Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

For the second year running I am delighted to have Apatura ilia specimens eclosing at Christmas time. These adults are the 7th consecutive generation (without diapause), confirming that diapause in this species is certainly not obligatory and that they can be continually cultured (availability of fresh food plant allowing). I was also very happy to have paired this generation meaning that another generation may yet be achieved. Many seasonal greetings to you all.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Purple Emperor at Cliveden

We are delighted to report, albeit somewhat belatedly, that His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor, was photographed this summer basking wantonly beside the very swimming pool at Cliveden (NT), near Slough, in which the late John Profumo CBE and Miss Christine Keeler once brazenly cavorted, to their ephemeral delight and the nation's eternal chagrin.  

In consequence, we are offering Miss Keeler a Vice Presidency of The People of Purple Persuasion, the Purple Emperor fellowship.  Here she is in purpuratum, if not entirely in flagrante delicto- 

It must be added that by His Imperial Majesty's moral standards Miss Keeler, and indeed the late Miss Mandy Rice-Davies, are paragons of virtue.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Super Race - Death-eaters...

Here's further proof of the development of a new super race of iris at Knepp Wildlands, The Death-eaters...  Just look at the skull markings on this one -

Photoed on Sun Nov 27th 2016.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Into Hibernation...

Some ten days into supposed hibernation, and they've been moving around quite a bit - this one moved 45cm between 14th and 19th November: it's been too mild, again...  We need some cold weather to make them conk out... (Savernake)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Emperors of the fens

In late July 2013, I read a report from the Great Fen Project web site concerning the existence at Woodwalton Fen of a "small population of Purple Emperor Butterflies" - and I suspect I was not alone in raising an eyebrow in surprise at this information.It certainly did not fit in with my belief in the type of habitat I expected to visit in order to see this insect. Come forward three years, to mid-July 2016, when Nigel and I have finished with our Fermyn patrols, and have travelled to Weerribben-Wieden National Park in the province Overijssel - the largest freshwater wetlands of North-west Europe. Discarding the cloak of Imperial Purple, we have come to see the Prince of Orange, a.k.a. batavus in his watery stronghold. However, within an hour of arriving, we are enjoying the company of an Empress, who then flies to a nearby birch tree to dine on a sap run. Local enthusiasts inform us this is not a common sight here, but during our week-long stay, we achieve plenty of sightings, including a count of six females on a damaged oak tree, which was also popular with atalanta. This spot proved to be very reliable for sightings during our stay, and we often made a detour on our bikes to view Herself dining on the sap runs. I can recommend this place to anyone who wishes to see batavus, although don't expect to achieve many sightings, as it is uncommon even here and many hours need to be put in searching the likely areas. It was also great to see Iris in numbers here too, and this insect appears to thrive at this time in the fen and broadland habitat so reminiscent of the wetlands of East Anglia. Perhaps both batavus and iris will thrive in our own country, once the Great Fen Project matures in the years to come, and I welcome the opportunity to see them in such circumstances...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Colouring Up...

The few larvae I'm following this autumn / winter are colouring up and wandering off the leaves. Some have undoubtedly entered hibernation - they're hard to find until all the leaves are off. In mild dry autumns they can travel several metres before conking out for diapause. Oh for a cold, wet and thoroughly miserable late October / early November, so that they only crawl a little way - but every year of my study that period has been mild and dry, and larvae have gone walkabout big time...

Here's Savernake No 10 today -

Here's the two main seat and feeder leaves of Savernake No 1, today, dangling from silk strands. This larva is probably in hibernation as it was on an early leaf fall sallow. Note the first / second instar seat pad & feeding marks on the broadside leaf.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Early hibernation

Of five eggs I found this summer, just one has (to the best of my knowledge) made it through to the big sleep. This is Kenny:

He left his leaf some time between 22nd and 26th October and moved about 1.5 m to his present spot, not counting any explorations and diversions he might have had along the way. Normally they don't go into hibernation before November in these woods.


Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 Egg Lay & Prospects for 2017

The final tally from my annual 20 hour foliage search for eggs and larvae in and around Savernake Forest is a meagre 16. This is the lowest count in eight years of standardized searches there, and is down from 21 in 2015, itself a low ebb. How the mighty are fallen - I found a staggering 179 there in 2013!

I wasn't able to conduct a thorough search at Knepp Wildlands, my other main study site, as Mrs O has been seriously ill. But the searches I was able to conduct reached a comparable conclusion - I was finding larvae at the rate of one every 75 minutes, which is poor by Knepp standards.

Last autumn I predicted that the 2016 emergence would be poor on this blog.  

However, the good news is that larval survival this late summer and autumn has been better than in other years, and considerably better than last year. So the prospects for 2017 may well be better, though much depends on winter and spring weather - we need a cold winter, then a late spring followed by a pleasant May and June.

There is always hope: the great Emperor season of 2013 came after I'd found a mere 24 larvae in Savernake in 2012.  

The few larvae I'm following are still wearing their Lincoln green, though they should start colouring up now. Here's one from Knepp last Saturday, spinning silk to strengthen the join where his leaf meets the stem - 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nicaraguan Emperor

Males of these fantastic South American (Doxocopa) species. Many thanks to my project collaborator in El Salvador"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

ditto Matthew re larvae

After Brother Matthew's experiences, I have given up searching long ago: with the help of the Campbells, only 3 found in about 10 hours searching in our best woods in Upper Thames. Worst season ever.
I have the three in sleeved Sallows outside and they show no signs of being interested in hibernating: still nice and green and munching away, see photo

Monday, October 17, 2016

More appropriate Clothing...

Sue Clarke found this gem in a second hand shop, and has no idea who the manufacturer is..  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Savernake Crashes...

With two or three sessions to go in my annual 20 hour search for autumn larvae in and around Savernake Forest I think I can categorically say that this year's egg lay is going to be the poorest I've recorded, in eight years of diligent recording.  

It all started so promisingly - as chronicled in my post of Sept 9th, but since then I've struggled badly.  The most worrying thing is that most of my alpha trees have drawn blank, and I've only got a scatter of low grade sallows left to search.  

Many of the trees I used to search are now too shaded, or they've grown so much that their searchable lower boughs have died back. That's natural. More worryingly, most of the generation of young sallows that sprung up following FC thinning works in the early 2000s have now been killed by squirrels - and the estate & the FC have given up on squirrel control. I've met with the FC about this and we're trying to work out what to do... We need Pine Martens and Goshawks to crunch the squirrels. I'm taking my cat next time.

So, at this stage I'm agreeing with Brother Dennis - this is a dire year for larvae...

I haven't started at Knepp as Mrs O has been seriously ill and I've been confined to barracks (Savernake).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Mimathyma schrenckii: Schrenck's Emperor

Adding a little of (predominantly) Indian Spice. L3, pre-diapause Mimathyma schrenckii larvae. Four of only ten such larval specimens currently in the UK. Currently feeding on Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Purple Jam

Further indication that the UK economy is improving -

Friday, September 9, 2016

Doings in Savernake...

My annual search for autumn larvae in and around Savernake Forest got off to a promising start today (albeit after I'd had a difficult time failing to find eggs around The Column in mid-August). I've started late as Mrs O's been ill. 

Today I found six larvae in three hours' searching, which is really quite good - and contrasts with Brother Denis's experiences. Maybe I just hit a purple patch.

I am confident that this year's egg lay was good, despite the fact that adult numbers were ~50% down. This is because the leaves were in the right growth phase for egg laying, for once, due to the latish spring. That's why the females were so (relatively) prominent this season, and so scarce in 2015.

All today's larvae were in late 2nd instar. One was skin changing, note the black horns and yellow collar -

Here's a great bit of larval feeding damage, diagnostic -

At certain angles, the egg case base (larvae eat the top and sides) stands out prominently, and can be more obvious than the larva - see top centre - 

This one's recently moved to a new leaf. That's not his feeding damage -

And here's another classic bit of feeding damage -

Conclusion: the 2017 Purple Emperor season is coming along nicely...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

another poor egg laying year?

