Friday, December 30, 2022

Prospects for 2023...

Happy New Year to all of Purple disposition...

I'd like to say that the prospects of an annus mirabilis year for the Purple Emperor are looking good, but they're not - at least, not at this stage. 

Autumn larvae were scarce everywhere. We think because 1) the egg lay was low, due to females being stressed by extreme heat; 2) many eggs failed to hatch - they boiled in the bag instead [as happened in Sherwood Forest]; 3) many young (L1) larvae desiccated in the mid-July and early August heatwaves [as has happened before, e.g. in 1976 & 1989].  

In Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, autumn larvae were at the second lowest level I've recorded in 14 years of standardised searching. On the Lambourn Downs, SW Oxon, autumn larvae were a third of previous levels (it's a Year 4 study site). In Cirencester Park Woods, Glos, (a new colonisation, in Year 2), larval numbers were down by 50%. And I've searched assiduously in all these sites.

And the big one, Ben Greenaway has found that larvae are 50% down in his major study area just up the road from Knepp in W Sussex (though in part due to habitat deterioration).

In addition, I noted a severe paucity of the sallow-feeding moth and sawfly larvae I find in the autumn, as bycatch, everywhere. There seems to have been a mass failure of things like Pebble Prominent (which has distinctive larval feeding marks).  

That's the bad news...

The good news, is that Great Tit numbers appear to be well down. They, and other titmice, seem to have suffered from the cold spring and, possibly / probably the impact of the heatwaves on insect food sources. Great Tits are major predators of hibernating Emperor larvae. I'm trying to get some info from the ornithologists on this... (Bird Garden Birdwatch should provide a good pointer). 

Also, the severe cold snap in early December should have taken out various invertebrate predators which thrive in mild winters.

So, there is Hope... 

Other key life stages determining adult numbers are the pupation period and pupal period, which we're just starting to study properly. There seem to be major losses during these stages, suggesting that the shorter time the insect spends pupating and as pupa, the more Emperors fly. 2022 had poor weather during that period (remember the Jubilee downpours).  

One prediction I will make, is that the 2023 Purple Emperor season is unlikely to start before Midsummer Day (unless we get a long fine spring and a wonderful June) - because the sallows will over-flower next spring, and leaf late, in response to heat & drought stress.

Here's Larry The Cat(erpillar), one of 8 I'm following locally - 

And here's a rather coy Boris 3rd -



Monday, November 7, 2022

  My annual searches for autumn larvae are now complete. Larvae have been unusually - and worryingly - hard to find.

  For the last 14 autumns I have searched diligently, in a standardised manner, for larvae in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Larvae have been relatively numerous after all previous hot summers, and I was expecting to find them with some ease this autumn. 

  However, 2022 has been the second poorest autumn on record for larvae in Savernake, after 2020 (which saw an old fashioned wet July).  

  The same picture has been presented at my other monitoring sites, near Lambourn and in Cirencester Park Woods, Glos (a new colonisation).  

  It appears that something went badly wrong, something outside my previous experience - outside my box.  

  However, my searches are from the ground (I can no longer climb sallows due to arthritic knees) and my findings are based on the assumption that the females lay the same percentage of eggs low down each year - for which there's no evidence either way...

  Much depends on the Dangle Leaf season, now starting. I find this method about as effective as Floo Powder in Harry Potter, though it works well for Ben Greenaway on small-leaved sallows in Southwater Woods, W Sussex.  The dangles blow off on my large-leaved sallows (last late November, Storm Arwen took the lot...).  Ben is only just starting his searches now.  

  Worse, every early November I pray in earnest for cold, wet, miserable weather. This is the time when larvae are going into hibernation (diapause). They don't go far when the weather's poor. But wander far and wide in mild weather. Yet again, the weather's set to unseasonably mild during this crucial period.  

  A few larvae are already in hibernation, but the sallow leaves are staying on well in the absence of frosts. 

Here's 'Cruella', in hibernation on Sun Nov 6th:-

But 'Suella' was still only just starting to colour up (also yesterday) -

  This winter's 'Boris' and his counterpart 'Cincinnatus' are poised to quit their leaves, as is 'Lettuce Liz'.   

Watch this space...


Monday, September 26, 2022

Larval Search Update

I am still more than struggling to find Emperor larvae this autumn, finding one for every 2 hours 30 mins of actual leaf searching - that's as bad a find rate as after a cold, wet summer. This is in the S Glos / N Wilts / SW Oxon region which was not drought affected and where very few sallows dropped leaves. Sallow foliage conditions there are Very Good.

