Monday, December 6, 2021

Autumn & Early Winter News

Apologies for the lack of posts but I've acquired a new laptop and cannot (yet) post to the Empire on it...  This post is via the old, wobbly laptop...

The good news is that larvae are quite numerous this autumn / early winter, despite a low adult emergence and much poor flight season weather. This may be because sallow foliage was in good condition for the egg-laying females in July and for L1 larvae in August, due to the late spring and late leafing (it's complex, scientifically difficult, and covered in my book).

Larvae entered hibernation (or strictly, diapause) late, due to the mild November. The mild first three weeks of November also meant that many larvae wandered far and wide before entering diapause - so, they're hard to locate. This mildness also meant that larvae were still wandering around on the last day of November and first day of December - these are new record dates for active larvae.

At present, I am following at least 14 larvae in / around Savernake Forest. These are named after philosophers in Monty Python's Australian Philosophers Song.  I have also got another bunch on philosophers, non-Pythonesque and mainly Existentialist, near Lambourn and, joy of joys, Boris and his Cabinet in hibernation in my local wood (a new, radical and utterly wonderful colonisation). I've got a couple more elsewhere locally too. So, a good sample size to follow.

Better, Ben Greenaway is following an even larger number in West Sussex. 

So, we'll get a good measurement of winter survival and predation rates. Tit populations are down, due to a poor breeding season in the cold and wet spring, and when tits are down Emperors go up. Yay!

At this stage, the prospects for the 2022 season are genuinely good, but we don't need a mild, wet winter and an early spring (both of which lead to high larval mortality) and we really don't need the wet weather associated with Royal Jubilees next June (it's The Queen's Platinum Jubilee...).

Here's this winter's 'Priti', of the unusual olive-yellow colour form -

 And here's 'Jacques Derrida' -

The bad news is that the Dangle Leaf Season kicked off late, due to the mild autumn, and ended at most sites very early, due to Storm Arwen. Here's one of the few dangles I managed to find before Arwen blew them all away - 

You can follow these guys, and more, on Twitter at @MatthewOates76.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Blog Comments

 Hi there Bloggers

A number of recent posts have been the subject of spurious and irrelevant comments. 

For this reason, I've limited the ability to post comments to those of us who are recognised as authors. I don't imagine this will inconvenience anyone, but if you'd like to comment, and aren't an author, let me know and I'll post the comment for you. 

Your humble administrator. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021


Some disturbingly large Iris specimens have been appearing. Speculation  around horizontal gene transfer with bison has remained unproven as the dangerous species has so far eluded capture and neither is pupae nor eggs have yet been found. Against the trend of global warming the evolutionary variation seems to be heading south. First sightings in Ushaw Historic gardens then in Darlington and Bishop Aukland then Redcar. Attempts to mate it with standard size females have failed its genital optics appear to lack adequate precision. This being a new speciation  a name for the new species is being mooted  `purple galactic ethnarch` or `purple chief executive of the  universe` . Suggestions welcome.

Friday, October 8, 2021

2021Egg Lay

  Rejoice and be of good cheer! Despite a generally low adult emergence and a lot of grotty flight season weather, the Purple Emperor has managed to lay a goodly number of eggs, and larvae are in reasonable numbers this autumn. 

  I haven't quite finished my annual standardised count of autumn larvae in Savernake Forest, but it is already clear that 2021 will be the fifth best year in a 13 year sequence there.  Here's the data - 

2009 = 141        2014 =  24        2019 =  16

2010 =  59         2015 =  20        2020 =  12

2011 =  21         2016 =  17        2021 = E40* 

2012 = 22          2017 =  18

2013 = 190        2018 =  76

* E = estimate

Numbers seem relatively high elsewhere, though larvae are patchy. Also, tits are down - they had a rotten breeding season due to the cold April and wet May. 

All this suggests that 2022 could be a good Emperor year - only we need a cold winter, a non-early spring, and good weather during the pupal period (the worry here is that we are due a Platinum Jubilee in June, and the track record of weather during Royal Jubilees is  nothing short of appalling...).  

And larvae are running late. This year I found a 2nd instar larva at the start of October, in Glos, by far the latest record of the L2 stage. This is not a concern; they'll catch up, as sallow foliage is in good condition this autumn (though Sallow Mildew is prolific on overhung sallows).   

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

 East Midlands distribution, correction

It was remiss of me not to mention Richard Jeffery, the recorder for Leicestershire and Rutland, who contributed the Leicestershire and Rutland sightings to the map.

Friday, September 10, 2021

 East Midlands distribution 2021

This distribution map, generated by Ken Orpe with input from Stephen Mathers, shows that iris continues to spread northwards, with an increased number of 2km squares compared with 2020. Several observers recorded iris in Sherwood forest; on July 16th, four were seen within a small area of the forest, this being the most seen there in a day. As yet, there are no records from Derbyshire. Lincolnshire is not included here.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Late Female at Bookham

Rob Hill saw an egging female in good condition today at Bookham Common, whilst looking for Brown Hairstreaks. This is exceptionally late, and the female's condition prompted Rob to wonder whether she'll make it into September!

I've been through the BNM data base, which I have up to 2018 (by kind permission).  There are very few C20th records from mid-August, let alone from late August. Most are from Bucks and Oxon, recorded by folk looking for Brownies. Some stand out like sore thumbs (e.g. Rogate, W Sussex, 1/9/2006 and a 'field near Newbridge SP4001 on 31/8/2014). Some may be for larvae.

Seemingly kosher records are for Northaw, Middx, on 23/8/2012, Theberton Wood, Suffolk, on 26/8/2012, and Chicksands Wood, Beds, on 29/8/2012.

The fat lady ain't singing yet...

Friday, August 20, 2021

 Sherwood Forest update

Samantha and Nick Brownley continue their successful efforts in the most northerly known natural habitat [Chambers Farm Wood is on the same latitude, but iris was introduced there]. To date, they have found 7 larvae and 2 eggs, with two more, moved or predated, all within a small area of this forest, suggesting a healthy population. Several people spotted adults this July in different parts of the forest, but never more than ones or twos. There is an unconfirmed report of somebody having seen three at one spot. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Late Sightings

  Very few people look for the last Emperor of the year (I move on to Brown Hairstreaks and Emperor larvae), but Lawrence Drummond has been seeing the same territory-faithful male in Hertford Heath, for the last few days. It was there again today.

