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.

A Worn Emperor at Bernwood Forest 26th June 2020

A visit to Bernwood this morning and at around 1030 a very tired looking male drifted down onto the main track. Looking through the camera lens I could see its wings were badly torn and it looked scruffy and faded as it fed at the side of the track. It took off and flying low and slow with many glides turned down a ride to land on the ground, its distinctive 'yachtsail' profile showing up well on the bare earth. Finally it glided further along the ride, veered right and settled on a hazel leaf in partial sunshine just a couple of feet from the ground where it sat with wings almost closed and then partially open before, after ten minutes, flying up and into the overhanging oaks. Meanwhile a male landed briefly on another person at the end of the ride but rapidly departed. We saw another prospecting the ground on this same ride but it did not settle and flew off into the surrounding trees. Finally another was seen flying around the dog waste bin near the car park but again did not settle. Four Purple Emperors in two hours was good for here. Maybe more to come in the next few days although the worn individual would indicate that some have been out for some time.

Purple Emperor shows itself in Whichford Wood, Warwickshire Friday 26th June

Whichford Wood is a SSSI between Shipton-on-Stour and Chipping Norton on the south-west tip of Warwickshire. I was going with my family for a walk there as it was central meeting up place for us. On arrival I parked (Grid Ref.  SP 29554 34334) waiting for the others to arrive and got a totally unexpected fly-by down the road by His Majesty. What a surprise a Purple Emperor gliding down a B road.
We headed into Whichford wood down the gated path and went almost due south along the track going up hill, not the one which turns right in front of the conifers.
Within 50 metres of the paths splitting a Purple Emperor was found already grounded happily probing away with his proboscis oblivious to us all gawking at it. This was 11 am and the temperature was around 27oC and clear sunny skies. In our family group I was the only one who had previously seen them so the family were suitably impressed.

We watched him for a while as he flashed his royal Purple to all who wanted to see. 

A wonderful and totally unexpected encounter.


Pictures from Robert Manrique " here’s some shots I got yesterday at Fermyn of the only male we saw, he stayed close to the main path nearly the whole afternoon trying to find moisture and salts, he only left for the shelter of the trees at around 1pm"

Friday, June 26, 2020

First Female at Fermyn

Paid another visit to the Fermyn Woods Complex on Friday 26th June 2020, this time with my son. We made an early start, getting to the wood at 08:20. It wasn't long before we were delighted to see a grounded male Purple Emperor in Cherry Lap at 08:46, which was surprising because this wood has fallen out of favour with the Purple Emperor since the ride widening project started. Alas, the butterfly didn't hang around for a long and soon took off, heading for the tree-tops. We saw no further Emperors in this wood.

We traversed the field and entered into Lady Wood /Souther Wood. Here Purple Emperors were more numerous, with 24 males seen over an 8-hour period. Out of this number, 13 individuals had grounded, many of which offered great photographic opportunities to the relatively few people who ventured out into these woods; perhaps many were put off by the forecast of thunderstorms?

Male Purple Emperor on Hazel

Male Purple Emperor on a conifer sap run

Grounded male Purple Emperor

However, it was a sighting of a female Purple Emperor by my son, resting low down on a Stinging Nettle, that really piqued our interest. Shortly after, we were joined by John Wiltshire and, between the three of us, had further sightings of 6 female Purple Emperors over the course of the day. It seemed all the more unusual because 4 of these individuals had grounded on the track.

Grounded female Purple Emperor (Underside)

Grounded female Purple Emperor (Upperside)

To see this many females so early on in the flight period, and to see so many down on the track, is truly uncharacteristic. What on earth is going on this year? :)


It's been a tricky old week with His Majesty
at Chiddingfold Forest. Some days it was no
show at all or brief, fidgety landings.
All normal, and sometimes predictable behaviour
has gone out of the window so far this year.
But it has been hot most days.

Today I found one Emperor down on an old
Fox scat, but he was clearly not approachable
so I took some distance shots with a little zoom.
Good job as he was soon off, but, later, gave me
two magnificent flypasts at high speed.