2015 was bad enough, but, in Upper Thames so far, 2016 is even worse. Only three larvae found in several woods in eight hours of searching. I will be interested to hear from other regions on this topic.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Well Dressed Man..

A whole load of Purple Paraphernalia available from, including this tie, a nice tote bag and a Purple Emperor phone case.  

You'll need to add in the antennae...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Royal Festival Hall Purple Surprise

Whilst in London on the South Bank near the Royal Festival Hall having a drink, I looked down to see HIM at my feet. Had I had too much to drink or had I stumbled on a Roman mosaic in honour of a Purple Emperor? Neither, but it was nice to know that central London was paying tribute to such a noble butterfly, which could be admired by numerous passers by.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Last orders please

I am currently in the throes of putting badges in envelopes so keep an eye on your letterboxes if you purchased one or two.

They have now all sold out.

Thanks to everyone who purchased them and raising £40 for Butterfly Conservation in the process.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Who says Purple Emperors don't like flowers!

I have just perused the Dorset Butterfly sightings page and have seen a record of a female on 10th August photographed on a garden buddleia. Equally as interesting was the location, at St Ives near Ringwood, not a known hotbed for iris. It is well known that females will move some distance from their usual areas in August, I have seen wandering females on two occasions at Noarhill, Hampshire well into this month. Looking back over the Hampshire Butterfly Reports, I remember a male was seen nectaring on a buddleia on 1st August 1987 at Wellow. This is unusual behaviour but it might just be worth checking those garden buddleias, just in case.

Close of Play in Savernake

Despite windy conditions (this has been such a windswept season!) I managed to see a lone male in the Dead Beech Glade territory in Savernake Forest today.

He was decidedly inactive, such that he failed to launch at a Honey Buzzard which drifted past (don't worry, Honey Buzzard is already on the 21st century hit list). Emperors become less and less active with age. This old boy, who looked brown in flight, had a little spin at 1.10 and another, proper tour round at 2.54, only. This inactivity is one of the main reasons we struggle to see iris late in the season.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

last sightings continued

Clearly, the woods with the highest populations present the best chance of registering the last sightings; these are Knepp Farm Estate and Fermyn Woods. However, I get the impression that nobody is looking there now, which is a pity. The best wood by far in Upper Thames region [37 in 105 mins on July 20th] was visited this afternoon. I really went  to look for eggs/larvae, but in a 90 minute search I was unsuccessful. As I left, I looked up at the big Oaks at the highest point and noticed what must have been a male gliding close to the foliage near the crowns, landing frequently. I waited there for 10 minutes watching this behaviour: I wanted to be sure of this sighting.
I hope some of you can get to Knepp, Fermyn, or Alice Holt during the next few days: it would be interesting to record when the season is over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

last sightings and length of flight season

It is always interesting to know how long the flight season lasts, but it is impossible to know exactly.
As the numbers dwindle, our chance of sightings  diminishes; just because we may not see any, it does not mean there are none; it is the same with trying to ascertain the beginning of the season when the numbers are also low. This season in Upper Thames, the first sightings were on July 3rd, and today, 9th August, one was seen in Little Wood, Oxon; yesterday, two were seen here. The blogs from other sites indicate we are not finished yet. July 3rd till August 9th is over 5 weeks. Will we get to 6 weeks?

Monday, August 8, 2016


Two eggs, apparently of the same age, on the same leaf:

Around the woods, first instar larvae are setting out on the great adventure. I am naming the 2016-7 brood after South Park characters. This is Kenny, replete with hoody in the form of his half-eaten egg:

This is Stan's Mum the day before she hatched:

Females are still actively laying. Here is one taking a pause on a hazel leaf:


Saturday, August 6, 2016

One of those moments

Well what about this, returned from a great week sailing to sit in the garden in Ware with all the family having lunch when there was that sudden moment of..................Purple Emperor as a female floated across the top of the garden. Family look totally bemused and then it came back, circled the patio for everyone to see and disappeared between the two houses. About an hour later whilst in the bedroom I see it flying around below in the front garden. Another scream, fly out the house, husband gets camera and it lands on next door's house for a few minutes. Photo proof!!! What a day

Dorset Remains Purple

With just a solitary sighting of HIM on the 19 July reported to the Dorset Branch of BC i decided to have a look despite the season coming to an end . Sadly no sightings were made in areas i have found them before so i turned my attention to the sallows . Within a short time i located an egg which was sucked dry presumably by a fly leaving the empty eggshell intact . Nonetheless , proof that HIM is alive and well in the Chase Woods  complex of North Dorset .

