Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Apatura iris in N Norfolk

On Monday I visited the valley in heavily coniferised woodland on the National Trust's Sheringham Park estate, near Cromer, where a lone Purple Emperor was seen last year and other sightings were made this year.
Although the area occupied by sallows in those woods is relatively small the sallows themselves are of very high calibre. Most of the sallow trees I saw there are genuine Goat Willow Salix caprea, which iris strongly prefers. It is actually quite a rare tree, and one which may be in serious decline in the heartland of the Purple Empire (replaced by hybrids). 

The Sheringham sallows had copious amounts of the type of foliage the females most strongly favour for egg laying, and on which first instar larvae fare best - leaves which are mid-green in colour, have non-glossy surfaces, and are of medium thickness.  

Elsewhere in that landscape, on areas of Boulder Clay, the sallows are mainly hybrids, though hybrids leaning towards S. caprea. They look good, very good (and I've found over a thousand eggs and larvae in countless hours of searching).

My guess is that the butterfly is moderately well established on clay lands between Cromer and Holt, or even as far east as Fakenham. I think North Norfolk is nicely Purple, I can't wait to return...

The Purple Emperor is, of course, Norfolk's premier butterfly...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Road proposed through the Purple Empire

Dear fellow subjects of HIM,

A new dual carriageway passing through the Purple Empire has been proposed by Highways England. Action is required now. Please respond to the consultation by October 16th!
Sussex BC have information:

I have also prepared a leaflet:

Thank you all

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bilateral Gynandromorph

Equally rare, if not even more so than the elusive iole, a recently eclosed A.ilia bilateral gynandromorph. I thought I would share some pictures for you all to see and enjoy. A fantastic and interesting beast.

Some interesting and unexpected findings. Firstly looking at the pupal case, the male opening is clustered to one side (section IX), while the female genital opening is still contiguios through section VIII.

Although generally considered to be equally split down the middle, when looking close up at the business end of the actual specimen, we see that the male does actually have a complete pair of claspers, but both of these are clustered on one side of the abdomen and I fail to find any sign of a female opening.

Looking close up at the vestigial front brushes (which can be used to sex non-sexually dimorphic Nymphalidae species), it is excellent to see the presence of the extra tarsal segment (with claw) on the female side.

Thursday, September 7, 2017



Around mid-July there was some exciting news for Norfolk Naturalists with two sightings of Purple Emperor butterflies in Sheringham Park. These impressive butterflies have not been seen in Norfolk since they were resident in the early 1970s (apart from some recent infrequent sightings). Further to the Sheringham Park sightings a third sighting was made on Beeston Common, near Sheringham on 31st July. This site, which lies within a mile of the coast, is a mixture of habitats including heathland where the butterfly was seen.

Your dedicated website for the Purple Emperor states in its introduction ‘This is not an insect you will stumble upon, unless you are blessed with extraordinary luck.’ I believe I was extremely lucky as I literally stumbled upon a Purple Emperor on the ground.

This was a female, not the impressive iridescent purple male. The butterfly was on a path less than two metres ahead of me imbibing mineral salts from the soil. This was my first ever sighting and as I had missed out on an earlier Butterfly Conservation excursion to Fermyn Wood in Northamptonshire I was particularly happy to have found one on my local patch. Apart from moving around slightly while still imbibing the butterfly remained with its wings closed for about 20 minutes. Then there were a few tentative movements of its wings before finally the butterfly spread its wings, revealing its ‘eye-spots’, before taking off and ascending to around 10 metres after which, it glided some eight metres down to around three metres before flying off strongly to the south-west (the direction in which Sheringham Park lies). This last act was a great thrill – such an impressive insect.

One theory is that the recent Norfolk sightings are casual migrants, individuals from re-introduced Suffolk colonies that have done well in the last 10 years rather than deliberate releases of captive-bred stock.  Hopefully enough of these large and beautiful butterflies will arrive and start their own colonies in Norfolk woodlands.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The 2017 Egg Lay

So you thought this was a good Purple Emperor season? Certainly, the Emperors were blessed with much fine weather, which might mean that activity levels were very high. 