Shady Goings On at Alice Holt

Another hot day around Alice Holt forest was rewarded by 10 sightings of Purple Emperor throughout the day. First a low 'daisy cutting' cruising male past my feet at speed flashing electric blue. This one landed a couple of times, but did not settle, eventually deciding to rest 10ft up in a sallow around 11.30. An hour later another male made his presence clear by attacking a Beautiful Demoselle damselfly, clashing mid-air. The Demoselle backed down, and did not appear quite so beautiful after that!
Other brief groundings were seen, but they did not stay down for long. As Matthew predicted they were spending a lot of time in the shadier areas of the wood. A couple of times I saw males disappearing into 'black holes' in the woodland and did not see them fly out. A bit of further excitement occurred when a male investigated some cars at 13.00 but did not care to land. My final sightings were at Goose Green at 15.30 with males half-heartedly going into battle, then sitting on the tallest branches for a well earned rest.

First Purple Emperor of the day.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Cotgrave Woods

A couple of photos from Jill Hannah yesterday:

Thurs June 25th

I'm having to realise that this is not the great Purple Emperor season I predicted, certainly at Knepp. 

It may well be that heavy losses of pupae and pupating late larvae occurred during the ten day period of doom and gloom at the start of June. A shame, as larvae had fared incredibly well feeding up in fine weather during the late March to early June period.  

Certainly, Emperors were suppressed by heat today, but they tend to become inactive when they aren't in sufficient numbers to wind each other up. They didn't conk out during the heatwave of 2018, because there were so many of them around then...

However, it may be that the flight season is unusually long this year, with a flatter and longer peak, due to the impact of the ten days of cold and gloom in early June...

We will find out, but 2018 is not in danger of being knocked off its perch...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


A quickie to emphasise that in excessive heat Purple Emperors, male and female, go shading. Look for them along shady leeward edges, often quite low down. These are often north--facing edges (west-facing in malte morning). They usually sit with closed wings in heat but will bask open-winged in shaded leafy caverns.  

The butterflyhas now been seen in all occupied counties, I think, bar Notts and Leics, where it must now be imminent.

Early indications are that this is not the great year I'd anticipated, due to losses during the cold spell in early June; but it may be that we'll get a longer emergence than usual, with a long, flatter peak.

Here's a shading male from Midsummer Day

Female Egg Laying in Bentley Wood

Very hot for my annual visit to Bentley Wood today. I arrived around 10.40 and the car park was nearly full. As I walked up the ride people were already returning with tales of Purple Emperors buzzing them or distant views above the trees, none had been seen down though. I did not hold out too much hope because of the heat, but I was going to give it a try. It was around 11.50 that I noticed a large Emperor in the Donkey Copse area around a large sallow. I looked again and could not believe that my first Purple Emperor at Bentley Wood was an egg laying female. By far the earliest female I had ever recorded. She was diligently moving around the sallow choosing various leaves to settle and lay an egg on. I managed one photo before she powered off at 12.04. I made my way back towards the carpark stopping at the cross tracks to find I had missed a male down on a gate post for a short time (very fresh from the photos I have seen online). That was it, a good but not prolific day.
From what I gathered speaking to people, there were 4 males seen yesterday by one lady, one down briefly. Others may well have been seen but were not in the book. I would guess around 6 were recorded today, but this is just an estimate. Still early days here, next week may be easier to see more.

Female Purple Emperor circling after egg laying

His Majesty disobeying social distancing in Oversley Wood - Wed 24th June

I made my first visit to Oversley Wood in Warwickshire. On leaving the car park we headed to the triangle where there were a few people looking up into trees. No one had any sightings so far this  morning of Purple Emperor. 
We did a clockwise walk around the loop coming back over the hill top we saw good numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals. On returning to the triangle I said goodbye to my parents and continued this years hunt for His Majesty. I soon came across a small group of people staring up into one of several large conifers. Someone gave rough directions and there I was on was my first Purple Emperor of the year sat wings closed possibly taking in sap about twenty feet in the air. Every now and the he would open his wings and change position. Gradually getting more and more restless he started to entertain the crowd as he glided gracefully around the trees at around twenty feet up. Giving us tantalising glimpses of his royal purple. You could feel everyone wishing he would grace them with his presence on the ground.

His Majesty eventually did grace us with his presence on the floor allowing many their first good views of a Purple Emperor. He showed off the myriad of colours you get to see when he lands and opens and closes his wings.

