Thursday, July 26, 2018

Apatura from around the world

I saw this on facetube and thought you Purple souls might like it! There are 5 species within the genus Apatura...

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lord, thou hast brought us to our journey's end...

Here's my last Knepp Emperor of the year (unless, perchance, a second brood ensues...) - a ridiculously worn and torn male who was behaving badly in a territory called Gratuitous Violence on Monday:- 

I am, though, seriously worried about the impact of drought on the butterfly, especially at Knepp when most of the breeding sallows are young and relatively shallow rooted. 

Thundery showers are forecast for that region on Friday, and are desperately needed (though first instar larvae are prone to being washed off the leaves by heavy rain).

Please, pray for rain in the Empire...

Monday, July 23, 2018

Audience with an empress

I stole a few hours at Knepp on Saturday 21st July and saw eight emperors. 

The best moment occurred in a sallow glade just off Green Lane. Trevor Apsley and I shared a wonderful fifteen minutes or so with a graceful empress who came floating out of an oak like a small paper kite to flit and glide in a flowery clearing. She sailed around us at chest height and lower, frequently stopping to take salts from the baked ground with a proboscis like a garden hose. She was a whopper, a spectacular insect. This was my most thrilling encounter with an empress. She was in reasonable condition but though she seemed serene she was in reality just spent, and as she drifted off into the sallow we wondered how many days she had left.

To end on a happy note, in Green Lane I met a couple called Christina and Roger. As very recent emperor converts they had missed peak Knepp but were hoping for their first emperor. When I bumped into them for a second time they told me they hadn’t clocked any, but had at least photographed a white admiral on the ground. They showed me the photo, and I was delighted to be able to congratulate them on their mistake - it wasn’t a white admiral. ;) 

Here's "my" empress. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ending Now...

Emperors are now definitely winding down at Knepp. I suspect they'll be almost impossible to find by Wednesday. 

I'm heading home tomorrow evening - but I've got one last trick up my sleeve, I'm flying off to the eastern (Catalan) Pyrenees to work a colony 1300m up, which is only just starting to emerge now!

Today, I struggled to see five females and eight frayed males at Knepp, all of them pensioners. The sap bleed branch in a spot known as Skinhead Alley (it's a good spot for violent males) was being visited by four females -

Note the hornet on the right. Fresh Emperors beat the hornets up, but old one's get displaced by them.

This is what I'm worried about: massive fall of sub-canopy leaves in the Knepp sallow thickets (these bushes are about 15 years old, in what was an arable field, the older sallows in the laggs and close to the ponds are fine) -

I'm worried because there are at least five days of >30C temperatures to come, and no rain is forecast (it last rained at Knepp on 31st May). 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Purple Emperor Season Without End...

Folks, we're starting to enter Paradise: this Emperor season simply wont end, at least at Knepp.  I managed 21 today, including seven females.  

The males are seriously faded and torn now, and are active for only a couple of hours or so, from about 1pm, on territory. I witnessed a clash of three males. 

Neil and I watched an exhausted female visit a sap run, then collapse on to the nearest sallow. I doubt she'll make tomorrow -

Meanwhile, these girls were getting tanked up on a sap bleed alongside a Comma -

Purple Emperor season without end, Amen!

PS  We didn't get any rain, again; and the Brown Hairstreak remains surprisingly scarce.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Next Season

Rather too dull for Emperor activity at Knepp today, so I went egging instead.

One alpha sallow produced two early-second instar (horned) larvae, a skin-changing first instar larva, a just-hatched larva, two about-to-hatch eggs and a classic yellow-brown egg, and an egg case base with no sign of the larva. Total = 8.

I think I last found horned larvae in July back in 1976 but will check my diaries when I get home. Whatever, eggs are obviously hatching very fast in this heat and larvae are then racing through the highly vulnerable first instar, which is all good news. The bad news, though, is that no rain has shown up, and the sallows desperately need some. 

For the record, four dog walkers went past me whilst I was up my sallow. None noticed a bloke 4-5m up a tree...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Knepp: Day 35

Purple Emperors have now been out here for five long weeks. 

