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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Knepp Update: Sun July 24th

The season continues to age, with the first Knepp Brown Hairstreaks appearing this morning - Betulae, the Herald of Autumn, already...

However, the Emperor continues to perform most admirably, though activity becomes more and more localised and spasmodic. I managed to see 23 Emperors today, despite much cloud. This included four Empresses - one of which sat for 2 hours 20 mins in an elm, before suddenly scuttling off, the minx.  

The competition for Middle Aged Thug of the Year continues to hot up. Today's entries would have made Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones appear compassionate. Watch this space...

Here's a lovely lady feeding on an oak sap bleed this afternoon - these so-called sap runs are often tiny features, mere bleeds - 

Sadly, and absurdly, I've got to go to work for the next three days - but my heart is forever iris...

Alice Holt Purple Revolt

I made the trip up to Alice Holt on 23rd July in the hope of some purple entertainment. This was my first visit to a Hampshire Emperor site this year, having been lucky in Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. I saw no Purple Emperors at Straits which had been a good site for me in previous years. I moved on to Abbotts Wood down the road, pacing up the track, nothing! Then on the way back a large female graced my horizon. She made her appearance at 12.50 from a large sallow and drifted off into the wood flying under the canopy, then lost to view.
I moved on to Goose Green, in the hope of an afternoon display, I was not to be disappointed. As I arrived a male flew past me and away, then the main performance began. Between 13.50 and 14.31 Males began soaring back and forth around the oak and Sweet Chestnut. One chased another away, then an unsuspecting finch and 2 Woodpigeons which flew over. It was an awesome experience watching them gliding in effortless slow motion, then powering up to speed off. There were certainly 3 but I suspect there could have been up to 5 from the directions of arrival. After hearing the news that Alice Holt was not doing well, it was good to see more than I expected. I hope the current warm weather will bring a new wave of activity as all the Purple Emperors seen looked undamaged and flew with vigour. Top entertainment!

Gloucestershire Report

From Richard Jones:

I found a butterfly on our farm that I had never seen before in my life which we duly identified we believe as a Purple emperor,  picture attached.

I see they are pretty rare especially where we are in Gloucestershire so I wanted to report to someone who would care about these things.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Golden Emperor

To be awarded for services to the Purple cause way beyond any semblance of sanity...

Today at Knepp...

 Iris is still going quite nicely here at Knepp, where it started on June 27th. Paul Fosterjohn and I counted 18 (including 1 female) on one of the two PE transects set up last year. That's as good as last week's count, though way down on last year's peak count.

However, it's now very much an afternoon and evening butterfly, inactive during the mornings. Today, none was seen until 12.10pm. They were then active until a little after 3pm, when they quietened down until after 5.30 when they kicked off again, finishing around 8pm. As the season advances they become more and more localised. 

The competition for Middle Aged Thug of the Year 2016 is hotting up nicely. Here's a photo of a Spotted Flycatcher before encountering a middle aged thug -

And here's the same bird after full evisceration -

Also today, a trio of Goldfinch was shot down in flames, two males blew up a Carrion Crow, and a posse of courting and squabbling Red Admirals was exterminated without mercy.  

Meanwhile, here's a preview of the 2017 Purple Emperor season - this egg will hatch on Monday - 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Squirrel Damage...

Today I searched unsuccessfully for iris in Haugh Wood in Herefordshire and in Dymock Woods on the Glos / Herefords border. Sallow quality is high in both woods, though they are both FC woods which means that sallow quantity is rationed. I was disappointed not to turn the species up, as weather conditions were perfect for performing males. I would particularly like Herefordshire to Come Out and declare itself in purpuratum. Maybe it will in a better iris year...

I was struck by the extent of squirrel damage to sallows in Haugh Wood.  In Savernake, almost an entire new generation of sallows that sprung up following FC thinning works along Three Oak Hills Drive has now been killed off by Grey Squirrels stripping bark, like this -

The wretched animals seem to favour the broader-leaved sallows, and female trees to boot - precisely the type of sallows most favoured by Herself.  

Is squirrel damage a significant issue elsewhere?

My cats have been instructed to crunch squirrels at will (they are already licensed to crunch tits).  

