Friday 8th July – Last day on the hill

Hello everyone, Christine here after my last day up at Collard yesterday. The hill did its best to send me off in the manner to which I have become accustomed; with high winds and heavy showers throughout the day. Needless to say, it was not a day for much butterfly activity. I struggled to stand up on occasion, so any butterflies didn’t have much chance! Like yesterday, there were no Large Blue sightings during the brief sunny spells, and any tardy Blues out there are remaining elusive.

The Quarry paths wind below the pine trees

I walked around the site saying goodbye to each area, such as the Quarry, that I thought I had become familiar with. But even on my last day, Collard had new things to share, such as the white form of Common Centaury I spotted at the top of the Eastern Glade. While finishing one of the transects I also got a fantastic sighting of a stoat on the track above the Eastern Glade. We watched each other for a few minutes before he disappeared into the Gorse. Another new visitor was a Common Darter dragonfly, hovering and sitting on the main track while I ate my lunch in the shelter of the scrub. Thanks to Stewart Canham for identifying it for me!

White flowered Common Centaury - Christine Tansey July 2011

A Common Darter - Christine Tansey July 2011

This season has brought many to Collard’s beautiful slopes, with nearly 1200 visitors seen by the rangers on site. We all enjoyed talking with those who ventured to Somerset to see the Large Blue, and hope that most had successful, butterfly filled visits! We recorded over 260 Large Blues on our transects, fewer than last year but given the frequently challenging weather conditions, a very pleasing number. Keep your eyes on the blog for an update once the egg count has been completed and we’ll post an estimate of the adult population at Collard this year.

Since this is my last daily post, I thought I’d try and wrap up a couple of things that have repeatedly been raised by some of you on site. As many visitors noticed when walking around Collard, micro moths are numerous, rising in jittery clouds on days when nothing else can be seen flying. Though there has not been a in depth survey of the moth fauna on site to date, thanks go to Winston Plowes for identifying many of  the ubiquitous micros as Pyrausta despicata.

Pyrausta despicata - Winston Plowes June 2011

A question that has also been pondered by several of you is whether the ants attack the Large Blues after they have emerged from their pupae in the ants nest, and as they are on their way out. I had a chance to talk to Jeremy Thomas about this recently, and it transpires that the ants become very active as the Large Blue emerges, and will throng about the butterfly, often following it to the surface in an excited state while it leaves the nest. However they do not attack it, and it is possible there may be some mechanism employed by the butterfly to placate them, what this may be remains unknown.

All that is left is to thank all of you who visited, those of you that sent in some wonderful photos and chatted with all of us at Collard. Huge thanks must go to the fantastic volunteers from whom I learned a lot and enjoyed sharing time on the hill. They spent days on site, walking the transects and being available to provide information to everyone. Roger S., Simone, Craig, Chris, Roger and Sandy, Jim, Barry, Ken and Dudley, you were brilliant!

Especial thanks to everyone at the National Trust who prepared the site and maintained it throughout the season, in particular Rob Stephens and Rob Holden, who looks after Collard Hill all year round. David Simcox, Jeremy Thomas, Matthew Oates and Sarah Meredith answered many questions on the ecology of the Large Blue, and the history of Collard Hill, thank you for being patient and supportive as I found my feet (or should that be wings?!).

Spot the larva! - Christine Tansey July 2011

It’s been a fantastic and far too fleeting flight season at Collard, and I can’t believe the time, Thyme and butterflies have run their course. I’ve so enjoyed the experience, observing the character of the site change from barely a smudge of purple amongst the Bird’s Foot Trefoil, to swathes of Thyme, spikes of Self-Heal and small forests of Lady’s Bedstraw covering the slopes. I’ve watched the weather move across the Levels, learning to anticipate the next shower and time my retreat to the shelter of the Turkey Oak. And then there were the Large Blues, the more of which I saw, the more I appreciated their long road to adulthood and few days of beauty in the sun. I’m now moving on, to be part of a team of field assistants on a project researching the dispersal of butterflies across fragmented habitats, so my summer of butterfly hunting is not over yet!

