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.

19496420_1365138670205966_1318395263_o

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.

19458054_1365138703539296_1879211323_n

Ringlet

 

19478102_1365138750205958_2084528849_n

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.

19512076_1365139093539257_812602755_n

Spectacularly large Woolly thistle flower

I look forward to seeing you soon

-Gabrielle

Advertisements

Windy and wonderful

Hello all.

Strong winds and rainy spells today didn’t prove ideal for butterfly watching and that unfortunately includes Large Blues today. But, Collard Hill never disappoints, so I took shelter at the bottom of the hill at the ‘Eastern Glade’ where the trees and scrub effectively block the wind and kept my eyes peeled. This area, pictured below, is where our solo Large Blue sighting took place on Wednesday!

IMG_4355

The ‘Eastern Glade’; the South- Eastern area of Collard Hill.

Soon enough, it was visited by a Meadow Brown darting above the bushes and then a lovely Small Heath disturbed off the path I was walking. A Speckled Wood usually makes an appearance around the vegetation at the bottom of the wooden steps and this one settled just long enough for me to get a photo.

blog 2

Speckled Wood

When the morning rain passed, it was still overcast but you only needed to look a little closer to find hidden treasures glistening in its after- effects:

IMG_4444

Glistening Dog Rose

IMG_4393

Curious spider web opening up to a tunnel into the ground.

IMG_4436

Any fungi experts?

Fortunately, tomorrow is looking to be a little more sunny for our L.Blues!

– Gabrielle

Welcome!

Hello, fellow butterfly enthusiasts,

I’d like to quickly introduce myself as the new Large Blue volunteer ranger for 2017. My name is Gabrielle and I’ve just finished my Ecology degree at the University of Sussex. I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to monitor the Large Blues at the beautiful Collard Hill this summer and I look forward to learning more about everything this site has to offer, from butterflies to birds to wild flowers… and more!

18985405_1348674681852365_1912674878_n

My role as the new volunteer ranger is to carry out regular butterfly transects around the site to monitor the Large Blue population, but I will also be more than happy to answer any questions and guide visitors around throughout my post. I look forward very much to meeting and learning from you all and shall be on- site Wednesdays to Sundays for the next five weeks (there will also be other lovely volunteers present Monday- Tuesday to cover my days off).

This blog will be updated often to keep you all in the know about news of the Large Blue butterflies and photos of some of the many other extraordinary butterflies and species we have here. Having said that, I’m happy to announce that today we had a gorgeous sunny (but windy!) day here at Collard and recorded the first Large Blue of the season, photo below.

img_4582.png

2017’s first Large Blue!

The forecast is quite mixed for the rest of the week but tomorrow it’s looking dry from noon, so I’ll be keeping a very keen eye out in the hope of reporting many more sightings. Make sure you check the forecast for Street, Somerset before you head over.

For now, here are just a few images of the amazing wildlife we have here:

IMG_4293

Can anyone identify this beetle? *EDIT*: Thank you, it’s a Cockchafer, or ‘May bug’.

IMG_4338

Female Common Blue

19021527_1348674741852359_1499959807_n

Large Blues pairing at a nearby site

19073690_1348674821852351_393119336_n

Large skipper

img_4354.jpg

Bee orchid

Until tomorrow!

Gabrielle

Large blue training day… with no Large blues!

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the annual large blue training day at Collard Hill. Weather conditions were great, if not a little warm (I really didn’t think we would be saying this a few weeks ago!)

We had a brilliant day with new volunteers who would be helping with the daily transects; counting the number of large blue butterflies through a set area.

Unfortunately though,as with other butterflies this year, the Large Blue is taking its time to start flying. This is mainly down to the weather conditions at the beginning of the year.

Do not lose hope though! The Large Blue is sure to show itself over the next few days and we will update you as soon as we know more.

We did however come across a few dingy skippers and a few grizzled skippers – they were pretty quick and I had trouble keeping my eyes on them!

We even had our own pretend Large Blue. Sarah kindly pretended to be one (She was wearing the most blue clothing today).

Helping to explain how to walk a transect route correctly.

Helping to explain how to walk a transect route correctly.

Thanks to all who got involved with today’s training day. A special thanks to David Simcox, Sarah Meredith, Butterfly conservation and Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Hayley – Ranger for Mendip and Polden Hills

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks to all that visit the blog thoughout the flight season and through the year, it is great to see that such a small butterfly can make such a big impression.

Watch this space for the start of the new season, we will be recruiting for the new Large Blue Ranger very soon…

Hayley – Ranger for East Somerset

End of season review and winter work

Hi Rob here with an update on what is happening at Collard over the winter.

Once a year, in the quiet season, when the caterpillars are comfortably resting in their ant nests and life is calm on the slopes, all those involved in managing Collard Hill have a get together to mull over what has worked well for butterflies, for visitors and for the site generally. This usually happens in November when the weather is at its most windswept and wet. This year was no exception although we did think that perhaps this was the slope laying on a nostalgia experience for Christine as this was a not unfamiliar scene during her six weeks here in June.