Today, I managed to see 19, which would be a decent tally for a day at peak season at nearly all Emperor sites...

They are becoming increasingly localised, and the males are only active for two or three hours during the early to mid- afternoon period. The females are either egging or sitting around doing nothing.  

I think they'll peter out here on about Monday. Meanwhile, we carry on fighting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Apatura: Green Light for Full Genome Sequencing

Exciting news received today, confirming that funds and facilities are all in place for the full genome sequencing of the first Apatura species (A.ilia). This will be conducted in conjunction with Professor Chris Jiggins (University of Cambridge) and Dr Richard Durbin (Wellcome Sanger Institute). The data will most likely appear on the Butterfly Genome Browser which Chris setup for his Heliconius project. Link as follows:

No further information is available at present, only that we've got the green light and that the relevant breeding (from 2 differing parental strains) is currently in progress. As soon as the F1 adults emerge I can start to submit the specimens for sequencing. I'll update you all as/when further information becomes available.


Knepp: Day 34

Back at Knepp this afternoon, following a couple of days 'off', at home. I saw ten Emperors, or rather eight Emperors and two Empresses. 

At this late stage in their flight season they are active for only about three hours each afternoon, from about 1pm, and it was cloudy between 2pm and 3pm today. 

At one point I saw a chase of three males, but mostly it was a matter of spotting OAP males active in known territories. Then I visited a 'feeder tree' where two females were imbibing oak sap - 

Then, after being disturbed by a hornet, one female went an sat in a sallow bush, sulking -

The butterfly will have been out here for six weeks come Friday, which is quite impressive. There should be a few left that day, but I suspect I'll see the last of the Knepp 2018 Purple Emperors on Sunday or Monday.

Knepp: A look back to a stunning day

Knepp, Wednesday 27th June: Eleven hours walking goodness knows how many exhausting miles at the site during a heatwave. Three litres of water barely touched the sides. At the end of it all, the traditional lemonade from the fridge in the Go-Down was nectar. 

Emperors aside, the sheer abundance of life at Knepp blows my mind. I hope other farmers follow the example of Charlie and Isabella. But we were here for iris, and hoping for lots of them. Last year Nick and I doubted our own count of 96 - surely not - so this year we brought with us a pair of clicker-counters of the sort favoured by bouncers. It seemed appropriate, given the thuggish nature of our quarry. 

After the sort of heady day that causes you to question your senses, our counters displayed the number 349, a count that has now been exceeded by Matthew and Neil, who were pushing 400. Madness.   

Towards the end of our day a big, multi-storey oak near Camilla Corner gave us an unforgettable experience when, for a bizarrely brief window, it played host to a spectacular congregation of emperors. We'd never seen anything like this, even at Knepp. 

A zig-zagging male told us the tree was a feeder; if Matthew hadn't taught me the sapping flight of emperors a week before, we’d have moved on and missed the wonders that followed. We soon found him (the emperor, not Matthew) low down on a visible sap bleed - a wound oozing white froth. 

The branch and others around it soon transformed into Your Favourite Local Bar. Our male was joined by a quercus, four or five hornets and a procession of emperors. Various individual iris came and went while others spiralled and occasionally squabbled half-heartedly at all heights around the tree, while we became giddy with numbers as we tried to count the traffic. 

At times there were three or four sapping, at times five or six, and, briefly, a magnificent seven. The humans below laughed in disbelief, knowing we were sharing something special. There were never more than three emperors within wing distance of one another, but different groups of two or three and the odd loner were like punters at their beer. A much larger emperor blundered into the midst of a sapping group but was hassled immediately and quickly vanished. An empress, we guessed. 

Happily, we bumped into a couple of chaps at the tree, and one of them was a photographer. It is his photographs you see here; thanks Ben Richardson for sending them to me. 

In the early evening of that wonderful day, gangs of hooligan purple hairstreaks were harrying emperors who clearly just wanted a rest - especially adjacent to Hammer pond, where the big oaks were lit up like cathedrals, bathed in golden evening light. 

Looking back, we should have known the day would be a special one when we stumbled upon a 'streak on the ground by Hammer Pond at nine am. Later in the day, a young grass snake crossed a path under our feet. Minutes later a hobby shot directly over our heads like a missile. 

