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Double Purple

A beautiful double purple at Fermyn from Brian Smith:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

From Piers
Iris is without doubt the most variable nymphalid to grace Albion's fair shores. It is, for some (as yet unexplained) reason, extremely prone to aberrations precipitated by environmental influences.
When one considers the quantity of iris aberrations seen in most seasons as a percentage of the total number of iris butterflies observed (and determined to be of typical form), the percentage of butterflies that are aberrant has to be significant.
This is brought into sharp relief when one considers the explosion of peacocks that we shall see this summer: There shall, without doubt, be one or two 'blind' examples around (much like there were in 2009); however, the percentage of aberrants in the Peacock shall be significantly less than are found in iris during an average iris season
From David Halford

I live in North Herts, between Baldock and Stevenage, on the edge of a village overlooking fields and woodland. I have today found a live female Emporer butterfly in my greenhouse. It is now outside, looking a little bit dazed! I have taken a photo of it for posterity. This is the first time I have seen such a butterfly since moving here in 1988.
Is this a rare sighting for this part of the world?
David Halford

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Struggle At Bentley

A quick visit to Bentley Wood today in quite breezy conditions and was apparent that its almost over there . SW Frits on the decline and no White Admirals to be seen . On the iris front it was hard work with only 2 females seen , possibly the same one  , sitting firm in the canopy and when she did take flight was at the mercy of the wind , unable to battle against it being blown over the tree tops not to reappear again . Roll on July 2014 .    

100 Not Out

Congratulations to the iris surveyors of Sussex. Below is a posting to the BC Sussex website by Michael Blencowe, declaring the 104th 2Km x 2Km tetrad Purple. This has all been achieved in just the last four seasons. A magnificent effort!

"....And Johnson takes the century! At close of play yesterday Neil Hulme's impressive Emperor tally had taken us tantalisingly close to 100 tetrad (2km x 2km) squares in Sussex which contain a record of the Purple Emperor.

Paul Johnson has been helping with the atlas on the Sussex / Kent border near Tunbridge Wells and emailed in his 2013 records today. By his own admission Paul's been having a good season up there in his local patch and his records of Purple Emperor from the Hartfield / Eridge Green / Frant area have now added 5 new tetrads to our total - taking us past the 100 mark and beyond! Getting over 100 tetrads for such an elusive butterfly is quite an impressive feat - my goal was to try and get over 50 tetrads over the 2010-14 survey period. With a total of 1024 tetrads in Sussex this now means that your nearest tree has a 1 in 10 chance of having a Purple Emperor on top of it. Admittedly these odds are rather skewed to West Sussex which, it seems, is home to 80% of our Sussex Emperors. Thanks again to Paul for his records and for everyone who has contributed. The sun's still shining and the Emperor is still flying - can we get to 200 by the end of the weekend?"

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Still Going Strong in Savernake

Today I held an impromptu (why is this word spelt im... when it's derived from the Latin in promptu?) picnic party at The Column in Savernake, attended by 20 or so friends and relations.

His & Her Imperial Majesties were of course guests of honour, and duly appeared.  First, I saw a mature but good-looking female lay an egg in a sallow off the ride, then a worn but majestic female flew low and slow over all our heads, and away eastwards, almost without wing beat.   

After a cloudy spell, and a lot of Pimms, most of the group sauntered off in search of males - for at this stage in the flight season you seldom see males around The Column itself.  A tour of nearby territories along Three Oak Hill Drive produced a tally of eight males, including two pursuing a female.  The males were faded and a bit frayed but were very active - two were beating the hell out of each other at the Dead Beech Glade. 

Conclusion: there must be 10 days left in the flight season here, certainly a week. 

Also, we really ought to have a competition to see who can record the last iris of the year.