Upper Thames still going with an increased chuff factor

The Campbells visited four iris woods on the 5th starting with a short visit to Waterperry, where a female was watched laying several eggs on one sallow. Over the road, on the edge of Bernwood, another female was seen around a sallow. Moving on to Piddington, they teamed up with Dennis Dell and very quickly spotted a male on the meadow corner territory gliding between an ash and an oak at the high point. Finally, on to Little Wood where two males were battling it out for the favoured high point territory. Lower down in the middle of the wood, three males were very active in a new territory, chasing away birds and insect rivals. A very satisfactory total of eight iris [6 males!] so close to the end of the season. Since it started here on July 3rd, and the season lasts usually 5 to 6 weeks, we are hoping to be able to enjoy HIM for another week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Extra Time at Knepp

I formally closed the 2016 Purple Emperor season at Knepp yesterday, when in sub-marginal weather I managed to see two males and a lovely lady, who didn't look a week old. She sat in the top of a sallow for over an hour, basking during light rain until the rain became too heavy and she closed up. Here she is -

Today, in even worse weather, I somehow managed to see 3-4 males and yesterday's female (briefly). One male chased a swallow out of his territory.

Our dream is, of course, for a Purple Emperor season without end...

Monday, August 1, 2016

Alice Still Going

A lunchtime visit to Alice Holt revealed that all is not over yet.
Straits Inclosure, and the Goose Green territory, in perfect weather, revealed nothing except a couple of Spotted Flycatchers and I did discover a nice female Adder which I nearly stepped on - so it didn’t bode well for my last stop at Abbotts wood!
After an hour of searching the usual spots, and some prime sallow I finally spotted a small movement in the top of a large sallow which turned out to be an inactive female flicking her wings as she was being annoyed by a fly. She sat in the same spot for 45mins soaking up the sun with wings outstretched, before flapping off presumably to finish her egg laying. I encountered two more males Oak edging and a further female, who looked in very good condition, who was looking for suitable egg laying sites. There are probably a few days left yet depending on the weather?
Kind Regards

on the wane in upper thames

Ten were still being seen in one of the good woods a few days ago. However, the top wood, where 37 were seen in 105 minutes on July 20th,  22 in 120 minutes on the 23rd, and 9 on the 25th, produced only 2 a few days ago. A short season by the looks of it. I too am expecting to find enough eggs to make a nice omelette. iris in sync with  the Sallow cycle, we are all intrigued and cannot wait for the book...........please tell us now all about it!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Doings in Savernake

Surveyed two parts of Savernake Forest today, though I was somewhat thwarted by cloud. 

Eventually managed to see 5 males in three of the favoured territories along Three Oak Hills Drive, including a chasing duo just north of The Column. It was hard work and they didn't kick off until nearly 2pm. None looked to be on their last wings and I reckon there must be a good week left in the flight season here.  

Here's a classic Savernake male, 'high on his lofty seat...' -

And here's more of the beginnings of the 2017 Purple Emperor season -

'In my end is my beginning...'

Friday, July 29, 2016

Prospects for the 2017 Season

With the present season now firmly on the wane, it's time to start looking forward to 2017...

The good news is that although numbers this year were about half 2015 levels at most localities, the females have been nicely active and the prospects for 2017 are looking good. 

This time last year we were bemoaning the lack of female activity and a paucity of eggs. That was primarily because the butterfly was out of sync with the crucial stage in the sallow foliage cycle. As long ago as last August I was forecasting a poor emergence in 2016.

