Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Mark and Never See Again...

Off to the Catalan Pyrenees to attempt mark and recapture work on iris... Returning home on Aug 9th. 

This what a team of us will be doing, led by Catalan scientist and high priest of the Painted Lady (the only butterfly capable of mixing it with iris males on territory) Constanti Stefanescu -  

Previous attempts at this piece of basic science, here in the UK, have amounted to mark-and-never-see-again...  In Catalonia it should be much easier, in theory, because both sexes readily come down to feed on sap flowing from Woolly Thistle buds that have been damaged by various beetles and weevils. The sap seems to be more of a soporific than a stimulant to iris, in fact they seem to get stoned on it. Netting them on the thistles is relatively easy.  

The Purple Emperor flies much later in the Pyrenees than here, and should be at peak season there. However, numbers may be down this year as a large number of riverside sallows got washed away by a severe flood last October.   

Watch this space. This is going to be at the very least, Silly...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A pretty special day had with the kids at Lyveden on Friday. Our third attempt at Purple Emperor spotting. I was being ambitious as always as our previous attempts challenged my ability to maintain the kids (aged 3 and 7) enthusiasm staring up at some treetops.  

We think we had success at Foxley Wood the weekend before, but the powerful and highly energetic suspect was far too quick to be 100% certain as it shot down from a row of oak trees to pass my shoulder and back up to the tree tops. There were a good number of White Admirals to confuse matters. This ramped up my intrigue and determination to have a definite sighting. 

We set off on the Lyveden way footpath to Fermyn. They’d been storms and heavy rainfall upon our arrival. Luckily this passed and we set out. By sheer fluke I spotted this tired male in the grass beside 
Lady Wood, trying desperately to fly but he had hopefully lived his expected lifespan. It gave us a good display of its yellow tongue and beautiful iridescent wings. A moment I’ll treasure.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

How Good Was 2019 at Knepp?

Neil and I run a Purple Emperor (single species) transect along a 2km stretch of green lane at Knepp Wildland. 

Method: weekly count throughout the PE season, afternoons only (when males are on territory), 50m box (the UK BMS 2.5m box mainly records males on dog poo), and windy weather restrictions (c/f tree tops). We developed it in 2014 and  2015, and launched it in 2016.  

Given that the 2019 season lasted just five weeks (most seasons do, though 2018 stretched to six weeks), the data set now runs -

                    2016      54
                    2017    114
                    2018    201
                    2019      98

It is hard to explain why 2019 was so much better than 2016, other than by suggesting that the Knepp population is still in building phase. 

Why were numbers so down on 2018? First, no rain fell at Knepp between 31st May and 28th July 2018, causing many sallows to drop their sub-canopy leaves - on which most eggs are laid. Secondly, Purple Emperor numbers are heavily influenced by June weather, and June 2019 was cool and wet (bar the last week).  

Monday, July 22, 2019

Knepp Update - Going Over

A bit too cloudy for much of today, so I struggled to see Purple Emperors. Eventually I managed seven old and battered males and five females (two in reasonable condition, two frayed around the edges and one utterly ragged). Most were in one small area, around a favoured feeder tree.

Advise: don't visit (unless you live locally), they're going over fast.

Brown Hairstreak just starting. Too early to say whether they'll be good or not.  Watch this space...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Excellent news from Norfolk.  The return after a 50 year absence of Iris to Foxley Wood NWT.  Photos on Norfolk Butterfly Conservation facebook page.  Have not heard of anything from Sheringham Park NT.

Knepp Decimated

Am back at Knepp after an enforced absence. The place got hit by a severe thunderstorm + stair-rod rain on Friday evening. I struggled to see a few males late this afternoon but will find out the extent of the damage tomorrow. Advise: don't travel a long distance to visit Knepp this season, they're probably going over...

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Apatura iris on Buddleia

This fresh-looking female was photographed today in my godson's garden at Wonston, near Sutton Scotney in Hampshire. I've still never seen iris feeding on flowers, other than once on Sweet Chestnut flowers.

PS  This stimulated the reporting of a male on Buddleia near Cambridge North Station. That's serious, as it suggests that Cambridge has declared itself Purple ahead of Oxford (though I'm confident PE has been breeding in Port Meadow for years)...

