July and August 2010

Sarah Meredith trying to capture caterpillar adoption - David Simcox July 2010

 Hello All,

Sarah the Large Blue warden here, we thought we would update you on the goings on over the past few months. Well what has happened since the Large Blue stopped flying and the caterpillars have gone underground? Well as some of you may have seen in the Guardian newspaper (Butterflies: out of the Blue) back in July or heard on Radio 4 (14 September 2010) an experimental reintroduction programme concerning the Large Blue has begun in the Cotswolds. Some of the donor eggs for the re-introduction were collected from Collard Hill while we were undertaking the egg count surveys. Green Down, a Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve also allowed us to collect eggs and larvae for the re-introduction.  Needless to say the whole experiment has been implemented with the approval of  Butterfly Conservation and Natural England and its Licensing Team.

To be able to use Collard as a donor site is a brilliant feeling it shows just how far the site has come since the re- introduction in 2000 when 267 larvae were introduced. With approximately 1300 adults flying on Collard this year, this site is going from strength to strength.

As I said in my last blog post at the beginning of July my journey with the Large Blue didn’t stop when I left Collard Hill and Somerset. I moved on to the Cotswolds to help David Simcox with the re-introduction project which involved rearing the collected eggs and caterpillars to a stage where they were ready to be released and adopted by the red ants.  It was a great privilege for me to be involved with the rearing and release of the caterpillars, to be able to witness the caterpillars reaching their fourth instar stage and watch the adoption by the red ants (Myrmica sabuleti) was just mind blowing. It is something I never thought I would see in my life, having watched the Large Blue adults on Collard Hill during the full flight period I started to feel like a protective parent and having the knowledge that some of their young are hopefully going to initiate a colony in the Cotswolds brings a huge smile to my face and the rest will continue their life cycle helping Collard Hill have another successful year in 2011.

Large Blue caterpillar (4th instar stage) - Sarah Meredith July 2010

For now all we can do is wait and see what emerges next year come late May or early June so please keep your fingers crossed. For me personally my adventure with the Large Blue finishes for now and I am off to Australia to help carry out research into tree and marsh frogs in New South Wales for 3 months. I will be radio tracking frogs, carrying out tadpole surveys and learning their whole ecology plus hopefully seeing a wide variety of wildlife and butterflies!!

I hope my adventure with the Large Blue is just going into hibernation and will begin again with the emergence of the Large Blue next year.

Large Blue Open Wings - 9th June 2010 Sarah Meredith

Tuesday 6th July and Wednesday 7th July

 
Last flying individuals (Pete) – Sarah Meredith
Evening all,
Tuesday saw my last day on the hill, Collard Hill has gained a place in my heart, the amazing views different each day, the flora and fauna also changing each day and of course the visitors make Collard Hill a very special place. Add the special story of the Large Blue and you get a very magical place.
The Large Blue’s were still flying on Tuesday in even more reduced numbers, I saw 2 individuals over the day, Pete was flying around the quarry and Flo was flying around the main track, we decided to name the last 2 individuals (Yes we have gone mad!!).  Both looking worn, but still great to see, this flight season is turning into the longest flight season since the re-introduction in 2000.
Today saw me number crunching and entering all the collected data, I am very pleased to say that the Large Blue is up 50% on last year, we estimate there to have been 1240 individuals over the season. Visitor numbers are also up this year once again but the site has coped very well with pressure. With the Large Blue flying across the whole site now people have been dispersing well across the whole site.  So the success story of Collard Hill continues.
As promised below is a picture of a caterpillar on Wild Thyme, an amazing sight and a real privilege to find and see. Some caterpillars have already finished their time on the Wild Thyme and have dropped down ready to be taken underground by the ants. 

Large Blue caterpillar - Sarah Meredith

As you can see the caterpillar is very well camouflaged against the Wild Thyme flower and is very cute like the butterfly. They are also very difficult to take a picture of, they don’t stay still (like the adults), they hide behind the florets and they are tiny!! But I wanted to try to show you all the delight that I got to see.

