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...