Leics & Staffs Come Out!

Delighted to report records of lone males from Leics and Staffs, the first for these counties for a very long time.

On July 16th a male was seen and photoed at Charnwood Lodge Nature Reserve near Coalville in the Charnwood Forest region of Leics (NE of Leicester and close to the Derbys border). Here's the proof of evidence -

This means that it well worth looking for iris in parts of the new National Forest around Ashby de la Zouch, and into Derbys around Ticknall. I've visited these areas out of season and have noted much highly suitable habitat... Once colonised, the butterfly could abound there...

PS  I've just learnt of a record from woodland just NW of Leicester last year.

The Staffs record is of a fresh male at a window near Rugeley, in Cannock Chase on 18th July, i.e. to the north-west of Birminghamshire (where the Sandwell Valley needs checking).  

These sightings are the legacy of the Great Purple Emperor Season of 2018.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

50 Years On...

Fifty years ago tomorrow, Sunday July 21st, IRP Heslop netted a small but near-pristine male specimen of what was almost a full ab. iole, just east of where the Bentley Wood car park now stands - after having been up all night watching the moon landing. 'Never have I a caught a specimen so easily', he wrote in his diary. The specimen resides in Bristol Museum. Here it is -

Will someone please visit Bentley Wood tomorrow morning and do the necessary honours (I am hors de combat)?

Castor Hanglands

Following a tip-off that the weather would improve from the morning's cloud and drizzle, we decided to "hang a right" on the A47 to Castor Hanglands on the off-chance of observing some purple action. This site has a good selection of habitats and subsequently holds both grassland and woodland butterflies. A mid-morning arrival in damp conditions did not put us off as it is often the case that the insects will take full advantage of any changes in the weather for the better.

The sun broke through the cloud cover at 11.50 and within five minutes, we observed two emperors jousting at the top of a large oak at the side of the metalled track. (A clue that this area was the right place to be was the number of banana skins strewn about the track). A few minutes later, another male emperor was seen to come down from his lofty perch and conduct two circuits in a search of a particularly good sallow before zooming up and over a nearby oak. This action took place around a bend in the track and as the cloud cover once again obscured the sun, we had a good look at the sallows in the area, which all appeared to be in fine condition.

Another pleasing observation was in the number of purple hairstreaks in the oaks. These were fresh females and they came down to head height on a number of occasions throughout our five hour stay. In all we had seven sightings of His Majesty, maybe three individuals, but possibly four as what appeared to be a larger insect dived into a huge likely-looking sallow and was not seen to reappear. I would skip the banana baits in favour of some Belacan shrimp paste and perhaps some lucky person may lure HIM down on the track here, when conditions are more amenable? At no time did I get the camera out today, the binoculars allowing me to concentrate on observing purple behaviour.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

var. afflicta at Bernwood, Bucks.

First post here.

Here are a couple of pictures of an aberrant Purple Emperor I took this morning at Bernwood, Bucks. I assume it's ab. afflicta. I saw 4 Purple Emperors in total, one in flight, and 3 on the ground, including this one. All looked a bit worse for wear.

I'd seen 5 on the morning of 11th July but none on the ground. 

Mark Griffiths, Oxford.

Starting to go over at Knepp....

Already, the 2019 Purple Emperor season is on the wane at Knepp Wildland. I struggled to see 35 yesterday. The last should be seen here around July 26th.

From now on they will be afternoon butterflies only. Don't look for them here before 11.45am, and don't expect them to come down to the ground at all. 

Male activity will become increasingly localised and episodic, around favoured territories and feeder trees. 

Females will be active in the sallow jungles between noon and 3pm, and around sap bleeds. The good news is that the weather is set fair and the sallow foliage is in good condition for egg laying.

Early indications are that this year's Knepp PE transect tally will be around 95-98, compared to 201 last year and 114 in 2017.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

How to Watch Emperors...

Great to spot this couple watching a brace of sparring males at Knepp Wildland yesterday. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Particularly Appalling Behaviour...