I am also finding precious little else: hardly any of the moth larvae I normally find at this time of year (e.g. Buff Tip, Clouded Border, Pale Tussock, Pebble Prominent, Swallow Prominent). Yesterday, at last, I found the first batch of larvae of the sallow foliage-feeding sawflies normally encountered whilst searching sallows in autumn (this one is probably the common sallow-feeder Euura pavida) - 

It seems that the egg lay was very low, at least low down. I am concentrating on searching in the shadiest places, where all the larvae I have found have been located. 

One theory is that the egg lay was not poor, but that there was a high failure rate of baby L1 larvae - as can happen in heatwaves (I first noted this in 1976), coupled with hatched egg cases falling off the leaves. 

Such losses leave no tell-tale signs, whereas the vacant seat pad and old feeding leaves of predated L2 larvae are quite prominent (and have been diligently recorded by me each autumn).

This is tricky. I have no experience of eggs (hatched or unhatched) coming unstuck, but of the paltry nine larvae I have found so far this autumn the egg case base was present in only three instances - that's unusually low and may suggest that eggs (hatched or unhatched) might have come adrift in the hot weather.  

The show continues - I need a bigger sample, and I should eventually make some sense of the situation. It's not critical (at least away from the drought-struck South East, where it might be) but it is deeply concerning, and is totally outside my experience. As Fred Trueman used to bemoan on Test Match Special, usually when England were leaking runs through an untenanted third man boundary: "I don't know what's going off out there anymore!"

I have yet to find any sign of Emperor larvae or eggs in Hailey Wood, Cirencester Park Woods - my local wood, where I followed and chronicled the likes of 'Boris', 'Jacob', 'Rishi', 'Priti' etc. earlier this year. Nothing, and I'm keeping a keen eye open for egg case bases and vacant leaves from failed L2 larvae.

The results of my annual stratified random sampling for PE larvae in Savernake Forest will be particularly interesting. I've carried this out there each autumn since 2009.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Autumn Larvae are Very Scarce

 This early autumn I am finding Purple Emperor larvae at the rate of one every 2 hours 30 mins, searching as usual in Wilts, Oxon and Glos. That's extremely poor, and it looks as though something has gone very badly wrong. Larvae are as scarce as after wet and windy flight seasons, or scarcer.   

 In all previous autumns after hot weather flight seasons in which the butterflies were relatively numerous, I've found Emperor larvae at the rate of one every 15-20 minutes. That's the rate I expected when I started this season's autumn searches...

 And I'm not finding signs of failed larvae either (e.g. unhatched eggs, egg case bases with no sign of larvae, and vacant seat & feed leaves +/- the old egg case base where larvae have been predated). Normally, I find a fair few of these failed breeding attempts (which I dutifully record). 

It may well be that unhatched eggs are no longer around, having come unstuck in the heat (as suggested by the shortage of egg case bases where I do find larvae). Note that there is a known issue with eggs not hatching in heatwaves and Nick & Sam Brownley recorded a number of eggs failing to hatch in Sherwood Forest earlier. I have not recorded eggs coming unstuck before.

 Moreover, I'm finding very little else - and I also record moth and sawfly larvae whilst searching the autumn sallows. So, hardly any Pebble Prominent and Clouded Border larvae (just one of each), and no Buff Tips or larvae of the sallow sawflies. Worse, I'm finding no signs of Pebble Prominent larvae beyond, say, about 1/3rd grown - their larval feeding damage is diagnostic, this:-

 I am strongly suspecting a catastrophic event, or at least something severe... but whatever has happened is outside my experience. 

Caveat: My autumn searches are done from the ground. I haven't been able to climb sallows for several years due to severe osteoarthritis in both knees (I await at least one replacement kneecap). Crucially then, my writings are based on the assumption that (roughly) the same % of eggs is laid low down each year - and there's no data to suggest that this is the case, or isn't...

 Much depends on the Dangle Leaf season at leaf fall time (the easiest way to find Emperor larvae in most autumns).

 Watch this space...

Monday, August 1, 2022

Still on the wing in Savernake

Two males performing nicely on territory this afternoon along Three Oak Hills Drive at the southern end of Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. 

NOT at The Column, where Everyone goes, but at the Dead Beech Glade which Everyone walks past on route to The Column. The Column is at best a secondary territory, intermittently used. The Dead Beech Glade is a primary territory in use every afternoon throughout the flight season except in gloom or strong wind; at SU 232652, or stand at What3Words 'forum.walking.directors' and look east past the dead beech trunk...

This may well be the last sighting nationally of the 2022 Purple Emperor season, 47 days after the first - though it would be nice if we could squeeze fifty days out of this year.

Savernake is a 'late' site and quite often produces the last sighting of iris nationally. Ringlets were still out in numbers there today (they finished a week back at Knepp in W Sussex) and I even saw a late Large Skipper (which finished two weeks back at Knepp).  