I’ll be sure to be back next year, checking up on the Large Blues, and hope to see some of you again. We’ll finish with a reminder of Collard in 2011, with some superb photos from Mike Flemming, Andrew Rumming, Carol Cockbain, David Holloway, Jill Shaw, Geoffrey Bath and Richard Fox.

Wings out for all to see - Richard Fox 2011

I spy a Red Admiral! - Geoffrey Bath 2011

A mating pair - Jill Shaw 2011

One of our older specimens - David Holloway 2011

Large Blue balancing - Carol Cockbain 2011

Hello Comma! - Andrew Rumming 2011

The Wasp Orchid - Mike Flemming 2011

Thursday 7th July – Counting begins

Evening all, Christine here after a sunny windy day at Collard. After yesterday I did not anticipate much Large Blue activity, and indeed so it proved to be, with not a single sighting today. This does indicate that their flight season is largely at its end, and any Large Blue stragglers still on the wing are likely to be difficult to see. It is just possible that you might see a lone Blue if you visit in the next few days, and be sure to let us know if you do, as Wardens will no longer be on the site after Friday 8th July. Do email us if you have any more comments about visiting Collard Hill: collard.hill@nationaltrust.org.uk

A Gatekeeper round every corner today! - Christine Tansey July 2011

The morning transect walk introduced me to several Gatekeepers, and they seemed to be around every Gorse bush today, their fresh orange wings offering a bright greeting as they basked in the sun. Speckled Woods have also become more numerous in the last two days and continued frequent the main track. A Green Woodpecker and Hummingbird Hawkmoth made very welcome appearances today, both seen flying on the main central slope as two Buzzards wheeled and cried overhead and our friendly Kestrel hovered above the hill.

Sarah commences the egg count

The biggest excitement of the day was the presence of Dave Simcox, Jeremy Thomas and Sarah Meredith, on the hill to start the egg counts and get estimates of how many Large Blues were flying at Collard this year. They’ll be back on site tomorrow and we’ll keep you posted on how it looked once the survey is completed. Fingers crossed for an increase everyone!

Large Skipper nectars in the sun - Christine Tansey July 2011

Wednesday 6th July – Butterflies vs Wind

Evening all, Christine here after a return to blustery conditions on Collard Hill. The morning started with some optimistic glimpses of sunshine that were to disappear frequently as high winds blew cloud and showers our way. I had a wander down to the bottom of the Eastern glade and to my surprise saw a beautifully crisp Large Blue displaying its upper wings to us at around 10.15am. I also saw my first Speckled Woods on site, twirling and whirling around one another. It was a morning of bright butterflies as several Red Admirals and a Small Tortoiseshell also visited the hill, but activity dropped off as the sun disappeared.

Small Tortoiseshell basking - Christine Tansey July 2011

A very few brave visitors scoured Collard, but didn’t seem to have much success after that early sighting. The morning transect didn’t pick up any Large Blues, but the first fresh Common Blues made an appearance in the Lynchets area. The wind continued to pick up and by the afternoon transect only the hardiest Meadow Browns seemed to be flying. So you can imagine my surprise when I had another Large Blue sighting, at the end of the Lynchets by the Eastern glade. I suspect it was the same rather fresh individual from the morning, and two more hopeful visitors managed to get a good sighting as it settled down.

The rest of the day passed in very windy conditions and more waves of rain. It looks like the changeable weather will continue and any straggling Large Blues will continue to be difficult to see. We hope to get some estimates of numbers flying this year shortly, as the annual egg count will be undertaken in the coming days. Let’s hope that in June’s sunny spells our Large Blues managed to get the job done and were successful in laying plenty of eggs!