  Also, a battered specimen, sex uncertain, was seen at Knepp today.

  The latest sighting this century seems to be from Homefield Wood, Berks, on 21st August 2013 (a 'late' year). 

  Please note, this Blog continues all year round, as some of us follow the larvae.  The larvae I'll be following in the wild this time around will be named after great philosphers (the first 14 will be named after those in Monty Python's Australian philosophers song...)...  

Postscript: Purple Emperor seen in Hartshill Country Park, just NW of Nuneaton in the far north of Warwickshire, on 20th August. That's a good record, indicating northerly spread.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Closing Time at Knepp (and elsewhere)

Two days at Knepp (or rather afternoons, as I was working Brown Hairstreaks during the morning, seeing an impressive 63 on Tues morning - the best showing at Knepp since 2017).

Tues Aug 10th: Managed to see four males and a huge female, but it was very hard work and I visited nearly all the best territories (only three territories were occupied, by lone males).  

In addition today, Ashley Whitlock saw two males in Alice Holt Forest, Mick & Wendy Campbell saw a female in Bernwood Forest and Fiona Barclay saw a fresh-looking female in Fermyn Woods. 

Wed Aug 11th: I really struggled today, seeing two, possibly three, males and a possible female at a distance. 

Also, Lawrence Drummond saw two males in Hatfield Forest, Essex.  

Conclusion: The 2021 Purple Emperor season is ending fast, everywhere. 

ADVISE: DON'T VISIT KNEPP FOR PURPLE EMPERORS ANYMORE THIS YEAR, YOU'RE TOO LATE they got clobbered by heavy rain on Mon 9th, which followed a wet and windy weekend. 

Instead, we're starting to dream up the Great Purple Emperor Season of 2022, already...

'In my end is my beginning...'


Friday, August 6, 2021

Another Gale...

18mm of rain at home yesterday, and Fresh to Strong westerly winds today. That may be curtains for many sites...

Even I refuse to go out Emperoring in windy conditions this late in the season. The Campbells did venture out today, and saw a male in Waterperry Wood, Bernwood.  

Please note that this Blog functions all year round, as many of us work the immature stages too. I may even get round to posting some of this season's photos... 


Thursday, August 5, 2021

 Beacon Hill habitat.

This photo is of the area just below the summit where 12 iris were observed

 Bonanza at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

On July 25th, Nick Sparrow, his better half, and Ian Surman saw 12 individual specimens between 10.30 and 15.30. The habitat is just below the hill, 240m, oak parkland, grass and bracken. They were in a sheltered lee to the east down from the top of the hill. Conditions, hot and humid. 

Beacon Hill is about 2 to 3 miles south west of Loughborough.

This is the best Leicestershire result so far.

Photo of habitat to follow

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Hard Work at Knepp

 No two days of the Emperor season are the same, especially late on.

Today was bloody hard work, in almost identical weather to yesterday, when the Emperors flew strongly - I think because they'd just sat through a couple of poor weather days, and were keen to get going. Today, though, they behaved like ageing rock stars - think Keith Richards, perhaps... (Mick Jagger would have been watching the cricket).

My day's first, at 10.15, was a relatively fresh male, off oak edging and sallow searching - in August! He must have been on a very late-leafing sallow, unable to start feeding before early May.  

Thereafter they were loath to do anything other than visit sap runs and get plastered, in the company of numerous Red Admirals. The Red Ad, you will have noticed, is putting in a bid for Butterfly of theYear. Three males were feeding on one oak feeder tree in the company of 6-8 Red Ads until about 6.30 in the evening.  They'll last another week at Knepp.

Emperors are going to be difficult to see over the next few days, due to wind, cloud and pulses of rain. Afternoons only, leeward, and near oak sap feeder trees...

I'm going home tomorrow as my cat's missing me...

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Into August...

I said that this Emperor season would be a long one, especially in the south-eastern parts of The Empire - where many sallows came into leaf unusually late, in early or mid-May, after flowering profusely. 

Sure enough, the butterfly is still going reasonably well at Knepp, where I saw 25 yesterday (Tues), despite losing two key hours to dense cloud (1-3pm).  Most were middle aged specimens, and I only saw two on their last wings; a few still looked reasonably dark. My guess is that there's a week left in the flight season here, but we'll have to see how wet and windy the weekend is (another depression coming in...).

But they are now afternoon butterflies only, not getting up before midday, and they are highly localised - with activity centred around favoured feeder trees, with sap bleeds.  

Elsewhere, Ashley Whitlock found males still going nicely near Bucks Horn Oak in Alice Holt yesterday, though he struggled to see any at the favoured southern end of the forest; and the Campbells struggled to see a lone male in the good territory near Bicester.

Who will see the last Emperor of the year, and when?  

Sunday, August 1, 2021

End of July News...

Apols for lack of communication, but my youngest daughter got married yesterday... (why do they have to get married during the Emperor season?...)... It went brilliantly well, and a rare soldier fly landed in my drink (Pygmy Soldierfly Oxycera pygmaea). Had the wedding taken place two weeks earlier the marquee might have been stormed by an Emperor, as the venue (Cotswold Water Park on the Glos / Wilts border) is Purple.

Not much news from elsewhere, as the weather has been dodgy, with localised deluges. Storm Evert gave high winds the the central and south-eastern parts of The Empire on Friday 30th. That wont have done any good there, a shame as Emperors were still going nicely (Neil saw 26 at Knepp on Thurs 29th).

The season is definitely winding down now: Ashley Whitlock struggled to see two males today in Alice Holt, and first instar larvae have been spotted in Sherwood Forest. 

My guess is that the butterfly will last another week at the larger colonies, especially in the north and west of its range, where the season is later. 