Tomorrow I'm off back to Knepp, having just gone two July days without seeing iris (albeit after seeing it for 21 consecutive days). Withdrawal symptoms are kicking in...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fermyn Report (14 July) - by Ian Armitage

Anxious iris devotees saw a break in the ongoing gloomy forecast from the past week and arrived at the same conclusion, that Thursday was the day to see iris in action at Fermyn. On my arrival at 10:45am, the sun was out and it was no surprise to see the verges of Harley Way rammed to hilt with vehicles on both sides of the road around the gliding club – certainly the busiest I’ve seen it in the 6 years I’ve been coming.
   But with an expanse the size of Fermyn and Lady Woods groups and individuals can disperse, and the huddles around grounded individuals were no more sizeable than the norm and cordiality prevailed.  For myself the track down Cherry Lap yielded just 2 grounded male emperors and a flyover at the southern exit.  Lady Wood proved more fertile and another 7 males were added (including one shadow flyover) before the sun vacated the woods around 12:45, after which I only added 2 more males from the Lyvden Way crossing onwards and back around.
   After re-fueliing with a generous slice of strawberry sponge at the café I made a second foray in the early evening sun.  Iriswas still active in Lady Wood with a group of 4 males reported having fish paste supper a short distance down the right hand leg. I saw two more iris imbibing at the junction of the two rides before being joined by a group from Cornwall and we made our way down the other side for an enthralling close encounter with freshly minted White Letter Hairstreaks. Their synchronised ballet, twisting and twirling parrot like on top of white valerian was a pure delight and we all agreed, a very satisfying end to the day. Returning to my now seemingly abandoned car at 7:15pm, the journey back to West Yorkshire seemed less of a chore.
   I didn’t encounter, or hear of any sightings of female emperor during the day. The paths off Cherry Lap were in a glutinous or sloppy state which suggests the wood had taken a battering previously, but the grounded males all looked in very good condition and with kinder weather now forecast from Sunday through until Tuesday they should still be available to show off to their adoring public

software glitch

Ian Armitage's blog 'fermyn yesterday', at least on my screen, is obscuring at least two other blogs from the last two days. Is anyone else having this problem?

Feeding Attraction Tests (initial results)

VERY encouraging initial general (feeding) attraction test results today, from a site in France and also from here at Fermyn last week. Although the test in Fermyn was only a short 15 minute stint, the feeding attraction mixture still easily managed to bring 2 males and 1 female down from the canopy. The attached photo shows the results from a similar test performed at a site in France today.

As everybody here is fully aware, females rarely ground, but exposure to this compound mixture certainly appears to help achieve this. I posted some GC-MS data of an Oak sap sample here last July which showed the consistent occurrence of a series of volatiles (red arrows) which varying only in chain length. The feeding attractant compound currently being tested simply contains a mixture of just 4 of these compounds which are highlighted with the 6, 8, 10 and 12 numbered Carbon chain lengths on the GC-MS trace file. It is proposed that the compounds work in a synergistic manner, so the more of them there are the better the response is expected to be. Considering this encouraging result I will therefore now order more of these compounds in the hope for an even better and more absolute result next time around.

It should be noted that this mixture is very different from the male only attraction compound and simply attracts the specimens to a preferred food source.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

News from Bucks

Extraordinary 'doings' in a big private wood in north Bucks this morning. Twice in the last 5 years this wood has recorded 30+ sightings over a 1 to 2 hour period. It is by far the best iris habitat in the Upper Thames region. The owner loves his butterflies, and his wood has the biggest concentration of sallow I have seen anywhere. All the rides are lined with Sallow, mostly the narrow-leaved hybrids. This season, until today, not more than 12 iris had been seen in a single visit here. Mick Campbell and I  entered the wood at 10.30. There was no sun at the beginning, and a hazy sun slowly developed, but we never had 100% sunshine;  the temperature was 24 degrees.  In the 105 minutes we were there, 37 individual specimens were seen: one every 3 minutes on average.  The overall behaviour of the males can best be described as frantic: they rarely settled, being engaged in either Sallow searching or Oak edging; they seemed  only to be intent on finding females: no territorial behaviour whatsoever, and much violent clashing. Several females were clearly seen ovipositing. The fact that the males were still engaged in Sallow searching indicates a late season here; a few years ago they also peaked during the third week in July. In all the other iris woods here, double figures have not been reached during any visit so far.

