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 not having been noted. 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 

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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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.

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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

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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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Typical ride in a Hampshire Wood home of the Purple Emperor

Male Purple Emperor