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Before the Storm... Thurs July 29th

A day out Emperoring in Heart of England Forest, SW Warwicks, in rather marginal weather conditions (too windy, too cloudy, too cool much of the time). Managed 8 males and an old female. The core area, just north of Alcester, is set to become a top national site for this butterfly.

Great to hear of a recent sighting in a park at Ebgbaston. I wrote in the book that the butterfly would get into Birmingham soon, if not already there - sallows abound along the railway line in and out of Come Friendly Bombs and Fall on New Street Station, and along the canals.

Also good to hear that the Emperor has at last been seen at BC's Grafton Wood reserve, in the Forest of Feckenham east of Worcester, and of another even more exciting sighting in a newly planted area of Heart of England Forest at Honeybourne, just east of Evesham on the Glos border. Worcestershire has Come Out...

 Also, via Twitter, a dead Empress in a polytunnel, south of Rugby - another part of Warwicks becomes Purple.  

Elsewhere today, seven in 2 hours this afternoon by the Campbells in Waterperry Wood, Oxon; six in Abbots Wood Inclosure and four in Straits Inclosure, Alice Holt Forest, Hants, by Mark Tutton. 

However, the GALE forecast for tonight could well do considerable damage, especially in the western parts of The Empire. It could effectively end the season. Watch this space...


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

28th July...

Back to wet and windy... Emperors are difficult to work in windy weather, as males are often displaced out of their favoured territories into more sheltered but secondary territories. 

Sunny spells were very hit and miss today (my rain gauge recorded 17mm).  Nonetheless, Brian Duncan managed seven Emperors in two hours in Alice Holt Forest.  

Great news from Lincolnshire (one of only two English counties I don't know well), where Toby Ludlow and Pete Smith have found 12 new sites so far this year. This seems to be mirroring the spread from the two 2004 introduction sites in Warwickshire.  

Hope to go out tomorrow, to Heart of England Forest in Warwicks, though it will be windy.

Bit worried about the mini gale forecast for SW and Central Southern England on Thursday night. It could be quite damaging...


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

26th & 27th July Update

I counted 26 on the Knepp PE 'transect' on Mon 26th, down a bit from 32 the previously Friday, which was almost certainly peak day there. Many males were still quite dark and fresh-looking, though most must now be middle aged gents. A few were still sallow searching, suggesting that some females are still emerging. My guess is that the butterfly will last at Knepp until about August 10th, maybe longer if the weather is kind, though they will become increasingly localised and males will only be active during the afternoons, on territory.  

Elsewhere yesterday, Mark Tutton did well at Botley Wood / Whiteley Pastures in S Hants, including watching males sallow searching, but people are now struggling to see the butterfly at all in Fermyn Woods - which has a rather short season (it's a difficult site to work once the males have stopped sallow searching and descending to the ride surfaces to feed, as there are few good male territories).  

Today, Tuesday 27th, I accidentally found a new site very near me in Glos. Herself, no less, was flying in front of me along the lane past Cherington Lake (a wooded valley between Tetbury and Minchinhampton, with plenty of nice sallows). I've long suspected that the butterfly might be there. Yet another record from the southern Cotswolds.     

Monday, July 26, 2021

 Northern Update

The jewel in the crown here is Chambers Farm Wood, Lincolnshire, from which good numbers have been reported in the last two weeks. In particular, Toby Ludlow saw upwards of 26 there a couple of days ago, and his sighting of a magnificent lugenda ab has already been posted on this site. Richard Smyth has been following iris in Cotgrave Wood for a number of years, and, for the first time,  recorded double figures there. The Brownleys discovered iris in Sherwood Forest last summer: the last records were from about 40 years ago. They were able to follow larvae and pupae through this season, including observing emergences. We have only seen up to two or three adults each day, but this is such a vast forest, that we may well be missing some territories and assembly and breeding areas. Recently, the Brownleys found several eggs. The species is holding its own in Wellow Wood, although never more than three are seen in  a day.  Three more new habitats have been discovered in Nottinghamshire, bringing the number of known sites to six.  Lacking in this report is data from Leicestershire and Rutland, but this will be rectified soon. We still await a Derbyshire sighting!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Rains Return...

Back to Square One in the South East, with a thundery low overhead, producing rain for much of the day.

At 11am, Herself appeared at Knepp, flying along a line of veteran oaks, before settling to bask, forewings pulled back over hind wings, high up in a blackthorn bush - in steady rain. No idea why she flew in the first place, let alone why she then chose to bask in persistent rain, but that's The Empress for you, an enigma...  Her she is - 

No other records received today, though it was dry away from the South East.

Tomorrow is July 26th, which used to be National Purple Emperor Day, when the butterfly was at peak season. They'll be at or slightly past peak tomorrow, making this an old-fashioned season.  

Fifty years ago, on 25/7/1971, I discovered my first 'master tree', and watched 2-3 males soaring around it. That clump of trees blew down in the 1987 Hurricane, but another clump has grown up instead. I'm going back...


Saturday, July 24, 2021

After the Storms...

A short but nasty thunderstorm here at Knepp around midnight, with squally winds. Then, full-frontal Armageddon either side of 5am, plus stair rod rain. 

Crucially, though, no wind. Emperors seem able to sit out downpours but, as we learnt last summer, it's the winds that damage them. So, looks like they got away with it this time...

Glowering morning, but the sun started to break through after 1pm and a still, warm and sunny afternoon ensued. Emperors were nicely active, especially around their oak sap 'feeder trees'. Some of the trees that were producing sap bleeds, though, have dried up, and were untenanted. All told, I saw 20 males and five females. All of the girls were around feeder trees, and were in excellent condition.

My guess is that the male emergence may now be complete here, but there should be quite a few more females to come...

Little news from elsewhere today. Looks like other districts weren't so fortunate with the afternoon sun, or folk had such a disturbed night that they didn't venture out Emperoring...

Friday, July 23, 2021

Peak Season Day at Knepp

Excellent day at Knepp, where I walked Week 3 of the Purple Emperor transect in good conditions. The temperature was much cooler today (25C max), due to a cooling Light to Moderate easterly breeze, and the Emperors were properly active and were not heat suppressed. 