Large Blue taking an afternoon nap - Christine Tansey July 2011

Tuesday 5th July – Butterflies in hiding

Evening everyone, Christine here, reporting from Barry who was up at Collard Hill today. Unfortunately it was a poor day for any butterflies, in high winds and with the weather closing in for much of the day. Nothing much was moving first thing, bar a couple of hardy Meadow Browns. It did not improve until close to midday, but still no butterflies, let alone Large Blues!

Nearly gone until next year... Large Blue on gorse - Christine Tansey June 2011

Rain moved in by early afternoon and that was it for the day. The change from fine weather to poorer conditions means that sightings of any remaining Large Blues are getting increasingly difficult. With some heavy showers predicted over the next few days it is likely that Large Blues will remain hard to find, and the chance of seeing them at Collard this year has fallen considerably.

Instead, its time to block out mid-June 2012 in your calendar and schedule in a visit to see these beauties next year! I’ll continue to write updates for the rest of the week, but I think it looks set to be full of Six-spot Burnet moths, Ringlets and Gatekeepers rather than Large Blues.

Burnet moths are now on the wing - Christine Tansey July 2011

Monday 4th July – Sporadic sightings

Hi everyone, Christine here, reporting back from Jim and Simone, our volunteers at Collard Hill on Monday. The impact of the Large Blue piece on Countryfile was felt yesterday, with quite a few hopeful visitors appearing on site in the morning. Alas, it would appear the season really is winding down, and the morning was bereft of butterflies during fine but windy conditions.

There were no Large Blues on the morning transect, but a rather battered specimen turned up about 1pm, followed by a freshly emerged Blue around 2pm. It was found near the main track, but appeared to have had some issue with the pumping mechanism with its wings and they were not completely inflated. However it did stay in one spot, and several visitors got nice views of it.

A very rumpled Blue from early in the season - Christine Tansey June 2011

By the afternoon transect, 1 Large Blue made an appearance in the Eastern glade, but they remained elusive for the rest of the day. Nevertheless hopefully new visitors to Collard enjoyed the sunny morning, and have put June in their diaries for next year!

Sunday 3rd July – Large Blues on Film

Evening everyone, Christine here after another lovely day at Collard; the end of the season is treating us well so far! The Large Blues confounded my expectations and appeared before 10am this morning; a couple of visitors and I wandered to the bottom of the Eastern Glade and had three sightings between us. We also had a great sighting of a Clouded Yellow, standing out against the slopes. As I reached the top of the glade and got onto the main track another Blue flew past.

Still looking good! - Christine Tansey July 2011

It’s taking a little more perseverance each day, but Large Blue sightings continued throughout the day. The morning transect recorded 2 butterflies, both in the Eastern glade, along with my first Gatekeeper of the year. Visitors continued to report Hummingbird Hawkmoths on site, and the Large Blues were a mixture of rather tatty looking individuals as well as some handsome specimens. The afternoon got a little cloudier but remained warm and humid, and the afternoon transect spotted 4 Blues, 3 on the main track. Sightings tailed off mid-afternoon but with some reasonable weather there should be a few around over the next couple of days.

A tatty Blue for comparison - Christine Tansey July 2011

I hope many of you managed to see Countryfile on Sunday night, when Jeremy Thomas was discussing Large Blues at Collard Hill and David Simcox explaining the reintroduction project in the Cotswolds. You can catch up with it here. There might be a slight delay in the updates over the next two days, but I’ll do my best to get them up as soon as possible. The Large Blues might be slowing down at Collard but the Six-spot Burnet moths are increasing day by day, maybe this adventurous pupa will have emerged when I’m back on the hill on Wednesday!

Six-spot Burnet Moth pupa on our sign!

Saturday 2nd July – A lovely larva!

Hello everyone, Christine here. Saturday at Collard Hill started off in some very welcome warm sunshine and very little wind, and the first Large Blues appeared at around 10am, around the main track. The morning continued to be fine and the morning transect recorded 4 Large Blues, including my first sighting in the Quarry area for days. We also saw this beautiful crisp Ringlet sunning itself on a thistle.

