Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Greetings...

To all followers of The Purple Empire - 

(This wont end well. They hate each other's guts!)


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Apatura iris Genome

Feeling very privileged to be granted access to the early draft of the first Apatura iris genome data which will ultimately be released under the Darwin Tree of Life Project. Really great to see that folks are making good progress with this.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Jacob Rees-Mogg

  This year's hibernating larvae are named after some of our politicians ('Donald', 'Boris', 'Margaret Hilda' etc.), so I wont be too upset if they get eaten by tits.  Here's 'Jacob', a lovely mottled grey form -

Monday, November 23, 2020

 Hello Purple enthusiasts,

Has anyone tried detecting caterpillars using fluoresence (as described here

In my area, the density of Emperor caterpillar appears to be relatively low (I find one caterpillar every 2 hours on average). I am therefore looking for optimization techniques :-)


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Into Hibernation, via Dangle Leaf

Yet again, the weather's been ridiculously mild in early November, when Purple Emperor larvae were seeking to enter hibernation (or diapause, if you like). Some were crawling around for two or three hours, on different days, often ending up close to where they started. It remains to be seen whether they've wasted valuable energy reserves doing this.

To date, I have found 12 in hibernation, at two different sites. Interestingly, the five in Savernake went into hibernation a week earlier than the seven at Lambourn. Twelve is a reasonable sample size for monitoring winter survival, especially after a poor egg lay season.

I've named them after some of the politicians we all love so much (many of them will get predated by tits). Here's 'Donald', who spent more than two hours crawling around on Nov 9th, and moved again on the following day:-

He eventually conked out, curled around the underside of this thick branch, in a most unphotogenic pose.  

Most of the twelve are, as usual, aligned on narrow stems next to buds, like 'Nigel' here - 

But two are on well silked-on leaves - 'Boris' and 'Ivanka'. These are the first I've recorded hibernating on leaves in the wild (though Ben Greenaway had three do so last winter in Sussex, one of which survived). Here's Ivanka -

Note that she changed position by 180 degrees between Nov 2nd and Nov 16th.

Here's 'Boris', but he's difficult to photograph - 

And here's one of the loveliest 'pillars I've ever seen, the adorable 'Priti' - an unusual golden colour form conked out on the upperside of an old branch (+ lichens, moss & Veiled Liverwort). I don't think she'll stay there, as it's a very sunny position - 

Three of these larvae, including the adorable 'Priti', were found by Dangle Leaf - a technique for finding hibernating iris larvae by looking for vacated silked-on feeding leaves at leaf fall time, and then tracking where the 'pillar went. Ordinary leaves just fall off, but some of those that have been used by iris larvae remain attached, tied on by silk: the petiole itself breaks, as normal, but the leaf is then held on by the silk, and spins distinctively in the breeze. Here's what to look for -

I recently discovered iris in my local wood via Dangle Leaf. Ben has some success with it in Sussex, but it seems to work better with his Grey Willow hybrids than with my Goat Willow-type trees. There's an excellent German youtube piece explaining it:

Good luck with Dangle Leaf, in sheltered places. This has been a very windy autumn and the Dangle Leaf Season may be short...

Monday, October 26, 2020

east midlands distribution map

 Thanks are due to  Derek, for uploading the map. Good to know that a word document cannot be uploaded to this blog: it has to be converted to a jpg file. 

The map shows Derbyshire [no sightings yet], Nottinghamshire [not many habitats yet, but spread across the whole county], and Leicestershire [a number of sightings, most concentrated within the National Forest area in the north-west of the county.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Gradual Northern Movement

 Since moving to Sheffield from Buckinghamshire, I have become increasingly interested in the appearance of HIM in all areas to the north of Rockingham Forest [Fermyn Woods]. I am grateful to my new friends from the East Midlands branch who have generously supplied me with data, in particular, Richard Jeffery, Ken Orpe, Suzanne Halfacre, and Jane Broomhead. Ken Orpe kindly generated this distribution map. 

Leicestershire has been particularly fruitful; in particular, the National Forest region has been very good for recorders with several new habitats having been registered. Nottinghamshire less so, but it is particularly exciting to announce  sightings, one adult and four larvae [two close together on one bush Matthew!], in Sherwood Forest. Matthew notes in his book that it was last recorded there in 1939.  Congratulations to Samantha and Nicholas Brownley, who made these observations, with supporting photos. With Chambers Farm Wood in Lincs, this is the most northerly known habitat. Of course, we cannot rule out releases being responsible for these sightings. 