I counted 32 on the transect, including five females. That's par for the course for peak season in an 'average' year here. Last year's peak count was a meagre 24, but then the Emperors got blasted away by gales before they'd reached a natural peak. The record transect count here is a staggering 66, back in 2018. Dream on...

All told I saw over fifty, which is good as I spent most of the morning looking for Brown Hairstreaks (none seen, but must be imminent).  

The forecast thunderstorms may knock out a few adults, but wont wash off many if any young larvae as few if any eggs will have hatched yet (baby larvae are vulnerable to being washed off).  

Emperors tend to go berserk in sun after thunderstorms, so get out tomorrow if you can. The butterfly is at or around peak season.

Not too much to report from elsewhere today. Mark Tutton struggled in one part of Alice Holt Forest, then cleaned up in another part. Emperors are very hit and miss this year. 

Well done to Liz Goodyear for looking for Emperors at Strumpshaw in The Norfolk Broads. She didn't find any but saw three Swallowtails instead.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thurs July 22nd

Another day of stupefying heat... Not many Purple People out.

Spent three hours looking for egging females (no chance!) and male territories in Cirencester Park Woods, where previously only larvae had been found. A bit like the Battle of Waterloo but eventually found a linear rideside territory with three males behaving appallingly 90' up around the tops of tall beeches, I think they were getting tanked up on beech sap. 

Later, another territory, with just a lone occupant, again within a beech cathedral, Savernake style.

The Bathurst Estate is already doing a fantastic job keeping Pearl-bordered Fritillaries going in these woods. Purple Emperor will be much easier.  

I'm heading back to Knepp this evening...

Congrats to Mark Tutton for seeing 11+ Emperors in Creech Woods, S Hants, which had been a rather difficult site to work. Also to Lawrence Drummond for finding more Emperors in Hatfield Forest, Essex. 

Tomorrow could be much better, as lower temperatures are forecast, plus an easterly breeze - so work west-facing edges.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wed July 21st

The heatwave continues. A lot of Purple People are either at work or shielding from the intense sun, so not too much to report today.

I've been hors de combat, with a severely arthritic knee. Had a cortisone jab this morning, which should get me through the rest of the season and my youngest daughter's wedding at the end of the month...

Managed an hour out this lunchtime, and saw a lazy male around a giant beech on the crest of the Frome valley just west of Sapperton, near Cirencester. This is an incised wooded valley, with good areas of sallow. I spotted the male around a classic laneside beech 'master tree' at the top of the slope. 

Today is 50 year's on from IRP Heslop's male 'iole' in Bentley Woods, netted after he'd been up all night watching the Apollo moon landing...

Two new sites turned up in Norfolk by Liz and Andrew.

Advise: throw a sicky on Friday and go Emperoring. The temperature is forecast to plummet down to a more reasonable 23C, in which case they should go berserk...


Jilted by an Empress

With all the goings on in Fermyn, I've been neglecting my local woods of late (Broxbourne NNR in Hertfordshire). The last few days I've stayed local and have been tracking a large Empress high in the Sallows. Unfortunately she is a bit of a diva and just will not come down. After last nights rains I thought these would be perfect conditions to tempt her down onto the moist track today. I arrived, full of hope, at the west car park at 8.45am to see an Emperor wheeling low over the car park surface. Could this be her? Not bothering to park, I jumped from the car, camera in hand, only to find this was a male. However, it was impossible to ignore as it grounded allowing a few early shots, before investigating my car and settling on the number plate then tyres of another. After having it's fill of the ethanol compounds of the tyres, it spiralled around me and gave me a right trousering. Time was getting on, I had a blind date with an Empress. Despite several circuits of the wood and some baitings it was clear that she had blown me out. Story of my life πŸ˜„ Ah well, there's always tomorrow


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Purple Emperor in Southampton.

 Chris Piatkiewicz writes on the Hampshire BC website that he saw a female Purple Emperor on a walk near Weston Shore, Southampton. He states that this is the first time he has seen a Purple Emperor in Southampton. I know Royal Victoria Country Park and Westwood Nature Reserve are nearby which is where it may of originated from. An excellent record.

Tues July 20th

 Fellow fan's of BB's Brendon Chase will remember the sentence, 'July dragged on in sullen heat...'.  It does indeed...

Not many of us were out in the woods today. I'm still hors de combat and others took a Purple week's holiday last week (the entire country should close down during the Emperor season, obviously...) and were at work today.

Good to hear of new sites being discovered today in the Lincs Lime Woods NNR, and to the north of Thetford Chase in Norfolk, and between Norwich and Dereham - congrats to Toby Ludlow and Andrew Middleton for those findings. The message is simple, look and thou shalt find - only don't look during the main heat of the afternoon.     

Most of us are finding the Emperors quiescent from about 1pm in this extreme heat, or even earlier. A BC Hants branch field meeting at West Wood, Winchester, saw 7 males and a female, but the butterfly then conked out at midday. A nice evening flight at Knepp, after a major afternoon conk out. 

Thunderstorms drifting SE over East Midlands region in the evening.

I'm hoping to get back out tomorrow...

Monday, July 19, 2021

19th July... Oates Limps Home...

I left Knepp at dawn and spent the day crashed out at home... 

Back at Knepp, Neil saw about 55 Emperors, including a fresh male down on horse dung in the morning. Males are still emerging there. Both sexes were heat suppressed for quite a while, but became nicely active when a bank of thin cloud came over in mid-afternoon. 

Elsewhere, Dennis and friends saw a good ten individuals in just under two hours at Chambers Farm Wood this morning. Later, they searched unsuccessfully in Southrey Wood, another of the famous Lincs lime woods.  

A few more sightings in Sherwood Forest, but a small select gang failed to find the butterfly just over the border in south Yorkshire - it's important that Yorkshire declares itself Purple before Lancashire does... 

A female was seen on Martin Down NNR in extreme west Hants, indicating once more that this is a butterfly of scrubland rather than woodland...  Eight were seen in 4 hours at West Wood, Winchester, which is good for there.  