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that actual adult numbers were unusually high. In fact, numbers of the Knepp Wildlands transect (established in 2014) were comparable to 2015, which seems to have been a  'reasonably good' year... Peak day counts in 2015 and 2017 were around 36 (36, on a single transect, you ask! Yes, 36, along a two hour route). 

I've been carrying out standardized counts of eggs and late summer / autumn larvae in and around Savernake Forest since 2009, by ground searching with a shepherd's crook. The methodology doesn't keep to the same route, but tracks new breeding grounds as they develop and abandons old ones as they degenerate, and involves 40 hours of searching annually. It is based on the assumption that the females lay the same percentage of eggs low down each year (there's no evidence either way).   

I am about two-thirds of the way through this year's monitoring, and think the final tally will be in the region of 26-28. That's an improvement on last year's nadir but is certainly not a bumper year - and iris does have bumper years. Here's the data -

          2009          141
          2010            59
          2011            21
          2012            22
          2013          190
          2014            24
          2015            20
          2016            17
          2017            ??

The only other person I know of who counts / monitors / surveys eggs &larvae is Brother Dennis (who likes to be known as The Setaceous Hebrew Character - being hirsute, Jewish and characterful. The original Setaceous Hebrew Character was, of course, the Baron de Worms, Heslop's great friend). 

Dennis is struggling to find any this year in 'Bucks Best Wood' - a privately owned wood which the enlightened owner manages with iris strongly in mind, and is choked with sallow.  

I am also struggling to find larvae at Knepp...

Any other information?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Purple Emperor on Test Match Special

Delighted to have orchestrated a mention of the Monarch of all the Butterflies into the celebratory TMS@60 programme. It's around 54.00 minutes into the programme, and introduces the infamous Lords streaker of 1975 (who, incredibly, was called Michael Angelo).

Here's the BBC Radio Iplayer link 

The point of this, is that it's important that the Emperor continues to race ahead of other butterflies in media and public standing, especially the unmentionable members of the Entomological Riff-Raff Club (like the effete mothy thing which flaps around in the Norfolk Broads and that Blue which is so stupid it became extinct).  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Iris broods – a question for the ‘Empire fraternity!

Hi folks,

I have a quick question for the 'Empire's experts as I think it is unlikely I'll bump into Neil or Matthew for a year or so! Is a second iris brood a total impossibility? Does this happen elsewhere in the world where there may be longer periods of warmth and light? Or do the larvae universally require sustained periods of low light and cold to develop properly and pupate? Thank you.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Norfolk Emperors

Interesting news from BC Norfolk, male & female Iris reported on consecutive days from Sheringham Park NT.  No dates or details given.  I had heard rumours of sightings last year but it's a large site and 'needle in haystack' spring to mind.  Wonder how they got there?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hampstead Heath


I have also emailed the Herts and Middlesex Branch about a possible sighting of Apatura iris in Hampstead Heath.
I note that there have been a few sightings since 2015.
On 21st July I am reasonably sure I saw one maybe two iris near the Leg of Mutton Pond/Deer enclosure/Childrens play area of Golders Hill Park/Hampstead Heath.
They were clearly large Nymphalids and I have seen iris numerous times, they could have been escapees of a tropical nymphalid (eg Parthenos Sylvia) from the nearby Butterfly Green house in Golders Hill Park.
They flew between large Oaks at 25m.
I cannot be completely sure but it is possible that they could be.
There are possible breeding areas nearby, I know the area very well as I grew up in Golders Green
Let us hope that this magnificent butterfly is extending its range, the good warm weather recently I believe is ideal weather for species extending their ranges

Monitoring the last sightings

Today, two seen in Waterperry Wood by the Campbells; one female, looking fresh!

Friday, July 21, 2017


Sorry, in fact there has been a nice discussion on dispersal! [but not yet on influence of light and temperature]

The last knockings

Matthew pointed out that, at the end  of the season, it is difficult to spot them unless you are experienced enough to know where and how to look. In Upper Thames we have two people who possess this quality in spades: Wendy & Mick Campbell. They have been out looking almost every day in many woods since they saw the first on June 17th. Yesterday, three were seen in Waterperry Wood [including a female ovipositing], and today, one in Little Wood. So, that is 5 weeks so far, which is a normal flight season length.
I agree with Matthew, because the end is nigh, it is no reason to stop blogging!
Why don't we discuss our experiences, where they add to knowledge of the ecology of HIM?
For example, I have written two blogs concerning possible influence of light and temperature on activity, and dispersal, but the response has been meagre!