Battle of Britain replay in Little Wood Oxon

The messerschmitt was a faster plane than the spitfire, but the latter was more manoeuvrable which was in the end decisive. Mick Campbell watched a large dragonfly [messerschmitt] chasing iris [spitfire] over the Little Wood territory. It looked as if the small iris population in this wood was about to be reduced by one. Suddenly, iris turned, did a rapid tight loop over the dragonfly, ending up on his tail, and chased him off!. Very impressive.

News from Savernake

Visited Savernake today on route from Knepp to the Buxton Literary Festival, via an evening at home with my cats.

Despite a stiff wind in the tree tops I managed to spot six males in five territories along the upper reaches of Three Oak Hills Drive, in just over an hour. That's not too bad, considering the wind, and suggests that numbers there are a little better than last year. Had I visited in calm conditions I may have seen nine or even ten.

For the record, only a singleton was seen at The Column, which is where everyone goes to see iris in Savernake, though it is only a secondary territory.  Two males were battling away in the Dead Beech Glade, a primary territory 2/3rds of the way up Three Oak Hills Drive on the way to The Column.

The butterfly is probably at peak now in Savernake, though it's definitely on the way down at Knepp.  

Tuesday at Fermyn

The heat drew my butterflying buddy Nick and me to Fermyn yesterday. The site seems to attract a friendly crowd and we had some pleasant chats with fellow emperor enthusiasts who were kind enough to share tips and advice on the best spots.

It was kicking off nicely in the stretch of wood accessible from the glider club entrance, which we were directed to by a kindly gent to whom we owe thanks and who occasionally visits this site. If you read this, thank you sir and I hope your afternoon of paving wasn’t too onerous!

In about 4.5 hours at the site the quality of encounters with Iris was really good. We saw about 25 in all, a pittance compared to our inaugural trip to Fermyn last year, but this time we saw two on the ground, a wonderful soaring giant that we assumed to be a female, and enjoyed a few head-height encounters in the rides at Rockingham Forest.

There were Paphia in good numbers and a fair few Camilla too compared to my local forests.

A highlight of the day was a brilliant double-twosome, as dancing pairs of our two most iconic forest butterflies briefly shared the same space. First, we were treated to a view of two white admirals in what we assumed was a courtship flight (it was graceful and slow, and involved one circling the other like a much gentler and less exaggerated version of Paphia’s courtship flight) followed seconds later by two battling male emperors who burst into the same ride beating the hell out of each other, one landing on a Beech leaf in front of us at head height. All in all, a heart-stopping few moments. 

Another highlight was a close encounter with a male emperor who drank from my finger. 

Apologies for the guitar-talon on my finger! 

I’d welcome any corrections or advice re the encounter we saw between white admirals – does this sound like courtship flight, or are they so graceful that even their male battles look choreographed? 

letter to the times

Sir, Like many other butterflies the purple emperor seems to be having a poor year in the Midlands. Today in beautiful weather, a long, late-afternoon walk produced just six sightings (compared with over 100 three years ago).
Many other species have had a bad year. Around my house, I have only found one nest of small tortoiseshell and one of the peacock. These are just pupating — several weeks after the normal time. Other “garden” species like the comma and the brimstone also seem scarce.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Butterflies such as the ringlet, whose caterpillars feed on grasses, are abundant, and the holly blue had a good spring brood. In April, your columnist Matthew Oates wrote about a colony in the Cotswolds of the rare marsh fritillary, and when I visited in May, they were abundant.
The ups and downs of our butterfly species seem mainly due to the strange, changing weather conditions.

This year’s numbers are typical of ten years ago. Then a few seasons of abundance were followed by a rapid decline. We all hope for better numbers next year. 
John Woolmer

Cropston, Leics

Monday, July 18, 2016

Yesterday at Knepp...