A fresh morning Ringlet - Christine Tansey July 2011

The fine weather continued through the morning and sightings were most frequent along the main track and Eastern glade areas. Most visitors to the site had success spotting Large Blues, until it clouded over post lunch, when they became much more elusive, the afternoon transect only picking up one individual. Hummingbird Hawkmoth sightings have also continued at Collard with several reports of egg-laying on the miniature yellow forests of Lady’s Bedstraw found in our meadows.

The big excitement of the day was a visit from Sarah Meredith, the Large Blue warden from last year, who managed to spot the first Large Blue caterpillar at Collard this year… And here is it, yes really, looking almost the same as the Thyme, perfectly camouflaged against the flowers.What a beauty! Who will hopefully turn into a adult butterfly, emerging in 2012. With egg counts due to start on Collard soon, we should soon have an estimate of how successful our Blues have been in this rather challenging flight season.

First Large Blue larva of the season! - Christine Tansey July 2011

Sightings tailed off this afternoon, and with some cloudy spells forecast over the next few days, Large Blues are likely to become increasingly infrequently seen at Collard. If you are lucky and happen to visit when the sun is shining then you may still get to see a Large Blue on the hill in 2011! If you can’t make it, make sure you catch Collard and the Cotswolds on Countryfile, tonight on BBC1 at 8pm.

Collard Hill, the proud parent

Hello all,

Sarah the Large Blue warden from last year here. As some of you may be aware I have been involved with the wider Large Blue project this year and have been looking at a number of sites including Collard Hill along with the two re-introduction sites in the Cotswolds.

Would this caterpillar emerge as a Large Blue adult in 2011? - Sarah Meredith 2010

As  I wrote last September Collard Hill was one of the donor sites where eggs were collected from 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.

I can proudly tell you that Large Blue’s are once again flying in the Cotswolds, we have had a good emergence over the past
3 weeks and egg laying females have been witnessed so there is hope for a second generation to be flying this time next year.

Large Blue female showing off her beauty - Sarah Meredith 2011

 

Large Blue showing off her fresh underside - Sarah Meredith 2011

 

I must admit when I saw the first one flying in the Cotswolds I could not remove the smile from my face for about two days. My little heart did a little skip as did I and I am sure I remember punching the air and yelling YES they are flying !! They were flying and I played a part in that , I also felt proud for Collard Hill, that this lovely site had a helping hand in providing  larvae to produce a population in the Cotswolds.  I was on Collard today starting the egg surveys and found my first larvae of  the season which was really pleasing.

Large Blues fly in the Cotswolds - David Simcox 2011

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 last year, this site is going from strength to strength. Will a similar number of larvae being introduced to one of the sites in the Cotswolds the potential to establish a solid colony over the next 10 years or more is high.

Cheshire cat smiling and one of the first Large Blues to emerge in the Cotswolds - David Simcox 2011

Make sure to watch Countryfile this weekend to  see the Cotswold Large Blues flying,  not only  have the caterpillars been featured on Radio 4 saving species but the adults are now film stars!!

Filming for Countryfile occurs - Sarah Meredith 2011

As the Large Blue season slowly comes to an end we will continue to monitor the population numbers and we are starting to carry out egg counts to discover the true population sizes on sites.

I have also been  undertaking ant and Thyme surveys on prospective introduction sites in  Devon, Somerset and the Cotswolds to establish whether populations could survive on these sites. Sites not only need the right management in terms of grazing, but also enough wild Thyme and of course enough red ant (Myrmica sabuleti) colonies.

I would like to say thank you to those people who bought NT Large blue virtual Christmas gifts as this has helped to fund my work this year  together with Oxford University. Thank you to everyone involved with the Large Blue project and allowing me to continue to journey with the Large Blue this season.