And as for parties, we should have an annual Towards the End of the Season Party in Savernake. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

From Piers Vigus

At this time of year it's not unusual to see pathways beaten through the ride-side brambles (and similarly inconvenient vegetation) as devotees of iris early-stages risk ticks and prickles in search of eggs and early instar larvae.
However, please could whoever was engaged in just this activity in one south Wiltshire wood (Roy Stockley's old stomping ground as it happens) try to avoid tearing off entire limbs in pursuit of these little gems.
Having been unable to resist the temptation to have a good look at the broken branches (although I would rather have continued with my walk), I was rewarded with the discovery of two iris ova on one sallow leaf.
In captivity, the female insect is remarkably unfussy, and paps them out all over the shop; on the sallow leaves, on the netting, on just about anything that's to hand; but in the wild it would seem that she's much more discriminating.
What, I wonder, is the record for the highest number of ova discovered on one sallow leaf in the wild..?

Monday, August 5, 2013

From Ashley Whitlock
Ive just received a great phone call from a Malcolm Hill who is a keen bird watcher and I met him a couple of weeks ago in Havant Thicket and he asked me what I was looking I had my binoculars around my neck. And after a 30 minute conversation, he got quite rapped up in the Purple Empire, and as he was a local he said he would contact me if he saw any. Anyway he was in Havant Thicket yesterday at about mid-day, and he was at the Assembly point area at Horsefoot Hill, he near some good  sallow stands, when he saw a female actually laying her eggs. He also found one of the eggs on the sallow leaf which he thought was really marvellous. He actually espied two females there on the 4th August, so things are still not over yet in Hampshire. So nice to convert somebody to the Purple persuasion!

50 Years of Butterflying

This week I'm celebrating my first 50 years of butterflying (I haven't really started yet, just been mucking about...).  A series of celebratory events are happening, including a small and informal picnic (plus a large jug of Pimms) around The Column in Savernake Forest, one of my many spiritual homes, at 2pm on Thurs Aug 8th.  All People of Purple Persuasion most welcome.  Clothing optional. 

I'm also going to be 60, which means I get Free Drugs and Busses, neither of which I particularly want.  The Guest of Honour will, of course, be His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of the Woods -

needle in a haystack

First of all congrats to MO for his 50 continuous iris months in the wild. My COD is that I'm unable to leave eggs/larvae in situ; I have to bring them home for protection, and then release the adult back into the wood of origin.
Concerning looking for eggs and larvae at this time of the year. The woods I go to  vary enormously with respect to the amount of Sallow. The one where I saw, with a friend, 30+ adults in 2.5 hours on 17th July has, literally, wall to wall Sallow: most of the rides are lined with Salix, shoulder to shoulder, in all its hybrid forms. Where do you start to look for the early stages? Although the number of females in this wood are probably the highest for the woods around here [mid-Bucks], their eggs are distributed among hundreds of Sallows, and are therefore not easy to find at all......classic needle in a haystack.
On the other hand, I've been to another wood close by, twice in the last few days, and have found 3 eggs and 6 larvae, on just three Sallows. In fact, these are three of the four [only!] suitable Sallows I've found along two very long rides. Clearly, if a female is looking to oviposit, she will lay eggs on the few available and suitable Sallows. Moral of the story: choose a wood with not too many Sallows.

Savernake Emperor pictures

Sunday, August 4, 2013

From Ashley and Jackie Whitlock

Date: 03 August 2013
Weather: Windy at times, Large amounts of cloud, sunny periods
Temperature: 65-70f
Recorders: Ashley & Jackie Whitlock
Abbott Wood Inclosure
Despite the weather which was very windy at times, with periods of complete calm when the sun shone, there was a lot of butterflies about, with Silver-Washed Fritillaries, which looked as if they had hatched yesterday, and there was also some Purple Hairstreaks to be seen, with several seen flying in and around the base of the tree line of several of the oaks. Unfortunately the White Admiral seems to have succumbed to the bad weather at the end of the July.
As for ‘him’ well one was seen at the top of an oak battling against the wind trying to ‘oak’ edge, but seemed to give up and dived into an oak sprig thicket at 1050. As I walked just along the main ride the wind seemed to be taking charge, and there wasn’t much at the tree tops at all, probably why the Purple Hairstreaks were down lower. Walking back to the car I espied another male flying very quickly in and out of the oaks along the ride at 1122.
I did go to have a look at one of the territory areas, but alas I think I was too early, and the weather seemed to be getting very windy, so seeing one was going to be a tall order. So here end’s the best Purple Emperor season for quite some time in Hampshire roll on 2014!