Yesterday, Mon 18th, in heatwave conditions, Purple Emperors took the morning off  at Knepp (three sightings only) but became nicely active just before noon, before conking out in the mid-afternoon heat after 3pm.  

Then, they put on a good evening flight, from 6pm until after 8pm.  
This is classic late season heatwave behaviour. The males have all but given up sallow searching, now the females are all out, wedded and bedded, and are busy egging. Males now go straight into oak territory behaviour mode, though they do a little oak edging and general exploring, and change territories quite a bit.  

I watched three females - mature ladies - visiting small sap bleeds on oaks yesterday, one at 1.40 and two during the evening. Here they are -

Those were all 25-35' up in old oaks. The final photo was taken at 8pm. Shortly afterwards, a hornet landed on her, and she flew off in a huff, and went to roost in the top of a hazel.

Saturday at Savernake

After a change of plans managed to pop over to Savernake for a few hours on saturday. Arrived to be told that I had just missed a grounded male by literally minutes - was helpfully told that it was still there as I pulled up in my van! News was that there had been a lot of activity over the previous few hours. I didnt have to wait too long until one glided down from the top of a tall oak and landed on the column. It didnt stay for long but over the next few hours saw several more but all up high and gliding through the clearings. Could identify at least 3 individuals due to two having various damage on their wings with a third pristine looking individual. Gave up when the wind got up and clouds came in. In my limited time of visiting Savernake to look for Emporers (only got the bug 2 years ago), it was the most I had ever seen in one day.


Suffolk has got seriously busy the last few days!!!! Liz

Fermyn monday afternoon

Conditions beautiful. Few butterflies PE 6 White Ad 1. One very fresh perhaps they are only starting. I have Peacock caterpillars pupating only today. John W

An Egg Saves The DayAt Savernake

Arrived at Savernake at 10.30 in perfect conditions today with high hopes . Walked towards the monument checking every puddle along the track with no luck at all , then waited by the monument in clear blue skies again with no luck . To be honest the lack of summer woodland butterflies was another reminder how poorly everything has performed this year . Taking a long route back to the car threw up several Silver Washed Frits but no White Admirals . Second brood Green Veined Whites were egging but that was about it . The entire route i walked did'nt reveal a single Emperor today , grounded or fly-by . Thoroughly depressed i checked a hotspot where i witnessed egg laying last year and to my surprise on exactly the same spray of sallow i found an egg with the purple zone clearly developed . Considering the only report so far from Savernake was last Monday by Matthew and only two were seen , i was surprised to already find a well developed egg . In short , it saved the day but makes me wonder if the season started a bit earlier than thought at Savernake . A

nyone any thoughts ?

A couple of glimpses of HIM taking up salts, with a dash of paphia thrown in at the end..

Sunday, July 17, 2016

For She on Honeydew Hath Fed...

I rarely see Purple Emperors feeding on honeydew (aphid secretion on leaves), as claimed in most text books. However, today at Knepp I first watched a middle aged male doing so for 5 mins some 35' up on an oak tree, and then a female feeding for 10 mins 20' up on another tree. 

Both fed on single leaves, which seem to have been randomly selected. There can't have been much honeydew on the oaks this season, due to the weather and a general shortage of aphids. 

I am far from convinced that honeydew is a major source of sustenance for Emperors - it's too episodic and ephemeral in appearance, and most of the sightings I've had of Emperors probing on oak leaves were of males tongue cleaning (the equivalent of beak wiping in birds). Here's the female - 

Incidentally, there was another sighting of the Emperor feeding on a cow pat at Knepp today. The cattle here are organic and are not treated with wormers or dosed up with antibiotics. Consequently, the cow pats are biological rather than chemical entities, and we've recorded 23 species of dung beetle in a single Knepp cow pat - and now Purple Emperors are feeding merrily on the pats, like they used to. I hadn't seen an Emperor on a cow pat in decades...

The season is now well advanced at Knepp, with perhaps only one or two females still to emerge...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

End Of An Era

A recent trip to Fermyn was cut short courtesy of the 'Road to Hell'. But was a total of 10 hours in the car worth just 2.5 hours in Lady Wood? Yes, of course.