That Other Purple Butterfly...

This is a remarkable year for the Purple Hairstreak, at least in the Sussex Weald where I've spent the season. This is odd because many Wealden oaks were partially defoliated by late frosts, which must surely have adversely affected numerous larvae. 

I've known better Purple Hairstreak years, most notably 1976 which was probably an order of magnitude greater - they roamed the oak woodland edges in loose swarms.

Although most active during the evenings, when they conduct their courtship and mating, and largely quiescent during the heat of the afternoon, this July they have been coming down to visit bramble and Creeping Thistle flowers, as they do in drought summers - it's just that we haven't had a drought July since 2006 and 2003. 

Alongside His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor, this hairstreak seldom visits flowers.  Here's one feeding on bramble -

Here's a better one on Creeping Thistle - 

And one feeding below a faded Creeping Thistle flower, I'm not sure on what precisely... - 

They've also been probing around for moisture in damp grasses, first thing in the morning (which they did prolifically in early July 1976) - 

Best of all are the Purple Hairstreak Ash feeder trees - if you can find one. I found one at Knepp late on. Here, at least 20 quercus were in view, probing around on next year's ash buds and, seemingly, feeding on lenticels (secretion pores) along the stems -

They have remarkably short tongues.

Very much a candidate for Butterfly of the Year...

Closing Time...

The end of the fantastic 2017 Purple Emperor season is at hand... (unless, of course, they produce a second brood...)

I managed to see four males and two females at Knepp yesterday, July 20th, but only because I know precisely where to stand and look. 

The good news is that last Tuesday night's apocalyptic thunderstorm (which lasted for two hours at Knepp) didn't knock them all out! The rain fell steadily, rather than in stair-rods, and crucially there was no damaging wind. 

But the survivors looked like this final-day female -

Unless you are an experienced Emperorphile and know precisely where to stand and look it will not be worth travelling this weekend to see the butterfly. It's closing time.

Above all, please note that this website functions all year round, not just during the heady weeks of the Emperor flight season. In particular, I will give early indications of when the next brood is likely to emerge. Watch this space, and always look on the Purple side of life...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Saying Goodbye

One of the last stragglers, a worn and battered female, from what seems to have been a magnificent emperor season at Knepp. My first visit back there in over forty years - thanks to Matthew, Neil, Harry and everyone else for making it such an enjoyable trip. 


I presume most members of The Purple Empire can remember their first sighting of His Imperial Majesty.  For me this happened on June 25th this year.  With retirement looming over the horizon I realised there were many things I had not seen and decided to put this right.  I have a great love of all things nature in particular butterflies.  I am also a very keen amateur photographer and combine both interests.  At the start of this year I compiled my hit list, at the very top Purple Emperor!  Living in Norfolk does not offer many chances to see this mythical beast so I had to travel.  Plenty of internet research led me to this site and I decided my best chance, and nearest home, would be Fermyn.
By following the Empire I logged emergence dates and hoped weather and days off work would coincide, I had about 6 chances.  Set off early on the 25th, forecast not great but had to take the chance.  Arrived opposite the glider club at 8am surprised to see only 2 cars, I had expected mass crowds similar to a rare bird twitch!  Walked the northern bridleway seeing nothing so crossed into the Lady Wood complex taking the right hand path.  Within a few minutes I was transfixed by my first Emperor on the ground in front of me, a bit tatty but what a feeling of elation.
Within the next 100yds a second male, this time pristine, came down, seconds later another joined it.  This was fantastic, not a soul in sight and 3 magnificent creatures around me and then on me!  One decided to check me out, circled my face then landed on my jacket.  Gently I eased HIM on to my finger, there he sat for over 5 mins licking the sweat.  If only I had the short lens on the Nikon!  I tried to change lens one handed but he had had enough and went up onto a leaf giving me the eye.
The weather turned out o.k in the end and as I wandered around I had more and more encounters seeing at least 12 on the ground and others gliding overhead.  And they were very approachable so I obtained dozens of fantastic images.
It had been an incredible day and I must thank the Empire for putting me in the right place at the right time to fulfil a boyhood dream.  If any one wants to see my efforts in capturing other species on camera please check out my site  Butterflies to Dragsters.  Here's to next year!  Brian Hicks