And we saw huge numbers of damsels and dragons, surely an early sign that the day would be a fairy tale. 

Emperor by Ben Richardson

Just the five sap-feeding emperors by Ben Richardson in this shot. For the original size image, contact me via comments. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Those of us who were around during the long hot summer of 1976 will remember the impact of the great drought on sallow trees, when even in shady woods on heavy clay soils sallows died off willy-nilly.  

The current drought is not a patch on that of 1976, but most places in The Empire seriously need some watering - and no rain is forecast for the foreseeable future. Some districts enjoyed a useful watering last Friday evening (the 13th) - Alice Holt, for example, had 8mm (1/3rd of an inch) - but Knepp missed out (the rain ran just to the north).  

The sub-canopy leaves which the egg-laying females favour are often the first leaves to drop. Here's what to look out for - 

So, take your watering can with you.

I've just had two days off, of necessity, having Emperored for 28 consecutive days (beating Heslop's 1969 record). I'm now going back to Knepp, for the grand finale. I've seen over 2000 day-individuals there so far this season. In contrast, in 1976 I saw 257...

Monday, July 16, 2018

Phil Gilbert

Sorry; I should have mentioned that Phil Gilbert of East Midlands section took me there and made most of the sightings

Dennis has moved to Sheffield

I no longer report for the Upper Thames Section, since I now live in Yorkshire.
Of course, I am quite a long way from iris habitats now; the nearest is Cotgrave Wood in Notts where I have seen 3 in two visits.
This afternoon I visited Chambers Farm Wood in Lincs, which is about 60 miles due east of Sheffield; it was worth it! Ten were seen in a two hour period between 12.40 and 14.40; most were gliding around the tops of the Oaks,  and two were ride skimming. One clash was observed. Clearly, being the most northerly iris wood, they are being seen a bit later up here compared with Sussex.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Knepp PE Transect

Neil and I run an Emperor transect at Knepp. It runs along 2km of green lane, fringed by oaks and bordered in places by huge sallow thickets. We walk the transect once a week during the five or six week Emperor season, in afternoons only (when males are in the oak canopy), and when the wind is below Moderate strength. The main difference is that there is no transect box (the 5m box used by the UKBMS is inappropriate for iris) - if it's an Emperor we haven't already seen, it counts...  

This year, from five heady weeks we have counted 184 Emperors. Last year's six week tally was 118, and 2016's was a meagre 89. If I remember correctly, in 2017 a mere 14 Emperors were recorded by the UKBMS transects (mainly males on dog muck)...

We may be able to fit another weekly count in at Knepp this year. Today's tally (Week 5) was 24.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

OAPs Now...

Knepp's males are now OAPs, but they're still fearless and utterly amoral. Here's two from today, one getting plastered on oak sap, the other on territorial red alert -

Incredibly, we saw a freshly emerged - virgin - female, who was not spotted by two or three patrolling males, surely the last of the mighty 2018 Knepp emergence -

One or two sallows here are starting to show signs of drought.  The first leaves to yellow are the small sub-canopy sprays which the females favour for egg laying. Has anyone else noticed this?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Still Getting Plastered...

Behaviour of both sexes worsened today at Knepp, as they imbibed more and more fermented oak sap. I saw females fighting each other (with handbags), a female chasing off a male, and a lot of general drunken brawling - and a male flying off upside down.

But numbers are dwindling by the day and activity is becoming more localised. They'll be hard to find at Knepp by this weekend...

Meanwhile, various Commas, Red Admirals, Specked Woods and Purple Hairstreaks are also enjoying the oak sap.  

I once came across a conga of drunken football supporters at a station chanting, 'Let's all go effing mental....': maybe they'd been on oak sap?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Knepp Starting to Wind Down...

It sounds incredible, but the Purple Emperor season at Knepp is starting to wind down - on July 9th. 

I walked the 2km Knepp PE transect today, in perfect weather (i.e. dead calm), and totalled only 24 - down from 56 last week. Method: afternoons only; no box - if it's an Emperor, it counts; ignore all other butterflies (though I have taken to counting Meadow Browns, which are scarcer along the route than Emperors!).