Nothing in Derbyshire yet, but they are getting ever closer to the border. Ken Orpe will open a bottle of champagne when it happens!

I have not included Lincolnshire. HIM is well established in several woods south of Grantham, and in Chambers farm wood in the north of the county.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

2021 Field Trails: Ready & Waiting

Well it has certainly been a while since I have posted anything here. Irrespective of this, much Apatura science has continued in the background and after 6 years of quite intensive science and investigation, I think we are finally ready to go live with Apatura attraction field trails next summer. I have now analysed Limburger and Pálpusztai cheeses, as well as Belachan and Shito pastes. I have also re-analysed Matthew and Niel’s Pantainorasingh plus Monika tiny shrimp mixture all by Solid Phase Micro-Extraction (SPME) Gas-Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). The volatile analysis has identified one compound that is consistently present in all of these samples. The relative peaks relevant to this compound have been high-lighted with an anterisk (*). In addition to being found in these samples, the compound in question has also been confirmed to be present in all other known Apatura attractants inclusive of Dung (predominantly carnivore), Carcasses, Human skin volatiles, Cigarette smoke and Petrol fumes. The appropriate compound can also easily be explained in relation to the attraction of Apatura specimens which have been photographed clustered around the remains of a dead Rana frog. As predicted, the compound in question is a degradation product of a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA), which have been confirmed to be readily incorporated into the male specific centrally methylated pheromone compound. As such, the males are being directly attracted to the site(s) of what they specifically need in order to produce their male specific pheromone. All I need to do now however is to wait until next summer in order to perform the field trials. It is going to be a long winter.

Monday, October 12, 2020

More Doom & Gloom

  For the last twelve years I've monitored the Emperor's performance in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, by standardised searches for larvae during the late summer / early autumn period, from the ground. The data are shown in a table on Page 236 of His Imperial Majesty, a natural history....

  This is what I look for - 

  The 2020 tally is a mere nine. This is by far the lowest total in the 12 years. The previous lowest annual total was 16, in 2019.  The mean for the previous 11 years is 55 (the running mean is now 51).  

  This meagre total is entirely due to a very poor egg lay, as the adults got blasted away by gales in late June and early July - before they'd laid many eggs. 

The quality and quantity of the sallow resource in Savernake is actually quite high at present (though sallows close to Grand Avenue remain largely unsuitable as in dry weather their foliage gets covered in dust generated by speeding vehicles - Range Rovers and SUVs mainly; see Book, pages 236-237). There haven't been any problems with sallows droughting off in Savernake (though there have been in Sussex).   

  Ben Greenaway is finding a similar paucity of larvae in Southwater Woods in West Sussex, though he hasn't finished searching yet.  

  This means that the prospects for the 2021 Purple Emperor season are, at this stage, distinctly poor. But much depends on the winter, when larval losses can be high. The last thing we need is another mild wet winter (when mortality is very high).  

  Larvae are so scarce this autumn that I've had to abandon plans to search for Purple Emperor larvae in places where the insect hasn't been recorded for ages if at all, like the Forest of Dean, some woods in Herefordshire and into Monmouthshire, and Devon. I'm only prepared to launch a major autumn larval survey campaign in terra nova after a decent egg lay.

  Ben and I hope to have large enough samples of hibernating larvae to monitor winter survival rates, so we can compare survival / mortality rates between Savernake and Sussex.  

  I'll end with an image of hope. I found two larvae on the same spray on an isolated tree in Savernake which has revealed larvae in eight of the last 12 years. It is very rare to find two close by. 

These guys deeply resent each other's presence: one will periodically invade the other's seat leaf, where they will lock horns and try to wrestle each other off. Ridiculous, but that's Emperors all over.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The 2020 Season at Knepp, and Prospects for 2021...

This should be a tale of great and greater glory, but is sadly a tale of great woe, with a nasty sting in its tale. More woe is to come.

We were expecting His Gloriousness to emerge in fantastic numbers, as post-hibernation larvae had enjoyed fantastic feeding-up weather, from late March through to early June. But therein lies the problem, there weren't that many larvae.