This one got flushed by passing walkers but we did not have to wait before long before this or another one appeared a little further towards the triangle and was being watched by one individual before it landed on him for a "trousering" he then hopped off onto a second observer and His Majesty proceeded to spend more than 30 minutes taking in the gents obviously very tasty "Yorkshire sweat" (he was from Barnsley).

More and more people passed to observe, those with a great interest plus people who were just out for a walk in this wonderful wood.
He eventually left the tasty ankle and proceeded to glide low over the main ride for some while landing every now and then for a few seconds. Unfortunately the ground was quite dry so he struggled to find any moisture to take on board so was very restless. He eventually gave up and headed into the wood.
I continued west along the track saw very little so headed back to where all the action had been. Within a few minutes I had (or maybe he had spotted or tasted me !) spotted His Majesty again quite possibly the same one from earlier. He approached me and I got the full flyby treatment checking me out, up and down getting much closer than a metre to me in fact he was so close I could hear his wing-beats !
He obviously realised my "Yorkshire sweat" was that of a Yorkshire imposter so sped off into the wood.
At that point I called it a day 12:45 and around 30oC it was very warm even in the shade.

Tues June 23rd at Knepp

It was hard work, by Knepp's mighty standards. I struggled to see 72 apparent individuals, all male, in a nine-hour marathon.

So, no Big Bang emergence yet, just a steady stream.  

I saw little sallow searching, just after 10am for a short while, then then went exploring the oak fringe. Perhaps the females weren't emerging?

No two Purple Emperor seasons are alike, but this one's very un-alike...

Note that in this heatwave both sexes are prone to conking out between 3.30 and around 5.30, a gentle siesta. I'll conk out with them. 

Also, look out for sap runs (watch the wasps and hornets): they're taking in a lot of sap in this heat...

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Complete Purple Experience

I visited Abbotts Wood, Alice Holt today hoping to see His Imperial Majesty. Late morning I was watching a male whizzing around the top of an oak near the main car park assembly point and was grateful. I decided to make my way back to the entrance where I had parked and my car. I was about to get in, but thought I will have one more look along the track before I go. I had only ventured around 100yds when I put up a male, this was at 13.30. This male was to stay around this area for well over an hour. During this time it was probing in the track, walking about and occasionally flying a short distance and resting in the grass. Then it got curious, I was trousered and trainered in between it's three flights 10ft up into a tree. Then Mark Tutton came along the track and eventually tempted it on to his finger, and then mine for a few photos. At 14.45 it decided that was it and flew off along the track towards the gate, over the road and disappeared over the hedge.
Showing off

Male settling down

Getting familiar with a sweaty finger
On my trainer

Resting and watching 


At Knepp, the wind made Emperoring difficult today, though it was stronger yesterday. Many male territories were unoccupied due to wind.

I saw three females, two were being courted (I was very disappointed not to witness a pairing, but on the first occasion the wind carried them off and on the second occasion she lef him on a merry dance, out of sight, in order to get out of the wind). The other female was mated - she got flushed out of a sallow top by a male and did a tumbledown rejection flight, and had bits of her hind wings missing.  

If there isn't a massive hatch and a great show here tomorrow I'll panic- and pulp all 5000 copies of my book...

Elsewhere, the first of the year was seen in Fermyn Woods today; there were some good sightings in Alice Holt Forest; there's been a nice scatter of sightings along the M25 corridor (north and south sectors); Suffolk has kicked off, but none seen yet in Wiltshire (including Bentley Wood today).  
One of the few Purple Emperors to ground at Chiddingfold
Forest so far this season. Saturday 20th June 2020.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sun June 21st

Windy sunshine, after rain. Too windy in many places.

First Emperors of the year seen today in Alice Holt Forest, Hants, and Salcey Forest, Northants. None seen in Fermyn Woods today. One of the early Oxon sites started today. I don't think Wilts has kicked off yet. No news from Berks & Bucks.

The only Emperor I saw on the wing today (I checked two wild pupae, near Lambourn, Oxon / W Berks, both still extant) was a male chasing a wood piegon leeward of a tall oak on Cumbers Hill, on the A272 between Rogate and the River Rother before Midhurst. I was stuck behind a horse box at the time...

