Duke of Burgundy co-ordinator notes for 2020

  Male Duke of Burgundy

Female Duke of Burgundy

S 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.

 Cowslip on top of Ramsdean Down

 Purple Emperor co-ordinator notes in Hampshire 2020

Male Purple Emperor underside

Male Purple Emperor

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.

Typical ride in a Hampshire Wood home of the Purple Emperor