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

'Rejection Drop' At Knepp

Here are some of the fantastic images of the 'rejection drop' taken by Bolton photographer Brian White on the 13 July Knepp Purple Emperor safari. An already-mated female is seen trying to out-manoeuvre two amorous males.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Finished in Dorset

A 2 hour search of the woods in Dorset where I had several sightings last week failed to show anything purple . It would appear its all over for another year.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Emperors & Hairstreaks Oak Sapping...

Amazing photo by Tony Rogers of a female feeding on oak trunk close to a Purple Hairstreak, from Knepp -

Besides Emperors, these tiny sap bleeds (if that's what they are) on stressed or diseased oaks are visited regularly by Red Admirals and Purple Hairstreaks, and also by the occasional Comma and Speckled Wood. White Admiral (scarce at Knepp) will also visit.

Purple Hairstreak has been in great numbers this season, at least until last Tuesday's rain, and has been visiting bramble flowers frequently in the hot weather. I hadn't seen it on flowers since at least 2006, the last decent summer we had - 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Season Ending, Doings...

Apols for lack of postings but I am having difficulties logging on at Knepp... (have popped home for the weekend).

To update, iris is starting to finish at many sites, particularly those supporting small populations. The exceptions will be 'late' sites like Savernake, which should have a good week left, and the mega population at Knepp, which will finish by next weekend.

At Knepp, adults are becoming increasingly worn, torn and localised, and hard to find. A lot of people new to the site are struggling to find them. 

Advise: search the downwind side of oaks close to sallow thickets during the afternoon (and warm sunny evenings) only. At this stage in the season both sexes tend to take mornings off - and so would you if you were an ageing rock star, like Himself.  If you want something to do during the morning at Knepp then search along the outgrown sloe hedges for Brown Hairstreak, the males of which are well out there and visit Creeping Thistle and Fleabane flowers.

Numbers-wise, Harry Drew and I counted 10 iris on the Purple Emperor transect at Knepp yesterday (Fri 14th), compared to 25 on Fri July 7th and 36 the previous week, when the butterfly was at peak. Many were in very poor condition, though that doesn't stop them behaving abominably. The transect runs for about 2km down a green lane which contains many favoured male territories (we only count Emperors on it, no riff-raff).

I don't think last Tuesday's steady rain, which produced 25mm (an inch) at Knepp, did any real harm to the Emperors - it fell steadily and was not accompanied by the strong winds that really knock out roosting Emperors. It did, though, greatly reduce Purple Hairstreak numbers, which have been astronomical at Knepp this season. 

In fact, the weather has been decidedly clement this Emperor season, which means that the egg lay should be good (not least because the butterfly emerged in synchrony with the appropriate growth stage of sallow foliage, which doesn't always happen - never mind what that is, but it's very important).

This female flopped into a sallow close to us late on Friday afternoon, on what was probably her final flight - 

Finally, if you want the ultimate quality Emperoring experience, and the opportunity to learn a considerable amount about the butterfly, then please come on one of the Purple Emperor Safaris that Neil and I run at Knepp in season. Next year we will be running afternoon safaris during some weekdays and some day-long safaris at weekends, and can offer experiences like this -

Don't worry about the bloke in the kilt: that's Harry, him's from Devon...

 Credit: Tony Rogers, Knepp July 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

North Dorset Woods Part 2

With the weather being perfect and after yesterdays success at locating Emperor eggs in the Cranborne Chase area i decided to try again at seeing HIM but in another part of the complex so headed to the woods near Tollard Royal . Once clear of the conifers the woods opened up into mature ancient woodland full of huge oaks , ash and broad leaved sallows . In the first clearing Herself flew into the crown of a sallow , presumably egg laying before flying out and not to be seen again . Minutes later a male was seen flying around an oak before finally moving on after being annoyed by the Red Admiral activity , which seem to have emerged in huge numbers over the last few days . Moving on to the next clearing which was dominated by a huge oak , and amazingly it had two males battling it out around the canopy . Taking the route back yet another male was seen this time perched on a prominent sprig of oak . Considering I have only ever seen single sightings in these woods , to come across five in a relatively small area and in the space of an hour makes me wonder how unrecorded HIM is in N Dorset .