Oates's 50

Applause, please, from the members in the pavilion for Oates's 50: he has now seen iris in the wild, in one or more of its different life stages, in each of the last 50 months.  And if that's not obsessive behaviour I don't know what is... . 

The 50 was brought up today in Savernake by this egg -

I also found a couple of other eggs and a 1st instar larva, and briefly saw an old male resettle high up on beech during a brief sunny interval.  

All great Purple Emperor seasons begin and end with expeditions up north to see the two Erebias.  I've just spent a few days on and around Arnside Knott where things like this were going on -

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Took a long walk around Fermyn Lady Wood yesterday (Saturday) with my wife. Things are definitely winding down here. Saw just one male overhead. Still a few White Admirals about though, and a lot of Silver Washed, including a lovely ab. Velesina? I think that is the correct name, I had never seen one before.

I'd like to thank everyone, especially Matthew for sharing knowledge and sightings. It was thanks to him and his baiting that I managed to get this all-purple shot a couple of weeks back.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Still going in Upper Thames

The following report from Wendy and Mick Campbell, and the many recent sightings on the Herts and Middx website, indicate that it is still worth going out and enjoying HIM, although we are likely to see mostly Her Imperial Majesty. About 50% of the Campbell's sightings were females. The grid refs show that iris is dispersed throughout this large Oxfordshire wood at this stage of the season.

Thur. 1st August, weather very hot; sunny (30C), very humid.
Waterperry Wood, Oxon., 11.30am to approx 3.30pm
1 x PE f. 11.50am, SP60973-09990, very 'see-through' wings, flying over & landing in sallow.
1 x PE f. 11.58am, SP6097-0999 (very close to the first one seen), in very good condition, flying down low in shrubs 'hopping' from one shrub to another.
1 x PE 12.30pm, SP60632-09272 flying across track and disappeared over oaks.
2 x PE m. 12.45pm, SP60629-09238 at the x-roads half way along main track, flying over firs and then disappeared into wood.
1 x PE probable m. 1.45pm, SP60369-08937 tree-topping along edge of new clearing (near line of big sallows).
1 x PE f. 2.00pm, SP60200-08913 flying from sallow and off through a fir tree.
1 x PE 2.30pm, SP60428-09139 seen in flight heading towards sallows.
1 x PE f. 3,00pm, SP60596-09152 flying & landing in sallow. In quite good condition.
This afternoon, 2nd August, I went to Michael Reed's Oak in Rushbeds Wood [see yesterday's blog] and was happy to see two females enjoying the sap at the same spot, which answers my question.

three iris on Oak sap

Michael Reed sent me this photo from Rushbeds Wood [a Bucks BBOWT reserve] yesterday, August 1st. At one point, he saw 4 iris, 2 Commas, and 2 Red Admirals feeding here.
Question: am I likely to see this if I go there today, or does the sap run dry up quickly, and do the butterflies become sated with this rich diet?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

From Ashley Whitlock

I thought I would visit Havant Thicket today on the off chance the Emperor has survived into August in Hampshire and Im pleased to say it has, I saw one male on Territory at Horsefoot Hill at 1310.he was a put off by the breeze in the canopy, and flew around once or twice, and when he settled he looked sort of uncomfortable. 
He flew off at 1330, heading south, and he never returned to his perch, I suspect he was going to a better more sheltered spot, as it was really hot and very windy at times. Alook around produced a handful of Silver-Washed Fritillaries but no White Admirals.
From Dave Phillips

Just a couple of observations from the season that’s now winding down:
Large numbers of purple emperors this year in Bearshanks Wood, a mile or two from Lady/Souther woods, Fermyn. Getting better every year in this sallow-rich habitat,
Most unusual sighting was this Saturday (July 27), at a Land Rover show at Billing Aquadrome -- a riverside venue of meadows (and caravans... and crowds) near Northampton. Pleasantly surprised to see a splendid male flying through the noise and clamour, at shoulder height. It was on the move, flying strongly and did not settle.
David Phillips,
Wadenhoe, Northants

NOT winding down

Reports from Herts & Middx today indicate that our season is far from winding down!