About Gabrielle Roxby

2017 Large Blue Butterfly 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 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

Large Blue update- 24th June

Hi all,

This morning I didn’t get on site until 11am, after the drizzle had largely passed, and I ran into a team who were just as eager to check on the Large Blues as I was. Even though it was overcast and I joked that the weather forecast should never be trusted (afternoon rain had been on the cards, yet here we were in our waterproofs before noon!) it was still wonderful to see the grass covered in dew again after such a hot spell.

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The clouds were ever- present but bright today

As luck would have it, it wasn’t long after we set off in search that one was spotted on the path in front of us. Despite the lack of sun, conditions were calm and warm at 20 degrees and my morning transect produced 6 sightings of the Large Blues around the usual Eastern Glade and on the hills next to the ‘gentler slope’ (signed). The afternoon was slightly more quiet as they took shelter in the scrub and grass, but altogether I was graced with the presence of around 12 Large Blues today. Bring on the sunny spells!

Here are some photos I took today… I’m happy to say that Ringlets are really coming out in number recently, and I’ve frequently seen them around the bramble, landing with their velvety wings wide open.

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Ringlet

 

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Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

I remember studying Cinnabar moths recently because they are an example of herbivores utilising the poison in their foodplants to then make themselves poisonous to their predators such as birds. The Cinnabar moth feeds on toxic Ragwort as a caterpillar, and has evolved to sequester the poisonous alkaloids into a defense mechanism at their adult stage, hence their bright red warning colour.

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Spectacularly large Woolly thistle flower

I look forward to seeing you soon

-Gabrielle

Cloudy but lovely day

Hiya everyone,

First of all, I saw a Comma butterfly today! My excitement is real because many visitors have reported this and I’ve been very envious having never properly seen one before- until today. As I was hanging out in the quarry at around half past five, the sun came out of the clouds for a few minutes and out came two Large Blues and then a bright orange flash of butterfly. It flew so quickly it seemed to teleport, but it settled for a moment enough so I could identify it. Another species I have a goal to photograph! I digress…

I took a panorama of the area we call the quarry to show the steep slopes and distinct cow tracks for those that want to butterfly search/ cut to the bottom fields through there:

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The smiling quarry among the pine trees

Cloudy day with the return of the strong Westerly winds had our Large Blues hiding away with about a sighting per hour. Some very keen- eyed visitors noticed a couple of LBs resting for a good amount of time on a gorse bush. We wondered whether there is some tactic behind the choice of plant, as the Large Blue underwings camouflage very well with the gorse buds… Tomorrow is set to look the same, cloudy but with some (much- needed) rain at 3pm.

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Large Blue on Common Centaury

I spotted this charismatic moth in the large field at the bottom of the quarry- many micro moths to be found there- and the same group that found the two resting LBs helped to identify it as a Scarlet Tiger moth:

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Scarlet tiger moth

 

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Side angle showing scarlet underwings

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Marbled White

So, although it is more difficult to butterfly- watch on an overcast and windy day, there is always plenty to see at Collard Hill.

-Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

Large Blue update – 22nd June

Hi all,

Today marked the end of the 30 degree highs and hot sun and I can’t say the cloud and cooler weather wasn’t welcome! Perhaps for this reason it was also fairly quiet in terms of visitor numbers. However that meant I was able to speak at length to many natural history experts with fascinating insights into, for example, the rich diversity of grass species we have in Collard Hill’s calcareous grassland. Did you know there are 150 grass species in the UK? Here are some lovely new floral additions to our wildflower mix;

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A purple thistle flower among a sea of yellow!

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Field scabious

Today it took a little more searching for our Large Blues, but when found they were much more docile, often landing for longer and tending to open their wings more. We found a rather battered looking one that we think is coming to the end of its week- long life as an adult:

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Battered Large Blue!