Tale of two Woods

 Tale of two Woods.

Saturday and I took a trip over to Fermyn for the first time in a couple of years.  Yes it was hot, very hot.  Made my way over to Souther Wood and got buzzed at 8.30am but HIM would not come to ground just sat on a leaf taking the mick.  Through the morning I had ten sightings in various spots but groundings were only for seconds.  Found one interested in a bit of moss and coaxed it onto my finger where it took a liking to the sweat (questionable tastes Derek?).  The last seen had spent apparently over an hour on it's favourite meal, we'll call him Richard the Turd.  Sadly no open wing shots. 

My first grounded Norfolk Emperor

Today (Monday) and I decided to stick closer to home (30 mins as opposed to 2 and a half hours) and check out Foxley Wood in Nth Norfolk where Iris has been recorded for the last two years.  What have I been missing!  From the first car park and along the main ride a total of thirteen sightings.  Several sallow searching and one on the deck to give me my first Norfolk Emperor photo, with wings open as an added bonus.  Thanks Iris.

Hmmm love the taste of humans!

Foxley Wood beauty!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Questionable tastes

 July 18th 2021

From Alexander Henderson

After the heat of the day had eased, at ten past seven this evening, an emperor came down to the floor at Savernake. The various offerings of dried banana skins, belachan, etc., were roundly ignored as His Majesty alighted on an altogether superior dining experience; a squirrel carcass. 

Sun July 18th: Hotter Still...

 A lot of us found today too hot. The Emperor certainly did, and started to conk out around 2.30 (apart from the odd pair of sparring males).

At Knepp, one was seen flying low across a scrubby field at 7am, begging the question of what else was going on then...  

I was only out for part of the day as my left knee is playing up badly (needs a replacement kneecap).  Two males visited Operation Wallacea's marquees and portaloos midmorning (environmental science students). I walked the main PE transect from 12.30, and totalled just 18 - a poor count, fractionally up on Friday. I managed to get nearly all of it done before they conked. One nearly settled on top of a sow wallowing in the edge of a pond! 

Elsewhere, a very encouraging report from Savernake where three were seen down on the rides and a bundle of six was seen in flight. I thought they were going to be good in Sav this year. 

Another very positive report from Bernwood Forest, of about 25 on the wind there.

Good to hear reports on individuals from three spots in the Kentish High Weald, including a garden in Goudhurst.  


The Champagne is on Ice

 I have searched and searched and searched. I've waited and waited and waited...

...for over 50 years in fact. I never ever thought that this moment would come. But now it has!

I now have a bottle of Moet & Chandon in my fridge and, when it is suitably chilled, I shall raise a glass to this amazing creature. I shall then raise another glass to mark the occasion: one incredible encounter, which has produced a moment of sublime happiness. I shall then raise a further glass to my Emperoring buddies (John Wiltshire, Richard Smyth, Mark Joy et al. and, especially, my son Elliott), who are all out there pursuing their dreams, hoping to capture a similar experience. And, lastly, (you probably get the picture by now!) I raise a glass to all of you and hope you have your moment like this sometime in the not-too-distant future, because if you are reading this you will no doubt realise what this moment means.

No more words; the picture says it all!

Male Purple Emperor ab. lugenda, Chambers Farm Wood, Lincolnshire

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Sat July 17th: Scorchio!

Briefly, as I'm knackered after working a rather poor evening flight till 8pm...

The Purple Emperor is now at or rapidly approaching peak just about everywhere. Numbers seem low (similar to 2020) in most of the South East and much of Essex, due to the impact of last August's heatwave there. Elsewhere, it looks as though numbers are up on last year, but it's early days still...

At Knepp, males are still emerging and there are probably a good number of females still to come. Males are busy sallow searching during the mornings, then setting up territories in the oaks, but becoming quiscent from 2.30 before rousing a little in the evening. Females are about. Crucially, the sallows are now in excellent condition for the laying females, and will be for 1st instar larvae.

Good to hear that numbers have picked up considerably in Bucks Best Wood (a privately owned wood managed with Emperors strongly in mind), after a shocker there last year; and that 19 were seen today in Hatfield Forest; and that the butterfly was behaving badly at Woodwalton Fen today.  

Tomorrow, go early or late; skip the heatwave part from 3-5pm.  

Two Days at Fermyn.

Decided to take the plunge and visit Fermyn Woods on Friday and Saturday. I arrived at 7.30 and left at around 17.30 on the first day. As predicted Friday was very hot and the Purple Emperors I saw were coming down but not staying long, lots of action overhead with at least one female seen. Others had more success but groundings seemed relatively brief. Altogether I saw around 20+. I did have the added bonus of also seeing Black, White-letter and Purple Hairstreaks well at the end of the day, and I was told a Lunar Hornet Clearwing was also seen.

Saturday morning was much better Emperor wise. No sooner had I arrive around 9.00 than I was soundly 'trousered', a few steps later and one, two, three and four males were down tucking into delights that the kind dog walkers had left them. These four were down for a good time, so observers had one each to photograph as they arrived. The main activity of groundings seemed to tail off at around 10.00 but one or two were still coming down up to 11.00. I left for home at around 12.00, having seen around 10 in a small area near the wood piles in Lady Wood.


Friday, July 16, 2021

FRi July 16th

Briefly, as I didn't finish until 8pm (when the Emperor was still flying...)

Redid the Knepp PE transect (too windy and cloudy yesterday) but only got 16, including 3 females. Par would have been 22. I probably should have started half an hour earlier as they became heat suppressed from 2.30.

Crucially, a lot of territories only have single occupants this year, and there's little other aerial biodiversity flying around the oak tops - so males are not very active. So I may have under-recorded.

At least 4 males feeding down on the ground at Knepp today, the first from 9 to 10am, the last at 6.30pm.

Female seen egg laying at 11.15, laying 4 eggs in 2 broad-leaved sallows. 

Very poor year for Purple Hairsreak here - oaks damaged by late frosts.

Elsewhere, good to hear of one seen down on a ride at Dene Park, Kent today - We hardly hear from Kent...  Also, several seen at Bentley Wood, Wilts, today. 