And this was despite the fact that my trusty steed, which has given such good service for so many years, is dead. He had struggled against poor health over the last few Purple Emperor seasons, losing his brakes, gears, and failing every risk assessment in the book.

We have now departed company - all three of us. I will have to return to bring home his mortal remains, as logistical difficulties meant I had no option but to leave him in some corner of a Fermyn field.

Thanks to Mark Joy for taking photographs when my old friend fell apart, and I fell off, and again when I repaired him, and then fell off again.

Oh yes - I did see a few Purple Emperors (7), bumped into a few friends, and had a great time. But Fermyn is performing well below par.

Would anyone like to purchase two beautiful unicycles?

Friday, July 15, 2016

And when the sun comes out

And when the sun comes out, After this rain shall stop...WH Davies ...The crowds will gather at Fermyn Wood. Which is what occurred on Thursday July 14 - the road running alongside the glider club entrance resembling the M25 in the rush hour. A personal record was achieved at the early time of 08.10 hours when a male Emperor investigated the disturbance caused by our entering Lady Wood. This was followed by a steady stream of groundings throughout the morning, when there was almost no cloud cover to spoil the scene. Purple Pilgrims were able to obtain photographs of near-perfect specimens as well as finding others that were showing signs of wear and tear. An added bonus for the Long-lens and binocular brigade occurred around lunch time, when one male Paphia was accepted by Valezina, and some good pictures were taken as the couple performed for over an hour in a shrub close to the path and only some ten to twelve feet off the ground. The freshly-mown rides to the deer hide in Lady Wood afforded the opportunity to observe some tree-top action away from the crowds. Almost immediately on entering the right-hand ride, a four-ship - you couldn't call it a courtship - occurred. The violence was only curtailed at 13.30 hours, when the cloud rolled in to cool their ardour. In the short space of time before the next sunny spell, the Empress may have selected one of these suitors, for immediately afterwards, two of the males were seen forlornly searching the same tree for her. The cloud continued to increase and the sunny spells grew proportionately shorter. We decided to head back to the car park and departed at 16.00 hours, but there were still people taking pictures of grounded males at this hour. The irony was not lost on us when, travelling home on the Oundle road, the sun came out strongly again, and was rarely obstructed by cloud for the duration of the one hour journey. Some 31 individuals were recorded, including the one female. The Comma and Silver-washed Fritillary populations have increased significantly from last Tuesday's visit. Purple Hairstreaks were also well represented. We also recorded five White Admirals, none of which seemed inclined to pose for a picture.

News from Nottinghamshire

Male and female seen at Wellow Wood in Nottinghamshire yesterday.  Wellow Wood is a famous old wood for Purple Emperor but releases noted there in the early 1980's.

No other recent records from the wood which is only about twenty miles to the north of Cotgrave Woods where PEs have been seen for the last two years (anecdotal records for about five years).

The first 2016 Cotgrave Wood sightings were also seen yesterday (14th July).

The status for both sites is uncertain.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eventful Alice

For the first time in a while the morning provided some decent weather - light winds no rain and intermittent sunshine so I headed to Alice Holt early.
My first walk up Straits yielded nothing, but as the morning wore on the crowds grew and the Emperors came out with five males oak edging and a couple having a battle over the ride.
As it was now quite busy I headed over to Abbotts Wood to see what was about - one chap was there and he said that a couple of females had been seen the day before but today he had only seen one male oak edging. With this information I thought I would check out some sallow where I had seen females in previous years and whilst peering up through  a large broad leaved sallow a movement caught my eye and I tracked a huge female as she found a MGSM leaf and laid an egg about fifteen feet up - unfortunately I had left my hook behind and couldn't spot the egg with my binoculars - but I will be back to check. Try as I might I couldn't track her further, and as always seems to happen, she just melted into the Sallows.
At about 12.30 I was watching a male oak edging when he perched on a prominent oak spray, after a few minutes a female casually glided into his path and he launched immediately. I watched transfixed as he flew in tight circles around her and she flew onto an oak spray. The male landed right behind her with quickly vibrating open wings and hers tightly closed. After a few seconds she led him over the top of the oak and unfortunately out of sight - hopefully to make next years crop.
I managed to fire off a few quick, and not very good, shots one of which is shown here and has been highly cropped. You can see the males vibrating wings with the female with closed wings - head on I think -  under the males left wing. In all I saw three females and a male at Abbots so Alice is performing quite well.
Best Wishes

Raymonda Hatches!