This year, because of a late, slow spring, the laying females have been nicely in sync with the vegetation cycle (what I call the mid-green soft mat phase). Never mind the science of all this, I'll eventually explain it all in a book; just trust me, it's massive.

Those of us who search for eggs and larvae should be pleasantly surprised, though this wont be a huge egg lay year (unlike 2009 and 2013, when the egg lays were stupendous).  

Here's Herself depositing an egg two weeks ago at Knepp Wildlands -

Please note, this blog functions all year round, not just during the adult season...  

Prospects for the 2017 Season

With the present season now firmly on the wane, it's time to start looking forward to 2017...

The good news is that although numbers this year were about half 2015 levels at most localities, the females have been nicely active and the prospects for 2017 are looking good at this range. 

This time last year we were bemoaning the lack of female activity and a paucity of eggs. That was primarily because the butterfly was out of sync with the crucial stage in the sallow foliage cycle. As long ago as last August I was forecasting a poor emergence in 2016.

This year, because of a late, slow spring, the laying females have been nicely in sync with the vegetation cycle (what I call the mid-green soft mat phase). Never mind the science of all this, I'll eventually explain it all in a book; just trust me, it's massive.

Those of us who search for eggs and larvae should be pleasantly surprised, though this wont be a huge egg lay year (like 2009 and 2013).  

Here's Herself depositing an egg two weeks ago at Knepp Wildlands -

Please note, this blog functions all year round, not just during the adult season...  

Cotgrave update

Notts must now be the most northerly location for Purple Emperors, following their probable release in Cotgrave Woods, four or five years ago. The purists would certainly not approve of such activities, however, as an enthusiast who is used to travelling 60 miles to Fermyn Wood to see Emperors, it is wonderful to be able to see them surviving, if not thriving, in local woodland. The first emergence was on July 14th in the county and, here, they behave like "Fermyn" Emperors with lots of groundings and trouserings etc. The male below landed on my shoulder, trousers and boot before it rested in the foliage, nearby, on July 19th, and resumed the attack, as I moved on. As we have enjoyed very good weather since the emergence, with 2/3 sightings on most visits, hopefully, they will have a good year and we will continue to enjoy Notts Emperors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Middle Aged Thug of the Year

He may look innocent, cute even, but he's comfortably won the coveted Middle Aged Thug of the Year Award for 2016, for beating up, repeatedly, and with malicious intent - Common Darter dragonfly, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, a whole flock of assorted young tits (not all of which had attended public school and / or the Royal Agricultural College), Purple Hairstreaks (several), Large White, and assorted petty items of aerial biodiversity (bees, flies, etc).  

He's an inspiration to us older blokes...  

Male emperors change territory quite a bit, but this thug took firm charge of a territory at Knepp called Gratuitous Violence, which is between Skinhead Ally and Bay of Assassins. Most territories at Knepp have names (and numbers, for people lacking any sense of humour): as examples, Caligula, Serial Offenders Institute, Malicious Intent, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Syd Vicious, Brothel Creepers, Hells Angels: Knepp Chapter, Teddy Boy Cavern and Game of Thrones. 

When it comes to mindless violence Britain still has what it takes...

Beginning of the End

The Purple Emperor season at Knepp may just be showing the first signs of winding down for the year, although numbers are still higher than at peak anywhere else in Sussex! On 23 July Matthew Oates and Paul Fosterjohn counted 28 between them, which was followed by a tally of 23 by Matthew on 24 July. In good conditions yesterday (25 July) I could only muster 9 in a couple of hours.

I've recently been sent a few nice images of Knepp Emperors including: a male sitting in a sallow and a close-up of the ripening egg I initially discovered on 15 July, taken during a visit by my brother, Mark, on 20 July; and a male on a cowpat, taken by Matt Adam Williams during the 'A Focus On Nature' group meeting on 17 July.

The Brown Hairstreak is also now flying at Knepp, with the first seen by Paul Fosterjohn on 23 July, followed by sightings of 2 and 5 on subsequent days by Matthew.