My time as large blue ranger is done!

My six weeks of being large blue ranger is now over, it’s gone so quickly and I’ve had the best time; it was the perfect job to do after a stressful final year of uni! Collard Hill has been a lovely place to be for a few weeks and I have seen plenty of butterflies and other creatures during my time up there.

It has been a pleasure to spend so much time with the large blues and to have the opportunity to photograph them and really get to know the species. I have managed to photograph a lot of different stages of the season, including mating pairs, egg-laying females and the eggs themselves

Egg-laying female large blue
Mating pair of large blues

In total I have seen 21 species of butterfly (I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten any!) which are:
– large blue
– dark-green fritillary
– comma
– marbled white
– meadow brown
– small heath
– ringlet
– small skipper
– large skipper
– essex skipper
– peacock
– red admiral
– painted lady
– gatekeeper
– common blue
– brown argus
– large white
– small white
– green-veined white
– speckled wood – small tortoiseshell

There has also been many new bees, beetles, moths and flies that I have seen as well, some of which are quite rare species which were really great to find, for example the moth Nemophora cupriacella and most excitingly the nationally rare Downland bee-fly, Villa cingulata. Having the opportunity to find some clearwing moths was really great as well as they are a really unusual and interesting family

Six-belted clearwing
Orange-tailed clearwing

It has been a real pleasure to spend so much time on Collard, I’ve learnt a lot and have had a great time chatting to all the visitors that make the pilgrimage to come and see the large blues. Writing the blog has been good fun too, it will be great to look back on and remind myself in the future of the great time I had up on the hill. I will have to come back next year to see how the butterflies are doing and what other treats Collard will treat us to. I hope next years ranger has an equally great time (maybe with slightly less rain!) and doesn’t mind me coming and visiting to see my favourite butterfly!
My thanks go out to the National Trust team for their support, and Sarah and Dave for imparting some of their vast knowledge upon me! Thank you also for everyone who has engaged and commented with the blog, I hope it has been enjoyable and informative to read. Best of luck to next years ranger, I’m sure you’ll have a great time and make the most of spending time in such a wonderful place!

I’ll sign off with my favourite picture I’ve taken of the large blue in it’s beautiful home:

No large blues but another interesting find

No large blues again today, which wasn’t unexpected! However, Collard keeps me busy with other creatures to find; the hill is a surprisingly good place for dragonflies and damselflies considering how far it is from any significant water body. I’ve had Emperor, Broad-bodied chaser, black-tailed skimmer, ruddy darter and brown hawker dragonflies and a lot of common blue damselflies. The brown hawker dragonfly was lovely to see today, it doesn’t seem to have very many records in Somerset, but may be another one of our Odonata species that is expanding its range.

The best find of today however, goes to a member of the Diptera family. A very rare bee-fly landed right by my feet as I was enjoying the sun on the bench at the top of the hill; Villa cingulata, the Downland bee-fly! I only managed a couple of shoddy pictures with my phone, but hope to find it again tomorrow and take some better pictures.


Villa cingulata © Steven Falk

From butterflies to moths, dragonflies, birds and flies, there’s plenty to see on Collard  Hill on a sunny day! I have only two more days left now and hope to find some other interesting creatures to add to the list!

Not a great butterfly day

I had no large blues again today, suggesting their season is over and done with unfortunately; but their eggs are getting ready to hatch and caterpillars are munching away at the thyme preparing for next year when they’ll emerge and once more grace us with their presence!

It wasn’t a great day for butterflies in general, it was cloudy and cool for most of the day with the sun only making an appearance later in the afternoon. I did have a few finds today though, including a variety of as yet unidentified Nomada bees, which are cleptoparasites of other bee species and often mistaken for wasps. They lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, mostly Andrena species, and can often be seen hovering around their nests looking for an opportunity to get in and lay their eggs.