The 2018 data set runs: Wk 1 = 14, Wk 2 = 66, Wk 3 = 56, Wk 4 = 24. We should squeeze in a Week 5 count but I doubt we'll get a Week 6 count this year, unlike last year. 

The Emperors are becoming more and more localised and spasmodic in appearance. They are inactive in the morning (kicking off around 11.45 am). Nearly all males are now looking distinctly faded.

Message: don't travel any distance to see the Knepp Emperors this year, leave it till 2019. And don't come after next weekend, you'll be too late.

Here's a female imbibing oak sap yesterday evening -

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Knepp: Day 24

The Knepp Emperors didn't bother getting up before 11.50 today. That is typical late season behaviour, though I don't understand why the females don't take advantage of the absence of pestering males to lay eggs whilst the males are sleeping in... So, in this heat and at this stage in the flight season, don't bother venturing out until late morning.

Some males are just about on their last wings now. This one was three-legged, feeding up on a small sap bleed before blundering off into the sun - 

We've seen almost daily tumbledowns, in which mated females reject amorous males. Several tumbledowns have resulted in females sitting on flowers, like this bramble visit today - 

She was not feeding on bramble, merely recovering from being pestered by a male. She soon skuttled off into the sallows.

At this rate the Knepp Emperors will be all but over by July 15th, having battled their way to Eternal Glory...

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Switch

Once all the females are out, wedded and bedded, the males tend to take the mornings off, and cease sallow searching. They also stop coming to the ground. Iris becomes an afternoon butterfly.

Photographers keep asking me, "When are they going to come down?" The answer is Next June... Yesterday, Neil and I did see one week old male down at Knepp, though he found nothing to his liking and soon went back up- 

In this heat I believe that the season will effectively be over at Knepp around July 15th, with just the odd sighting thereafter. This is the last weekend of the year for iris hunters.

For the record, Brown Hairstreak kicked off at Knepp yesterday, July 6th, and the White Admiral appears to be over (I searched hard yesterday, fifty years on from my first encounter with the butterfly, and saw none).

At some point I will count up how many 'day individuals' I've seen at Knepp this year - it's in four figures, and they're all type specimens.

I'm sorry I missed the honey dew rain at Fermyn Woods. We haven't had a drop of honey dew here at Knepp. In fact, I haven't experienced 'honey dew rain' since 1976, when it abounded (with a lesser occurrence in 1989).


Friday, July 6, 2018

A Lasting memory

I made my annual pilgrimage to Fermyn yesterday, and whilst I have a number of Emperor sites within 15 minutes of home I make the trip for two reasons -  there are good numbers to see, although Knepp has now firmly relegated Fermyn to second spot for sheer numbers, but also the potential to see the occasional aberration of which Fermyn seems to have more than its fair share.
Leaving home at 4.15 am ensured that I was in the glider club car park by 7.30am, after a brief stop for tea and toast, and with the trusty black steed assembled I was off down the rides baiting with belachan soup on the way.
As Neil has already commented, FC have done a great job opening up the ride through cherry lap and it bodes well for the future. I had quickly made my way through Lady and Souther woods down through Titchmarsh and on to Oxen baiting as I went. I had used all of the soup and by the time I had got to the end I was pleased to be able to clean my hands with some wipes to get ride of ‘that’ smell. 
Nothing was seen on the way down so I slowly made my way back. As I worked back along the ride between Lady/Souther I bumped into Bill Seager and as we chatted we watched a male quartering and land on one of Neil’s 3 day old baits - powerful stuff! 
The day got hotter and hotter and the reflection from the white rides just intensified the heat and about lunchtime as I was riding out of Souther towards Lady a male Emperor came straight at me, over my shoulder up into the shade of an ash tree. I had already sensed that it was different but on seeing it resting about 20 feet up I had a serious Oh S**t moment [which I said out loud for some reason] as it was obviously an extreme aberration. Scrabbling to get the close up lens off my FZ150, whilst not taking my eyes off the prize, I managed to get off a few shots of the underside at extreme zoom and through foliage which I have shown here. I have lightened a couple which helps improve the detail. I willed him to come down but within a few seconds he had disappeared over in to the sallows not to return. I have compared the photo to some on UKB and it certainly seems in the range afflicta/lugenda.
Having calmed down a bit I rode off to find Bill but within 20mins I was watching another ab! A male was quartering the ride about 30m in front of me and as I got the bins on it I could see no white! It stopped briefly but then flew towards me at knee hight - It was slightly worn, but with no major tears in the  wings, as it drifted by I could clearly see just just all blue with just two white apical spots - lugenda! On turning round it sailed up over some hazel but did not return.
Bill and I searched hard but sadly it was not to be.
As the sun reduced in intensity activity started again about 4pm and I watched four males chase off a Brown Hawker -  nothing came down and reluctantly I left the woods at 6.45 after a memorable 11hrs. 
Whilst I have no photos, I have an image that is burned bright in my memory that will last long.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

