Thursday, June 30, 2022

Female Empress on the ground at Heartwood Forest, Sandridge, Herts

Looking at Matthew's recent post yesterday about the low numbers of females seen nationally, I decided I'd upload this post I sent Herts & Middx BC Sightings on Tuesday, as it is directly relevant:

It was frustrating being cooped up indoors during the good weather this morning, waiting for a plumber, when I had been tipped off that 3 Purple Emperors had been seen at Heartwood Forest that same morning!!  After lunch I hurried off to my usual haunt around Well Wood and Pudler's Wood in Heartwood , but saw no sign of Purple Emperor between 1.30 and 2.30. Undoubtedly it was too windy, since the whole ridge line was being battered by gusts of wind, and bearing in mind Matthew's advice that "Purple Emperors hate wind!", I decided to visit the tip-off location to the south-west of Langley Wood, in a more protected area. 

Skirting the latter along it's north-western edge at 3 pm I spotted a male Emperor patrolling the tree line at TL 16011 11014 [curl.rods.asleep], and spent some time fruitlessly waiting for it to reappear. I continued south-west to the tip-off area, and immediately spotted at least 2 male PE perching, patrolling, and regularly fighting from 3.30-4 pm around two large oaks (TL 15831 10722 [shop.vibe.guess] and TL 15869 10727 [media.laser.upper]). It's possible there were more than two males, but impossible to be sure since I only ever saw a maximum of two at one time. 

At 3.45 I decided to head back to the NW edge of Langley wood, to see if the male was down, and was thrilled to spot what seemed to be another "male" which landed wings akimbo for a couple of minutes at only 12 feet up in a sallow at 4 pm. 

I fired off a couple of shots (sadly a leaf hid its head), and at 4.30 decided to call it a day - which was great luck, since barely 100 yards along the trail north-east at TL 16080 11058 [ages.oils.answer] I scared up a gigantic grounded female (my first ever on the ground). She was barely bothered by my presence, flying around me, and she settled several times, but always on grass and plant stems and leaves which made for poor photos, but I was thrilled nonetheless. And upon reviewing the photos, I was able to match the ventral wing markings of the female to my so-called "male", which turned out to be the same individual (!) (she didn't seem so large when up in the tree!). 

All in all it was a fab afternoon despite very blustery conditions, demonstrating unequivocally that as Matthew tells us, the leeward side of woods are the best option in windy conditions (especially if sunlit!) - the tree line in which the two large oaks are located protected their leeward side from the south-westerly wind, and since the terrain descends on the leeward side towards Langley Wood, it's much calmer there. In the same way, Langley wood created just enough of a wind break for the pathway along it's northern edge, and despite its northern position, the sun was still able to hit the path, creating ideal conditions.

In addition to good numbers of the usual Heartwood grassland species (see my previous report, 25th June), I noted a very large number of commas, far more than I can remember for many years in Hertfordshire. I saw them almost everywhere in the wooded areas, and guess I saw a minimum of 25, perhaps 30 individuals. 

The prospects for this Friday morning look very positive, so long as the forecast is accurate! Happy hunting everyone, and Watch This Space! 

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