This morning and afternoon I also stationed myself around the slope near the pine trees (closest to the Ivythorn car park entrance) called the ‘quarry’ for some time as it has been a hotspot for the LBs in recent years. Notably, although I often see one or two in that area during a transect, it seems not to be the best spot this year. Many more were seen fluttering about in the scrub between the bench and the path marked as the ‘gentler slope’ and this is becoming a usual place for them. If you see me on site I will be able to show you exactly where I mean.

Tomorrow is set to be a mix of thick cloud until the afternoon when intermittent sun is expected. So, I look forward to intermittent butterfly spells to come with it, if the wind doesn’t blow too strong.

-Gabrielle

P.s. Not the best photo but I was too curious about what species this tiny moth is:

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Mystery Moth. EDIT: Mint Moth

 

 

Butterfly heaven

Today was a beautiful day and, though I was on the outskirts from Glastonbury festival, I was definitely feeling part of some magic being surrounded by such a number of butterflies. Some Large Blues circled very closely around me for the first time, making me feel like I was in a butterfly exhibit (or perhaps truly becoming a butterfly whisperer… as some of my friends are joking!). Despite the afternoon heat, myself and the National Trust’s James Robbins who I worked with today saw about 40 Large Blues today; as many as there were Meadow Browns.

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Large Blue on thistle

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Finding a high point to enjoy the view

The hot afternoon saw a very quiet site after all the visitors had gone home and much of the animal life sought shade. I did the same and enjoyed finding areas to take some photos:

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Meadow Brown

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Small Heath

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Lacewing spp.

Tomorrow should be the end of the hot spell we’ve had this week with wind speeds picking up, but there is intermittent sun forecast, so I’m not expecting a drop in butterfly sightings at all. Our grass and poor wild flowers can certainly use a little rain, too.

Make sure you look up traffic conditions, preferably avoiding Glastonbury town, when planning your visit this week!

-Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

 

Another scorching day!

Hello all,

Another beautiful but boiling day up at Collard Hill. As mentioned, in this weather, it’s seeming like the Large Blues are showing up the most between 9.00 and 11.00 when it’s not too hot. I was delighted to see over 30 LBs before noon alone, including the 16 tallied in my butterfly transect. Visitors reported seeing an egg- laying female and yet another mating pair, so the population is looking like it could be very healthy for next year at the moment! Last year had a record number of LBs so let’s hope that the sightings keep going up as we get into the peak of their flight period.

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Despite their name, Large Blues aren’t actually that large! Their wingspan gets up to only about 44mm (1.7 in)

Also, I’m excited to announce that the Hummingbird hawk- moths have arrived! I was lucky enough to spot their unmistakable flight and orange tinge this morning close to the path before it buzzed away too quickly for me to grab a photo.

There is so much to see at Collard right now, because I’m also challenging myself to get a photo of a very large and very bright blue dragonfly- any dragonfly experts predict which species that could be from the above description? (My dragonfly identification is beginners to say the least). I was slightly saddened to hear a visitor share that they saw this dragonfly make a meal of a Marbled White in flight. Poor thing. But they are out now in good numbers for anyone wanting a photo of the butterfly as they are all looking quite pristine!

Again, tomorrow is set to be even hotter, reaching 28 degrees by the middle of the day, so perhaps try to get on- site around 9.00/ 10.00 if you’re planning a visit tomorrow and do take some time in the shade. (Coming from a very tactical ranger that has spent a good portion of the day butterfly-watching with binoculars under the safety of a large tree!)

Here are some more recent additions to our wildlife:

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Burnet moth

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Common Centaury. According to the myth by the ancient Roman writer Pliny the elder, this medicinal herb got its name when a Centaur, half human half horse, used it to heal from a Hydra attack!

I’ll be off site until Wednesday again but feel free to call the Large Blue hotline on 07824820193 if you have any questions or LB news!