The egg lay in Savernake looks highly promising. Here's an early L2 larva from today, silking - 

There has been no sighting at Knepp since last Saturday.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Fri July 29th Going... Going... Gone...

I struggled to see a lone Purple Emperor at Knepp today, an OAP male -

The butterfly is effectively OVER, at Knepp and nationally. It has flown there for a record 44 days, and I saw it on 41.

At Knepp, it's had its second best year since effective monitoring began in 2014, but way behind the annus mirabilis that was 2018.  

Keep checking this Blog, which functions all year round to bring you news about Purple Doings. 

For example, we've found that the empty pupal cases flouresce under UV torchlight at night, and that these cases last for some time in the wild. As the evenings draw in I will be going out with my UV torch looking for pupal cases, as a survey technique, and perhaps to get some angle on population size.... Exciting times!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thurs July 28th Season Ending...

Struggled to see two Purple Emperors at Knepp today, a very old male and a female in reasonable condition. 

A pair of battling old males was seen elsewhere, by other observers. 

So, 4 seen all told, only.  

This ageing male rockstar was behaving appallingly. He threw the hotel TV out of the window, got badly tanked up on oak sap, flew off upside down and molested an egging female - causing her to crash land on my ebike, who is now Blessed:-

The butterfly is all but over at Knepp. If you're thinking of visiting, you will see storks but you are highly unlikely to see any Emperors... Also, I will be taking the purple ribbonry and bunting down very soon, to effectively close the viewing season...

The fate of the 2023 Purple Emperor season at Knepp depends on the place getting a useful drop of rain within the next week. The sallows are dropping sub-canopy leaves. The ground below sallow stands looks like this -

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

OMG! Season Suddenly Ending...

I honestly thought that Emperors, and in particular Empresses, would easily last into early August at Knepp this year, perhaps to around the 7th. Consequently, Neil and I both took a couple of days off (the 25th and 26th).

Wrong, again, but that's Emperors for you...

This afternoon, in good weather conditions, Neil and I independently searched hard. He saw just two females, I managed one male and three possibly four females. 

Conclusion: the butterfly is going over fast, and I may have seen my last male of the year.

This is remarkable as there were still fresh-looking females around at the weekend, and some males in quite reasonable condition - but we don't know how long Emperors live.

I still need to see the butterfly on one more day to achieve my 40 Days & 40 Nights target...

Advice: unless you know exactly where and how to look, don't bother venturing out in search of Emperors and Empresses again this year, you're too late...

For the record, this has been the second best year for the butterfly at Knepp after 2018 (since monitoring began in 2014). They have behaved appallingly...

Crucially, we had a useful 6mm of rain at Knepp on Fri 22nd but need more if the sallows are not to wilt further. The fate of the 2023 Purple Emperor season depends on early August rain... ... ...

Keep reading this Blog, it functions all year round, not just during the flight season.  

Monday, July 25, 2022

Sun July 24th: sapping to the very end...

At Knepp, Purple Emperors are now becoming very localised and episodic, more and more restricted to the vicinity of veteran oaks that produce sap bleeds - but those bleeds switch on and off from day to day, and their utilisation is dictated by wind speed and direction.

Males are now scarce, though there are still some fresh-looking ones around.

Females are still relatively plentiful and in remarkably good condition, though they're less active than the males and less predictable.  

The oak tree that produced a cluster of four sapping females yesterday only held a lone female this morning, and none during the afternoon - perhaps because of a change in wind speed and direction. Here she is -

I'm having a couple of days off from Emperoring, before returning to Knepp for the Grand Conclusion and to work my other nemesis, the Brown Hairstreak...

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Sat July 23rd Emperor Season Without End!

The Purple Emperor has now been on the wing at Knepp for 38 days.

Today I walked the PE transect there, for Week 6. This is normally the last week of Knepp's PE season, though in 2018 the butterfly only lasted five weeks here, due to drought. 

Normally, in Week 6 I struggle to count more than 4-5: today I totalled 16. This butterfly is going to make it into Week 7 at Knepp, and into early August! Note that I predicted a protracted emergence on this blog back in early June, for once I was actually right...

Better still, my count included a freshly emerged female being courted by a male my age - she was receptive and led him up into the oak tops for wedding and bedding. She must have been a caterpillar into July, presumably on a late-to-come-into-leaf sallow.  

However, the bulk of the males at Knepp have finished, and some of the females, and the butterfly is now very local and only active intermittently during afternoons and early evenings. Some of the best territories are unoccupied, not least because of that blithering wind which has plagued this season.