Each winter I follow a number of wild larvae through, in order to measure winter survival / predation rate. However, this winter I didn't manage to get a measurement - the Forestry Commission inadvertently trashed my breeding area (I can't be critical: they left most of the sallows, it's just unfortunate that those bearing my monitored larvae got felled...). The winter was mild and horribly wet, and such winters are fairly disastrous for hibernating larvae, with predation rates as high as 85%.

Ben Greenaway, who was following a large sample of wild larvae in West Sussex, recorded a predation rate of about 80%. Had I known that (we thought the rate was more like 40-50%) I would not have predicted an annus mirabilis.  

In early June, the Emperor then got stuck in the departure lounge, as the weather deteriorated as the bulk of the brood was pupating. That may have done some minor damage. 

The first Knepp Emperors were seen on June 13th. My first sighting was a rubbish sighting, which was deeply ominous as great Emperor years kick off in spectacular fashion. Numbers failed to build well.

We had a short heatwave around Midsummer Day, wherein the Emperor flourished modestly. Then the wheelnuts came off, followed by the wheels. 

His Gloriousity is vain enough to roost in treetop sprays, and ignores the weather forecast. If He was to roost on the sheltered side of trunks and branches He would have survived the late June and early July gales quite well. As it was, He got shredded, and the equally dim-witted females. A number of crippled Emperors were found on the ground.  This one at Knepp -

This one in Sherwood Forest, Notts (which has recently re-declared itself Purple), on July 5th -

Here's the data from the Knepp Wildland Purple Emperor Transect (a 2km long single species transect walked weekly on non-windy afternoons, using a 50m recording box):-

2015 =  112                       
2016 =    95 (adjusted by Basian statistician, gappy data set)

2017 = 117

2018 = 201

2019 = 101
2020 =   61

The net result was a very poor egg lay - seemingly everywhere.

That in itself is not the end of the world, for low levels of larvae tend to lead to low winter predation rates - the tits don't find the hibernating larvae, and the insect recovers.

But Knepp got hit by a double-whammy: the poor egg lay was followed by a horrific drought, during the early August heatwave. The bulk of Knepp's sallows are on former arable fields, they're growing densely together on damaged soils - not on the woodland soils they're designed for. They are drought prone. They wilted badly in 2018, when no rain fell between May 31st and the end of July. But that was after a massive egg lay, so we got away with it.

This year's Knepp sallow drought is an order of magnitude more severe than that of 2018, and occurred after a rotten egg lay.  

No way is the Emperor going to abound at Knepp in 2021.

This is what many of Knepp's breeding sallows were looking like on August 13th - 

The rains then arrived too late. Oddly, sallows in the woods a mile to the north were not badly affected, but there may be other sites in the Low Weald that were similarly affected.  

In all, I think this was the worst Purple Emperor year since 1990, when a mild, wet and stormy winter gave way to a magnificent early spring and May, only for the weather to collapse in early June - probably as the first adults were emerging - Only, in 1990 heatwave conditions returned in mid-July, too late for the adults, and persisted.  

Pray very hard...  We need a wet autumn, a bitterly cold and frosty December to de-tit the woods, a cold winter, a steady non-early spring, a fine May, and a decent June and July. 

The last of the 2020 Knepp Purple Emperors was seen on July 23rd. Elsewhere, sporadic sightings were made into early August, mainly in the north of the Empire, with the final sighting coming from near East Midlands Airport in newly-Purpled Leicestershire on Aug 18th (a female).

The butterfly seems to have done appalling badly at all sites, with the notable exception of Abbots Wood Inclosure in Alice Holt Forest (I'm not sure why, it may be due to an upsurge in recording). In one top grade site, a privately owned wood known as 'Bucks Best Wood', only a single sighting was made.

The message to 2020 is simple: Don't come back!  

Monday, August 10, 2020

Still flying at CFW

Female Purple Emperor seen egg-laying in a Sallow today (Monday 10th August 2020) in Minting Wood, part of the Chambers Farm Wood Complex, Lincolnshire. I also saw a female Purple Emperor in almost the same location on Saturday (8th August 2020), so good news for the future generation!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

From Francis Farrow in Norfolk

In 2017 I spotted my first PE at Beeston Common, Norfolk. Since then we have had sightings of one or two in 2018 and 2019. Last Monday (July 20) I spotted a PE soaring at tree-top height from one group of oaks to another about 20m away and then back again. As it was overhead I could not determine whether it was male or female. 