Raymonda, the Knepp wild pupa hatched today, after 25 days in the pupal state. She was found on Sept 1st last year, successfully hibernated on the 3rd bud down, and fed up slowly during late April and May, before crawling 4.5m up tree to pupate. It is likely that over 500 people saw her in her various guises, then five of us saw her emerge, set her wings and fly off into the sunset. She will get mated tomorrow...   

She was originally called Raymond, but became Raymonda when she pupated (I can sex them).  

Bentley Wood Update

I saw 3 Purple Emperors at Bentley Wood, Wilts today, all flyovers. Speaking to other observers around 6 or 7 were seen altogether, including one grounded male and a female photographed 20ft up. They are indeed having a hard time here, even the warden has only seen a couple within the last week. Yesterday there was a brief grounding (a few seconds) but according to the log only singles had been seen up till then. To sum it up numbers have been disappointing, especially with the number of observers looking. To add a bit of purple to this post, I thought I'd include a picture of this little beauty I saw on my way back to the car park.

Further to an earlier blog I wrote, I decided not to try and publish a photo of my "grounded" Iris at Knepp because frankly the pics on my phone are rubbish compared to most on here. Instead, here are a couple of better pics my lovely lady Kate took at Knepp. The SAP feeder let us get very close. Off to Fermyn next week, can't wait. Hope the weather behaves! 

a big thank you

Five of you have posted comments to my previous blog, concerning this season, namely its lateness, and the relative paucity of iris sightings outside knepp and fermyn.
This is an excellent use of this website: exchanging information and experiences.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Savernake kicks - or rather limps - off

I struggled to see two males in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, today, during a couple of twenty minute sunny spells. One was small and very worn, which is odd and worrying as the Savernake race is normally giant, and the season should only just be starting at this 'late' site. I am expecting the butterfly to be very scarce there this year, due to a poor egg lay last year, heavy autumn losses and quite heavy winter predation and damping off.   

Can we please have some news from Bentley Wood?

Meanwhile, here's a Day 2 male photographed in Straits Inclosure, Alice Holt on Monday. The butterfly has managed to survive the FC's recent massacre of sallows there, though it will be several years before a sizable population can develop again.

berks/bucks/oxon 3.7 to 11.7

It is understandable that this website has lots of long and detailed reports from fermyn and knepp, but these places are certainly not representative for the vast majority of iris habitats.
Here, in the Upper Thames region, so far, it is either a poor season, or a late season, or a poor and late season.
Just 73 sightings over this period in 43 visits by lots of people to 14 localities. For previous years, the average sightings/visit has been between 2 and 3, so, so far, we are well below average.
Lookng at previous years, we have had two late seasons: 2012 and 2013. In 2012, it started on 4th July and peaked from 22nd to 28th July; in 2013 it started on 8th July, with a long peak between the 10th and the 26th. So, hopefully, it is a late season and things will get better.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fermyn Woods Sunday 10th July

The plan today Sunday 10th July was to meet up with the East Midlands Butterfly Conservation trip into Fermyn Woods lead by Max Maughan.
Weather like Saturday started off grey but not raining. A number of people collected at the meet point opposite the Glider Club entrance and headed into Fermyn Wood. Within 5 minutes we had our first glimpse of the day of a Purple Emperor flying high above the main ride and landing in the tree tops no more than 10 metres from where I had seen one on my exit last night.

Almost at the same time we got a first glimpse of a White Admiral a great start to the day.
Heading further into the woods we caught site of a second Purple Emperor high in the tree tops at first then it dropped down looking like it wanted to land which it did very briefly on someone rucsac before heading back into the trees. A further Purple Emperor was then spotted before we headed into Lady Wood at which point the heavens opened and we all get a little wet.
At the first junction of rides in Lady Wood we hung around as the weather cleared a little, this is where I had seen my first ever Purple Emperor on Friday late afternoon on the ground. A White Admiral was seen sheltering from the rain and was soon off when the sun re-appeared.  

