Latest Doings

Of course, the weather falls apart as soon as the Duke of Burgundy starts to emerge... 

The butterfly will be at peak season at many of its sites in southern England over the Bank Holiday weekend and early next week.  They have had a difficult time with the weather lately, but as yet they haven't had more than they can't cope with inflicted on them, and there will be many more adults to emerge at most sites.

News from various places -

Noar Hill.  It started here remarkably early, on April 8th.  I visited in marginal weather conditions on April 23rd (St George) and was impressed by the condition of the habitat.  The site was looking the best its looked for this species for many years: rabbits were almost absent, the turf height was ideal, cowslips were fairly abundant, and the wildlife trust had scaled back on scrub cutting.  The butterfly may well start to go over here soon though.  Here's a nice view of the site -

Ivinghoe.  A top site in the north Chilterns (NT), holding a scatter of colonies along the west-facing slope down to the mouth of Incombe Hole.  Visited in marginal conditions on April 29th and counted 20 Dukes, but might have doubled that tally had the weather been better.  Habitat conditions were excellent over much of the slope, though the slopes of Steps Hill were a little on the short side.  The slopes are managed firmly with this butterfly in mind.  Here's the main male lek, where about ten can be seen in good weather at peak season - 

Good news from the re-introduced colonies in the Bradenham Valley (NT) west of High Wycombe.  Viable numbers have been seen at both sites (Park Wood and Small Dean Bank) and more must be due to emerge there - news per Ched George.

Back in the Cotswolds, where Natural England is funding a major survey and ecological study (through Dave Simcox), the butterfly seems to be holding back, waiting for the weather to improve before emerging properly.  Certainly it is by no means well out on Rodborough Common (NT), Stroud, yet (and Pearl-bordered Fritillary has yet to start in Cirencester Park Woods). 

This butterfly needs ten good days at the start of May.  Hopefully that's not too much to ask....

Sussex In Action Too

This afternoon (18th April) I made a speculative visit to see if the first Duke had emerged at Heyshott Escarpment, believing it to still be a few days too early. Pearls have only just emerged at Rewell Wood, this event usually preceding the appearance of His Grace by a week plus. There was little activity in the chill breeze as I ascended the steep slope and I counted only a couple of Dingy and a single Grizzled Skipper before reaching the plateau.

However, sitting waiting for me was a perfect male. His lack of agility and mint appearance suggested a very recent emergence. He was sitting within a metre of where the two or three (at best) males used to lek at Heyshott when the species was teetering on the brink of local extinction, before operations began to save the Duke in 2007. On the best days 100+ now fly here.

Bearing in mind the effort I put into conserving this species on my own patch, it is hardly surprising that this sighting meant much more to me than the half dozen Dukes I saw at Noar Hill on 15th April (pictured). With this degree of involvement it all becomes much more personal, and that's how it should be with butterflies.


Gloucestershire Kicks Off!

His Grace the Duke of Burgundy appeared in the Cotswolds today, Fri April 18th - a fresh male on Rodborough Common (NT), just east of Stroud.  This was seven days after the first had been recorded nationally - at Noar Hill, Hampshire, on Sat 12th. His appearance in the Cotswolds had doubtless been held up by a sequence of cold nights (a touch of frost most nights this week, and a significant frost early on Wed 16th).  Cold nights really do hold his emergence back (this year, Dingy Skipper appeared at Rodborough before His Grace, which is highly unusual).  

There are three to seven colonies dotted along the lower slopes of Rodborough, three of which are fairly sizeable (offering peak season counts of 20+, sometimes as many as 50).  Two of those colonies are 'early' in appearance, the third is on higher ground and in a more exposed position, and tends to start five to seven days later, as do the small satellite colonies. 

Today's male was behaving despicably - launching himself at bee flies (both Common and Dotted varieties), a Green Hairstreak, an Eristalid hoverfly, an Early Bumblebee and, repeatedly, at the resident male Peacock.  Here he is - 

I have good data on His Grace's appearance at Rodborough for the last 22 years (I've been a little OCD on this).  18th April is the sixth earliest appearance in that sequence.  He has appeared in April there in 16 of the 22 years.  Here are the dates -

1993            1994            1995            1996           1997
28th April     2nd May      14th April    7th May      21st April

1998            1999            2000            2001            2002
25th April     24th April    27th April    5th May       21st April

2003            2004            2005            2006            2007
15th April    2nd May      30th April     1st May       16th April

2008            2009            2010            2011            2012
27th April    20th April     23rd April    9th April      12th April

2013            2014
4th May       18th April

I also have data on His Grace's appearances at Noar Hill going back to the Long Hot Summer of 1976... 