Thursday, July 13, 2017

North Dorset Emperor

With the season starting so early I had only visited guaranteed sites (Knepp and Bentley Wood ) before I went on holiday . Now back in the country I thought I'd try my local woods of North Dorset and Cranborne Chase where HIM flies but is spread thinly over a large area . With a previous report of sightings last week from N Dorset and good conditions the usual woodland species were abundant especially egg laying S W Frits but HIM failed to appear. I decided to search for eggs as the sallows are predominantly of the broad leaved variety with very few crosses and many in suitably shaded locations .In the space of an hour 3 eggs were located on 3 separate trees , proof undeniable that HIM is alive and seemingly doing well , and keeping Dorset purple . Will be returning at the weekend in the hope of seeing HIM before the season burns out .

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Possible influence of sudden changes of light and temperature on tree-top activity

The afternoon of the 30th of June was dull but warmish [20 to 21 degrees] in the BBW [best Bucks wood]. Mick Campbell and I stood looking up at a line of Oaks above Sallows; nothing moved until, for a brief spell, there was hazy sunshine. Immediately we saw two pairs taking off and skirmishing about 30 metres apart; they sank without trace back into the canopy as soon as the sun disappeared.
On the 8th of July we returned to the same spot under completely different conditions: hot and sunny, windless, 25 degrees. Again we waited, staring up at the canopy. Nothing happened until a few wisps of white cloud obscured the sun, and this was accompanied by a slight breeze; immediately, a pair rose into the sky, clashing. Quickly, the clouds moved away, the breeze dropped, as did the activity.
Does HIM need a sudden change in the atmospheric conditions to stir him?

Importance of Oak Sap

Heslop invented the term 'feeder tree', for ageing, diseased or otherwise stressed oaks which produce small bleeds of sap. Such oaks are a major source of adult sustenance in landscapes where veteran oaks are common. 

These feeder trees are visited intermittently, as the supply of sap bleeds appears to be intermittent, and only when conditions are relatively still. Feeder trees may be unused on windy days.

Oak sap seems to become increasingly important as the season ages, for older adults. Both males and females visit, often for lengthy periods, particularly during the afternoon and, in hot weather, the evenings. During the recent heatwave iris has been visiting small bleeds of sap on veteran oaks at Knepp as late as 8pm.  

Large sap runs are rare (I've seen none this year) but can attract Emperors in numbers (the most I've seen together is four, females). These photos are all from Knepp this season (one male, three females) -

Both sexes adopt a distinctive zig-zag flight when homing in on an oak to feed on sap bleeds. 

The males seem to get plastered on fermented sap. This may explain why the Wealden males are far more aggressive than their cousins elsewhere - they're primarily oak sap feeders, inhabiting a landscape where veteran oaks are frequent.

Fighting to the End!

Please don't think that worn and torn males are past it... That's not how they see things. They fight to the bitter end.

A few seconds after this photo was taken this male launched his mobility scooter in pursuit of a stick lobbed up in front of him, shouting "Come back and I'll bite your legs off!" -

And this worn and broken male was last seen in pursuit of a Chaffinch -

Dining with the Emperor - Countryfile 9 July with John Craven

Now available on BBC iPlayer at c.51.20 mins
Image by Andy Wyldes

Monday, July 10, 2017

Savernake Ova

I had to journey to Lyneham in Wiltshire today to pick up our pooch which had been holidaying there with relatives, so I took the opportunity to stop off in Savernake. Having visited with Matthew previously in the Autumn to look for larvae I thought I ought to see if I could catch up with the adults -  with some success. There was only intermittent sunshine through the lunchtime period and I managed mostly brief views of five males along three oak drive and around the column - although one did an extended glide across the avenue about 20ft up. Good numbers of Purple Hairstreak were showing on the oaks and a lady showed me a picture of a nice Valezina she had taken on one of the rides. One of the chaps Emperor watching mentioned he and seen a female the day before so I made a note to return to do a bit of searching on the way home - well the dog needed a walk!
I returned to the North of the forest about 5:30pm and focused my search on a few bushes where I had found Larvae with Matthew, and after 45mins and on the third bush which had perfect foliage, bingo a fresh green ova - very satisfying.
Kind regards


On Friday, my friend Nick and I made our annual pilgrimage to Fermyn from Tring and Portsmouth respectively, and as usual, the great site did not disappoint, exceeding my expectations at this relatively late point in the season (this year). 