Gabrielle- Volunteer Ranger

Common Centaury information and folklore:

https://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/species/centaury

http://www.redshoot-campingpark.com/story-common-centuary/

Update and some practical info for visitors

Hello to all those planning a visit to Collard Hill this Sunday (tomorrow),

First, some practical things; we had scorching weather today, reaching 25 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. This was ideal in the morning and my first transect of the day counted 9 Large Blues (when I say that I mean a ‘butterfly count’ that I carry out in the morning and afternoon to get a scientific idea of the Large Blue population size). A record for this year!

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Large Blue on Thyme

However, for rangers and visitors spending all day in an exposed site, I’d recommend arriving before 11 o clock tomorrow when the temperature is under 24 degrees (highs of 27 in the afternoon). As well as this, arriving early may be better for butterfly watching as the wind is forecast to pick up after 3pm. Make sure you’re bringing plenty of water… and a sunhat!
Secondly, our Large Blues need steep, south- facing slopes to thrive, so please be aware that there are sections in the site that may be difficult for some to access. There are signs which point to the more gentle slopes and I’ll be about to assist as well.
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I’ve previously mentioned the area at the bottom of the grass steps as being particularly good for Large Blue spotting, but today they were seen across the site- not only in sheltered areas. Altogether I’d say I saw around 24 today, so the numbers just keep on picking up as the days go on. We are estimating that numbers will peak in the next few days to a week, and then start to tail off around mid- July.
There has been so much to see today so I’ll share some photos I’ve taken below.

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Spot the second Marbled White

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Don’t miss out on the gorgeous orchid meadow near Ivythorn car park.

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Self- heal, or Prunella vulgaris, gets its name for its historical use in medicine around the world. Not only that, but bees and butterflies love it too.

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Woolly thistle

I look forward to meeting you all!
– Gabrielle, Volunteer ranger

What a morning!

Yet another fabulous day with the Large Blues now really coming out in good numbers. This morning, we were on the lookout in my favourite butterfly- watching spot- to the left as you go down the grass steps. I’m pleased to report that thanks to the sun, we had a fantastic 12 sightings between around 9.00 and 11.00! Many were again quite flighty but we were able to move slowly and get up to about 1m from a resting LB without causing disturbance.

Not only this, but when the clouds came in and the LBs became slightly less active, I was joined by the experts Sarah Meredith and David Simcox and they showed us a Thyme flower bearing a tiny white Large Blue egg- the size of a pinhead (you can see it just to the bottom right of the pencil tip). Our next generation! The larva will burrow into the flowers and eat all parts of it for the first four instars, which lasts up to a couple of weeks, before dropping down to the ground and hopefully being adopted by a Red Ant (Myrmica sabuleti). I also captured a Small Tortoiseshell today but look forward to sharing many more photos of the wildflowers, caterpillars and Woolly Thistle we have here in my next post.

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And our mascots for the day, Charlie dog and Backpack Grasshopper :)…
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The forecast is looking gorgeous for our butterflies this weekend but let’s hope it doesn’t get too hot.
– Gabrielle, Volunteer Ranger

Large Blue update- 15th June

19198501_1356422937744206_408888408_n (1)Hi all,
Another day of beautiful warm weather and lots of happy photographers- some of which pictured above! The Blues were slower to come out compared to yesterday, waiting until the noon sun to emerge and then showing up one sighting by one steadily throughout the day. Although it took some searching today, I’d say I saw around 12 LBs having been on site from 9am to 5pm. Many just didn’t want to settle again unfortunately, however later in the afternoon we spotted and followed one at the top of the hill and were able to capture it open- winged. They seem to like landing not only on the Thyme but also the Selfheal.

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Large Blue female

I was joined by lots of wildlife- loving visitors, some of which had travelled for hours to come! So, we were all on the Large Blue look- out, and eventually were treated to seeing a mating pair fairly close to the path (two mating pairs seen today, in fact) as well as to many bright flutters of royal blue as they zipped around over the grass.

We’d love to hear about your experiences, so please do write in our comments book or share your photographs in the comments on this blog.

– Gabrielle, Volunteer Ranger