Females are busy feeding on oak sap. Neil found a sap run holding four sapping girls, though there were only two present by the time I got there -

Having done a vigorous Risk Assessment, Neil got up close for some close-up photography -

That's the good news. The bad news is that despite 3mm of rain here yesterday many of the sallow stands are showing signs of drought, dropping their sub-canopy leaves as they did in 2018 - 

No rain is forecast for the region during the coming week.

Fri July 22nd

I was doing talks and walks in East Sussex and Surrey yesterday, but managed to spend five minutes with a pristine female at Knepp at 5pm, before she went off sapping high in a veteran oak. 

I have now seen Emperors in the wild for 36 days and am officially doing the 40 Days and 40 Nights Challenge... (someone has to).

Generally, the season is winding down, but with a long tail. This weekend is Last Chance to See weekend, afternoons and evenings only, Go for it...   

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Thurs July 21st: Bad Light Stops Play...

At last a day without wind! However, a pall of cloud developed over Knepp (and much of the rest of the southern Empire) just after 1pm, when I started the weekly PE transect... By 1.30 the males were quiescent and from 2pm only sapping females were seen, so I abandoned the count. At 4pm bad light stopped play for the day.

Here's one male I've become very fond of, called 'His Vain Gloriousity', basking in the gloom. He's an old boy and can't go on forever, though we'd all like him to - 

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think any aberrations have been recorded this year... I thought there would be quite a few of the lugenda-type vars this year, stimulated by cold nights at the end of May and beginning of June (associated with the Jubilee weather)... 



Wednesday, July 20, 2022

On Wednesday I revisited Bernwood Forest, early for once, and walked straight down the metalled track into Shabbington Wood for a round tour before it got too hot.  I saw five Purple Emperors, all males and all in reasonable condition.  Three were on or over the metalled track and two were in the more shady side rides, where fresh purple hairstreaks were locally abundant on the grass and the low overhanging branches.  

The first Emperor was very obliging.  It spent about 20 minutes probing the ground beneath the small clovery plant that grows prostrate on the margins of the hard surface.  (My knees were shrieking as the sharp gravel pressed further and further into them.)  It then flew around and settled on the brim of my straw hat, where I heard and felt it land but could only see its outline in the shadow on the track.  It repeated this performance and then settled on a low sallow leaf, before returning to investigate me again and settling first on my shirt, then on my shorts, and finally on my hand where it spent about two minutes tasting my thumb.  It then departed over the trees.

Perhaps the accumulated sweat and grime of several days' hard butterflying has some merits, at least to Emperors, and it seems that not all Emperors are distant and disdainful as this one was positively domestic.  My thermometer showed 100 degrees F in the porch when I got home.

Wed July 20th: 35 Days in...

Back at Knepp today, though yet again a Moderate to Fresh SSW wind sprung up and reduced Emperorial activity - Knepp is a windswept site, being more open than most Emperor sites.

The good news is that the extreme hot spell does not seem to have reduced numbers dramatically at Knepp, and the season goes on and on. This is remarkable, as the butterfly has now been on the wing there for 35 days - 5 whole weeks...  Despite the wind, I managed to see 17 iris this afternoon, including five females. 

Neil and I spent four hours watching females feeding on sap bleeds on a veteran oak down at the bottom of Green Lane. The action started at 3pm and went on till 7pm. Initially there were two, who we named Colleen and Rebekka. They were joined by two more.

Meanwhile, His Vain Gloriousity was active in the crown above them, but only twice deigned to come down to meet them - and cause a couple of tumbledown rejection drop flights. Most of the time he was mucking about up top, blissfully - if not stupidly - unaware that there were two to four females just a few metres below him.  

Here are some photos of Colleen and Rebekka - 

One nearly got nabbed by a hornet. The pattern was for a female to feed for 15-30 mins, then fly to settle on foliage, clean the tongue then bask for anything up to 45 mins, before returning to feed again. They ended up basking in the early evening sunshine - 


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Mad dogs and Englishmen…

I spent well over 3 hours out at Chambers Farm Wood today in temperatures in the high 30s. Why, you might ask? Well, for two reasons:

1. To see if there was anyone else out there who was as stupid as I am

    – there wasn't!

2. To see if there would be any Purple Emperor activity out there at the peak temperature of 39 degrees Centigrade

    – there was!