 Well I suppose it is time for me to say goodbye. :( all very sad really, but not only a goodbye but a big thank you to all who have visited Collard Hill over the past month and for all the positive comments I have had about the blog and we have had about the site. The Large Blue adventure has finished for another year but I still have a little part to play in the future adventure. Watch this space, I might be able to tell you about that adventure over the coming week!!  

I also want to say a huge thank you to Rob Holden for letting me experience the Large Blue adventure and the wonders of Collard Hill. The adventure for the adult butterflies may be over, but now it is time for the eggs and caterpillars to have their adventure and to ensure the next generation flourishes.  

A stunning female Large Blue - Sarah Meredith

GOODBYE AND THANK YOU!!

    

Monday 5th July

Female Large Blue in the Quarry - Sarah Meredith

Morning all,

Monday saw calm on Collard Hill compared to Sunday, a breeze was blowing but the sun was shining so there was warmth to it which was missing on  Sunday. As Large Blue numbers are low I decided to have a detailed look around the site at all other things present as well as keeping an eye out for Large Blue’s. I headed slowly towards the quarry, knowing that is now where the last few Large Blue’s are.

Marbled Whites continue to fly well, flowering Thistles grabbed my attention, I enjoy macro photography and stopped for a brief while to capture  the full glory of the Thistles. As I entered the quarry a huge number of Marbled White’s, Meadow Brown’s and Ringlets were flying around and basking in the sun. A large Skipper was sunning himself on the Bramble, initially I couldn’t find any Large Blue’s but then hang on what was that, oh yes, morning Large Blue. I find myself talking them and always greeting the first one I see of the day. Then there were 2 fighting and then zooming off in opposite directions. It is great to see them still on the wing even if they are looking slightly worn.

Large Blue in the Quarry - Sarah Meredith 5th July 2010

With the knowledge that egg numbers seem very high I am starting to accept that the season is nearly over and finding caterpillars shows me that the next generation is well on its way.  On the morning transect I recorded 4 individuals and this was the same in the afternoon.

During the time between transects I had a little search of the Ragwort to see if any Cinnabar moth caterpillars were present, but as is normal when you are actively looking for something you cannot find it, it was only when I was carrying out the afternoon transect that I stumbled across one!!

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tigger) - Sarah Meredith

After finding one all the rest of them suddenly appeared, I wondered how I managed to miss them earlier!!

Large Blue’s are still on the wing in low numbers and most are looking worn, but it is great to still see them.

Sunday 4th July

Evening all,

This morning didn’t start well for me as I managed to nearly knock myself out so I came onto site a little dazed with a sore head!! As I walked up the hill the wind hit me. Like Thursday the wind was strong all day, but Large Blue’s could be found in the area near the Scots Pines as you enter site from the YHA. This area, which us wardens know as the Quarry, offers sheltered conditions on days like this and around 6 individuals were recorded there this morning.

I spent the morning continuing the egg counts and found 3 Large Blue caterpillars, once I am back on wireless internet I will try to upload a picture of one (which will be tomorrow evening), I got very excited when I found them. By lunch time I was feeling slightly less dazed and had finished the egg counts so went to explore the quarry. The sun had disappeared and the black cloud cover had settled but we managed to find 2 Large Blue’s flying at  the bottom of the quarry which was great.

Numbers are very low now, but over the past couple of days around 6 individuals have been witnessed over the site. There is a definite feel that the Large Blue season is coming to an end, but with so many adults being seen over the flight season the prospects for another great year in 2011 are high. So if you have missed the Large Blues this year why not put it in your diary ready for next year.

Over the coming days I will continue to monitor the Large Blue and record when the last flight day is,  I feel that might be in the next couple of days. I will also finish compiling the transect data and will be able to inform you of the numbers recorded on transect.

Friday 2nd July

Evening all,

Well I have internet via a dongle, which means slow speeds!! Oh well I am sure we rush around too much anyway. Apologies for lack of  photos though, I think trying to upload them would just make things crash!!