During the latter stages of yesterday's (farcical) cricket world cup final (which NZ should have won, having lost fewer wickets) I witnessed a patrolling male iris break up a mating pair. This was in an ash tree used annually by the Brown Hairstreak (first male seen here yesterday). I don't know how long the pair had been mating for - maybe they were ready to separate anyway - but a searching male continually pestered them, trying to muscle in, and managed to break them apart. The female promptly flew off in a huff. 

I managed to see 40 Purple Emperors here yesterday, despite prodigious amounts of cloud and the destraction provided by TMS commentary. However, the season is now into its second half here, as illustrated by this worn and torn Empress -

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Brilliant Day!

I decided to take a break from Purple Emperor watching today and look for the elusive Brilliant Emerald dragonfly at Warren Heath, North Hampshire today. It was very cloudy on arrival and so my hopes to see this green jewel of an insect were not high. I made my way to the pools whilst a glimmer of sun made the Ringlets active, then suddenly I noticed a large butterfly above a sallow, a gliding Purple Emperor. This was at around, 11.30, I saw it again at 13.35 and 13.53. I'm pretty sure it was a female on large size, it was sticking to the same area along the ride. The majority of the habitat was not what I would call typical of iris as there were many tall conifers, but some tall oaks and sallows were present. There were good numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries and a White Admiral was also present. I have not heard of Purple Emperors being recorded here before, but it is a large wooded area which may hold a low density spread out population. By the way I did see two or three Brilliant Emeralds as well!

The area along the ride I saw the Purple Emperor

All about.Abs

It's been hard work at Fermyn these last two weeks. Numbers down considerably on last year. However, there seems to have been more frequent sightings of aberrations. What this might be down to is anyone's guess but I suspect the unpredictable weather and temperatures may be a factor. I was fortunate enough to witness this beautiful ab.afflicta high above us in a fir tree next to a master oak in the Souther Wood ride. Inexplicably he decided to sail down and investigate my blue folding bike, creeping along, dabbing the cross bar (traces of sweat?) before flitting off to return to the bike tyres. I have seen male emperors on car tyres before, so this was not a surprise. All in all he was down for about ten minutes which gave ample time to get plenty of shots.

Slow Ton at Knepp

I managed to get the hundred up at Knepp yesterday, but it was a slow grind (Boycottian in fact, though the ball was not coming on to the bat). I ended up on 108 but would have seen around 125 had dense patchy cloud (unforecast) not spilled over from 2pm - the Emperors then became active only during the sunny spells.

I scored one six, two fours, two tumbledowns and a mating pair (again, in the highestmost spray of a sheltered oak crown, along a leeward edge, with the female flying up into a territory occupied by a lone male; they joined after a 2 minute follow-my-leader courtship flight). 

The male emergence is probably almost complete here now, and morning sallow searching is starting to abate. Very soon the Purple Emperor will become an afternoon butterfly here. By next weekend look for them only after 11.45am.

In terms of numbers, I think they are about one-third of last year's abundance and two-thirds of the norm. However, Purple Emperor doesn't have bad seasons (other, lesser butterflies do...)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Emergence at CFW

The purple wave has rippled northwards to the ‘Emperor Arctic Circle’ of Lincolnshire. Spotted my first Purple Emperor out at Chambers Farm Wood (CFW), near Lincoln, on Wednesday 10th July 2019.

Like buses...

Like buses...
...you wait ages for one, and then 3 come along together! Well, that's Me and Purple Emperor aberrations! I've waited over 50 years to see a Purple Emperor aberration, not even a sniff of one before, and now three have come along at the same time! Literally!

I've been expecting a dig in the ribs by 'management', followed by the phrase, "wake up!", but so far that hasn't happened; so I guess I haven't dreamt it! Also, it was good to share the experience of the second and third aberrations with Bill Seager, who, like me, had not seen a Purple Emperor aberration before. (It was great to meet you Bill!)

I was in the Lady Wood/Souther Wood complex on Thursday 11th July when I spotted the first aberration, which circled around in front of me before alighting on a conifer about 12 feet up. My heart started racing as I tried to get a semi-reasonable photograph of it with the macro lens. I got a few record shots, but not the best in the world.