I arrived at Chambers Farm Wood precisely at midday and the temperature was already sitting at 35 degrees Centigrade. As I walked past the barrier it was immediately apparent that something was very different: with every step I took I disturbed 4, or 5 Purple Hairstreaks, which were resting with wings closed on the main stone track in small patches of shade here and there. I have seen this a few times before, but not to this extreme: I counted 377 down low from the barrier up to ‘Fiveways’; there must have been thousands of them on the ground in total throughout the complex. Given the extreme conditions, I thought today, of all days, I was going to have to work hard for any Purple Emperors sightings though. But, as is so often the case, it pays not to second-guess nature – I have learnt my lesson many times over! After just 35 minutes on site, a female Purple Emperor glided past me, low over the track, and then settled on the track, subsequently trying to imbibe little more than dust it seemed! She was soon joined by a male and together they probed the dry substrate together. A little further along the track and another female flew low past me. This one appeared slightly darker in colouration, but as I swivelled around to gain a better look, she quickly disappeared up into the Blackthorn along the ride edge, so I couldn’t confirm whether she was aberrant or not. Another male then appeared and circled round and landed next to the first one on the track, closely followed by a third female. She flew low along the track towards me, went past and then grounded near to the first one I’d seen. This one was much fresher though and appeared from an entirely different direction from the second, darker specimen I’d seen. Looking back down the track past the two grounded males, I could see a third male circling low over the track in the distance, and he too grounded. By now, the temperature was creeping up and now stood at 36 degrees Centigrade. It didn’t seem too bad though because there was a 15mph south-southeasterly blowing and the air movement was slightly cooling. I was amazed to then see a third female Purple Emperor on the ground. If I’d thought about it, I suppose conditions up top were not just on the limit for the Purple Hairstreaks! Progressing on towards ‘Fiveways’, a male Purple Emperor shot past me and then sought some shade up in a Crab Apple tree. I got a few photographs of him before he repositioned himself on the trunk of the Crab Apple tree, deeper under cover. On the temperature front, things were obviously hotting up, and sightings went quiet for about half an hour; I was well past ‘Fiveways’ by this time. I stopped for a well-needed drink and tried to utilise what shade there was. Looking back down the ride towards ‘Fiveways’ I could see another female Purple Emperor flying low along the track, but she flew up and into the vegetation on the ride edge and disappeared from view. As I approached the spot, I couldn’t quite see where she’d gone, but felt sure she had rested up in the small Hazel tree located there; by now, the temperature was a balmy 38 degrees Centigrade! In mitigation, however, there was a Moderate Breeze of 17mph blowing, which took the edge off the heat.

I worked my way back to ‘Fiveways’ and then (always a glutton for punishment) decided to walk up to ‘Minting Triangle’. The walk to ‘Minting Triangle’ and back failed to produce any more Purple Emperor sightings. In fact, I had hardly any butterfly sightings at all on this stretch, so I decided to call it a day. The walk back along the main stone track took me past the spot where I’d initially had success and I was amazed that there was still Emperor activity there - the mercury was hitting 39 degrees Centigrade at this point! There was still a female Purple Emperor on the ground and a second came down as I approached. These were probably two of the ones I’d seen earlier. A male was also flying here; gliding along the track, it looked like only an inch, or two off the ground, but he didn’t land on this occasion. The bizarre Purple Hairstreak phenomenon was starting to cause me concern as a few had paid the ultimate price, wings doubled back exposing the purple iridescence. I hope tomorrow’s chilly 26-degree-Centigrade forecast is more to their liking!

Finally, I got back to the car and left for home; never has the air conditioning felt so good! All in all, one hell of a day out at Chambers Farm Wood, and one that I’ll never forget.  Things didn’t end there though. Back at home in my Coningsby garden, I spent 15 minutes carrying out a count for Butterfly Conservation’s ‘Big Butterfly Count’ between 16:00 and 16:15. Checking the thermometer, the mercury was indicating 40 degrees Centigrade, and I later found out that my home town had recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK at 40.3 degrees Centigrade. That’s 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit in old money! Bonkers!

Tues July 19th: Through the 40C barrier...

 The all-time UK temperature record gets smashed again...  The 38.7C record set on 25/7/2019 barely lasted three years, with at least 34 places surpassing it today and at least three breaking the 40C barrier.

Someone had to go out Emperoring in That, though I don't see why it had to be me, and no one else did...  I only managed to see two males, during a two hour vigil in temps seemingly ranging between 34C and 36C. They'd conked out in heavy shade, which is the only sensible thing this insane insect has ever done...

I'm heading back to Knepp tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what's left there... ... ...


Hi, seeing Matthew's mention of Cotswold sightings prompts me to quickly mention a visit to a West Oxfordshire location I discovered a few years back, the same I mentioned here a couple - few maybe - seasons ago. Finally got there this year on the 14th, last week. Spent a few hours watching Her Majesties, at least four, laying enthusiastically. Midday to 3pm. Unsure if I saw any males. No close encounters.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Mon July 18th - Into the Fan Oven...

I never thought I'd see Emperors active in 35C, especially in cool, damp, cloudy Gloucestershire, but today I did. 