With the sky still grey at times we headed further south along the grassy ride and started to see more and more Purple Emperors flying amongst the tree tops but none grounding.
As the sun reappeared and the temperatures rose we started to witness groundings, watching them come in with some speed before gliding to stop just like a harrier jet on an aircraft carrier, pinpoint landings. Watching peoples faces as they saw these spectacular butterflies up close for the first time made me realise what sort of reaction my face must have shown on Friday when I saw my very first Purple Emperor close up, a sight I shall never forget. More and more groundings were occurring around us again in the places where I had witnessed them yesterday. Small groups of people were now getting their own Purple Emperors to photograph.
I left the group having lunch and headed back to the main ride junction only to be passed by 2 Purple Emperors one which decided it would like to land on my trousers, not being as sweaty as yesterday it did not hang around.
On heading south west on the main road ride I came across 2 Purple Emperors sitting on dog poo, as always oblivious to everything going on around them and what they were standing on. 

I walked a further 200 metres and on the right hand bend a group of people were lying on the floor, bending over monopods just gazing at what was before them, a sure sign there were Purple Emperors on the ground. As I approached and greeted the small group of people I was told there had been 6 Emperors on the ground at one point with only 4 remained now. Continuing along the road no further Emperors were seen so I turned around to see 3 of the 4 still on the ground on the return.

Several fleeting glimpses of Purple Emperors were seen on the way back to the car. As the ride turns sharply to the west in Fermyn Wood on the brambles were many species of butterfly dancing around in the bright sunshine. Comma’s, Small and Large Skippers, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Green Veined Whites, a Tortoiseshell and finally 2 Silver Washed Fritillaries who were more than happy to have their pictures taken, previously only seen as flashes of orange disappearing over the rides trees and bushes. A round dozen in the number of Purple Emperors I saw today so numbers increasing.

I feel so privileged to have had so many Purple Emperor sightings over the weekend which will live with me for many years. It has encouraged me to make the trip down from Yorkshire in the future as I could never get bored of watching these stunning butterflies. 

More picture on Flickr site

Fermyn 11th July, 2016

After a dodgy morning with rain and high winds, the sun finally broke through just after noon. First encounter of the day two grounded males on a track corner in South er,  soon to be joined by a third and an uninvited White Admiral. Walking back to Fermyn I must have encountered a grounded male every 50 yards, most fresh and very obliging for a portrait. In all I saw over 20, many grounded, but no females. Maybe they are biding their time. Bearing in mind low expectations at the start of the day it certainly seems that HIM is kicking off at Fermyn.

Fermyn Woods Saturday July 9th

Weather was far from ideal raining heavily this morning gradually lifted by midday. Headed into Fermyn along the ride from opposite the gliding club. Nothing seen for a further hour so headed into Lady and Souther Woods. Started to see more people then came across 3 people one whom had been watching Purple Emperors for the last hour. One Purple Emperor in particular was very obliging for over an hour on the ground,wings both open and closed whilst grounded plus perched in low branches of surrounding trees. A very photogenic individual.

There was a second one occasionally gliding past but did not land. Walked further south to clearing with a log pile on the left hand side of the ride. I was now beginning to get quite warm a Purple Emperor was obviously taken with my sweaty soaked trousers as it perched on my left leg for 5 mins or so. 

Continued further south and saw one perched in a conifer where it basked in the sun for a while before disappearing up into the trees. 
Met a few more people on the walk but many said they had not seen the PE grounded. by 4:30 had not seen any for a while so started heading back to my car. Returned to the log pile where a Grass Snake had been observed basking in the late afternoon sun and was still visible poking its head out from between the logs. The snake was later watched slithering into the undergrowth. Last Purple Emperor sighting of the day was 200 m from car on cross with last ride and main track when the sky was dark and strong winds it was a great surprise to see a Purple Emperor, how stubborn these beautiful creatures are to be out in that type of weather. I counted 6 Emperors today on my travels around Fermyn, Lady and Souther Woods a great day with lots of viewing time.