Friday, June 30, 2023

Friday 30th June 2023

Given the poor weather forecast, it was understandable that the masses gave Fermyn a miss today. And so, walking there beneath leaden skies, it proved to be a lonely place. The first two hours were fruitless, but on the stroke of 11 o’clock, the cloud lifted slightly, and it became somewhat brighter for just over an hour. During this short weather-window, male Purple Emperors dropped to the ground, and I saw two groups of three in quick succession. In total, 9 males were recorded in this period, all grounded. Light levels then began to diminish, and the Emperors receded almost as quick as they had appeared. I then had to wait over an hour to see one final male flying over the ride and then ascending into the oak canopy, looking for a place to roost up as the sky looked threatening. And then, sure enough, at 2 o'clock it began to drizzle, and it was 'game over' for the day.

Purple Emperor - Head-on Shot

Male Purple Emperor

Fri June 30th Rain Stops Play...

The forecast dry day of moderately-bright warm cloud proved to be seriously erroneous.

Just before midday, Emperor males were seen ascending to the oak tops, to settle either under leaf sprays or, as with this male, on twigs. That means RAIN, every bit as much as the sight of Meadow Browns ascending into the trees.

The rest of the day was spoilt by drizzle and rain, with all species grounded (or oak-topped). A shame such an excellent June ended so...

This weekend is supposed to be dry and quite sunny, though with a brisk westerly wind. Throughout the insect's range, Purple Emperors are now either well out or at peak season. To the woods, the lot of you - and work the leeward edges.  

This will be the weekend to see males feeding on the ground in Fermyn Woods, Northants.  

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Doings: Thurs June 29th

 At Knepp, after a wet then dull morning, His Gloriousity erupted. I counted 37 on the Knepp PE transect, an exceptionally high count for Week 2 of the Emperor season there. However, I'd actually expected more (!), but the males were not holding territory - they were merely wandering through, and not clashing & chasing. 

Neil had one of his best afternoon's ever, along the southern edge of Bentons Gorse. At 2.45, he saw 11 in a vista: 5 together on a sap bleed, plus 3 on other little bleeds, and 3 in flight. To put that into perspective, only four living people have seen double figures of iris in a vista in the UK...

At 5.15, he and a group of watchers, watched a female being pursued by 4 males there. By the time I got there there was only one -

Males will stop coming down to the tracks at Knepp after the coming weekend.  

Elsewhere, the butterfly is emerging only in low numbers to the north of London - it's just starting to get going there now. Knepp is ridiculously advanced, and may finish by July 21st.

Someone counted about 20 in Fermyn Woods today. This means that the coming weekend will be the best time to visit Fermyn to see males on the rides.

This is an excellent Emperor year. Don't miss out! But the season is far more advanced in some localities than others...

PS If you're on Twitter, check out the utterly amazing video clip of a Purple Emperor male getting crunched by an Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) on @marktutton25.  

My Twitter account is @MatthewOates76 (my favourite summer)

Neil's Best 'Trousering' Photo

Hint. Don't wash your trousers for at least a month before Emperor time... (Knepp) 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Wed June 28th

To the list of birds violently attacked by Emperor males please add the illustrious name of Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, one of which was chased for a fair way over Hammer Pond at Knepp this afternoon. 

My personal chase list includes Lesser Splatted Woodpecker, Great Splatted Woodpecker, Splatted Flycatcher, Siskin, Crossbill, Red Kite, Goshawk, Hobby (which didn't end well), Heron, White Stork and now Cormorant. But I missed out on the Mallard-hybrid duck which Neil saw...

For the record, males were sallow searching avidly today, until about 3pm when they started to set up territories - then it got too windy.

It is supposed to rain late in the night / early in the morning. That will dampen the dusty rides, and should encourage a mass descent of males in search of sustenance tomorrow. Be there!

At Knepp, though, they should stop descending to feed soon, probably after the weekend.  

This will be the weekend to visit Fermyn Woods, if you want to see males on rides...

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Tues June 27th

The Purple Emperor is now on the wing in almost all the counties it is known from. It has emerged in unusually high numbers at many sites, though it is too early to judge numbers at some.  I don't think that this is as great a year as 2018, but it may be...

This is nothing short of miraculous given the fact that sallows in many (but not all) regions dropped myriad leaves - and larvae - in heatwaves last July and August, especially in the Southeast and in East of England regions. 

The White Admiral, of course, is well known for being able to withstand its Honeysuckle leaves wilting off in high summer heat, so maybe the Emperor can survive too? 