At 12.30, I ventured out for a couple of hours to a lovely park-&-view male territory near Sapperton, west of Cirencester. There were two males there at first, kicking off nastily, but one withdrew (coward!) and the other quietened down, perching in heavy shade on the north side of a tall lime tree - 

Most of the butterflies I saw were in deep shade, either along north-facing edges or deep under the canopy. Even Neil Hulme took the day off.

The highest temperature I've butterflyed in is 42C, in Spain. The problem wasn't the heat but the intensity of light, and the fact that the butterflies I was trying to watch went hyper - don't even dream of photographing skippers and Long-tailed Blues in that heat...

Sunday, July 17, 2022

July 17th - Oates Dips Out

After 31 days of full-on Emperoring I drove home early this morning, along an A272 for once depleted of slow-moving polo pony lorries and crawling convoys of portaloos - and crashed out listening to the cricket.

From what I can gather, not many people went out Emperoring today. Those that ventured out found the butterfly heat suppressed and only active very locally.

Congrats to the Leics & Rutland PE gang who are finding the butterfly all over the two counties. Carry on, please...

Good to receive a record of a male in the Cotswolds near Broadway in the Cotswolds today.

Hope these SSE winds bring in lots of migrants...


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Bernwood Forest 16th July

A walk from Bernwood Forest to Waterperry Wood and back from 1000-1300 resulted in five  Purple Emperors which is good for here. At 1030 a male was along the track by Bernwood Meadows Reserve, a very ragged, worn individual with hardly any purple iridescence on its torn wings. It grounded on several occasions but was dissatisfied with what it found and soon moved back up to the surrounding oaks. Fifteen minutes later another, less worn individual flew up the track from further down but never stopped. 

A male was cruising  a sallow and oak conglomeration by the track through Waterperry Wood but soon disappeared. 

Walking back through Hell Coppice we encountered a female flying slowly at head height and settling but forever restless on oak leaves in the low and mid storey of a large oak which she was reluctant to leave.She was in a terrible state and I was amazed she could fly looking at the state of her wings or what was left of them, but she managed quite well thank you  and without any apparent problem. While watching her a male cruised above the crown of the same oak but thankfully did not spot her. I am almost embarrassed to publish a pic of her but this is easily the most worn Emperor or Empress I have ever seen.

Could the season be coming to an end here?

Sat July 16th

Again, His Gloriousity didn't rouse until after midday. But was very active from 1.30 to 4.30, then paused for an hour before indulging in an impressive evening flight (in calm conditions), from 6.15 to 8pm.

I took a group of ecology students to a part of Knepp I don't frequent much - but will more now. Young sallows are developing well there and it's becoming a major breeding ground. 

I set the students the challenge of electing the worst behaved Emperor as our next Prime Minister. They were spoilt for choice, with 12-15 males behaving so abominably we elected an entire Cabinet, plus Chief Whips Office with men-in-tights...  

Here's our new Prime Minister. He's an ageing rock star who has thrown innumerable TV sets out of hotel windows and knows how to party all night, and day, and is thoroughly disreputable, but at least he wasn't in the Bullingdon Club -

He's the first really worn and battered Emperor I've seen this year, but was battling away manically and was last seen chasing off a Blackbird. Conversely, we saw a fresh male sallow searching - on Day 31 of the flight season. Most males, though, are now middle aged. They will age rapidly in the forecast heat. 

We saw seven females, including one performing the best tumbledown I've ever seen, rejecting an I-wont-take-no-for-an-answer male after considerable effort; another feeding on sap, one shading, and another sulking in a sallow.  

Tomorrow, I'm heading home for an overdue break.

Advice to people wanting to work Emperors in the coming heatwave: If it's calm, work the evening flight (6.15-7.30), in sheltered west-facing oak foliage bowls, and enjoy. If it's windy, work male territories from 1-2.30pm only. 



Friday, July 15, 2022

Fri July 15th (St Swithun): 30 Days Purple Fulfilled!

Today saw the completion of my 30 Days Purple challenge. Advise: don't even think about doing it... 

I only tackled it because I found the Wildlife Trust's #30DaysWild challenge boringly facile - and because someone had to, sometime...

Today, His Gloriousness got up very late indeed, scarcely rising before 1.20 - which begs the question of what he was up to under the warm full moon last night? (No, I'd rather not know..., and someone else can look). Males were then very active until late afternoon. Most of them are still in reasonable condition and there are as yet no OAPs or geriatrics around.

Her Gloriousness didn't rouse till much later, and then went oak sapping. Teste - 

The big question now is how will the Purple Emperor behave in the coming heatwave, given that it is now late in the flight season?