Aberrant 1 - Upperside

Aberrant 1 - Underside

With the focussing square firmly on the butterfly, another Purple Emperor aberration flew past at chest height. Now, imagine the dilemma: keep focussed on the first aberration, 12 foot up, or follow the second? The second aberration did a U-turn, flying back towards me, and then took a fancy to my right leg. It then circled low down, above an area on the track where I had deposited one of my concoctions. Finally, it landed on the track nearby and I decided to now focus on this one, firing off a few shots with the camera. It only remained on the ground for about 30 seconds and was then off again.

Aberrant 2 - Upperside

Aberrant 2 - Underside

It circled around me a few times, before making off along the track. I gave pursuit and fortunately, at this point, the cavalry appeared, in the form of Bill Seager of the Fermyn Light Horse, apparently a well-known regiment in these parts! Bill saw me pursuing it and immediately realised what it was. The Emperor doubled back again, and tantalisingly it looked like it was going to settle on the track, but then flew round the conifer and landed about 20 foot up. Grey cloud rolled in and we watched the aberrant, which remained in place for over one hour, occasionally turning, occasionally closing its wings and occasionally flapping its wings to ward off marauding bees. When the sun came out, the aberrant still remained rooted to the spot and we witnessed further Emperor activity around the conifer with at least 6 normally-marked male Purple Emperors flying further up. All of this time, the original aberration that I had spotted had remained in place. With these two aberrant butterflies settled in the conifers, we both then witnessed another aberrant Emperor flying in; this one was even darker than the other 2 aberrations, both of which I could still see up in the conifers. This third aberration didn't land, but worked its way around and then up and over the conifers. As the skies leadened, the other two flew up and over the conifers and all flying activity ceased. I had remained there all day, but eventually realised that I wasn't going to see any more, so departed for home.

I still can't really comprehend what happened, but those butterflies certainly made two grown men very happy that day!
Rather hard going at Fermyn today, but managed a couple of grounded males.  Click the link to see!

Emperors at Fermyn

Friday, July 12, 2019

Peak Season at Knepp

The Purple Emperor is now at peak season at Knepp. There are probably a few males and several females still to emerge, but some of the more kamazi males will already have died out (and many more will have dispersed). Last year males emerged over a 20 day period, today is Day 17 of the season at Knepp.

I managed to see eight females today, including this tatty female -

Most males, though, are in good condition, including this stroppy male, defending a territory known as Gratuitous Violence today -

However, males have virtually ceased coming down to the ground at Knepp for the year (surprisingly few groundings have been recorded there this year, by the way). Instead, you may see gatherings on small sap bleeds, like this grouping, taken at 7pm yesterday evening -

The forecast for tomorrow is terrific - don't miss out....

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Today at Knepp

I planned to do a big count today, and hoped to see over 150. However, large parts of the day were just a bit too cloudy, and the wind also became a little inhibitive too. I only managed 69...

Instead, I surveyed parts of the Wildland seldom (if ever) visited and was pleasantly surprised, finding Emperors in good numbers in terra nova - around new sallow thickets and sallow-lined streamsides. 

Males are still emerging in numbers, on Day 15 of the flight season here, and females still haven't got going properly. The emergence is certainly protracted this year, especially considering the fine weather.  

Both sexes are starting to visit sap bleeds on oaks. Here's a remarkable photo of five males on a small bleed, probably started by a woodpecker boring (it's not my photo, I wish it was...) -

Apatura iris in copula

Few people have witnessed Purple Emperors mating, mainly because it takes place high in the tree tops.

Yesterday at Knepp Wildland, I saw a pair join in the highest spray of a 60' tall oak, at 4.26 pm, after a short follow-my-leader courtship flight.  They settled on a twig, rather than on leaves.  They remained joined, end to end and wings closed, until cloud came over after 7.30, and they separated. They had mated for around 3 hrs 12-18 mins. 

They then roosted 2' apart there. A second male came in and roosted close by.

This is the 14th pairing I've seen from start to finish. Mating averages out at around 3 hours 40 minutes.

Lousy photos of course, due to distance -

Males are still emerging at Knepp, and the bulk of the females is probably yet to emerge - indicating, again, an unusually protracted emergence.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Numbers at Fermyn Woods

I was back again at Fermyn Woods on Monday (8th July) and on this occasion recorded 21 male Purple Emperors in the Lady/Souther Wood complex, along with my first sighting of a female Purple Emperor this year. No Purple Emperors were recorded from Cherry Lap Wood.

