Hampshire Duke of Burgundy
co-ordinator notes for 2021

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Duke of Burgundy's are not renown for taking nectar from plants, I've seen them mainly on Hawkbit, and Wild Strawberry, however this female decided to have a feed on Hawthorn, this photograph wasn't easy either, with many branches in the way with large spikes, I had to contend with a far away shot, which I think with the flowers gives it an interesting depth of field.

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One of the lesser known sites in the Meon Valley Old Winchester Hill has several colonies of the Duke of Burgundy quite widely spread out, and they were still emerging at the beginning of June.

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Several areas on the Northern and Western slopes of Old Winchester Hill have large areas of scrub with good Cowslip content, which suits the female Duke of Burgundy's to lay their eggs.

The first Duke of Burgundy in 2021 appeared on transect at Noar Hill on the 19th April, where four individuals were recorded. Most years this site has warmer temperatures at ground level in the small flint and chalk pits where the Duke of Burgundy caterpillars can pupate quicker than on average chalk downland sites, especially northern slopes which are susceptible to cooler temperatures due to wind and frosts. The weather always plays a big part in all butterfly species none more so than the Duke of Burgundy, and it starts to fly during bouts of warm sunshine, however the temperatures at night time were some of the coldest on record. April turned out to be the coolest for over 90 years, also one of the driest on record and most nights having a frost.

 

Some sites in the Meon Valley recorded temperatures below freezing for a fortnight with -4 on consecutive nights. The Duke did emerge in small numbers up to the end of April with singletons being seen at Oxenbourne Down and at Butser Hill.

 

May turned out to be the total opposite of April, with gale force winds coming in from the south and west and a deluge of rain, which turned May into one of the wettest and windiest on record with constant low pressure sat on top of the UK for well over a fortnight, keeping the Duke of Burgundy marking time for much of this period. This really delayed the main core of any emergence to well into May and it wasn’t really until the third week of May when most of the species had emerged.

 

Woodland specimens had now started to emerge at West Wood and in and around Stockbridge, also in the Meon Valley at West Meon, about the 18th May.

But the specie was struggling and the best count, especially in the Meon Valley, was (32) at Butser Hill in the third week of May, which is very poor compared to some years. Although if I had visited and counted the specie on Ramsdean Down close by then the count may have been quite respectable, as Ramsdean Down normally produces good counts most years.

 

It wasn’t all bad news as Martin Down had some of it’s best counts for years, as several recorders saw at least two Duke of Burgundy’s in the Bockerley Ditch and on scrubby ditches close to the Sillens Lane car-park. Fresh males were still being seen at Old Winchester Hill on 2nd June and in the north of the county several specimens were seen in the Vernham Dean area, and in and around Andover.

 

The butterfly was still flying well into June with worn individuals being seen at Bentley Wood, Oxenbourne Down and Noar Hill on the 12th June. Conservation work at Porton Down (Isle of Wight Hill) in May included work to keep the Duke of Burgundy’s presence there stable, and it was noted flying but numbers where about (20)  or more. Also conservation work has been in progress at Deacon Hill and Noar Hill keeping scrub from becoming overgrown and too dense for the Dukes liking.

 

Good scrub clearance at Oxenbourne Down has enabled Cowslip growth to expand and Duke of Burgundy counts there were well in excess of (15) at peak time.

 

The Duke season has produced some odd sightings, with females being seen feeding on Hawthorn flowers, the species are not noted for feeding on flowers for nectar. Also a female was seen laying eggs on Wild Strawberry, while Cowslips were not so far away from her.

 

 It will be interesting to see how the Duke of Burgundy fares in 2022, weather permitting.

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This female on Oxenbourne Down decided to lay some of her eggs on a Wild Strawberry plant, which in all my butterflying years is unheard of as their foodplant for the caterpillar is the Cowslip or Primrose. The female tested the leaf with her feet and maneuvered herself around the leaf and bent her abdomen around underneath the leaf, keeping her balance with her six legs. A Cowslip was very close by whether they will hatch out and crawl onto the Cowslip leaf is anybody's guess. It was fascinating to watch though, I just hope other females got it right throughout the flight season.

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2021 turned out to be a very protracted season for the Duke of Burgundy but it didn’t make it any easier looking for the caterpillars or evidence of eaten leaves on the cowslips. With the weather going from a drought in April, and then a deluge of rainfall in May and then a very cool June and also being wetter than average towards the end of the month, the cowslips on chalk downland slopes quickly became overshadowed by tall grasses, and this required extra effort to locate the plants, luckily the plants manage to keep their flower and seed pods just above the herbage and flower height, and can be located but it’s quite a fight to get down to the ground level to find the small and eaten leaves, if you find any.