 Possible answers -

1. Don't bother looking for males before midday (though some may be active very early in the morning).

2. Old males will conk out in the heat on / around their territories from about 2.30, possibly rousing again for an hour from 6.30pm if it's not too windy. So, a narrow window of intense action.

3. Females will spend hours shading, invisible, and may best be seen imbibing from oak sap - if you know a feeder tree or two. I really don't know when they lay eggs in major heatwaves, possibly early and late.  

4. Both sexes may shoot over fast in the heat, as they did in 1976 (when the flight season barely lasted more than three weeks).

Good Luck, you'll need it... ... ... So will I... ... ...



Thursday, July 14, 2022

Bernwood Forest 14th July 2022

A couple of males were flying over the oaks at 1000; one in the car park and one by the main track but little further action was apparent until after 1100hrs when one flew fast and low past me, looking to land, along the track near to Bernwood Meadows reserve but infuriatingly found nothing to persuade it to settle on the ground. On returning to the car park at noon a male was found on the ground, lurking in the shade but then flew up to land on a hazel leaf before cruising around the car park bringing that knuckle biting sensation of 'will it won't it' before grounding in the grass for ten minutes  and then cruised off down the main track and rose high up into the oaks. Unfortunately could not see how the afternoon went as had to leave for prior commitment.

Thurs July 14th

For those who weren't around in the Long Hot Summer of 1976, it was like this - day after day - only this July we've got 10% of 76's butterflies, 0.1% of its aphids and 0.01% of its ladybirds...

Today, at Knepp, His Gloriousity didn't rise before 11.43 but was then fairly active, at least locally. Many of them, males and females, conked out in the mid-afternoon heat. This female spent at least 90 minutes shading in an oak tree - 

As yesterday, the younger males - and there are still a good number of fairly fresh-looking males around - were active all afternoon. The older males and many a female conked out, like this sow -

The evening flight never really materialised as the Light to Moderate Northerly wind didn't die down until after 7.30, too late. 

A new Large Tortoiseshell was seen today, briefly. No others, and no Brown Hairstreaks yet.

If you can't cope with this heat, the magic word to say is 'January'...

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Wed July 13th - Back at Knepp

More boil-in-the-bag weather. I love and adore it. Emperors don't though, at least not the older males who conk out for hours on end in semi-shade. The fresher males keep going though, and were nicely active all afternoon here. Some were seen chasing swallows over the oak tops... ... ...

Emperors have now been out at Knepp for 28 days - 4 weeks. Incredibly, there are still fresh-looking males around, and nearly all the females are in very good condition. I suspect there are still several more females to emerge, and perhaps the odd male. 

This is an unusually protracted emergence, which I said I felt would happen several weeks back. Knepp may have a seven week season this year, unless they shoot over in this heatwave (as they might).

Ashley Whitlock saw two pristine males at West Harting Down in W Sussex today, suggesting a protracted emergence there too.

The females are spending a lot of time feeding on oak sap, like this girl today -


who then went off to clean her tongue in a hawthorn hedge - 

I also had a close encountered with a female in a sallow -

Incidentally, Large Tortoiseshell was seen at Knepp today and yesterday, but is proving very elusive.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Tues July 12th

Oven-like cloud conditions all day, dulling over from 3.30... The National Festival of Biting Clegs, which love muggy humid weather,

Failed to find male territories or spot egging females in Cirencester Park Woods, during an epic visit. All I saw was one flitting at the back of a sallow jungle, sex uncertain but male by size.

Then an inspired mid-afternoon move took me to a sheltered high point along the top of the Frome valley between Sapperton and Frampton Mansel (i.e. half way between Cirencester and Stroud). And there, by a small car park, two or three males were kicking off - 

This is at the extreme west end of a long straight ride through woodland and fields, fringed by trees, ending before a steep wooded valley with many sallows.

So, I have now seen Emperors for 27 consecutive days. I'm returning to Knepp tomorrow so I should fulfil the full 30 Days Purple challenge - quite an achievement for someone hobbling around on one leg awaiting a knee replacement off today's NHS...  I may then go for 40 Days & 40 Nights, which would take me into the nether regions of sanity. Emperor season without end, Amen...

Elsewhere, a very patchy day: good activity locally, by some observers, heat suppression elsewhere. Pot luck. Good luck...

By the way, the Purple Emperor ecology research group has its own WhatsApp group, which is active all year round (daily in the summer). Many of us follow the insect through in the wild, following larvae in hibernation etc; several of us are surveying regions or counties; all of us are serious devotees. Like minds are welcome to join (you need to be on WhatsApp and wing me your mobile number, I'm on 07771 971488.  Please don't email me, I can't cope in season. Note that this is not a competitive photography group).  