The site is feeling very quiet now as Large Blue numbers decline, I am so used to seeing them whizzing past that I start to panic when I don’t  see one, but I have to remind myself that we are nearing the end of the flight season. It seems sad that such a lovely species only lasts a month on the wing. I have grown very attached them, they have found a place in heart as Small Heath’s did last summer.

Numbers have decreased very rapidly, from recording 12 on a transect on Tuesday I am now lucky to record 4, the weather was variable today with the rain stopping around 8.30am and the sun appearing around 10am, the sun stayed over Collard Hill until 4.30pm giving the remaining Large Blue’s plenty of time to nectar and egg lay. Females were witnessed egg laying today, which is a positive.

During the quiet spells I carried out some more egg counts and managed to see a few caterpillars which blend in so well with the Thyme flowers, the only reason I knew they were present to start with was the presence of frass (caterpillar poo!!) and feeding damage signs. I am definitely getting my eye in now for eggs but  I still get that WOW feeling when ever I find one. I don’t think that feeling ever passes really and it is the same for seeing the adults.

Marbled Whites are still flying in large numbers as are Ringlets. We think that individual Large Blue’s will still be around until the 6th July but I must stress that that is individuals not numbers. The main season is really over now, we are back to searching the site to find ones or twos as we were when they were first emerging. But even seeing one Large Blue is a wonder and a treat so I will carry on searching until I am sure they have finished.

Thursday 1st July

Large Skipper nectaring on Field Scabious - Sarah Meredith

Evening all,

So where has June gone, last thing I knew it was the beginning of June and I was starting my Large Blue butterfly adventure. Now 4 weeks on the adventure is slowly coming to a close. It was difficult today to judge the numbers of Large Blue’s on the wing, there was a force 10 gale blowing across the site, or that is what it must have felt like for the butterflies. I saw Meadow Browns reach heights they never knew about today and other butterflies just giving up and letting the wind take them where ever it wanted!!  Others were clinging tightly to grass blades and bushes not daring to move. So as you can imagine the Large Blue’s were hiding, even in the sheltered areas of the site the wind had managed to penetrate, by the end of the day even I was getting annoyed by the wind, it just made everything hard work. Finding the butterfly, recording numbers on clipboards with paper blowing every where, walking along the top of the site anyway you get the picture. IT WAS WINDY!!!

Some Large Blue’s were seen today, with females still egg laying and even some fresh looking individuals. Most people who came onto site went away seeing one. The cloud meant that once found open wing shots were being obtained.

The skies above Collard Hill were also busy with bird activity, a huge amount of Swifts could be seen all day, the buzzard was soaring on the thermals, as was the Kestrel which could be seen at eye level absolutely stationary in the air. A number of gulls were passing through and a Red Kite was spotted early in the morning.

Kestrel Hovering over the eastern slope - Sarah Meredith

Six-spot Burnet moths are now out in force and a number of mating pairs were encountered across the site, and just as I was packing up for the day I spotted a male Ghost moth, I love these moths, their faces remind me of teddy bears, they look all fluffy and cute.

Male Ghost moth (cute) - Sarah Meredith

Mating pair of Six-spot Burnet - Sarah Meredith

I feel that if the wind had calmed down today then we would have seen more Large Blue’s then we did, numbers are decreasing but not as rapidly as it looked like that had today. If tomorrow is calmer and sunnier then hopefully the true picture will be seen.

I am having to move accommodation tomorrow until Monday and unsure whether internet connection will be possible. I hope to be able to update the blog over the weekend but if not sorry.

Wednesday 30th June

Large Blue on Bramble - Sarah Meredith 29th June 2010

Evening all,

The weather today was mixed but mainly sunny and warm, cloud was moving fast across the sky so at intervals the sun was obscured. The Large Blue’s were flying as soon as I arrived on site, it was cooler with a stronger breeze this morning but still warm enough to keep the Large Blue’s from perching for any length of time.