This afternoon I saw a PE leaving a sallow and fly up into the canopy of an oak next to it. I did see the upper side this time but only as a dark colour so still not sure whether it is male or female. As this is the fourth year of PEs at this location I think they must be breeding in the vicinity, especially as it is the same oak/sallow they are mostly seen in, although we never see them until the final two weeks of July, which seems later than other places.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Foreign Sighting

Not the best season here in Odiham, nth Hampshire but did manage one interesting sighting at a potential new assembly point near the Basingstoke Canal, very close to home. Surely can't have overlooked it for the past 2 decades can I? Oh dear, probably.

Anyway as the weather deteriorated was lucky enough to head off to France for a week's fishing in the countryside just south of Limoges. And as luck would have it we were visited on the balcony of our fishing lodge. The owner is now a man of Purple.....

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Better results at CFW - Friday 17th July 2020

Finally got some semi-decent weather this season at Chambers Farm Wood, Lincolnshire, which produced a semi-decent result of 15 Purple Emperors (13 males and 2 females). I was surprised to find that most looked in pretty good condition (wings showing little sign of damage) and it was good to see strong aerial activity from the males, as they manoeuvred around the Oak trees; I have witnessed very little of this type of behaviour this season.  And, just as I spotted the second female, a male flew in and they both disappeared up into a Sallow together, which is encouraging! With a good weather forecast for the early part of next week, perhaps it brings a little more hope for some better results.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Closure at Knepp

Folks. I'm officially closing the 2020 Knepp Wildland Purple Emperor season down. They've had a shocker (but not at bad as the W-L Hairstreak which has been almost non-existent here).  

There will be the odd one around for the next week or so, resultant from late-pupating larvae, but they are already so scarce that Neil and I are really struggling to see them - and we know precisely where and when to look. 

In effect, don't travel long distances to visit Knepp any longer this year (and the storks have fledged too). 

I just hope the females have laid enough eggs, but as things stand the prospects for 2021 are not good... ... ...

Friday, July 10, 2020

‘Lift Off’ in Lincolnshire

Today, I met up with Dave Wright and Richard Smyth at Chambers Farm Wood, Lincolnshire. From the start the weather seemed against us, which seems par for the course this year; thick cloud with the occasional shower was forecast for the morning, with a brighter outlook for the afternoon. Nevertheless, we persevered and decided to walk down to Little Scrubbs Meadow whilst it was overcast. In an all-too-brief patch of sunshine, lasting no more than a few minutes, we were surprised to get a brief glimpse of a male Purple Emperor flying over the top of the Oaks at 09:20, but, as the sun disappeared, the butterfly quickly settled up in the gods. We pushed on to the meadow and spent some time there whilst conditions were poor, but as the light level improved, we diverted to the southern part of the wood, where we thought our chances of seeing an Emperor were greater. Here we spent the rest of the morning and were rewarded we three further sightings of male Purple Emperors, the first flying around a Sallow, the other two higher up around Oak trees.

After lunch back at the cars, we covered the northern part of the wood, venturing first up to an area known as Fiveways and then beyond to Minting Triangle. This part of the wood was good for White Admiral, Purple Hairstreak and Silver-washed Fritillary, but we didn’t have a single Purple Emperor sighting at all. On the walk back to the car, we had one last look along the main stone track running south and saw a Purple Emperor in the distance circling low to the ground. As we approached it landed on the track and allowed us to get a few photographs.

Going Over Fast At Knepp...

A very frustrating day at Knepp, thwarted by convective cloud. My guess is that iris is starting to go over here fast, having been savaged by foul & abusive weather (it's an unusually exposed site).

However, the cloud prevented me from making a proper assessment. I struggled to see eleven today, though this included a pristine female and one male in quite good condition (the bulk, though, were seriously worn and torn).  

Conclusion: don't travel far to see the Emperor at Knepp any longer this year, and don't bother at all after Monday. The odd one will be around for another week or two but the season is ending here...

The season will last a while longer at less exposed and later-flying sites, but numbers seemingly everywhere have been extremely disappointing - the weather did the dirty on us big time...