The sap continues to rain down...

Thursday 5th July saw me yet again at the glider club entrance to the Fermyn Woods complex at 8 a.m. for another purple fix. Although windy at this location, moving into Ladywood felt like moving into an oven as the wind was blocked out by the trees at ground level. The first grounding at approximately 08:30 was duly recorded by Mark, up from Portsmouth for the day.

My plan was to search the sallows for females, but there were long hours to negotiate before such activity could be anticipated. The time in between was spent recording male activity, and there are still many to be seen flying circuits before returning to a favourite perch. We were well into double figures by early afternoon.

Going off-piste into the grassy rides around 13:00 hours, the rise in temperature was immediately apparent. Looking up, a male left his lofty perch to see off a Brown Hawker, and then started fisticuffs with a an interloper from the oak opposite, but this aggression did not last. Nothing else was moving. What again was really evident when looking up was the amount of sap falling down like rain, and it appears to be going on all the time. I am not sure if this is a normal occurrence at Fermyn or if it is just a reaction at this time to the hot, dry conditions? I have no idea why Iris will ground here more than at other locations and whether or not this sap rain could be a factor?

I had to curtail my searching in the grassy rides due to the excessive heat. It was early afternoon, and I probably mistimed my searching for finding the Empress at her work. Returning to the junction at the entrance to Ladywood at 13:55, the ab lugenda? circled our bikes twice and was off again in seconds.

This brief visitation did not include settling on the ground, but gave us a tantalising view of an emperor with no white markings that we could discern whilst in flight. We summoned Mark who had perhaps seen this particular insect earlier and in a similar location, but it did not return again after thirty minutes. He had observed the royal colouring, whilst we were not favoured with this vision from our vantage point. I was now content at this point to leave the woods and we duly departed just after 15:00 hours.

Concerning the extraordinary run of hot sunny conditions of the last week or two, I include an image taken from my last visit a couple of days ago, of a male that took refuge from the heat by entering  the hedgerow, as has been observed and described by Matthew at Knepp. He stayed for around ten minutes here before returning to his lofty perch. (I like the green tinge afforded by the sunlight through the leaves and this season's visits to Ladywood have been a magical experience).

Upper Thames today

Brother Dennis returned from his Northern exile for a days emperor fix at a private wood in Buckinghamshire today. Together with Dave Wilton, Mick and Wendy Campbell we met at 10:45am to search the wood. With near perfect conditions we managed 31 sightings over the following two hours. My impression is that iris is having at best an average year in the Upper Thames region so seeing this number in a couple of hours was a good result.

The first hour and a quarter we saw all males mostly searching for females doing typical Oak edging behaviour. At mid day we found our first female looking to lay. She was diving deep into the shade of a large Sallow.  From that point forward we encountered a mix of males and females. I have noticed this behaviour many times before on hot days where the males are more active up until mid day and then the females becoming more prominent in the hot early afternoon.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

All Change

As Matthew has already reported, Knepp felt very different today. Admittedly, I covered much less ground than during recent monitoring visits, but my day-count of 181 was disproportionately lower. Although I saw one 'Benny Hill chase' of seven, clashes involving more than a pair were rare. The regular bundles of four, five and six or more already seem a distant dream. The head of steam has been lost; they are suddenly getting lazy. I have no doubt that there will be more fireworks to come, but they can no longer be expected.

