My final update!

Hello everyone,

I’m sad to announce that, with the last Large Blue sightings seen last Monday, their 2017 flight season has now come to an end! As I’ve been discussing with a number of recent visitors, I wasn’t expecting their numbers to drop quite so soon in the month. This year, the Large Blues peaked in number around June 21st. Previous years also saw the most sightings in mid/ late June, so for those planning a visit next year I’d definitely recommend going at that time, depending on the weather of course.

However, the stage is set for next year with our egg counts revealing a promising estimate of L. Blue egg numbers nestled in the Wild Thyme flowers. So, let’s be grateful that they had a successful summer while the weather allowed it, and for the opportunity that myself and many others were able to see one of the UK’s rarest and most beautiful (in my completely non- biased opinion!) butterflies.

This past week I’ve been enjoying all of the other wildlife to be seen on Collard Hill and still have some photographs to share. Here are some things I also took throughout my post and haven’t shared yet:

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Large White

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Large White

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Heath bedstraw (Galium saxatile)

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The photogenic Marbled Whites

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Red Admiral

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Can you spot the Brimstone amongst the leaves? Seen early June

It’s been a pleasure to guide and speak to each and every one of the people that visited Collard Hill and I hope to be back in the very near future! Thank you to everyone that passed on their knowledge and helped me learn as much as I did over the last 6 weeks.

I look forward to the next Large Blue flight period,

Gabrielle, 2017 Large Blue Butterfly Ranger

More species every day

Hi all,

As usual, lots to be seen at Collard, including an impressive air show as the Red Arrows practiced their sky drawing! I’ve taken a few photos as promised to represent all the great things to be seen.

The Bumblebees continue to work as hard as ever, providing their essential pollination service to our wild flowers. Can you see the dusting of pollen on her furry coat? The fur of a Bumblebee allows pollen to stick to her coat and be easily passed on to the next flower. She will use her legs to scrape the grains into pollen ‘baskets’ on her legs which can be quickly stored once she reaches her underground nest.

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Bumblebee on a Woolly thistle flower

Bramble bushes seem to be the calcareous grassland equivalent of a watering hole with the number of different groups it attracts, and I found more bee and butterfly species nectaring and sheltering in a single patch than I could attempt to photograph! This included the garden favourites, the Red Admirals and Peacocks:

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Peacock

The ragwort is always hosting some kind of creepy crawly, but today I was happy to find these friends, the Gatekeeper and Small Copper happily nectaring together!

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Gatekeeper and Small Copper on Ragwort

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A wasp gall called “Robin’s pincushion” on a wild rose stem.

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Harvestman on Woolly Thistle

This dragonfly species was very obliging when it came to being photographed. Trying to research the species, I thought it might look similar to a Ruddy Darter… What do you think?

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Which dragonfly species? *Common Darter!*

As always, thanks for reading!

Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

Collard Hill update

Hi everyone,

Our recent run of perfect weather continued today with abundant sun and a beautiful warm breeze. I must share the view of the Somerset levels from my office -aka the shade under the oak tree…

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It’s a hard life.

It’s a hive of activity around the bramble bushes, as the solitary bees increasingly join the Bumblebees in the pollinator scene.

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And the butterfly species composition really is starting to change in favour of the Gatekeepers, with their flashes of orange around the hedges, and the second brood of Whites, with their graceful ‘flapping’ flight to and from the tree tops. Peacocks are also coming in to their own now the July offspring have emerged!

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The eye- catching design on the Peacock’s wings are designed to warn away predators

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Plant newcomer: this creeping plant, Restharrow, has recently flowered in large number. It is typical of limestone grasslands.

Large Blues really seem to be coming to the end of their flight season as we reach the second day without a sighting. I’ve got a case of the Blue blues with such a drop in number, but it’s important to remember that they’re not gone! Indeed, a new generation (the 17th for Collard!) will be munching away at the Thyme right now in the form of caterpillars, ready to hit their fourth instar and be adopted by our hidden heroes, the red ants!

In the meantime, I shall continue my monitoring and carrying out my morning and afternoon transects as usual. Updates on this blog may become less frequent but I’ll be continuing to photograph all the ever-changing and diverse natural life we have at Collard to share with you all!

See you soon,

Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

Butterfly haven

Hello again,

Full to the brim butterfly transect today, spotting Large Whites, Small Whites, Common Blues (they’re back again!), Painted Ladies, Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Commas, Marbled Whites, Gatekeepers, Meadow Brows, Ringlets and Small Heaths. Whew! It truly is a butterfly haven at Collard Hill.

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The Gatekeepers have arrived in good number around the scrub!

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This Common Blue female flew off as I was snapping away

Though I can’t capture fast- moving animals like birds and dragonflies on my humble iPhone 4 camera, I did manage to get this outline of a red- coloured dragonfly in flight because they were flying so close to me all day!

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Dragonfly spp.

However… I’m sorry to announce that today is the first day of good weather that neither myself nor any visitors have found any Large Blues. I spent most of my time between transects pacing or sitting at previous prime LB locations to spot one of the individuals I know must be hiding away somewhere, but to no avail yet.