Nomada lathburiana © Steven Falk

I also found this great looking micro moth Captoptria pinella which is an interesting species to find as it is usually found in boggy and marshy areas, so it must be a bit lost up on the exceedingly dry Collard Hill! But it blends in well despite it’s bright and shiny colouring.



A great day but no large blues

It was another great summer’s day up on Collard Hill, although try as I might I couldn’t find any large blues! It was a reasonably cloudy day however, so any stragglers might have been hiding away waiting for some sun.
Other butterflies are on the up however, gatekeepers have boomed in the past couple of days, the ringlets are still numerous and fresh second brood common blue and brown argus butterflies are everywhere. I keep checking the small skippers on the off chance one will be an Essex skipper, but so far all I’ve seen have been small! Large skippers are still around too, and occasionally stop briefly for photographs.


Large Skipper © India Wedge

It has been a great experience being able to spend so much time on Collard, it’s been a privilege to be able to observe and photograph the large blues, and I’ll definitely have to come back in future years to see these wonderful butterflies again. It’s hard to choose favourites but the large blue has to be nearing becoming my favourite UK butterfly!


Large blue resting out of the heat © India Wedge


The large blues are hard to find!

Finding the large blues was quite difficult today, I saw only three in the whole day and visitors were looking for a while before most eventually found the odd one resting or nectaring on wild thyme. Most of the left over large blues are looking pretty ragged now, so here’s a throwback to when the pristine looking large blues were flying a couple of weeks ago…


© India Wedge

I have tomorrow and Tuesday off and by Wednesday I’m not sure how many there will to be find, if any! But I’ll definitely be looking hard for them, and hoping to get a straggler or two. If anyone gets up to Collard on Monday or Tuesday, do leave a comment here if you manage to find any!

There is still a lot about on the hill even if the large blues are dropping off, there are a couple of these wonderful micro moths flying at the moment, Oncocera semirubrella, the colours of some moths are truly incredible!


Oncocera semirubella 

I also stumbled across the awesome tiny micro moth Nemophora cupriacella, there aren’t many records at all for this moth in Somerset so I was glad to find it; it’s wings were remarkably metallic and really caught the light


Nemophora cupriacella © Graeme Lyons

I’ve seen a few more micro moths but most have remained unidentified as I left my micro moth ID book in Norwich; however these two particularly caught my eye, so I had to put a name to them!
I will post again on Wednesday, hopefully reporting a couple of long lasting large blues, but who knows!

Approaching the end of the season

It does appear from the past couple of days that we are approaching the end of the large blue season for this year, today it was tricky to find the large blues and I had ~6 across the day today when the sun broke through the clouds. It was another warm day today with a few clouds making an appearance in the afternoon, meaning there was a lot flying  all over the hill. The hummingbird hawk-moths continue to put on a show, I saw about 8 today mostly hovering and nectaring on brambles but a few ovipositing on lady’s bedstraw.

A couple of large blues were getting in some final egg laying today, and having a cursory look at some thyme plants I found a lot of eggs which is good news for next years season! I had another go at trying to photograph an egg, which is still as difficult as when I first tried it a few weeks ago! But I managed to get a couple of pictures that show the intricate detail of the egg of the large blue. This close-up is pushing the ability of the macro lens I use right to the limit, so the resolution isn’t great but I’m very happy to have captured the details of this egg.

DSC_8817a (4)

Large blue egg © India Wedge

It’s been a fantastic experience being able to follow these butterflies all the way through their season, it has given me the chance to be able to observe these wonderful butterflies and learn their behaviours and the patterns they follow. It has also given me the chance to take, almost too many, photographs of many different individuals, mating pairs, ovipositing females and of course the eggs.

Tomorrow is looking like another sunny summers day, and hopefully there will be a few large blues still around to seek out. I’ve unfortunately had to pick up a reasonable amount of litter in the past few days, so do make sure to take any litter back home with you so that others can enjoy Collard in all its beauty!