Today I was learning how to carry out egg counts on site to gain a full understanding of the population size on site. This involves sitting on a huge number of prickly things such as Thistle, Spiny Restharrow, Gorse and anything else resembling a sharp object!! Due to working on slopes it also involves sliding down once you have actually sat down before coming to a resting point!!! Once all of that happens it is time to actually check the Thyme flower heads for eggs and record the number of eggs to Thyme plants.

It will be interesting over the coming week to see how many eggs we count and the final total. Large Blue numbers are starting to decline but there are still a good number on site, they could be found flying around the scrub areas this afternoon flying around the long grass areas and then out up the slopes and around. We are watching with interest how numbers will decline over the next few days, due to the long time it has taken to reach peak it could be that numbers decline sharply rather than gradually as has been the case over the past few years. But only time will tell, tomorrow I will be spending more time looking up and at the Large Blue adults rather than into Thyme flower heads so it will interesting to see what is happening over the whole site.

If you are visiting over the next few days I am sure you will get sightings of the Large Blue and if there is cloud around with breaks of sun then you might be in luck and get the perfect open wing shot!!

Tuesday 29th June

 
Large Blue nectaring on a sea of Wild Thyme – Sarah Meredith
Evening all,

Yesterday I was away from the hill having a rest and avoiding the Glastonbury festival traffic, walking was the best option if I wanted to go out. Today saw me back on hill with the butterflies and when I arrived I looked at yesterday’s transect data which showed that numbers were still good which was pleasing.

Overnight and first thing this morning Collard Hill saw something that it hasn’t seen for a good 10 days!! RAIN, I have forgotten how greasy and slippery the slopes become with rain, flailing arms and bodies sliding around the hill side could be seen from early on, and that was just me!! When I arrived on site, two visitors were already on the eastern slope, I found out that they had been on site since 5am and at 9,15am they still hadn’t seen any sign of a Large Blue. Marbled White’s were on the wing, but with heavy cloud and rain looking imminent I was not that hopeful of finding any Large Blue’s for a while, I checked on the western slope around the gorse bushes and I flushed out 3 individuals. I trotted off to tell the visitors that their best chance was there, they duly followed and we soon found a couple of Large Blue’s again.

After a good shower of rain the sun started to emerge around 11.15am, I decided to walk the transect to see what was happening across the site and recorded good numbers (13) considering the weather. By the time I finished my walk I was wishing I had packed my shorts it was very humid and hot once again. Time to find the sun cream and water.

Hello - Sarah Meredith

It is amazing how a tiny bit of sun can suddenly cause a mass emergence of butterflies, that you couldn’t find 10 minutes before. 43 Marbled White’s were recorded on the transect, I think that is the most this year so far, they are not as affected by the dull weather as Large Blue’s are.

The Large Blue’s continued to fly well during the breaks of sun and egg laying females could be found although even they were moving around quickly taking advantage of the breaks in the weather, at one point we had one female being chased around a nettle patch by 2 Large Blue’s and a Meadow Brown. The afternoon, from around 2.30pm, slowed down with individuals being found if you walked searching the slopes, checking the Wild Thyme patches was a good ploy.

Field Scabious - Sarah Meredith

The site is still feeling alive not only with butterflies but floristically as well, the Field Scabious are looking great, the Clustered Bell flowers are still fresh and there are lovely big patches of pink Wild Thyme dotted around, along with a good showing of yellow in the form of Rock Rose, Hawkweeds, Hawkbits and Bird’s Foot Trefoil.

So when you visit Collard Hill there are many delights for you to see, I hope to greet you in the near future.

Sunday 27th June

Older Large Blue Laying - Sarah Meredith

Morning,

Sunday was another hot day (as I write this I am sitting in the garden enjoying the sun and being lazy today) and Large Blue’s were on the wing from early on, I found individuals flying as soon as I entered site at around 8.45am and they were already whizzing around. The morning saw a huge amount of activity, with mating pairs being found, and females going about their duties of egg laying. Males were chasing females to no avail, some individuals are starting to look tatty but there are just as many looking fresh. To confuse the situation once again, there are Common Blue’s starting to emerge, I witnessed a very fresh male annoying a very old female.  So if you visit over the next week or so, you will have to really get your eye in.