The butterfly is likely to turn up in new districts this year, as populations have reached our 'observation threshold'.

Don't miss out on the 2023 Purple Emperors, but don't leave it too late - they'll be all but gone by July 21st.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Bentley Wood well underway.

As I made my way to Bentley Wood n Wiltshire today the weather seemed to get cloudier and cloudier, so I was not expecting much Emperor wise. On arrival at 11.00 the sun broke through so I was a bit more hopeful. A short walk from the car park and there were 2 sparring males. Then things began to happen, the sunny spells really got them flying and there were far more Purple Emperors about than I expected, in fact more than I have ever seen here so early in the season. I met a couple of observers who had seen one down briefly earlier, by this time I had seen 5. Continuing my walk through the woods I eventually had a male down on the track at 13.48 but it was very restless and did not stay down for long. My final total was 15 which was a pretty good count compared to my previous visits over the years. I think this could be a big year here if the weather allows it to be. Mike Gibbons

Sunday, June 25, 2023

OMG! Sun June 25th

It's still Very Early Days at most PE localities but the frontrunning site, Knepp Wildland, is showing exceptionally high numbers. Knepp doesn't just hold an unusually large and unusually visible population, it also starts and peaks before most others. It's an 'early site'. 

Neil and I (but mostly I) have been running a PE transect there since 2016 (after two years in R&D to work out the methodology). Today, which is only Day 6 of the Knepp flight season, I counted 46 Emperors along this 2km route, despite an over-vigorous wind.

That is the highest count outside the annus mirabilis year of 2016, when we had counts of 55, 60 and 66 (which remains the record).  

This is absolutely incredible, for so early in the flight season and, especially, after most of Knepp's sallows shed myriad leaves in last summer's heatwaves.

At Knepp, this butterfly is performing a miracle. It has come back from beyond the Seventh Gate of Death (or however many there are, one forgets...). 

Here's a pristine male drinking Lord Knows What from one of Neil's bait puddles - 

 And here's Herself, also from today, looking vain in the shade - 

I haven't got as far as checking out what was happening at other sites but this is looking like an immense Purple Emperor season.

Don't Miss Out... 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Midsummer Day 2023...

We're on the point of being able to determine how great a Purple Emperor emergence this year is bringing. It's great rather than Great, let alone GREAT (as in 2018), at this stage... I'm going to count them (again) tomorrow. Watch this space.

At Knepp, Neil has been avidly baiting the rides with his shrimp paste solution. In late morning this happened - 

He also saw a mating pair, high up in an oak crown - spotted because another male kept trying to break them up and muscle in, as commonly happens. He also saw another courting pair, with the female leading the male up to an oak top with Great Purpose,  As I was leaving, at 5.15, I watched two males pursuing a female high up in the gap between two oaks.

I also saw my earliest ever Gatekeeper. To put that into context, I saw a Gatekeeper on 30th June 1989 (a very hot summer) and wrote in my diary: 'My first and probably only ever June Gatekeeper...'.

Elsewhere, the first Emperor was recorded in Northants today - not in Fermyn Woods, but I daresay the butterfly will start there tomorrow. 

Wiltshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire also kicked off today, which means the Emperor should now be starting in Bentley Wood and Savernake. 

None yet in the East of England region, which suffered from cool NE winds and stratocumulus cloud in early June.

But the Emperor's people are not just active by day. Purple Emperor pupae have now been found in eight counties by night, searching with powerful UV torches for the flourescing pupae -

Tomorrow is going to be MEGA...  To the woods, all of us...

Friday, June 23, 2023

Fri June 23rd Update

Not many of us ventured out today.

At Knepp, males were coming down to feed on Neil's baits on the rides with remarkable frequency, and this male came down to the edge of a muddy puddle -

At least two females were seen, including a mating pair in the top of a small oak, joining at 3.40 (the usually mate for 3 hrs 40 mins...).  A female was also seen in S Hants.  

At Knepp, either the butterfly has been out for much longer than we think, or we are witnessing the start of a very large emergence. The facts that White Admiral hasn't started here yet, only a single Silver-washed Fritillary has been seen, Marbled White, Ringlet and Small Skipper are only now emerging properly, and that Purple Hairstreak is only just starting, all suggest the latter...

Use this weekend well... ... ...