Here's a worn male feeding on a high sap run this evening.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wind Damage

This storm-damaged male was found crawling along the track at Knepp yesterday. All we could do is take him up to one of the tree houses, to give him a bit of height. He may be capable of flight in calm conditions. We found that someone had placed a nice sliver of shrimp paste there, so he fed on that. 

Purple Emperor males roost high up in trees and are highly vulnerable to gales, especially at night. This season, we had night gales on June 28th and 29th, and then three days and nights of strong winds around July 3rd and 4th. The females seem to roost lower down and so be less vulnerable.

As yesterday was cloudy, I don't yet know how much damage has been done but suspect that it is considerable (possibly two-thirds of the male population killed off?). 

Consequently, I would advise against people driving long distances to see the butterfly, especially to Knepp which is an exposed site.

The weather forecasts suggest that I'll be able to assess the damage at Knepp on Friday. I'll report back...

We'v been lucky, in that we've had a long run of good-weather Emperor seasons... Purple Hairstreak numbers have also been depleted and at Knepp, at least, the poor White-letter Hairstreak has had a shocker.

Morning everyone. First post here.
This is from a Wychwood site (west Oxfordshire) I discovered a couple of years ago, june 28th 2018, when a single fresh male passed me knee high down a hot dusty high hedged farm track. Absolute last thing I'd have thought possible until then! I've only really seen PEs at Bookham previously. This was an encounter I'll never forget. Realising on reflection the site was perfect for them I visited the spot same time last year, this time deliberately looking and yep, June 27th, spent few hours watching about dozen individuals, all males.
So, June 23rd this year returned, but obviously too early, not one. June 26th after an hour first male spotted 
searching for females high in the sallows. They were out. That  morning observed 5 - 6 males and watched 
female laying. I'd just recently read Matthew's book, watching that female confirmed what I'd read, but there's nothing like seeing something for yourself to 'get it'. I consequently actually found two eggs.
Because of the disastrous conditions didn't return until monday 6th. May have seen one, a large powerful butterfly passed me at speed assisted by the strong wind. Checked on the two eggs, they were fine.
I don't know if this site is known to anyone to be honest. A chat with the local farmer last year suggested
that indeed that maybe the case; he wasn't aware but was absolutely delighted when I spoke to him about them. The site is an old landfill area that is being restored as part of the Wychwood project - restoring ancient woodland. Started in the 90's it is now at a 'mature scrub' stage with plenty of large sallows. Only a very few mature oaks. Interestingly there are none of the associated species such as any of the fritillaries or even purple hairstreaks... Would love to know if anyone does actually know of this site. Would also love to hear if anyone can direct me to where best to see the Hampstead Heath Emperors as its on my doorstep.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Further Female Flutterings fom Fermyn - Monday 6th July 2020

Despite the poor weather forecast, decided to spend another day at Fermyn. Due to large amounts of traffic on the journey there, I didn't get there as early as I'd hoped and it was almost 9 o'clock before I arrived. Thick cloud meant little was flying, which meant a lacklustre walk over to Lady Wood and then round into Souther Wood. On arrival at the Cypress trees, three people had already located a male Purple Emperor, which was roosting about 8 foot up. The condition of this male was poor and, as I tried to get a quick record shot, I heard someone remark that "it hasn't got a good side!" For most of the morning the thick cloud prevailed, but occasional bright intervals caused brief spells of butterfly activity; the net result of this was that I had 4 male Purple Emperor sightings, most over the top of the oaks, but one did come down to the delight of the crowd that had built up.

        Crowds defying the poor weather forecast!

The afternoon started off in a similar vein, so I decided to walk 'the loop'. At around 13:30, the cloud dispersed, and then gave almost 2 hours of unbroken sunshine. It was during this spell that I spotted a female Purple Emperor gliding effortlessly along the ride at chest height, hardly flapping, almost floating on the air, and when she did flap her wings slowly it produced a soft, papery flight reminiscent of tropical Tree Nymphs. She landed briefly on a Hazel leaf before sailing off down the ride again, but this time landing down on the track.

As I completed 'the loop', I found another female Purple Emperor, which landed low down on a Bramble leaf. Here she probed away with her proboscis, allowing a close inspection.