Marbled White’s are flying in massive numbers and in this heat are annoying photographers with their inability to perch or stay still for more than a few seconds. The first Gatekeeper was recorded today, I had to double check my butterfly book to make sure it was  one!! Ringlets are also on site in small numbers around the scrub areas.

Sunday afternoon saw a very different picture to the morning, the temperature had reached 29 degrees Celsius in the shade and when we walked the afternoon transect the site was deserted of visitors and butterflies. We were joking that everyone including the butterflies had gone in to watch either the Grand Prix, World Cup Football, Tennis or Cricket!!! A sport for every person to choose from there!! Who would the Swedish butterflies be supporting?

Anyway the site stayed very quiet all afternoon with very little on the wing, at around 4pm a few Large Blue’s could be found, mainly females egg laying. The only butterfly that increased in numbers in the afternoon was the Small Heath which could be seen all over.  I have a feeling that Glastonbury festival may have affected our visitor numbers this weekend along with the sport fixtures.

I would like to stress that Large Blue numbers are still good at the moment and if you are thinking that you have left it too late this season then think again, if you visit over the next week then you should still get to see the Large Blue. I will let you know when numbers start to decline at a rapid rate, there are less on site than last Wednesday/Thursday but numbers are still good.

I hope to welcome you to Collard Hill over the coming week and be able to show you the wonders of the Large Blue and also Collard Hill itself.

Saturday 26th June

Egg laying female - Sarah Meredith 26th June 2010

Evening all,

Well what a hot hot day!! I am currently sat on the sofa still feeling very cooked. A few house keeping things first, I have in my lost/found site box a pair of prescription sunglasses and a set of car keys. I know that the sun glasses belong to part of the walking group that visited on Thursday so if you know the person can you let them know.

The Large Blue was flying well from early on today, as soon as I arrived on site (later than normal due to writing the blog) at 9am I saw 2 individuals flying around the hillside. The air temperature was hot from the start so the Large Blue’s were zipping around the site. Things were quite quiet on the visitor front until 10.45am, at that point I was talking to visitors on the slope and as I looked up to the top of the hill I saw easily 40 people all together. Wow where did they come from. I discovered as I walked towards them that they were a coach group from south Wales.  I had a good chat with them all and pointed out the Large Blue and most of the other butterflies on the wing at the moment, all visitors were getting brilliant sightings of the Large Blue and in good numbers.

After the coach group left the hill felt very quiet, there were still people around and the Large Blue continued to fly well, a mating pair were found and egg laying females continued their work. After lunch and some shade I had a little look at some of the Wild Thyme and found eggs. This is alway something that WOWs visitors, the small size is enough to amaze let alone the depth within the Wild Thyme flower that it is laid.

The morning transect recorded 12 individuals and the afternoon transect recorded 14 individuals, the main difference between the two transects was that the Large Blue’s were being discovered in shady locations in the afternoon, sensible if you ask me!!

The Large Blue’s went for their siesta (again sensible) around 3ish until 4.30pm. Individuals could be found but numbers were down, around 4.30pm egg laying females started to appear again and could be found in a number of places laying and flying slowly around the hillside. Males were zooming around looking for females, pestering ones that were trying to egg laying and being blatantly ignored.

Numbers are still high on site and if you visit over the coming week you are certain to see the Large Blue (the lyrics of Teddy Bears Picnic have suddenly come into my head, I blame the sun myself, maybe I could rewrite the lyrics to make a Large Blue song!!), numbers will start to decline in the near future but I will let you know as and when they do. The weather is set to say warm until at least Thursday so sightings should be easy.

I hope you decide to visit Collard Hill, whether you have been before or not the wonders and sights will amaze you and you will leave with a smile on your face guaranteed.