However, the numbers present remain huge. Knepp has set the bar so high that we have come to know this species, at least here, as a quite common butterfly of scrub and hedgerows; a butterfly of the wider countryside. Of course the emperor will never be Common, but neither will things ever be the same again, and that is something to celebrate.

On the way back to the car I saw my fourth tumbledown of the day. She landed on some Bracken and peered down on me as I edged below her. There is still life in the season yet, but there is now an urgency to squeeze every possible moment from this momentous iris year.

Knepp: Day 20 - the day after the Columbia game

There shouldn't be a tinge of sadness in the Empire's air as early as July 4th but it is likely that the emergence at Knepp is almost complete for the year, with just a few females still to appear.  

The males suddenly switch behaviour when all the females are out, and have been wedded and bedded - they stop searching the sallow thickets frenetically, stop descending to the ground, start to take the mornings off, and become afternoon creatures, and increasingly territorial. There were signs of all that happening at Knepp today - and on the glorious 4th of July, gosh! Of course, they may simply have been badly hungover, having got plastered for the football the previous day...

It looks as though the male emergence at Knepp ran from June 15th to around July 1st this year. Neil and I saw a few reasonably dark-looking males today, who were sallow searching, but the vast majority were distinctly middle aged.  

I know this sounds ridiculous but I struggled to count 200 today. 

Also, the Knepp population doesn't seem to produce aberrations: I have seen over a thousand (day individuals) there so far this year, all type.

There are still a few fresh-looking ladies around, including this minx who was feeding on sap on Rosemary's Tree today -

Today at Fermyn

A couple of remarkable images from Dave Holden, today at Fermyn.

"Had a lovely morning with lots of sightings and as I was walking back to the car this large dark butterfly was spotted in the last large clearing on the right(first clearing on the left as you walk in), coming down to a muddy area.I had found a aberration in the woods in 2015 and posted pictures of it and I thought this new one today also looked promising.It was in very poor condition but I thought it was still worth mentioning."

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Monday Magic

Monday 2 July

Having seen some pics of emperors taken by my brother Mike Cope on a Knepp safari, sibling rivalry demanded a trip to Fermyn. After a 3am start from Manchester, I arrived at 6am and wandered about for a few hours.
9.30am saw me at the far end of Southey Wood, watching emperors gliding effortlessly like little paper aeroplanes against a deep cobalt sky. By an uncharacteristic stroke of luck, HIM came down and settled on a bramble leaf to sip honeydew. After a short stalk through some challenging brambles, I managed to get close enough to get a lovely open wing shot. As I started to breathe again, he retired to the deep recesses of the wood. Interested, I followed to see HIM settle on a leaf and then fall as if stone dead to the floor below,  bouncing once, then recovering to sip moisture from the forest floor.
 Later, on the walk back, a couple of bikers generously highlighted a grounding on Neil's old shrimp paste bait, still working it's magic. Before regaining the car park, after a long hot day, I hurdled the usual characters lying flat prone in the dirt, a few staring vertically through dustbin-sized lenses and a guy jealously guarding a small pile of fox faeces. Bloodied but unbowed, I noticed several emperors wheeling around close to the car pull-in and one actually settled on my wing mirror. Typical - I could have just stayed close to the car to get my pics, but then I wouldn't have met the lovely, friendly, totally bonkers people that define the Fermyn experience. A day to remember.
Roger Cope

Fermyn Patrol Monday July 2nd

The hot NE wind continued at Fermyn on Monday and these conditions, coupled with the harsh light from the moment we arrived at the Glider club entrance at 08:00 proved to affect the behaviour of Iris to the detriment of all those hoping for groundings and the opportunity to obtain "double purple" photographs. There were a fair number of people already on their way to Ladywood by this time, and we travelled on further to an area much further down the track, meeting an acquaintance who had already seen three males, and commented on the activity at tree-top level of that inveterate squabbler, Quercus, at this early hour. We immediately became aware of Iris taking flight, clearing the great tit from his airspace before commencing sallow searching, and this type of behaviour was mirrored throughout the morning at all the known hot spots. Talking to others, on the only occasions of groundings the males would not open their wings due to the heat, and did not stay long on the dry tracks. A feature encountered throughout the woods was the amount of sap that appeared to rain down, it was markedly visible in certain light and could be felt too. I do wonder if this sap rain is a feature of Fermyn that encourages Iris to come down each year? Or perhaps it is just this season that these conditions are causing stress in the trees? (I would welcome comments.) The wind was also making it uncomfortable for grounded individuals who were being blown around on the tracks.