Last year, I made 3 trips to Fermyn whilst Purple Emperor was on the wing and was delighted to see 199 Purple Emperors. This year, on 3 similar visits, I have recorded 55 Purple Emperors. Based on this limited data, it would appear that numbers are between one quarter and one third of that experienced last year, which corresponds to Matthew Oates' observations that were reported in an earlier post.

Bentley off with a Bang!

After two previous unsuccessful visits to Bentley Wood looking for Purple Emperors I went today with high hopes. It was not long before I saw one over the car park with another gliding briefly high over the main track. The word got round that 3 were coming down low at the cross tracks, so another observer and myself moved swiftly along to where we saw one land on some horse manure, where it remained for around 25 minutes. Whilst the four observers were taking photos a horse wandered up to us which had apparently unseated it's rider, who later turned up unharmed, leading the horse off by foot. The Emperor remained down with this unfolding drama nearby. It was about to open it's wings when a large car came along, slowly went past, but that was our lot, it flew up and away. After a short wait it did return but only stayed down briefly. All this was happening from around 11 ish. Other observers witnessed a string of 5 flying over the trees and another grounded individual was seen near the car park. Altogether I would estimate around 10 were seen. I believe the first Emperors were seen here around 4th July from the log book. It was a great day for butterflies and watching scarce birds of prey in near perfect conditions.

Fresh male tucking in!

A quick snap before the car passed.


Another visit to Fermyn - Sunday 7th July

The allure of Fermyn proved to much again and I visited again on Sunday (7th July). If I could have ordered the weather for Sunday it would have been similar to that which was forecast: it had rained the day before, meaning there would be plenty of moisture down in the track, and a balanced mixture of sun and cloud would hopefully mean that butterflies would not spend much of the day roosting up.

On arrival at the woods, just before 08:00, there seemed to be a little more cloud than I had hoped, but nevertheless it was fairly bright. A cool East North East wind was blowing, but it was light at around 5 mph and the temperature was 15 degrees Centigrade. I set off in anticipation of good Emperor numbers following the 23 I had recorded on Friday, expecting to see at least this number, if not more.

A slow walk through Cherry Lap produced nothing on the Emperor front. I was well into the Lady/Souther Wood complex, having turned right at the first fork, before I thought I had a glimpse of a Purple Emperor disappearing over the top of a pine tree at 09:05, but couldn't be 100% certain, so couldn't count it. My first, definite Purple Emperor sighting was at 09:20, a male gracefully gliding over the oaks, just past the large Cypress conifers. This was shortly followed by another at 09:26, a male down on the track this time; it was in pristine condition and I would suggest it was less than a day old. Off to a good start, but it was exactly another hour before the next sighting a bit further along the ride. This individual flew along the ride and landed in almost the precise position that the previous one had vacated, but this was a different individual with a slight nick out of the tornus of its right-hand forewing. Otherwise, it was in good condition with very little rubbing. A similar thing happened with a third male landing in the same area, this one with the tiniest segment missing from the margin of its right-hand hindwing. And again, it was very fresh apart from this.

Whilst I was getting a few sightings and had been lucky to see 3 down on the ground, there just wasn't the aerial activity that I had expected, especially considering the fact that conditions seemed to be good. And by the time I had walked all of the way back through Cherry Lap Wood to the car for lunch, I had only seen 9 individuals. The last of these was a male down on the track in Cherry Lap Wood at 12:24 and would prove to be the only Purple Emperor sighting that I was to have in this wood all day!

After lunch I made my way back to the Lady/Souther Wood complex, but visited different areas from the morning. Only 2 further Emperor sightings were recorded, the first of which wasn't until 16:01!

In summary, low numbers, but incredibly fresh.

Final Score:

Cherry Lap

1 male Purple Emperor

Lady/Souther Wood

10 male Purple Emperors

Monday, July 8, 2019

Sallow Quality

Sallows flowered prodigiously this spring, so much so that at many Purple Emperor sites sallow foliage was very late in developing. Many sallows, notably the narrow-leaved varieties, didn't come into leaf properly before late May. This is probably a reaction to stress caused by last summer's drought.