Letter in The Times

The Reverend Prebendary's annual letter on the state of the Emperor season in today's The Times - 

  Purple Emperors suffer in lockdown

Sir, Although much of our wildlife has enjoyed the lockdown the purple emperor butterfly seems to have had a disastrous year. Good numbers of caterpillars survived the winter but the long cold spell at the start of June wrought havoc. The pupal stage, which normally lasts a fortnight, was prolonged, thereby hugely increasing mortality due to predation by birds and disease. The flight time period has experienced high winds and cold weather. The high-flying male emperors hate high winds, and the females experience difficulty laying eggs. Reports from the best woods in Northamptonshire and the Knepp Estate in Sussex suggest low numbers.
Walking for several hours in Waterperry woods, north of Oxford, last week I encountered just one female, unexpectedly feeding on blackberry blossom. Common butterflies were in profusion, especially the beautiful silver-washed fritillary and newly emerged peacocks. A kindly local expert pointed me to a large sallow bush with a small ash tree next to it. These were overshadowed and protected by huge oak trees. In the space of ten minutes we saw at least six males perched or flying. I then remembered picnicking exactly there 40 years ago in early August and being dive-bombed by male emperors. This illustrates how dramatically the timing of the flight season has altered.
Prebendary John Woolmer
Cropston, Leics

Thanks, as ever, John...

Monday, July 6, 2020

Unexpected surprise at Bernwood 5th July 2020

On a lunchtime family walk in Bernwood Forest I did not hold out any hope of seeing an Emperor. High winds and a very large turnout of the general public suggested it would not be fruitful. However on turning off the main track and walking down a ride we came to an area sheltered from the wind and my wife pointed to the ground and there was an Empress, wings closed, feeding on the  ground at the edge of the track. She looked huge compared to the more regular males I see here. A family had passed us moments before so either they had walked right by the butterfly or she had just flown down to the ground. Typically she allowed point blank approach but she remained for just a couple of minutes before flying back into the surrounding trees. I had not bothered to bring a camera as I thought there would be no chance of seeing a Purple Emperor. Fortunately my daughter took a picture on her phone. Lesson learnt!

Sunday, July 5, 2020


2020 continues to degenerate into a nightmare season...

Purple Emperors roost in the tree tops (males especially) and get shredded by nocturnal gales. They're rubbish at riding out storms. The females are only marginally more sensible.

Today, at Knepp, Neil and I were struggling to see them, though I did see a freshly-emerged female being followed up into the oaks by three Benny Hill males - so females are still emerging, just.  

We wont know the extent of the damage until the wind abates but I strongly suspect that the 2020 emergence has been largely blasted away... ... ... 

And not just at Knepp (which is an unusually exposed site): Mark Joy struggled to see three today in Fermyn Woods, where his peak day count in five visits has been a mere seven.  

Some good news though: Laurence Drummond saw nine today at Hatfield Forest, which is good for Hatfield, and Ashley Whitlock saw four at Creech Walk, SE Hants.  

Advise: Don't travel long distances to see Emperors any more, it's too late...

The Blean Comes Out

Great to learn of a Kosher record from Blean Woods, Canterbury, and another record from The National Forest in Leics, at Coleorton, east of Ashby de le Zouch.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Apatura iris in drizzle

Neil Hulme and I just managed to maintain our 100% record of showing Emperors to Knepp Wildland Safari groups. We've been running these since 2014 and have had several close shaves with the weather, but today's was the closest yet...

The morning safari group was greeted by a mindless drizzle. Somehow, when all seemed lost, I managed to spot a male comatose, and probably paralytic, on a sap run, high up on an oak. He'd probably been there since yesterday evening, when the weather suddenly closed in.  

The afternoon became increasingly dull, but produced two minutes of glimmeringness which stimulated a male into action. He'd probably come off another feeder tree. Ten minutes later we spotted one resettling high up on a 'master oak', having been blown out by a rising wind.

The weather is forecast to turn 'unseasonably windy tonight and into tomorrow'. Wish us well.

All this, and St Swithun still to come...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Apatura iris on Banana...

Having stated, rather didactically, in His Imperial Majesty that Emperors do not feed on bananas (Page 127) I humbly reproduce the following photo, taken by Colin Whitehead in Fermyn Woods in 2018:- 

However, this is a female, and Herself is quite capable of doing anything on a one-off basis (and Lord knows what had been added to the offending banana, under the Normal for Fermyn principle)...