Best of all, PEs have been seen in Leics and Rutland these last two days, including at Bardon Hill and in Coalville Meadows - been seen at 7 Leics & Ruts Wildlife Trust reserves these last three years!

The butterfly will be at peak everywhere this weekend. To the woods, the lot of you: get trousered. NB the A43 is closed at Silverstone. NB PEs likely to conk out between 2.30 and 5.30 in the forecast heat, but will put on good evening flights if calm. Enjoy...


Thursday, July 15, 2021




St Swithun...

Clouded up at Knepp around lunchtime. Thereafter, activity was intermittent and highly localised. A brisk N wind didn't help, though it dropped late on as the cloud thickened. Attempted the Knepp PE transect but had to give it up, will try again tomorrow.

I saw 40 Emperors (all male), the last of which I nearly ran over on my ebike at 6.30pm, down feeding in very dull conditions. Two other fresh males seen down on the rides at Knepp today, which is a lot for here (they're primarily oak sap feeders here). Around 1pm Neil had a tumbledown (mated female rejecting male advances by spiralling down) land between his feet! Again, some appalling intra-male behaviour and scenes of drunkeness and brawling, especially around sap bleed oaks.

Elsewhere, first Emperors of the year seen in Hatfield Forest today (Essex was also hit by the severe drought that wilted sallows in the SE last August).  

One male seen in Sherwood Forest, Notts; 6-8 males seen in Foxley Wood, Norfolk. Incredibly, Chiddingfold Forest on the Sussex  / Surrey border only kicked off yesterday.  

This butterfly is now at peak at most sites. Make the most of the coming weekend...  Enjoy...

 Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire

Iris had not been seen in this ancient forest for about 40 years. Then, last July, Nick Brownley came across this damaged specimen on a cycle path. Subsequently, he and his wife Sam found four larvae in the vicinity. They lost track of these four during the winter. This year, they found another five larvae, and eventually eight pupae [!], two of which were not from the larvae. Two of the pupae were predated, and, of the six left, five adults emerged with one to go at the time of writing this blog. Considering Nick and Sam had no previous iris experience, this is a remarkable achievement. It suggests that there is a reasonable population in this vast forest. Yesterday, Nick saw the first wild specimen. Together with Chambers Farm Wood Lincolnshire, this is the most northerly habitat in the UK so far recorded.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Fun at Fermyn with a tinge of sadness

Up to 40 Emperors seen on a good day at Fermyn today. Despite the morning cloud, the sun finally broke through, if a little breezy, making HIM somewhat flighty at times. However, the Emperor was largely good humoured and allowed plenty of opportunities for lighthearted banter and encounters. 

A moment of melancholy though, when a pristine male unexpectedly landed on one of the Cypress Tree stumps in Souther Wood ride (these trees were recently felled by Forestry England). The Purple faithful will remember, they were formerly the epicentre of the Purple Empire at Fermyn and where I photographed my first Emperor aberration (ab.afflicta). I think the photo of this male resting on one of the stumps is a fitting epitaph to those wonderful trees. RIP 🌲πŸͺ΅πŸ¦‹πŸ˜ͺ 

14th July: Fermyn Outscores Knepp!

Briefly, or I'll never get any supper...

Mart Tutton counted 48 in a ten hour innings in Fermyn Woods today. I only managed 44 at Knepp, though in a shorter time. Neil managed 33 whilst leading two PE Safari groups. 

At 11am Neil and I watched a female lay two eggs. These are the first eggs seen laid this year, already...

I ended the day watching at least six males behaving appalling around a sap run oak, between 5.15 and 6.30 (probably more like 8-9, but included a vista of 6 - 5 squabbling together, the other getting plastered on oak sap). The Home Secretary has been informed.

Dave Law saw 7 males along Three Oak Hill Drive in Savernake Forest, some using the Dead Beech Glade territory which I discovered in 2001.

Liz Goodyear turned up two more sites local to her home in Herts. 

One seen today on Sherwood Forest.

Any news from Leics yet, on our northern fringes?


Bentley Revs Up!

I arrived at Bentley Wood  at around 10.15 today and had barely left the car park when I noticed a group of people along the main track. As I approached I was told that a male Purple Emperor was down on a pile of dung and another was in a nearby oak. Apparently the one on the dung had been down for over an hour and had a car pass over it but it had returned to it's feast. On looking closer it looked like it had been out a little while and it had part of it's hindwings missing. Without warning off it flew, not to return. I walked on until I lost the crowd, (mid-week and the car park was full up)! My second encounter was with a really fresh male, it stayed down but only for a short time. Well worth making the effort for. I would have loved it to stay down a little longer though. Altogether I saw 8, the others were high in the canopy along the rides. A look at the logbook showed that one had been seen yesterday, so it appears the season has just started here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

July 13th - Summer Returns

 Anticyclone nudging in from the SW, as welcome as the first Orange Tip of the spring.

Knepp (still largely a quagmire): Neil had counted 52 Emperors when we separated at 6pm, having batted all day. Last year's peak day count here was 84 on June 24th, so it looks as though this year's peak count will be similar. The butterfly will be at peak here from Thurs to Sun (and maybe a little beyond). The first females were seen here today, both being ardently courted (but I failed to locate a mating pair as the cattle were in my way!). 

Males only intermittently active as there's very little moving up in the oak crowns to wind them up - hardly any Purple Hairstreaks this year [so far] and very few other winged insects up top, and no tit flocks.  

Not too much reported from elsewhere today, apart from in Fermyn Woods where males are still coming down to the ride surfaces nicely [NB the A43 will be closed at Silverstone this weekend]. 

Apparently, none has been seen so far this year in Chiddingfold Forest on the Sussex / Surrey border.  

Monday, July 12, 2021

Mon July 12th News

More stagnant gloom over most of The Empire again today. Random holes in the gloom stirred the odd Emperor into action, for example at Bookham Common. Biblical rainfall reported from the South Coast late on, after a day of warm dense cloud.