Matthew Oates, National Trust butterfly guru, receives a friendly pony nibble

It was great to all meet up again and review the summer. We are clearly all delighted with how the large blue has fared at Collard. With 40,000 eggs, this site is now probably in the top three in the world for large blues. Christine has written a fantastic report on the season and this can be seen by clicking here or the tab above.

The advisors! - Christine Tansey, Robert Holden, Hayley Dorrington, Matthew Oates and Dave Simcox

But we must not rest on our laurels. The countryside is a dynamic place with nature always changing. As a major part of the wildlife value at Collard Hill comes from the mix of limestone grassland dotted with a scrub mosaic there is always work to do to make sure the scrub doesnt take-over from the grass.

We have planned out the habitat work for the winter and we will be working with volunteer groups from the National Trust and Butterfly Conservation as well as conservation contractors to push back the gorse, bramble and thorn. This work is starting this week and will continue through to February.

Collard Hill 2011 – How did the butterflies do?!

2011 has been a strange year with warm, very dry weather in April and May followed by a wet and windy June. These do not make ideal conditions for Large blue butterflies and can be quite devastating for small populations particularly when grazing has been either too light or too heavy.

Thankfully, the National Trust team, in partnership with their graziers, have managed Collard perfectly throughout the last year and their efforts have more than mitigated against the negative effects of the weather. In 2010 the Collard egg estimate was 30,579 and I’m delighted to announce that this year’s egg population has increased to 39,602 meaning that nearly 1600 adult butterflies flew on the site this year.

I believe that this number could have been much larger if the more exposed parts of the site had not been adversely affected by both the Spring drought and the high winds during the flight period. Over the last few years the careful management of the scrub has provided much larger areas which are now afforded shelter and this year that has paid dividends.

Over the winter we will look at how we can maintain the site management and, if possible, increase the breeding area to further ensure that the Large blue butterfly continues to thrive on this wonderful site.

I would like to congratulate Christine Tansey who was superb at welcoming visitors, answering their many questions, helping them to see the butterfly and for writing a highly informative blog.

Finally, I would like to thank all the visitors to the site for their enthusiasm, joy at seeing this remarkable butterfly and their numerous appreciative comments. Personally, I am already looking forward to next year.

David Simcox

Egg surveys were carried out by Jeremy Thomas (Oxford University), Sarah Meredith (National Trust and Oxford University) and David Simcox (Butterfly Conservation and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology).

Hi all, Rob Holden here

Well, amazingly the season has been and gone already. It arrives in a blur of excitement, hope and a certain trepidation and it passes in a blur of blue, and this year quite a windswept blur it was.

Our huge thanks go to Christine for all the hard work and enthusiasm she put into her time with us. Her knowledge and enjoyment of being a part of the large blue butterfly project was appreciated by the many hundreds of visitors to the hill and of course the 7,000 odd visits to this blog. Not to mention the team of staff and volunteers based on the hill. Christine has now moved on to another butterfly research project in another corner of the country but is still helping us by finishing off the data input and report writing – keep up the good work Christine!

We took down all the signs and information boards and rope etc. this week, which is always a sad moment, but we are comforted by the fact that so many people visited and saw the butterflies and enjoyed the stunning views from Collard Hill and the great array of downland flora.

Paul Harvey putting up a sign announcing the end of the season

 

And finally - the large blue welcoming sign gets put away for another year!

In fact we had more visitors this year than any previous years. And crucially, I am pleased to say that the preliminary figures suggest it will have been another record-breaking year for the numbers of large blue butterflies. Thanks to the hours and hours put in by David Simcox, Sarah Meredith and Jeremy Thomas combing the hill for pin-sized blue-tinged white eggs we are in  a position to provide a reliable guide to the butterfly numbers. Full details will be  released later in the year but the omens are promising.

This potentially record-breaking flight season was , as many veterans of the hill this year can attest, in the face of decidedly mixed weather. Indeed, butterfly numbers have increased on Collard every year since 2005 despite periods of very bad weather most notably in 2007 and 2008. So Britain’s rarest butterfly is perhaps more resilient than it is sometimes given credit for.

Another first this year was the length of the flight season. It began we believe on 25 May – fully one week earlier than the previous earliest sighting at Collard, and then continued until last Sunday when one final butterfly was seen by David Simcox. This bumps the flight period up from the previous maximum of 33 days to 45 days.

We will continue to post details of our work on the hill over the coming months, and announce more news about egg and butterfly numbers when we have them, so do pop back to the blog from time to time.

To round off here are the last photos that have been sent in by visitor. Thanks to all who have taken the time to e-mail such fantastic images and share them with us all.

 

A continental visitor - Painted Lady by Jim Archer

A Large Blue sheltering as so often they had to! by Kieren Allinson

Great view of a large blue by Paul Foster

Rob

Courtship on the radio

Hi all, Rob here,

For large blue butterfly fans, radio 4 has had two treats this week.

Firstly, as already mentioned by Christine, you can hear a large blue “blues” song, taken form the ant’s perspective!, featured on ramblings

Also, our own Matthew Oates appeared on Saving Species to talk with Brett Westwood about the flight of denim across Collard! or the courtship of the large blue butterfly

As Matthew says on the programme we have only ten or so days left of the season before numbers start to fall away, going by past years.