Also, and I think more interestingly, we have a record of a male feeding on pine sap today, again from Fermyn, plus suspicion that pine sap may be being used at a wood in Hertfordshire.

Constant vigilance please...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


The weather has collapsed horrifically, with the Emperor at or approaching peak season (depending on whether you're at an early- or later-flying site...). Few eggs will have been laid yet. 

The butterflies get decimated, in the modern sense of the term (such that one in ten survive), by gales, especially nocturnal gales and in particular the males (the females tend to roost lower down). The wind during the night of June 28th-29th will have done untold damage.

The big hope is that there are still a number of pupae to hatch, even at the earlier-flying sites.

This could be a longer than usual flight season, as some early-developing larvae pupated around May 21st whilst some late ones didn't pupate until mid-June, after the ten day cold period in early June. 

Whatever, it is now clear that 2020 is not the annus mirabilis for the Purple Emperor that I and others had so eagerly anticipated.... Numbers at Knepp and the nearby woodlands have been decidedly disappointing (and Knepp is heavily prone to wind damage, being a more exposed site). 

However, whereas other butterflies have bad seasons, there is no such thing as a bad Purple Emperor season. Keep going, to the end, and beyond!

Here's a couple getting plastered on oak sap at Knepp, from June 26th -

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Windy Bucknell Wood 28th June 2020

Despite Matthew's pessimism about weather conditions today I ventured over the border to Bucknell Wood in Northants. Arriving at 8.30am it looked like I had badly miscalculated as it was mainly cloud and little sun but slowly the sunny periods became more frequent and the ride I concentrated on was sheltered from the strong gusting wind shaking the tree tops. After three hours spirits were beginning to flag but at 1145am His Excellency descended to feast for ten minutes on some rain soaked horse dung allowing me to approach as close as I wished. There was a slight tear on his right upperwing but nonetheless he was a fine sight especially after such a long wait. At 1156 he walked off the horse dung, flew around me  a couple of times and then powered off up into the trees, brushing off an inquisitive male Emperor Dragonfly as he went.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Apols for lack of news these last few days but I've been subsumed with helping the filming of PEs for two major BBC programmes (which wont get broadcast for sometime, until I'm 70 in all probability)...

The heatwave was superb, though PEs did rather conk out in it, during the main afternoon heat. Neil took this photo at Knepp, which I think is the best photo of a wild male ever:-

The issue now is wind speed. Emperors get decimated, in the modern sense, by gales during the flight season. We haven't witnessed this since 2010. We will find out how damaging this spell of windy weather has been once the winds abate, but I am seriously worried - the butterfly hasn't emerged in the expected numbers anyway, though I'm sure more are due to emerge.

Tomorrow looks so windy that it may not be worth venturing out... Save your energies...

Close encounters with the 'Noble Fly' at Souther Wood, Northants

Friday 26th June, 2020. Late decision to get to Fermyn due to improved weather forecast for the day, which had previously predicted heavy thundery showers all day. Thankfully these did not materialise and it turned out to be a perfect Emperor day. To save time to get to the Purple epicentre that is Souther Wood, I rode my blue, trusty ab attractor folding bike.

Did not have to wait long for the first grounded male at 9.30am. Perfect, bar a small chip in the hindwing. He constantly glided around our legs and settled on our person, camera bags and the like. Not to be outdone a White Admiral joined in on the act. As the morning wore on more groundings along the track before we retired for lunch under the famous fir trees. For me ham and mustard sandwiches. For HIM Mollasses with a hint of rum smeared on the trunks of the fir trees. It wasn't long before a perfect male accepted the invitation to dinner, occasionally 'flicking' at an ant to reveal that beautiful iridescence in contrast to the flaky bark. He put on quite a show. During the usual Emperor siesta between 1-3pm, we spotted a pristine female on the ground. First I have seen this year.

Reluctantly had to leave early due to a domestic commitment, but before I left a perfect male led us a merry dance for half a mile down the track, settling frequently to display that 'double purple' that enthusiasts so crave.

All in all an excellent day, a dozen Emperors seen, ten of which were on the ground and a perfect female t'boot.