Whatever the cause, it may result in an unusually protracted emergence this year, at both site and district level. This is evident at Knepp, where less than ten females have been seen so far - and the season kicked of there on June 25th. It may also explain why only a single Emperor has been seen so far this season in Straits Inclosure, in Alice Holt Forest.

Today, I visited a new site near Swindon-where-the-shadows-lie, a vast jungle of sallow over a large abandoned arable field. Sallow quality there was terrible, with many bushes dying - after over-flowering in response to drought stress. Thankfully, the broad-leaved varieties were alright and I quickly turned up a new iris colony.  

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Third time lucky!

I spent the whole of last weekend (29th/30th June) at Fermyn, enduring temperatures in the 30s on Saturday and enjoying a much cooler Sunday, but drew a total blank on the Emperor front. I decided to make the pilgrimage again yesterday (Friday 5th July) and got there reasonably early at 08:00, but have to confess I did not forego my breakfast!

A slow walk through Cherry Lap Wood from one end to the other and then back to the car, which was parked opposite the gliding club, produced nothing on the Emperor front. Silver-washed Fritillaries, on the other hand, were everywhere and a good count of 60 (51 male, 7 female - one of which was valesina, and a mating pair) was soon amassed. These are clearly benefitting from the ride-widening, which has encouraged nectar sources of Marsh and Spear Thistles to flourish. Alas, only 1 Purple Hairstreak was seen at the top of an Ash tree.

I decided to go back through the wood and on across the field to Lady Wood. I had still drawn a blank until I reached the fork in the ride, just after the row of poplars, when I was delighted to record my first Purple Emperor of the year at 11:30. Here there were 3 males down on the ground, 2 of which stayed for a considerable time. The heat of the day was starting to kick in and so the Emperors' wings were firmy closed together; underside shots were the best I could hope for. Turning right at the fork, another 3 males were seen gliding over the tree-tops, 2 of which were sparring, and one a bit lower down, flying along the ride. As temperatures reached 28 degrees Centigrade, Emperor activity ceased and I failed to see any for exactly 2 hours from 12:41 to 14:41. I then met up with John Wiltshire and Brian Hicks and together we witnessed at least 3 male Emperors flying out of, and then roosting back up in, the large Cypress conifers. Bizarrely, the temperature in the shade of these large conifers was considerably cooler than in other shadier parts of the ride. Further male Emperors were seen, but only one more down on the ground at 16:13, seen by myself and John, as Brian had had to depart slightly earlier. My final tally for Lady Wood was 18 male Purple Emperors. Silver-washed Fritillary numbers were lower in Lady Wood with only 12 males being seen.

There then followed the long walk back to the car, across the field and back into Cherry Lap Wood. On entering Cherry Lap Wood, John and I saw our first male Emperor in this wood this year, but it just flew over the top of some large oaks, never to be seen again! We trudged back to the car and, with the car in sight, we packed our camera gear away. Fatal mistake! In the last 100 metres to the car there were 4 male Emperors down on the track, 2 of which we nearly stepped on. Thankfully we didn't and were able to get the cameras out for a few more photographs.

Final Score:

Cherry Lap
5 male Purple Emperors

Lady Wood
18 male Purple Emperors

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Thought on Numbers...

It looks as though numbers at Knepp are about one-third of 2018's (astronomic) level, and about two-thirds of the norm. If this is an accurate impression, and is being reflected elsewhere, then the butterfly will be unusually hard to see in localities supporting small populations. 

However, the butterfly's emergence is unusually staggered this year, so I may yet need to revise my impression.

Also, I managed to count108 probable individuals at Knepp today. I would have managed more but it was rather too cloudy for them after 3pm. They are still emerging here, especially the females.

I rarely see them feeding on the ground at Knepp, but found this male down on the track this morning, around 10am - 

Fermyn Friday

A hot hard day At Fermyn.  Sightings of Iris were very slow and it was not until the second circuit of Souther, early afternoon, that a couple glided past.  These were then seen hanging about in a large conifer.  On the way back to the car I clocked an Empress in a sallow just by the entrance to the complex then a male near the glider club end car park.  In total eight sightings only one briefly grounded.  Others did much better, getting into double figures!