Here is a past photo to fill the Large Blue void that has been left today!…

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Our beautiful Large Blue 26.06.17

But, there is still LB news to report. Yesterday, our wonderful experts, that have been mentioned many times before, Sarah Meredith and David Simcox, carried out an egg count on the Wild Thyme flowers and passed on that, from what was seen pre- analysis, LB egg numbers are looking good for next year!

Here’s to what will be found tomorrow. Thanks for reading,

-Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

Solo sighting Sunday… 3 sightings Monday!

*Update Monday 3rd- on site for a few hours and 3 Large Blues were spotted in the space of just a couple hours. They’re still about!*

Hi all,

Yet another gorgeous day on Collard Hill in all respects, weather being butterfly perfect with low wind, 20 degree temperatures and plenty of sun- but only 1 Large Blue to be seen! There was a good team out tackling all corners of the site, East to West, so there was no lack of search effort.

I had a case of the Large Blue blues in the morning until a lucky moment where I spotted today’s only sighting at around 12:00. It was flitting around the hay meadow (down from the pine trees) at incredible speed, stopping only briefly on purple- coloured flowers. I may or may not have made an attempt to keep up with it in case a visitor came into view but to no avail- LBs certainly can move! Ironically, it had been seen in that area the day before, not long after I’d told a group how infrequently I see Large Blues there!

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My second spectacular Comma sighting

Aside from the apparent sudden drop in the Large Blue population, Collard Hill is abundant with hard-working Bumblebees, solitary bees, dragonflies (also too fast to photograph on my humble iPhone camera), noisy grasshoppers and crickets… and let’s not forget the grazing horses and cattle that are there in the top enclosure to greet me every morning.

Also, it seems that a second brood of Brimstones are out as I spotted their unmistakable green- yellow colour flying around the bramble in the Eastern Glade!

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Ms Bumblebee

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Rabbit friends

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Marbled White on Small Scabious

Looking back on past blogs, I love a quote that Jono, the 2014 Large Blue ranger, passed on;

“If you don’t see a blue, just enjoy the view!”*

And what a view it is!

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Thanks for reading,

Gabrielle

*’Large Blue Report- 25th June. Super Special Photography Edition!’, 2014. Link: https://ntlargeblue.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/large-blue-report-25th-june-super-special-photography-edition/

The Large Blue hunt!

Hello all,

Another glorious day, this time blessed with sunshine throughout. On the Large Blue front, the downward trend in Large Blue sightings carried on today, and only 4 were to be seen in total. Most of them were again slightly faded with age, but still keeping their rich, unmistakable Royal Blue colour when in flight. We did experience relatively high winds today which aren’t favourable for Large Blue watching, so here’s to hoping that these guys will stick around for the next week or so if the wind dies down. I will be carrying on with my transects twice daily; as luck would have it, 2 of the 4 seen today were during transect times. What do you know!

The first LB was spotted in the Eastern Glade around 11.00 and was appreciated by a number of visitors before flying up slope to greet those waiting for it on the oak bench! The other 3 sightings then consisted of the LBs fluttering quickly around the slope for some time before disappearing into the grass, as they have been known to do! These were dotted around various points in the site around bottom footpath and then in the quarry- near the pine trees. When visitors asked where the best place to search was, I said, ‘They’re surprising us everywhere!’.

As numbers of Large Blues decrease, new species come in to the butterfly scene, and in the last week we have been able to include Large Whites, Green- veined Whites, Small Skippers and Gatekeepers in the Collard Hill community.

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Small skipper

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Large White

In our species mix we also had a glorious Buzzard monitoring Collard Hill from above, Green Woodpeckers flying around the pine trees, and multiple Red Admirals and Painted Ladies re- visiting the site again!

In the photo below, we have a very hungry -Cinnabar- caterpillar munching away on a bright Common Ragwort plant. Though Ragwort can be poisonous to livestock and must be regularly removed in the conservation management of the site, the odd plants still remain to host all sorts of wildlife.

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Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris)

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Cinnabar moth caterpillar on Ragwort

I hope that our remaining Large Blue friends will be showing themselves tomorrow… and sticking around for a little while longer!

Thanks for reading,

Gabrielle, Large Blue ranger

 

Large Blue update- 30th June

Hello all,

Today went by far too fast up at Collard Hill, involving many welcome visitors with a story to tell and surprise appearances by various wildlife.

The middle slopes next to the oak bench proved to be the best spot for Large Blues. Though we didn’t have many different sightings throughout the day, the noon sun brought out a couple of very docile and open winged LBs that stuck around so that all could see and photograph them well.

I was glad that some were able to have seen their first Large Blue butterfly, and others were able to say that they have now seen all of the UK’s butterfly species!

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Large Blue with a torn right hindwing

Here are some more species that featured today…

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Painted Lady- also slightly torn!