Today's most exciting record comes from a garden next to Putney Heath, with a photo of a nice male. This is the third year running that iris has been seen there!  [per Twitter]

Also, from Twitter, a nice photo of a male down on the ground at Chalkney Wood, near Colchester. 

Slightly older records of note are from Chicksands Wood, Beds, and Foxley Wood, Norfolk.  

News from Fermyn Woods: 20 Emperors seen there today in 4hrs 30 mins by Dr David Jenner, 17 of them on the ground.  

Advice: if you're planning on visiting Fermyn Woods to see fresh males on the ground, go very soon, the weekend at the latest. Don't leave it till next week, the grounding season there doesn't last long.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sun July 11th News

 Briefly, because of the football...

Large parts of The Empire were clouded off today, with rain spreading in from the SW, again...  nothing flew today in Wilts & Glos, for example.

Morning sunshine in Northants saw some good action in Fermyn Woods, with fresh males coming down to the rides, as they are so want to do there. David Jenner saw 15 males there today, all bar one on the ground.

Knepp had a day of warm cloud and good sunny spells. Neil led group walks in the morning and afternoon. These saw 13 and 15 males  respectively. This, and the fact that Ben's surviving pupae up the road are starting to hatch, suggests lateness rather than severe collapse, though this is clearly not a good year for the Emperor at and around Knepp (it never was going to be, after the sallows wilted in the district last August).

Five males around a master tree near Bicester during a short sunny spell there (Wendy & Mick Campbell).

Nothing else.

The weather's set to improve from Tues, and it better...

Saturday, July 10, 2021

More Gloom & Doom

 Yet another poor weather day in The Empire, and on a key weekend day of the 2021 season. Rain moved slowly eastwards south of the M4 corridor. North of it, it was dry, but there was a lot of stagnant gloom. 

So, very few sightings reported, with few people venturing out. Neil Hulme led an afternoon Purple Emperor safari group at Knepp, which somehow managed to see five Emperors [it helps if you know where the favoured male territories are].

We are beginning to realise the extent of predation on Purple Emperor pupae. This is something I hinted at in the book, but this summer there has been a major scientific breakthrough, coupled with a technological breakthrough. 

The discovery is that PE pupa glow in the dark under strong UV torchlight, they flouresce. Some of us have been venturing out into the woods in the dark, suitably armed. 

Ben Greenaway found 13 pupae in woods in W Sussex: 8 have now been predated, one has emerged, only four remain. 

The cooler the weather, the longer the pupal period lasts, the more get crunched and the fewer Emperors we see on the wing.     

We still don't know who or what is doing the crunching, as we don't have trail cameras up. There's some evidence to suggest that predation is largely occurring at night, in which case the likes of the yellow-necked mouse and hazel dormouse come to mind. My cat is charged with sorting this out...

Friday, July 9, 2021

Numbers building at Fermyn

Whilst some were chasing the rare ab at Oversley, the real prize this week was a vacant parking space at the Glider Club entrance to Fermyn. Numbers have been steadily building this week, but it wasn't until yesterday that His Imperial subjects were actually outnumbered by the Emperor himself. It was great to get re-aquainted with so many old 'Purple Punters' from far and wide and to meet some new ones who I'd only previously corresponded with over social media. 

Even the 'Fermyn Light Horse' were in evidence, plying their trade down the rides. Sadly my own trusty steed, the famous 'Blue Afflicta' went lame on me (rear tyre went off with a bang) I was forced to borrow Shanks's Pony. Cheers for that Shanks.

Despite the valiant attempts of the Met Office to predict the weather in the Midlands they have got it all wrong this week, with rubbish days turning out to be great purple ones and the predicted 'Diamond Day' on Thursday never materialising. That said HIM is definitely gathering momentum. Yesterday I was surrounded by six pristine males all at my feet. A bewildering spectacle in terms of which one to get a portrait of. Numerous 'trouserings' 'bootings' and 'fingerings' were to be seen, much to the delight of the adoring crowd. I must have seen 20+ Emperors yesterday, all of them came to ground, perched on the logs and a couple low down in trees. Easy meat if you wanted to capture that regal flush.

The much feared ride clearances were nowhere near as bad as had been described at Souther and Lady Wood, with most Sallows spared Forestry England's woodman's axe.  In fact the stored cut timber piles provided numerous sap bleeds for the Emperor to feast on. Also good to see the gradual regeneration of the Cherry Lap ride, and more sightings along there yesterday than there have been in the last few years. So peak emergence is rapidly approaching at Fermyn, but the Empress has yet to make an appearance, but I suppose it's females' perogative to be a little late to the party.

People have been reporting a weird phenomenon at places along the Souther and Lady Wood rides. A strange aroma reminiscent of Billingsgate Market and seaside eating establishments. I must confer with my learned friend and Emperoring buddy, Toby Ludlow, as to what that could possibly be all about πŸ€”.

Rarest sighting of all this week was the afternoon appearance of Kasia Bukowska and Nigel Kitely. They simply do not do Emperors and definitely don't do afternoons 😁. There's something in the air at Fermyn.

Notts Kicks Off and the Sun Shines at Knepp...

First Emperors of the year seen today at Cotgrave, meaning that Notts joins the list of counties where Emperors are currently flying.

More sightings and photos in Fermyn Woods, where the butterfly now seems well out, and 20 were seen today in the SE sector of Alice Holt Forest, Hants. Also, some good sightings in Bernwood Forest,  which straddles the Bucks / Oxon border.

Find of the day was by Liz Goodyear and Andrew Middleton who turned up a new site in west Norfolk.

At Knepp, the sun shone gloriously for almost the entire day, for the first time in ages.... I walked the Knepp PE transect in the afternoon. This totalled six, which isn't at all impressive (the record is 66!). I'd looked for sallow-searching males during the morning and struggled to see seven. All told I managed to see 24 males at Knepp today. By Knepp's standards that's not good, but the emergence there may have been held up by persistent foul and abusive weather (Knepp really has drawn the short straw weather-wise since Midsummer Day...). We wont know what stage the Knepp season's at for a few days.