It was buzzing with life as huge numbers of various hawker dragonflies, brown butterflies, skippers and nymphalids did their thing. 

And of course the emperors showed well, too – we counted 60 in all, although some of these could have been repeat sightings. We were treated to some very close encounters with two grounded and ageing males, one of which was very tired and flitted around us for a long time, landing close and often. 
A much fresher individual attracted our attention as it engaged a hawker dragonfly in a prolonged high-speed and very acrobatic chase before landing low in a hazel bush and starting to feed from a leaf right under our noses. 

This chase was testament to the aerial prowess of iris, as our male stayed right on the hawker's tail until he had shooed the miniature missile from his adopted territory.   

In a previous Fermyn blog Bill Seager reported high numbers of paphia at Fermyn, as well as valezina females. We also saw huge numbers including a copulating pair and those valezina females, one of which was so dark that I momentarily thought I was going mad and was looking at a freakishly gigantic speckled wood - I was delighted to read Bill's blog after this trip to see he had made the same comparison. 
I’ve had a great summer this year sharing emperors with several friends. I hope I can manage one more evening trip to Knepp this week on my own – it’ll be worth it just to watch the shadows lengthen on the rides while hoping for the tell-tale silhouette of a late-season emperor. 

More Dispersal?

I have just noticed a post on the Hants BC website of an Empress on  wheelie bin at Paulsgrove - this is a very urban housing estate about 3Km from the nearest colony that I know of on the Southwick estate to the north and she would have to have flown over Portsdown Hill (350ft amsl) to get there - more evidence perhaps?
I also seem to remember one on  a wheelie bin at Emsworth a few years ago - a new baiting strategy perhaps one for Matthews picnic?
Kind regards

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Elegant Empress

I visited Cranborne Woods in Dorset last weekend looking for His Imperial Majesty, but as the heat was a bit overpowering, I struggled. I did manage to see what I'm sure were 2 battling males but the sighting was very brief, one second zooming overhead, the next gone. I re-visited the wood again today, but again I failed to turn up anything all morning along with other observers. I was making my way back when I noticed a very large butterfly drifting over an oak, it flew past me over a gap between the oaks. It was vast, graceful and very elegant, a fresh looking Empress. Seen very well underneath as she effortlessly powered off over the trees. I had not had a bad day seeing 2 valezina Silver-washed Fritillaries in the woods, but this really made the trip worthwhile.

Countryfile: Sun July 9th - The Emperor's Breakfast

Warning of High Level Insanity: Hulme & Oates will be staging The Emperor's Breakfast on Countryfile tomorrow, most likely before or after the Weather Forecast, with John Craven.

It should be a cracker. It was filmed in Fermyn Woods, and the butterfly performed spectacularly.

Hulme and Oates are likely to be Sectioned after this...

Mis-identification - Ab. Corax?

Forgive me a little indulgence. Since my sighting of an almost black aberration of Iris, I have been improving my understanding of the history of Iris aberration classification and the mythical ab. Iole. I was first struck by his strikingly jet black appearance. He was so dark that it was easy to track him even in flight as he flew up into the oaks and returned to his puddle. My first instinct was lugenda. However, aberrations like lugenda are described only in terms of absence or presence of white markings. This specimen clearly has a strikingly different ground colour. The photographs all look extremely dark.
I looked carefully at the cover of Frohawk's "Varieties of British Butterflies" and noted that this specimen with two upper wing clear white spots was very close to the Cotgrave specimen. This specimen has since been classified as ab. beroe. However, there is no doubt that there is the presence of a third faint white spot on the forewing on the Cotgrave aberration.
 I looked at UK butterflies and read an exact description of the Cotgrave specimen above.
Ab. Corax 
The ground colour of the upper side strongly black like the crow with a strong bluish reflection. Forewings with only two white spots, the apical and second marginal, the third is absent or almost so. Hindwing's with no trace of the transverse band, only some hairs of bluish grey. The anal eye is not pupilled.
I could not have written a better description of these photographs.
Ab. Corax - am I right? - Comments please!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dispersal, continued

Yesterday, Steve Croxford saw a female fly through his garden; he lives about 2 km from the nearest iris woods. So, this season, we have seen iris [2 females, one male] three times well away from their habitats: all about 2 km from their woods. Does this happen later in the season always?