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Slow worm- the legless lizard

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Oxeye daisy

Make sure you head down to the Ivythorn Youth Hostel Car Park at 11.00 tomorrow to join in with the Meadow’s Day walk on Collard Hill (link below).

Don’t forget to write about your butterfly watching experiences in the comments book!

Until tomorrow,

Gabrielle

Meadows Day info: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/6179b711-7ba2-4254-a8fe-98a6e353ec99/pages/details

 

Visitor photos

Evening everyone,

Today, readers, you are in for a treat! When the cool weather sets in and the Large Blues hide away for the day I can take the opportunity to share some incredible photographs that visitors to Collard Hill have recently taken. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

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Egg laying female. Photo by Martin Seery

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Photo taken by James Robbins

By James Robbins 2

Marbled White by James Robbins

By Jonathan Jones

Photo by Jonathan Jones

By Jonathan Jones 2

Egg laying female by Jonathan Jones

By Jonathan Jones 3

Photo by Jonathan Jones

By Jonathan Jones 4

Large Blue egg on Wild Thyme. Photo by Jonathan Jones

Thanks to those that sent those fab pictures in! Lastly, anyone able to confirm the species in the photo below? We believe it’s probably a Large Skipper but the abdomen looks like it could be too wide to be a Large Skipper… thoughts? *EDIT- It is indeed a Large Skipper female!*

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Photo provided by Jean Carroll

 

I look forward to the break in clouds forecast this weekend… and, of course, learning lots about the beautiful wildflowers we have at Collard Hill it being National Meadows Day Saturday!

See you soon,

Gabrielle, Volunteer Large Blue ranger

14 Flutterbys

Evening everyone,

An especially interesting day today as I was blessed with meeting lots of wonderful butterfly watchers, some with great tales to tell about nature spotting. I always love to meet people who have come from afar just to visit our rare Large Blue butterfly, and there have been plenty of groups that have travelled from the likes of Suffolk and even Glasgow!

Today our Large Blues were very active again, resting only briefly when they stopped at all. Altogether I counted 14 sightings on and off transect between 9am and 5pm, so the rest are hiding away from the cloud in the grass and the scrub! I was pleased that a walking group were able to get a proper look at a Large Blue that visited quite close to us, and I was eager to tell them all about the incredible LB life cycle (find out more here on our page linked below).

Our selection of butterflies today included the Large White, Green- veined White, Marbled White, Small Tortoiseshell, Large Skipper, Small Heath, Ringlet and the trusty Meadow Brown (the Meadow Browns continue to be very territorial, tumbling mid-air with any poor small butterfly in its path!).

Here are a few photos I took between transects and Large Blue hunts!

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Six spotted burnet moth

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Anyone know the identity of this striking thistle?

 

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Lady’s Bedstraw with our Trust-y (!) flag in the background

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Large White- EDIT: Green- veined white!

The weather is not predicting much sun until around the weekend so I look forward to seeing what’s around this Saturday and Sunday!

See you soon

Gabrielle

Large Blue life cycle: https://ntlargeblue.wordpress.com/life-cycle-of-the-large-blue/

P.s. I found a Canon lens cover around the Western entrance to the site, so if anyone wants to collect it you can call me on the Large Blue line or comment on this post!

 

‘Aerial flowers’ 2017

Hello all,

Lots going on at Collard Hill today and lots to announce. First, we have yet another butterfly species now in the mix and that is one of our first Gatekeepers of the year. It was just spotted resting on the grass of all places, and to add to the surprise, there was a Red Admiral hanging out just a metre away.

There were other moments of joy; though my transects only came up with 3 Large Blue sightings between them with the cloudy conditions, sunny and bright spells brought out some open- winged and attention seeking Large Blues (the best kind!).

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Large Blue male on the famous Thyme

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Large Blue on the famous Thyme

We even managed to spot a closed winged LB sheltering from the drizzle in the grass. Like a few others today, it looked like it was coming to the end of its short time as an adult with a less vibrant wing colour and less well- defined white border.

On the other end of the life cycle, I was fascinated to hear some very observant visitors report seeing an ant carrying a grub; what could only have been a Large Blue caterpillar! I’ve never been lucky enough to see this extraordinary behaviour myself and I’m fascinated by how the Large Blue caterpillar can mimic the behaviour and chemistry of an ant grub enough to deceive the ant into thinking it’s one of its own. And not only this, but survive in the nest after making a meal of the young ant grubs!

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Elderly LB

If you’re planning a visit, I’d say it’s worth coming in the next week before the Large Blue flight period starts to tail off, because the last couple of years saw their reign ending early- mid July! With that said, it is National Meadows Day Saturday 1st July so that will be a perfect day to head up for a day of fun at Collard Hill (link below to find out more).

Lastly, I’d like to thank John Samways again for the gift that was his lovely book called ‘God’s fingertips’. Here is an extract where he quotes Jeffrey Glassberg:

“Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine.”

See you soon!

-Gabrielle

National Meadows Day info: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/6179b711-7ba2-4254-a8fe-98a6e353ec99/pages/details