Technically, this should be a great weekend to look for Emperors just about everywhere, but the forecast is very poor indeed - and even worse for Monday and Tuesday. However, the Azores anticyclone is set to start nudging over from midweek next week, and redeem this thoroughly wretched season...    

Bernwood today

 Saw 2 in the first 5 minutes of arriving in the car park at 10.30am. Luckily the car park was relatively empty, I'm sure that will change over the next week. 

One was flying around the dog litter bin and then settled there..really purple and red? Got some shots of males on the hardcore path, they seemed relatively docile. Others had seen 6 or 7 so they are about. 

Mark Griffiths, Garsington, Oxford.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Rainy Day Blues...

 Another awful day at Knepp, which was under a shower convergence zone and must have had received 10mm of rain today. I struggled to see two males with a brave safari group. Tomorrow is supposed to see a weak ridge of high pressure, so I should at last be able to gain an impression of numbers here (as yet, I have no idea).

If you're visiting Knepp over the next week please be aware that the paths are seriously muddy. Water scarcely percolates through the Weald Clay, but just sits there; and the free-ranging cattle use the path system too...

Elsewhere, we have the first aberration of the year, a pristine male which is probably ab. afflicta, seen and photoed at Oversley Wood, S Warwicks (yes, yet another ab. in an introduced population [estab. 2004 if I remember right]). 

Also, the year's first female, again at Oversley, only she'd been damaged - probably because she emerged in yesterday's wind and got blown down before her wings were fully set, as happens in windy or wet weather.  

About 20 seen today in Fermyn Woods too.

That apart, a lot of people hanging about in The Empire, waiting for the clouds to part...

And the forecast for Saturday, Monday and Tuesday is Absolutely Foul. However, the Azores high is supposed to be coming over later next week (seeing is believing... #ItsComingHome).

To date, this is an old fashioned Purple Emperor season with the males taking to the air whenever the July rains relent.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Praying for Purple.

 After spending the day walking around Abbots Wood, Alice Holt with blanket cloud cover, things looked pretty grim searching for any Purple Emperors. It was my second visit here on both occasions meeting up with Mark Tutton. We covered the areas we were familiar with which had been good in previous years. At around 16.00 we met up and it turned out Mark had seen 2 males around an hour before very briefly, one putting the other up nearby over a sunny oak along a ride. As we spoke the sun came out and at last I had a one second view of a male which circled and then vanished. We both spoke to a young lady taking her dachshund for a walk who asked what we were looking for, we told her Purple Emperors. She immediately told us she had seen a male Purple Emperor on her window sill at the nearby convent at around 13.30. We had no reason to doubt her as she had seen it well and was very interested in butterflies. This all leads me to believe that there were a lot more around than we were able to see. They were probably just sitting motionless high above us waiting for a bit of sun to get them going. It does look like it could be a poor year not helped by the atrocious weather, I am hoping things are late with next week seeing numbers go up. All will no doubt be revealed once we get some settled sunny conditions. Tomorrow onwards could see things improving .

Dorset Kicks Off

First Emperor of the year seen today in the main Dorset site, by Dave Law. 

New colony discovered on Monday near Tiptree in Essex by Laurence Drummond. Top work!

I got into double figures at Knepp today by working leeward oak edges - west and south-facing edges were far too windswept, it's a very wind-prone site. I think they're only just getting going at Knepp now. 

Three males during a ten minute sunny spell in a wood north of the main block of Bernwood Forest today by Wendy and Mick Campbell, then a deluge. 

A couple of fighting males seen in Alice Holt Forest.

Conclusion: still early days but they're getting going now...

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Savernake Kicks Off

Pretty dire weather in The Empire today, especially in the south-eastern part, but the wind wasn't as strong as feared, so it's unlikely that any significant damage was done (especially as most of the 2021 Emperors are still pupae). 

Pleased to see the first Savernake Emperor of the year, before showers curtailed the visit. I'd called in, on route back to Knepp, to look for the pupa of my last larva there, a female - found the witch 4m up, through binoculars. So Wiltshire is now purple for the season.

The only other records I've received from today are of four males seen in Fermyn Woods, in fairly poor weather.

There's been a major breakthrough in finding Purple Emperor pupae this summer. The revelation that the pupae flouresce under UV light has prompted several of us to splash out on expensive UV torches (from Amazon USA) and scan for pupae in the dark. They show up strongly under UV light. Inspired, some of us have successfully found pupae by day too. A good dozen wild pupae are currently under observation, in W Sussex, Sherwood Forest and Lincs. Congrats to all those who've found them - ground-breaking stuff (and not in my book).  

There should be a reasonable emergence tomorrow, weather permitting...

Monday, July 5, 2021

Fermyn kicks off

 It is very rare to be alone at Fermyn during the flight period of the Purple Emperor. I read Dave James first sighting message this morning and bombed down to Fermyn with my bike, this afternoon. Within two minutes I saw my first Emperor of the year just beyond the bend on Cherry Lap. After the forestry work, a couple of years ago now, the sallows are growing back nicely with some 4m trees. I rode into Lady Wood with some trepidation, based on comments regarding forestry work, but was pleasantly surprised. There has clearly been attention to preservation of sallows both in Lady Wood and Souther Wood. Extensive logging has widened the rides and let in more light, however, there was lots of sallow preserved and in good condition.

I was reminded by Toby Ludlow that last year there were more females seen than in many previous years and, with both the rides and the sallows looking good, I am hopeful for this years flight season at Fermyn, after a poor year last year.

The rides were damp with puddles and I saw three Iris, all grounded. At the junction between Lady Wood and Souther Wood, this newly emerged male kept me company for 45 minutes. He inspected the logs and took a particular liking for the dirt on my bike, before flying into the oaks around 14.30pm.

Finally, I saw my third and final Emperor on the main ride in Souther Wood. I couldn't get close but it looked darker than normal. I can't claim an ab but if anyone sees an ab male at Souther, tomorrow, then I saw it first :-)

Fabulous to be at Fermyn again and you forget how wonderful it is to see Emperors close up. Fingers crossed for the season ahead.