This week is The Week for throwing a sicky, selling the children into slavery, walking out on your wife - or doing whatever it takes to get out into the woods, Emperoring...

To the woods, without breakfast!  Take a bottle...   Enjoy...


Saturday, June 20, 2020


The Purple Emperor is just starting to emerge strongly at some of its earlier sites, though it doesn't seem to have kicked off yet in many (including Alice Holt Forest). 

Knepp Wildland recorded its (and the UK's) first female of the year today, being avidly courted; she led her suitor up into the oak tops, where mating undoubtedly occurred. Two males were also seen together on a sap bleed on an oak. Sallow searching has commenced here.

My guess is that most of the southern sites, and Fermyn Woods, will kick off in the next day or so. Big Bang (mass emergence) at Knepp will take place early this coming week, and in Fermyn Woods later this week and over next weekend.  

Friday, June 19, 2020

northern iris [2]

Also, Wellow Wood, just south of Workshop, has produced a few sightings, but not last year

northern known localities

Further to yesterday's blog, this map shows the areas from Fermyn Forest in the south [near Corby] up to the most northerly know habitats, Chambers Farm Wood, east of Lincoln, and Cotgrave Wood south-east of Nottingham

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Arrangements for Purple Emperor visitors are almost the same as last year. There is a designated Purple Emperor Walk, marked out by purple ribbons and depicted on a PE Walk map, and preferential on-site parking. 

As last year, we have our own Purple Emperor Carpark. Drive all the way down the concrete track that leads to New Barn Farm, from the north-west end of Dial Post. The PE Carpark is the main carpark, on your left before the buildings. SatNav code is RH13 8NN. Please note that the track is carrying a lot of traffic and walkers, including many children. 

Please pay (£10) and pick up a walks leaflet from the Farm Shop in the Go Down.

Please note that the butterfly is just starting to get going. It should be amazing next week.  

The designated route takes you through most of the best areas. It links in with other permissive paths, which you are most welcome to use. Please don't go off piste, as there's a lot of research going on and two film crews who are filming PEs (for the long-overdue big budget BBC special on British Wildlife).

Knepp is receiving a lot of visitors, who have come to see the nesting White Storks. They, and we, are being asked to keep to designated routes. The storks are nesting in an area only lightly used by Emperors (at 7 O'Clock along the White Route, see Map), and away from the Purple Emperor route.

One repercussion of the visitor numbers is that any Emperor that descends to the ground is likely to get flushed up within minutes, or within seconds at weekends. If you want photos of Emperors on the ground, go to Fermyn Woods or Chiddingfold Forest.  

We are being asked not to park along the Countryman Lane verges, due to complaints from locals. If you do, then please take extra care not to block field and driveway entrances, 

Enjoy your Emperors, they could be very good indeed this year!


Neil Hulme saw his first Purple Emperor of the year today, at Knepp Wildland. Within a minute this pristine male had descended from on high to feast on his flesh, trousers, camera, the lot - apart, curiously, from the crutch and buttocks. 

Only the Good Lord knows when Neil last washed, or put his jeans through the mangle...

Throughout this 30 minute epic trousering Neil remained in statuesque pose, scarcely able to breathe. 

This is what the Purple Emperor does to us...

Tomorrow, an upskirting episode, perhaps...

I'm a Yorkshireman now!

We moved away from the Upper Thames region to Sheffield two and a half years ago, so my purple perspectives, have, of necessity, changed. My main interest now is to monitor the northward movement of HIM, and I look forward to hearing about your sightings north of Rockingham Forest. It is well established in several woods in south Lincolnshire, and there are two woods much further north where it is seen: Chambers Farm Wood, Lincs, and Cotgrave Wood, Nottinghamshire.
Exciting new discoveries were made in the last two years, with several sightings between the north west edge of Leicester and the south eastern extremity of the National Forest [near Coalville]. We are keen to find out more about the distribution of iris in the National Forest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

More storks than emperors!

Fantastic visit to Knepp for my son Henry (6)  and I on Monday, more storks than we could count and a few emperors too! 

We were lucky enough for one to interrupt our discussion of marvel superheroes with a grounding on the very northern part of green lanes.  But they would not open their wings for us one bit!! 

We will be back next week for sure!