Sunday, August 30, 2015

Larval Doings...

The larvae hunting season is upon us...  I have neither the time (in late July & early August) nor the eyesight to search for eggs, preferring to look for 2nd and 3rd instar larvae on leaf tips instead, from late August through to late October.  The disadvantage of this is that one finds failed breeding sites - egg case bases and 1st instar larval feeding damage, with no sign of the 'pillar.  That, to me, still counts as useful information, and occasionally the missing 'pillar is found later.    

For the last six years I've methodically searched for autumn larvae in designated areas in and around Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. The search area takes some 40 hours to cover.  

Last year's Savernake tally was the lowest in the six years.  I was fearing that this year may produce an even lower count, as adults seemed horribly scarce there in July, and so was greatly relieved when I kicked off with six larvae yesterday - on trees which produced two failed breeding sites in 2014.  That's reassuring.  

This week I'm going to spend three days searching for larvae at Knepp (and looking for Brother, or rather Sister, Betulae). The objective is to compare overwintering mortality rates at Knepp and Savernake.  A sample of ten hibernating larvae at both sites will do - anything more than 25 is unmanageable.  

If any Sussex locals want to join me on Tues, Wed or Thurs, even for the odd hour, then please come along (text 07771 971488). Warning: experience suggests larvae are not that easy to find at Knepp.  Any larvae found there will be named after Burrell ancestors (Knepp estate family) and closely monitored.

Here's a late second instar larva from Savernake yesterday - 

And a 1st instar larva skin changing there yesterday -

I also find a fair few of these, as Pebble Prominent moths favour the same type of sallow foliage as iris -

Watch this space, nothing might happen but watch it anyway...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Infertile Eggs

Infertile eggs are not that infrequent, perhaps especially after hot weather flight seasons.  Either that or I find every one laid...

This egg is empty.  I bunged it under the microscope at x 60 and couldn't find any hole, so it hadn't been sucked (by a weevil, or other malicious invertebrate).  The conclusion is that a male was firing blanks, or a female had run out of sperm...

(Fermyn Woods, 20th Aug 2015 - and I saw 14 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 2 old Ringlet and, incredibly, 2 old Large Skipper - my first of the month).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Knepp Highlights

Thanks to David Land for forwarding these magnificent photos of Emperors on the favoured sap oak at Knepp this July -

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dogfighting emperors

I'm a long-time fan of HIM but new to this site.  I thought I'd share my very grainy pic of a couple of upside-down male emperors, which I snapped from afar as they were engaged in dogfights above the canopy at Buck's Horn Oak, Alice Holt Forest, one day in mid July this year.

That was the best view I had of emperors that day, but a couple of days later my brother and I came across a very obliging male taking salts in the middle of the main ride in nearby Straits Inclosure.  I've put the pics on my Flickr site here:

Though I hail from Hampshire, I now live the other side of the world, in Tasmania, so I doubt I'll get another chance to watch the emperors again for a while.  But the happy memories will linger.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Late News

The Emperor season must have ended now.  It seems to have been rather a short one, curtailed prematurely by high winds and spells of hot weather.  Indeed, this was the windiest Emperor season I've known (or at least the windiest since 1973).  The flight season in Savernake Forest was remarkably short, commencing just before mid-July and only just lasting into early August - I had expected them to last to mid-August there, but they'd finished by the 8th.  

Apart from at Knepp, in West Sussex, numbers were at best average, and were generally comparable to last year's modest showing.  At Bookham, where Ken Willmott has data on male occupancy in the main territory running back to the late 1970s, it was another average year.  At several sites numbers were even lower than in 2014.  Strangely, the population at mighty Fermyn Woods declined significantly - not due to any obvious habitat deterioration. Knepp bucked the trend wondrously, and is now Britain's premier Emperor site. 

The butterfly was discovered or rediscovered in several new districts, including Hampstead Heath in north London and at Great Chattenden Wood in Kent, where the passion for this the best of all possible butterflies began, back in mid-Victorian times.  Great to have regular news of the Emperor in Notts and Cambs too.  And Gloucestershire has come out again, producing a male in woodland south-east of Stowe-on-the-Wold in mid-July. 

My guess is that the egg lay will prove to be distinctly poor, perhaps even down on last year's dismal figure.  Watch this space. Here's a recent photo of a larva, which has just changed into the second instar - 

Please remember that this blog functions all year round.  Keep posting things on, and follow the progress of larvae through autumn and winter, and into the spring - and next year's a biggie because it's 40 years on from the Long Hot Summer of 1976...

Monday, August 10, 2015

News from Hampstead Heath

This news came from Frank Nugent who has been watching the newly found assembly area on a regular basis since the beginning of July! "Reports of the Emperors demise have been greatly exaggerated! I'm beside myself with joy; here's my news: I'm overjoyed to report after no sighting whatsoever yesterday that the Purple Emperor put on a right regal show today on Hampstead Heath. Photos I took today show much wear and tear but you'd never have known it from his behaviour. He seemed extraordinarily active, first appearing at 13:11 and chasing everything in sight: Woodpigeons seemed to really aggrevate him, a Parakeet was escorted off the premises and Purple Hairstreaks and Red Admiral summarily dispensed with. Don't know what was eating him but he spent the day variously seeing off intruders and perching obligingly. HIM remained visible until 17:20 when I watched him leap from his perch and appeared to glide through one of the assembly trees to be seen no more."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

All OverAt Bentley

A 2 hour walk at Bentley failed to throw up a single Emperor . White Admirals also finished but still a few tired Silver Washed Frits hanging on , but not for much longer . That soon took the shine off England regaining The Ashes .

Monday, August 3, 2015

News from Cotgrave Woods (Cotgrave Forest) South Notts

Warm afternoon yesterday.
Patience was required to see two Purple Emperors - a male and female.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Struggle at Savernake

Arrived at Savernake at 11am and within 10 minutes of walking the main ride was greeted by herself leaving an oak and diving into the heart of a sallow, presumably to drop some eggs . Not a bad start to the day but sadly that was to be the only sighting of a 4 hour search ! With Savernake being a late sight I was hopeful of a decent day but it wasn't to be . As Matthew previously said there has been some extensive damage by deers to some sallows near the monument , with massive die back already occurring. Hopefully few eggs have been laid on these trees as they may well not survive the winter . On a plus note I did locate an egg deep in a shady part of the wood so hopefully the girls have made the most of when the sun has appeared over the last few weeks .

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From Ashley Whitlock

Today I took a field trip up to West Harting Down on the Hampshire and Sussex border, and at 1230 we had male Purple Emperor down.

 The best encounter we had was at 12:30 about quarter of a mile from the summit of West Harting Down when we had a landed Purple Emperor, he was a bit skittish at first and we were not sure whether he was a male or female because the Purple on his wings being a bit faded. He landed back on the ride after flying into the bracken and hazel at the side of the ride, and started imbibing. Its fairly unusual at this time of the season I thought and being 1st August, but here he was content as we watched him gorging on the ground for minerals. There must be a few more females to be mated with after I had seen one on Thursday last week. He kept taking off up the ride for a few yards and started again. And then back up the ride again he did this at least six times. He was with us for up to 12:50, when he finally took off near to the wheres that Assembly Point?