His majesty puts in an appearance at Savernake

First sighting (as far as I'm aware) of his majesty at Savernake today and what a beauty! Very fresh and even better, a grounding - courtesy of a canine visitor leaving a deposit.

New Boy at Knepp

Yesterday 4.7.19, I fulfilled an ambition and visited Knepp. Having braved the Chichester traffic I still arrived just after 9.00 when the heat was building. Using my colourful little map I picked up at reception I eagerly made my way around the area following the thoughtfully provided purple ribbons. I saw my first male Purple Emperor around 9.30 fleetingly over an Oak and that was it for a while. I was suitably chastised by MRO when I met him and Neil Hulme guiding a group for not seeing more. Just 10 minutes later I was watching a newly emerged female down low on bramble leaves, things were looking up. I walked and walked, even getting lost at one point in the sunny hot conditions, and at around 11.00 the Emperors started to come out to play. I saw around 30 all day around the public rights of way, especially Green Lane. Fantastic views of chasing and effortless flights all around the area. Perhaps the other highlight was an early evening walk with 2 or 3 Purple Emperors chasing each other with around 30+ Purple Hairstreaks annoying them.
Also heard about a female aberration being seen by two lucky observers!
I also saw 3 White Storks thermalling, a Turtle Dove along with my first Gatekeeper of the year. Did not get home until 21.00. Not a bad day out.

Newly emerged female

Female in slightly better light

Tie a purple ribbon round the old oak tree!

One of  three White Storks riding the thrrmals

Have moved

possibly you have noticed little or no posts from Upper Thames for a couple of years..?
This is because we moved to sheffield in december 2017.
My iris activities have been seriously curtailed!
The nearest iris wood is about one hour south: cotgrave wood, which is the most northerly known habitat.
The best northern site is Chambers Farm Wood in Lincs, which has an introduced population which is doing very well.

Wait For It!

In the military, one is instructed - NEVER be late. Inevitably, that means that on occasion, you will be early, and very early is better than a tiny bit late. So with this in mind, a patrol was sent out on the fourth of July in perfect weather, to reconnoitre the conditions for observing Iris at the Fermyn Wood complex.

Observations started at 08.30 hours with clear blue skies and temperatures climbing steadily into the high teens. Ladywood is sporting a new look this season, with the rides widened considerably. This has been achieved by clearing all the sallows along the rides as far as the pond, so you will not be ambushed by Iris leaping out at you as you go along this track. The clearance has revealed that there is a small ditch each side of this track and there is still standing water on this ground, even after a few days of intense heat. I expect this to remain during the season, which will be good news for the hawker and chaser dragonflies that are now in evidence. You can observe the tops of the oaks quite easily now from the tracks, for Iris activity.

However, opening up the rides has allowed the sun to beat down and dry up any existing pools of moisture favoured by grounded males imbibing minerals and salts which has previously made Fermyn the place to come to if you want pictures of HIM on the ground. It also means that in the lack of shade, the Iris observer will also feel the heat more this year. Hat and water a must?

Souther Wood has also been cleared on one side but not as far as Neil's Corner. The same applies here as to Lady wood. It has also revealed the state of the sallows further back from the track. They do not look healthy at all, with many almost devoid of greenery. Moving off the tracks into tall grass, the heat was too much, so, as it remained devoid of Iris activity, we did not remain long in these areas. We were surprised to observe a huge tit flock operating in Souther wood, possibly 50+ individuals comprising Blue, Marsh, Great, Long-tailed and some nuthatches and even thrushes passing through over the track. This sort of thing is expected in winter but must surely have an effect on survival rates if still going on now?

As mentioned by Richard, there were indications that the IRIS season is yet to get underway with no Purple Hairstreaks observed and with Camilla and Paphia looking very smart. Add to this the fact that we observed ten Black Hairstreak feeding on the Privet flowers and some still in a fair condition, this may indicate that the season will be later than that enjoyed for the previous year or two? The Lugenda sighting may be one of the consequences of the previous large changes in temperature experienced in previous weeks. In which case, we may get to see more examples of these this year?  At any rate, we left at 15.30 hours hot and dispirited at a meagre total of four individuals seen all day, and just the one grounding. Conclusion? Wait for a little while before making the journey if you live a long way from Fermyn.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Peak Season at Knepp

The Purple Emperor will be at peak season (i.e. maximum numbers showing) at Knepp this weekend. The year's main pulse of emergence has just taken place, but more are still to emerge, especially females. I saw the first eggs being laid at Knepp yesterday. For visiting details scroll down to my post of 12th June.