Mon July 11th - National Conk-out Festival

Emperors were seriously lethargic today, conked out in the heat. They were hard to see, even at Knepp

I spent three sweltering hours looking for them in Cirencester Park Woods, but only saw a singleton - a massive female egg laying high in an old broad-leaved sallow at 12.25. The male territory I found there last year seemed to be unoccupied, it was not a day for looking for new territories.

The Knepp Large Tortoiseshell was seen again, though very few Emperors were active (and then mainly around known sap run oaks).  

It seems they didn't even indulge in a decent evening flight. 

Emperors are turning up in strange places, notably outside Gate 8 of Stansted Airport (probably from nearby Hatfield Forest).     


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Sun July 10th: Day 25

I have now seen Purple Emperors in the wild (incl pupae) for 25 consecutive days. As the old song goes, 'I can see clearly now my brain has gone...'  I'm attempting 30 Days Purple... someone has to...

Today was bloody hard work at Knepp, though the Large Tortoiseshell showed nicely at times around mid-morning and I got knocked off my bike by another one circa 1pm. She's feeding on branches deep inside an oak tree - 

She attracts gangs of admirers -

Emperors were heavily heat suppressed, apart from the odd fresh male hyperactive on territory. Many are feeding on oak sap runs / bleeds - 

They are also spending significant amounts of time shading -

In this heatwave, they will soon give up sallow searching (if they haven't already) and will be active for a couple of hours around lunchtime before conking out in the heat of the afternoon - before becoming very active for an hour or two in the evening, from 6.15pm. Advise: work the evening flight, it's magical.

I've popped home for 2-3 days to see my cat, help Mrs O with something tomorrow night, and do battle with the Gloucestershire Emperors...


Saturday, July 9, 2022

Sat July 9th at Knepp

The Purple Emperor has now been on the wing here for 24 days and should be on the wane, but it's at peak! 

I thought we might get an unusually protracted emergence this year... 

The male emergence is probably now complete, or almost so, but there must be many more females still to emerge.

Incredibly, of the 50-odd males I saw today only one was battered and only three looked worn and faded, the majority were in very good condition. All the females look great.

They're starting to feed a lot on fermenting oak sap - 

They get plastered on this and then behave very badly... ... ...

In the coming heatwave both sexes will be quiescent, even comatose, during the heat of the afternoon. Advise: don't bother working them between 2.30 and 5.30. Work the evening flight instead (today, 6.15-8pm). Activity is highly localised, in sheltered foliage bowls.   

Here's a female, shading. They do a lot of this on hot afternoons -

The Knepp Large Tortoiseshell saga continues. We have two females intermittently active in and around a scrubby hedgerow oak along the main hard track, about 6 minutes walk from the shop and centre, at TQ 147 206. They vanish for ages, then suddenly reappear. They are feeding on the oak branches, deep in-bush, not taking nectar and not basking in hot sun. 

Park in the Walkers Carpark at Dial Post, walk down the long slope, pick up the Purple Emperor Walk leaflet from the Shop / Go Down and walk on out. Go see some Emperors too, they're beginning to behave badly (one launched at a passing Spitfire today, albeit in a rather desultory manner). 

Here's a LT from this afternoon, they're not basking in this heat. They are even more unpredictable than Emperors - 

 I've got to pop home later tomorrow, my cat's missing me...


Friday, July 8, 2022

Fri July 8th

I have now seen Purple Emperors in the wild for 23 consecutive days. My target is 30 Days Purple... and with this weather, I should reach it. Not bad for someone with severe osteoarthritis in both knees (the answer is do it by bike...).  

Rather incredibly, males are still emerging at Knepp, over three weeks into the flight season there. And they're still coming down to feed on the tracks, teste this obliging male photographed this morning 100m from the main entrance -

On the debit side, numbers are not high at Knepp, though they are impressive just about everywhere else, and the butterfly is appearing in lots of new places.  

Knepp seems to be set for an unusually long emergence period, and presumably flight season (unless we go into a serious and sustained heatwave which would shorten their lives). I think because some larvae pupated unusually early, around the weekend of May 20th-21st. Then the weather wound down for the Jubilee, and larval development slowed right down.  

Also, a spate of sightings in silly places - like the middle of Horsham - suggests that last week's high winds dispersed many of Knepp's Emperors.  

Elsewhere, the Emperor is steadily conquering Worcestershire, with an impressive number of sightings in Grafton Wood and Trench Wood in the Forest of Feckenham, and Tiddesley Wood near Pershore. Best, He has now been seen on the edge of Wyre Forest, which is serious terra nova.  

Finally, just to illustrate that anything goes during the Purple Emperor season, and on this Blog -

TO THE WOODS, ALL OF YOU, THIS WEEKEND. GO!  Clothing is not essential.