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Hampshire Purple Emperor Coordinators notes for 2021 

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 The Purple Emperor can tolerate high temperatures but after a good mornings activity of sallow searching and Oak edging they tend to disappear in and around mid-day, and take up station in Hazel thickets, or go up to Assembly Points 

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Male Purple Emperor at a Assembly Point in Abbotts Wood Inclosure car-park , these are not obvious, especially if you are looking for them on Oak, as most of them are on Conifer in some woods.

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After a very poor season in 2020 the season in 2021 has been marginally better at some sites in Hampshire. The season was very late compared with how it has been in the past couple of decades. It was predicted it was going to be an extremely poor year, but several sites in Hampshire the butterfly seemed to have done extremely well.

 

Basing Forest in North Hampshire had several sightings in the early part of the season, which started on 5th July.  Also Creech Wood has put on a good show, the butterfly is not very obvious in this wood, and has to be searched for in not so obvious places, and the Assembly Point has been found at the near to the main car-park.

 

Alice Holt Forest had some false starts, but numbers here were down at many of the sites, and there was very little activity at the well-known Assembly Points in the earlier part of the season. Straits Inclosure fared better in 2021 despite heavy Forestry work being carried out there in 2021.

 

There wasn’t as many sites visited in 2021, mainly the well-known sites, this could have been due to the excessive heat in the middle of July, putting people off, as the butterfly was well out and sallow searching and Oak edging in the woods by 09:00. Also they had almost 'conked' out by mid-day seeking shelter in the Hazel thickets...

 

It was a very protracted season, and fresh males were still being seen at woods like West Wood and Crab Wood in the latter part of July, and females were egg-laying in many of the woods by the third week of July.

 

The butterfly was noted again at Martin Down where there is a large area of woodland which straddles Hampshire to the west close to Kitts Grave, and it was noted along the Weston foreshore just East of the city of Southampton, which the proves the butterfly can survive in areas of scrubby sallow in an urban environment. The butterfly was noted at Alice Holt Forest, Ampfield Wood, Basing Wood, Bentley Wood, Botley Wood, Crab Wood, Creech Wood, Havant Thicket, Martin Down, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Southleigh Forest, Southampton, Straits Inclosure, West Wood, West Harting Down, Whiteley Pastures, and Wickham Common. 

The butterflies Assembly Points have been found in Creech Wood and another Assembly Point in Whiteley/Botley Wood in the last few days , thanks to the perseverance of Mark Tutton.

Most seemed to have survived the stormy weather we had on the evening of 23rd of July / 24th July when the heatwave broke down to give way torrential rain and another low pressure sitting over the country, giving the Purple Emperor another bout of unfavourable weather. The weekend of 24th/25th July seems to be their peak in Hampshire, and from now on the butterfly will be flying less  in the woods, as most of the females which have hatched would probably have been mated.

Probably my last post on the Purple Emperor season as we have just come through one of the worst storms of the evening of Monday 26th July and Tuesday 27th July, it may have affected many of the woods in and around the south coast like Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Havant Thicket, Whiteley Pastures, Creech Wood and many of the smaller woods. But the males would not have come through those storms unscathed, and I would suggest they are probably finished, maybe a few females may have survived as they tend to rest lower down on the branches of trees like Oak.

How the butterfly fares in 2022 is not easy to predict, but the butterfly has had a few bad seasons over the last few years so we must be due a good one?

 

 

 

Word soon gets around about certain sites where the butterfly will ascend to the floor of the wood , this is in Straits Inclosure. In the 1990's before the great sallow 'cull' I found four alighting on the ground all at once ...I didn't know where to look!

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Male Purple Emperor flying around his Vista at an Assembly Point, looking for other males that may encroach on to his territory

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 Copyright 2021 : Sharon Broadway

The Purple Emperor is a creature of habit, and in the excessive heat wave they were out in the woods well before 10:00. This male in West Wood is on a hand imbibing on sweat, and if you look at the watch face it says 08:55.....I need say no more!

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Male Purple Emperor Whiteley Pastures 13th July 2021

Photo by Ian Williamson

A field trip is a good way of seeing the Purple Emperor, however it can be detrimental in some ways as they are put off by too many people in the rides to come down and imbibe on the ride floor.