4 Purple Emperors all down at Alice Holt today

It looked like the perfect day for a trip to Alice Holt to search for early Purple Emperors but it did not start well as I was told off by a dog walker for parking on the verge at Straits Inclosure entrance even though I as parked carefully and not blocking anyone (some locals do not like the pilgrims much), so I moved the car to avoid trouble. I ventured into Straits Inclosure and soon found my first male down on the track at 9.40. He was very restless and kept flying low short distances, nevertheless he stayed down for well over an hour. My next encounter was near the Abbots Wood car park with another male down at 12.30, this one staying down but still mobile however much more approachable as he found a good selection of poo to imbibe from.Isaw another 2 down at 14.20 and finally at 14.40. These were tending to search out the shadier spots but were determined to stay down to have their fill. All 4 were box fresh males, a wonderful spectacle, so things are looking good here. Interestingly I saw none flying high over the woodland at all. Mike Gibbons

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Mirabile Dictu!

Mirabile dictu (I speak of miracles) is a phrase used by IRP Heslop in Notes & Views of the Purple Emperor, published 60 years ago (1964)...

It's most appropriate for what I and others saw at Knepp today. 

I feared that the population there might collapse this year, as the sallows dropped myriad leaves in last summer's drought.  

But the butterfly is emerging in impressive numbers there. Today, Day 3 of the flight season, I counted 15 on the Knepp PE transect. That's the second highest count for Week 1, and the highest count recorded that early in the season...

Finger's crossed, but this is near-miraculous, considering that the population was on its knees last August. 

It all gives credence to the hypothesis that the crucial thing for determining adult numbers is weather during the pupation and pupal periods. Last year, we had the Platinum Jubilee = vile weather, and the population dipped. This year, the weather's been splendid since May 19th. 

It's early days yet but this could be the best PE year since 2018...

To the woods and scrublands, the lot of you! Skip work tomorrow, skip the wedding on Saturday (even if it's your own). Go Emperoring...

Here's a Knepp Tamworth sow celebrating this wonder story - 

And here's Himself getting plastered this afternoon at Knepp - 

And to add to it all, a 'Black Admiral' (White Admiral aberration nigrina) was seen in Alice Holt Forest today. 

To the woods!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023


This Purple Emperor season caught us with our trousers down, and is erupting...

Today, the butterfly was seen again at Knepp in W Sussex (at least 6-7 males) and also at Ebernoe in NW Sussex, at Bookham Commons in Surrey (2 males, sparring), Alice Holt Forest (males down on rides) and Longstock Water Garden in Hampshire (settling on visitors!), and in Bernwood Forest, Bucks / Oxon.  

Not bad for what we assume to be Day 2 of the UK flight season, not bad at all...

This is welcome news as there were very real fears of major population collapse at sites in the Southeast and East where sallow leaves droughted off in heatwaves last mid-July and early August. Populations seem to have benefited from fine weather in late May and throughout June (a critical period, as losses are high during pupation and the pupal stage). Also, and critically, losses of hibernating larvae were unusually low this last winter.

This has the makings of a very good Emperor season, something that seemed utterly impossible late last summer...  Believe in miracles, they happen.

The butterfly will kick off in Gloucestershire on Friday, as wild pupae I've been following there are showing through - 

Today's photo

Meanwhile, I'm heading to Sussex...


Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Welcome to the 2023 Purple Emperor Season!

Ever prone to unpredictable if not downright disruptive behaviour, His Gloriousity jumped the gun today and kicked off at Knepp Wildland, with this splendidly amoral male indulging in a booting (or a wellying) at 5pm, Tuesday June 20th. 

Great Emperor seasons kick off spectacularly!  This is Spectacular.

Thanks to Knepp's Assistant Ecologist Abs for the pics.   

We're off, and a couple of day's earlier than expected...  I'm heading to Knepp on Thursday.  

The male in question has been despatched to Australia House with orders to smash things up a bit, following Aussie's victory in the First Test Match...

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Orange Alert!

The fine weather, which has persisted since May 20th, means that 'early' emerging sites in the Southeast can now be placed on Orange Alert - that's Bookham Commons, Knepp Wildland and sites in and around the M25 perambulation. 

The weather during the pupation and pupal development periods has been remarkably clement, and we know that weather during that whole period plays a key role in determining adult numbers.

Please note that first sightings of the year have to be 100% definite to get accepted (I was the victim of this rule myself this time last year, when I discounted a fleeting glimpse only to find a male on territory in the same spot the following day).   

      Wild pupa, nr Cirencester, Glos, 18/6/23