I haven't been able to do any counts at Knepp yet (I am doing a full count tomorrow - so if you meet me, I'll not be stopping long...) but it looks as though numbers may only be about half of last years astronomical high: don't worry, there's still plenty around at Knepp, it's just that 2018 was utterly astounding. However, if this pattern is being repeated elsewhere (and I think it is), the butterfly will be hard to see in sites supporting small populations.  

The butterfly seems to be only just starting in some districts (e.g. Wiltshire and Northants, which are traditionally later) and numbers are only just starting to build up in many sites, including Alice Holt Forest and Chiddingfold Forest.

The good news is that a male aberration lugenda was photographed today in Fermyn Woods, Northants, though it wasn't a pristine specimen (maybe 3-4 days old).

At Knepp, males are starting to feed on fermenting oak sap - and are getting piddled...  

The message to all Emperophiles for the weekend is, to quote the grandmaster of Emperoring, IRP Heslop: "To the woods, without breakfast!"

Does Fermyn Lugenda indicate a poor season

I suppose we won't fully understand whether the season is poor or late until the end of the season. I arrived at Fermyn expecting a big emergence, which did not happen. The signs were good - high numbers of SWF and WA all looking very fresh and I saw my first Iris at 9.20am. However, this Iris, like the other 2 that I saw in three hours, were not pristine newly emerged males. They looked slightly worn (as though they were flying in their second week) and Bill (of the Fermyn light patrol) didn't even bother to take a photograph.
On the other hand, Purple Hairstreak are not out at Fermyn so maybe we are still early and the main emergence is around the corner. At 12.00pm, I left for the car park and saw another tired male on dog poo surrounded by a crowd, before spotting Lugenda on the ground, 500m from the car park. I got a few record shots that confirm Lugenda and Lawrence (from Wolverhampton) very kindly gave me a couple of his (much better) Lugenda photos. He had seen Lugenda in the same place at 10.30am (ie he had been imbibing salts for an hour and a half next to the car park). I hoped that he would return and waited another 4 hours but he didn't show again. The Lugenda I saw at Cotgrave imbibed salts for 3 hours and was never seen again.
The problem is that Lugenda normally emerge late and this is the paradox. The Iris at Fermyn look worn as though they have been flying for a week or so in very low numbers and Lugenda indicates the season is well underway. On the other hand, PH are not out yet, SWF are nearly all males, Camilla look very fresh; suggesting an emergence is around the corner. I suppose we will all find out over the next week.
Thanks very much to Lawrence for his shots which you will easily distinguish from my record shots.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Herself Appears...

Three of the 76 Purple Emperors I saw at Knepp Wildland today were (mated) females. One was laying eggs in a narrow-leaved sallow. She was then accosted by a seaching male, who she rejected by performing a tumbledown dance. Later I saw a second tumbledown, involving a mated female who was several days old (possibly a week old).  

The Knepp population may actually be at peak now.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A long wait at Alice Holt

Having made two unsuccessful visits searching for Purple Emperors to Bentley Wood, I thought I would give Alice Holt a go today. Starting off in Straits where I met Mark Tutton who had also not seen any this year either. We spent a whole morning searching Straits without any luck, but we did see an obliterae White Admiral. Moving over to Abbott's Wood the sun appeared and suddenly a Purple Emperor sailed around a tall sallow at 13.37 eventually moving off well away. Later I visited Goose Green and it didn't let me down. Again when the sun came out, the action happened. Two sparring males kept me amused up until 16.45, perching in the open and performing a great display overhead. Mark eventually found a male at Abbott's after I left. The day turned out better than expected, but numbers do seem woefully low so far.

obiterae White Admiral

obliterae White Admiral just showing upperside

Circling Purple Emperor

Standing Sentinel

Into battle

Take off