Hopefully in the near future we will be able to report on the estimated number of adults flying on Collard this season. As Christine has been reporting the numbers flying on site are declining but they should be flying for the next couple of days so if you have not visited Collard yet this season then you are not to late yet. Come and see the beauty of the Large Blue and discover a species that means so much to me has captured my heart completely.

Newly emerged female - Collard Hill - Sarah Meredith 2011

Up close and personal - Collard Hill - Sarah Meredith 2011

Friday 1st July – Blues still flying

Evening everyone, Christine here, and the Blues are still flying at Collard! We’re being treated to some beautiful weather at the tail end of the flight season, and continued to get some good sightings on the hill today in sun and much gentler wind. Like yesterday, the start was slow, with no Blues being seen until well after 10am, when a couple were fluttering on the main track. The morning was warm and sunny and the transect picked up 7 individuals, mostly in the Eastern glade but a couple were on the upper slope above the main track.

Large Blue on Self-heal - Christine Tansey July 2011

The Eastern glade and main track remained top spots for Large Blue sightings today, with butterflies flying throughout the day. A slight lull in activity post lunch probably reflected the much warmer weather conditions, with the afternoon transect walk only recording two Blues. Visitors today certainly had some successful sightings, with several people getting over 15 views around Collard. There were not any records of Large Blues in the Quarry, but Hummingbird Hawkmoth sightings were reported from that end of the site. I finally got some great views of the Hummingbird too, just by the main track at around 5pm.

Our transect path through the meadow

After several weeks our transect walk at Collard has left its mark on the lower meadow, as you can see above, we no longer have to wonder exactly where the path goes! The weather continues to look reasonable over the weekend period and hopefully the remaining butterflies will keep flying for anyone visiting the hill. Be sure to catch Countryfile at 8pm on Sunday 3rd July, as they will be talking about the Large Blue project at Collard Hill and in the Cotswolds. Thanks to Winston Plowes for another lovely shot of a Large Blue from earlier in the season.

Large Blue - Winston Plowes June 2011

Thursday 30th June – End of season sun

Hi everyone, Christine here after another sunny day at Collard. It started off rather slowly, neither I nor Ken, the volunteer on site with me today, seeing a single Large Blue until around 10.30am. Now that numbers flying are falling, it’s definitely taking a little bit longer to get our first sightings of the day. We did however, see some very nice, crisp individuals in addition to those looking a bit battered, so we think there will continue to be Blues flying over the next couple of days.

Sunning itself on clover - Christine Tansey June 2011

After the slow start butterfly activity picked up, and I recorded 6 on the morning transect, four fluttering around the bottom of the Eastern glade and two on what was to become the best spot of the day; the main gravel track. The afternoon transect picked up two Large Blues, again on the track and in the Eastern glade. I also saw two Silver Y moths in the morning, but couldn’t get a picture as they flitted around. Instead here is a photo taken at Ham Wall on Tuesday, so do keep your eyes open for this immigrant moth. Flying Six-spot Burnet moths are also on the increase, watch out for the characteristic glimpse of red as they buzz past.

A Silver Y at Ham Wall NNR - Christine Tansey June 2011

The weather continued to be fine all afternoon, but a cool breeze again meant visitors got most sightings lower down Collard’s slopes or in sheltered pockets. The bank above the main track and further towards the meadow at its foot were excellent for sightings, but again, nothing was reported from the Quarry. Visitors did get sightings of an Elephant Hawkmoth and Hummingbird Hawkmoth today, while I believe I scared off a fox first thing, appearing over the horizon in my bright orange shirt!

Throughout the day I had 15-20 Large Blue sightings, and I think most visitors managed to see what they came for. The season is definitely tailing off however so please keep checking back here for updates on numbers. If you venture out to Collard do enjoy these last sunny days of the flight period. Thanks today to Richard Roebuck and Geoff Bathe for some more great pictures of what can be found at Collard.

A rather battered Large Blue - Richard Roebuck June 2011

Six-spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar - Geoff Bathe June 2011