Whiteley Pastures and Botley Wood are important blocks of woodland in a very tight area of urban and Industrial complex's. The butterfly is probably as common as it once was as but it can be affected by disturbance, by dog-walkers and bike riders. Best time to see these butterflies is later on in the evening when they come back down to the rides after their Assembly Point shenanigans.

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Straits Inclosure despite having been heavily logged again in 2021 by the Forestry Commission still remains one of the best woods to see the butterfly on the ground I have received many records of the butterfly alighting on the gravel path in the wood in favourable conditions and on the Deer Towers shown here in the picture.

Hampshire Duke of Burgundy co-ordinator notes for 2020

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  Male Duke of Burgundy

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Female Duke of Burgundy

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Second Instar Caterpillars on Cowslip

2019 set a new record for the first emerging Duke of Burgundies in Hampshire starting  on April 1st at Noar Hill, due to such a mild winter in 2020 and a rather soggy January and February, but extremely mild. It was looking good for the 2019 record to be broken, but alas the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to any hope of seeing this species in its early emerging stages.

Records came from Noar Hill about mid April; several recorders seeing them in some numbers, (19) on the 23rd April. April was a very warm month, merging into a very warm May. At Oxenbourne Down the butterfly has been moving into more suitable habitat, where it is occupying more sparsely scrubby areas, with more Cowslip content. They are however still occupying the Gorse area in the North–East of the downland.

At Butser Hill sightings were recorded from the beginning of May but in very low numbers, (13) being seen on the 6th May, however numbers started to build in the middle of the month. At a woodland site close to Winchester it was out at the beginning of May, an early start for the woodland species, and reasonable numbers were seen there in the peak time, (8) individuals being noted, with good clumps of Primroses growing amongst the scrub. The species is still extant in and around Stockbridge where good numbers were seen on the 22nd May, (10) being seen.

The butterfly started to peak into the second week of May at some Meon Valley sites, but at Butser Hill the butterfly was seen in reasonable numbers on the 15th May, (47) individuals with many noted as being ‘fresh’ looking at Noar Hill which indicated there was a small staggered brood.

In the North-West of the county the butterfly was seen on the border of Wiltshire in a suitable scrubby habitat where it was noted a few years ago. Single records came from the far west of the county on the Dorset/Wiltshire border where it seems the butterfly still exists in small numbers (3) being noted these records were well spaced out, at this well known site.

May was the warmest on record however the butterfly was unlikely to survive in great numbers towards the end of the month as there were overnight frosts in the middle month. An egg count on Butser at the end of the month revealed several females were busy laying eggs, and one adult and eggs were seen in a wood close to Andover. Several worn females were seen on Butser Hill on the 1st June. 1st and second Instar caterpillars were seen feeding on Cowslip on Oxenbourne Down on the 7th June.

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 Cowslip on top of Ramsdean Down

 Purple Emperor co-ordinator notes in Hampshire 2020

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Male Purple Emperor underside

The Purple Emperor emerged in and around the 21st of June in Hampshire, during a heatwave, with a very mild winter and exceptionally mild spring, it looked like the Purple Emperor might be in for a bumper season. The week of very warm weather brought the males out in reasonable numbers but then as June turned into July early indications were this was not the great year as anticipated, due to losses during the cold spell in early June.

Note that in heatwaves both sexes are prone to conking out between 3:30pm and around 5:30pm in hot weather (days of max temperatures of more than 23c) the males tend to take a mid-afternoon siesta before coming active again in the early evening. Older males are particularly prone to do this. Late in the flight season they are often inactive during the mornings and are very much an afternoon or early evening butterfly.

 

The weather collapsed horrifically, as we entered July with the Emperor at or approaching peak season. The butterflies get decimated, (such that one in ten survive), by gales, especially nocturnal gales and in particular the males (the females tend to roost lower down). The wind during the night of June 28th-29th did untold damage.

 

Recording from Hampshire ultimately became very restricted being only noted from, Alice Holt Forest, Basing Wood, Basingstoke Canal, Botley Wood, Creech Wood, Crab Wood, Deacon Hill, Great Covert, Harewood Forest, Havant Thicket, Popley, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, West Wood, Whiteley Pastures, West Harting Down, Winchester, Southleigh Forest, and Straits Inclosure.  

 

In the City of Winchester several females were seen, one escaping the clutches of a cat! This paints the city as one of the purplest in the south of England, as these butterflies are almost reported annually from this area.

 

Females were seen just into August making the flight season nearly seven weeks long but unless there was a good egg lay, then prospects look rather bleak for this spectacular butterfly in Hampshire in 2021.

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Male Purple Emperor

Typical ride in a Hampshire Wood home of the Purple Emperor