As the morning drifted by, the woods appeared to empty of people, but the count of Emperors went on (we eventually reached 40 at the end of our stay). The majority were in great shape, and I believe that there must still be more to come, for I was informed that it was only on Friday 22nd June that the first sightings were made here. We entered the grassy rides at 13:30 and immediately were rewarded with sightings and activity. examples of rejection drops, females in the sallows and males on patrol were all made, and included in this was the sort of  behaviour described by observers at Knepp, where individuals were seen to enter the hedges and take cover in the shade. From 13:30, we managed to see a lot more males on the ground too, searching for sustenance, (also in the shade) but hardly ever opening their wings. We even found a female in shade on the ground, and suspect this girl was resting from a bout of egg laying. Later we were treated to a three-ship of males and then a four-ship, twice, of three males chasing a female. The activity was still much in evidence at 16:00, as we left the scene, with water bottles almost empty. Seven Females out of the conservative estimate of forty individuals, made for a memorable day of Emperor watching, Unfortunately, this activity was only watched by three of us, and on reaching the car park, two cars one of which was mine, were all that were evident.

Best To Date - 388

A thorough survey of the entire Knepp Wildland Southern Block has achieved our highest count yet; a massive 388 Purple Emperors. 66 were counted on the Green Lane transect and a total of 16 females were seen. 

I watched 11 'tumble downs' (when already-mated Empresses spiral down to the ground, trying to shake off amorous males), which mostly occurred in the vicinity of 'feeder trees' (those oaks hosting multiple sap bleeds, encouraging large, boisterous drinking parties). At one such tree ('Rosemary's Tree') I enjoyed a chase of nine males, spiraling tightly around my head (at c.7pm). Earlier, beside a small wooden bridge on Green Lane, I watched six dogfights occurring simultaneously, two of which comprised three males; that's 14 emperors in view at the same time! 

I ran out of unsearched areas of the Southern Block long before the butterflies became less active at 8pm. Had I not taken a significant break earlier in the day, to chase White-letter Hairstreaks, I would undoubtedly have had time to move into the Middle and Northern Blocks, probably enabling a count in excess of 400 Purple Emperors. However, the route I took allowed me to observe something I've never seen before; just before 8pm I found a mating pair of hutchinsoni (summer brood) Comma. Knepp continues to 

On Safari

Matthew and I have started our 2018 Knepp Purple Emperor Safari campaign in good form, which is hardly surprising given the excellent weather and unprecedented numbers of the butterfly. A full-day outing on Saturday 30 June gave us a count of 87, followed by a half-day tally of 56 on Sunday 1 July. 

Numbers are now at peak and although more females will emerge, the males are probably all out now. It's great to see so many people enjoying the spectacle. There are plenty of other species showing well too, including more White Admirals than usual. In the last few days we've also seen large increases in the numbers of Comma and Purple Hairstreak, the latter best viewed in the evenings.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

In case you wondered...

...Upper Thames is still here and seeing HIM!  Since the departure of our co-ordinator-in-chief Dennis Dell to pastures new in non-Iris territory somewhere well north of Watford, we've been rather in disarray.  However, rest assured that He hasn't deserted us as well and is still being seen in Bucks/Berks/Oxon woods as well as at a handful of unexpected non-woody locations.  Our first sighting was on the 19th by the intrepid Campbells at the usual wood-edge high point territory of Little Wood on the Bucks/Oxon border and there have been plenty of subsequent sightings, especially from Bernwood Forest.  All it needs is a volunteer to collect together the information!