Working Late Season Emperors

Males have largely stopped sallow searching(for virgin females) and tend to now take the mornings off. They become active in  territories after 12.30, though in very hot weather they may quieten down for an hour around 4pm, before kicking off again in the evening (usually till around 7.30pm). Much depends on whether there is a rival male around, for males in single occupancy territories can become very quiet on hot weather.  

Today, I counted 22 males on territories on the Knepp PE transect (+ 3 females). This compares to a peak season count of 36. Last year's peak count was a mere 18.

Here's Herself being elusive on a minor sap bleed, from yesterday - 

High Flight at Fermyn

Successive days of fine weather in what is normally "peak purple time" was marked this year on Thursday July 6th with the observation that for much of the day, the Fermyn Light Horse had the Ladywood/Southerwood complex to themselves. The high cloud broke up during late morning leaving us gasping in the heat. There is still plenty of male Iris activity to observe, albeit from the ground looking up into the tops of the trees, and we recorded 15 individuals during our patrol from 08.30 to 1600 hours. Most of our sightings were brief glimpses of desultory short circuits around the oaks, but as the heat intensified we saw a male flush a female - the only one we saw this day - out of a sallow by the deer hide at SP97818417. Our best view was of a spectacular combat late afternoon at SP971847 where we had not seen Iris before. They battled each other high into the sky and we lost them from view. We have not encountered the female activity we expected to see, and have yet to find the secret to where they go, in what is a vast area of suitable habitat. An observation of a different kind reveals that Paphia is now the most likely encounter to be had. The number of individuals we saw do not bear publishing for fear of ridicule. Suffice it to say that we have never seen such numbers of this species. Males and females were in abundance, mainly on the still-flowering brambles. In two concentrated areas of the wood, we saw the famous courtship flights, and also copulation - not a very elegant sight as the males towed the females around in flight quite often - and at least two Valezina females. The first, before 9am, at SP98108433 by the Lyvedon way footpath sign. It was a very dark specimen - like a giant Speckled Wood? (The area has been well-trodden so somebody must have been fortunate enough in obtaining a picture). The other may be found along with high numbers of the usual form, by seeking them out early afternoon when the sun shines directly on the area close to the Deer Hide located at SP97828475. If you enter the small track at 97958471 (you will see a number 4 on a tree stump on your left as you go a few metres up the trail) follow this track up to the brambles on your right maybe 100 yards? and perhaps you too will enjoy the kind of action we saw this day. (The grass paths to the deer hides have been cut, affording good access on foot). As the sun left the brambles, the females seemed to disappear, leaving the males to feed on the flowers, which they did greedily. Most of them were in fine shape.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Knepp Still Going Strong

The Purple Emperor is still going strong at Knepp, although hot and sunny mornings can be very slow now. Today followed this pattern, but by the time I'd bumped into John Woodward, of Steyning Downland Scheme fame, things were livening up. We got some fantastic views of His Imperial Majesty through John's telescope.

I later met a couple I know through Steyning U3A, just in time to share a point-blank view of an empress dropping to the ground in an attempt to shake off an over-enthusiastic male; later repeated by another female in exactly the same spot. At one point I saw three females laying eggs in a sheltered sallow grove, and by the time they'd stopped flying I'd seen a total of 47 individuals.

The highpoint for me today was watching a pair of males doing almost non-stop battle over the pond beside the barn on the green lane. I was mesmerised for an hour, during which they were in combat flight for about 45 minutes. And I won't forget the White Admiral which I spent an hour photographing as it repeatedly perched within a metre of where I stood. I'll be back again as soon as possible, to drink in more of Knepp's magic.