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.
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!
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.
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?!).
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.