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...