Spot the large blue © India Wedge



A few too many clouds

It warmed up more slowly today, meaning the large blues, and most other butterflies, were slow to get flying. A reasonably thick layer of cloud took a while to move off, but once it did, the sun started to warm things up and the butterflies were up and about. I saw ~7 large blues over the day today, and managed to track a couple down when the clouds came over that stopped long enough for a few pictures.


A slow morning for the large blues © India Wedge

There’s been a change in species composition across the site in the past few days, with ringlets becoming ever more populous, small skippers increasing also, and I had a couple of firsts for the year today as well with gatekeeper and also a stunningly fresh brown argus.


Brown argus © India Wedge


Gatekeeper © India Wedge

There seems to have been an increase in the number of damselflies and dragonflies up on the hill as well, I’ve seen plenty of common blue damselflies, black-tailed skimmers, broad-bodied chasers and today I added ruddy darter to that list, a female clattered it’s way out of the long grass infront of me and rested up on a piece of grass to soak up some sun.


Ruddy darter © India Wedge

I would expect the large blues to become harder to track down by the day from now on as they decline towards the end of their flight season, but as you can see from the above pictures there is still plenty on offer at Collard to occupy you whilst looking for the large blues. This weekend is looking pretty cloudy, so be prepared to do some searching if you’re after the large blues, I’ll be there both days and will be trying to track them down as well and hopefully there’ll be still a few about to find!


Enjoying the sun

The run of sunny days continues! There were plenty of butterflies making the most of the sun and warm temperatures; there were still large blues flying today, over the day I counted about 10 flying over the whole site. The next couple of days will show more conclusively whether the butterflies have passed their peak or not, but I suspect they have! However other butterfly species are still out in force; the small heaths are still flying in basically all weather, as are the meadow browns.


Small Heath © India Wedge

There was also a lot of hummingbird hawk-moth’s around today, I counted five and people were finding them all over the place! I tried to get an alright photo but it was proving challenging and the only in focus picture I got was this one, which definitely isn’t winning any awards!


Spot the hummingbird hawkmoth! (© India Wedge)

Tomorrow’s weather is looking much the same as today, so getting to the hill early will be your best chance to see the large blues not in flight; later on in the day when it heats up they won’t be stopping much, and are more likely to be zipping past you at high speed!

Another warm day!

Today was another warm day, not quite as hot as it has been (thankfully!) but still sunny, warm and good butterfly weather. I had 14 large blues on my morning transect and 7 on my afternoon transect; the impression I got from the day overall was that peak numbers had passed and a slow decline in numbers of large blues will be seen over the next couple of weeks.
The sunny patches led to a fair few large blues flying around, there was a fair amount of tatty looking individuals and only a few fresher looking butterflies.

© India Wedge

There is still plenty of other butterfly species around the hill at the moment, there has been a boost of ringlets and small skippers in the past few days and the large number of marbled whites and painted lady’s remain flying and gliding about the hill. Today at least two hummingbird hawkmoths were seen hovering around the flowers, but they have so far evaded my camera!

Small tortoiseshells fly over every now and again

The week ahead looks great weather wise, with plenty of sun and reasonably hot temperatures, so there should be plenty of butterflies to see!

A cooler day

Today was a good butterfly day, with 20 large blues seen on my afternoon transect, the highest number I’ve had on a transect so far! The cloudy and cooler weather meant the large blues were slightly more difficult to find but when one was found, they posed nicely for photographs and generally allowed viewers a longer look than they have done on the hot, sunny days.


The elusive wings open shot (© India Wedge)

Today I also saw two large blues wheeling around in the sky, and after few minutes they paired up and began mating; they stayed together for about 40 minutes before flying off and separating. They posed nicely for plenty of people to see and photograph this amazing sight!


Mating large blues (© India Wedge)

Following on from the mating I saw a female large blue laying eggs, I like to think it was the same one I saw mating but who knows! There was plenty of large blue action to be had today, and it’s looking like there’s a few more days to come with the same weather as today so do come along and have a look at these wonderful butterflies!


Egg laying female large blue (© India Wedge)