DofB on Youtube

Short youtube piece on NT reintroduction in Bradenham Valley, S Chilterns, starring His Grace the Duke of Burgundy

Still Beating Skippers

All followers of His Grace will have enjoyed watching his attacks on Dingy and Grizzled Skippers on many occasions. However, it is far less often that we are afforded the privilege of watching him beat up the Large Skipper; in fact I only recall ever seeing this once before.

Yesterday (26th June), while surveying a site on the Downs at Storrington, I was only mildly surprised by the relative abundance of spring skippers still flying, bearing in mind how late this season is still running. I even saw Green Hairstreaks, although they weren't very green. What did surprise me was this feisty old Duke who, despite visibly falling to pieces, was attacking every one of the freshly emerged Large Skippers that crossed his territory. This butterfly wins my 'Duke of Burgundy of the Year Award'.

Old Soldier

This afternoon I stopped off at Springhead Hill near Storrington, primarily to see how the Small Blue is faring. Numbers are much better than last year and females are still emerging, with two mating pairs seen.

What did surprise me, particularly so late in the day, was this geriatric male Duke, still taking on anything that crossed its airspace. The same individual was photographed a week ago, already looking bleached and well past its sell-by date. I'm pretty sure this is the same male I first saw eleven days prior to that, making it at least 2.5 weeks old. Good effort!

Farewell To The Duke

Yesterday (8th June) I performed my final 2013 count of Sussex Duke of Burgundy. For the ninth season in succession I have spent a great many hours surveying, monitoring and studying this species and, as in previous years, I would like to think that I have learned a little more about it. With 417 sightings logged, I'm pleased to report that on all Sussex sites His Grace survived the worst that the British weather could throw at him in 2012. Perhaps the best news of all is that the sun has shone brightly for more than two weeks, allowing the females an almost uninterrupted opportunity to lay eggs. 2014 could be a good year for the Duke.

Fantastic Day

Not the best picture in the world I know but representative of the fact that I found Dukes virtually every step of the way today - this is at the top of Butser Hill in Hampshire 270m amsl in a howling gale! 
As the season appears to be drawing to a close I thought I would spend a few hours walking all of the likely areas at Butser. When I turned up there was a strong cold north easterly wind blowing and although the sun was out it was cool. I headed down on to little Butser and was soon assured I had made the right decision spotting two males basking. I must have walked several miles along the entire scrub line around the north and west faces aventually scaling the humorously titled Grandfathers Bottom, which to use Neil's phrase is serious mountain goat territory - it rises 120m in 100m - seriously steep. In all I encountered no less than 68 Dukes in just under three hours ( which is conservative as I only counted definites - could have been  90+) some were still moderately fresh, others were very worn,  and the one pictured which was the last at the top of my climb. I even encountered eight males all defending a nettle patch no less and a battle between a duke, brown argus, grizzled skipper, common blue, green hairstreak and a small heath - the duke win hands down.
In all I don't think I went more than 100m without encountering a Duke which is credit to the park authority who have created some great habitat - bodes well for next year as they have had the best of weather for laying.

Making Hay ...

The spell of warm, sunny weather we have enjoyed through late May and early June is fantastic news for some of our rarer spring species. Duke of Burgundy, Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Wood White will all have had the opportunity to spend long periods out egg laying. As long as we don't see a summer drought, I'm optimistic that the numbers of these and other species will bounce back strongly next spring.

Although most Duke populations in Sussex peaked a week or more ago, the later sites on cool NW facing slopes are still producing freshly hatched females. Yesterday I counted 46 Dukes over three adjacent sites, including two mating pairs and a couple of females with only very minor wear & tear. Let's hope the egging continues for another week or more.

Sussex from Hampshire

To  compliment Neil's photo of Hampshire from Sussex here is the reverse also taken yesterday, Harting Down is in the centre - Neil might even be there! Taken from Little Butser.
Journeyed right across Hampshire yesterday visiting Dean Hill on the Wltshire border, Bentley Wood then some sites around Winchester finishing at Ramsdean Down. Pleased to say that I only failed to see Dukes at Bentley Wood , but plenty of Pearl Bordered Fritillaries  made up for that. 
I manged to see them in three locations where I had not seen them previously seeing 25 in total. Dingy Skippers are now beginning to predominate but I did see a few pretty fresh Dukes.