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

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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 Dwarf 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

Large Blue update- 14th June

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Gorgeous open-winged Large Blue

Hello everyone,

I have to apologise as I have been experiencing major laptop malfunctions, making it difficult to update the blog in good time. Nevertheless, today has been a beautiful day at Collard Hill in many respects and so much was to be seen.
This morning, the air was calm for the first time and, even at the path at the top of the hill, the strong winds were replaced with a cool breeze. The sun was already hot when I arrived on site at 9am and the area was buzzing with wildlife and people.

I counted around three Large Blues today in my afternoon transect alone, and saw around five more if counting those that zip past without settling. I was glad to see that many visitors were able to get some fantastic shots of the Large Blues today and most of the people I spoke to had seen one.
There was an interesting range of behaviour seen in them today, with reports of another copulation at the top of the slope near the entrance (Ivythorn car park side) to a very immobile LB that some observant visitors spotted. We agreed that it could be a newly emerged adult inflating its wings ready for flight.

To add to this exciting activity, we had our first sightings of the Marbled Whites at Collard Hill today! A couple of visitors had spotted one around the Eastern Glade and I had three sightings of the striking butterfly within the space of half an hour. In fact, probably thanks to the weather today, most butterfly species that had been spotted at Collard this season were represented in my transects today, including the Large Skipper!

So, all in all, a fantastic day and I look forward to seeing what tomorrow has to offer.

– Gabrielle

Large Blue update- 11th June

Hello all,

Today has been a fabulous day for the Large Blues. First, a huge thank you to the team that worked clearing scrub fencing, overgrown thistle and ragwort and left Collard looking all the more beautiful. Also, thank you to the scorching afternoon we had, because several groups of visitors were at last able to see the Large Blues! Overall, we had three sightings today, and with many having travelled a long way I was delighted that they were able see this rare butterfly and to take some beautiful photographs. We also saw our first mating pair on Collard which was a very encouraging sign.

Myself and a couple of visitors spotted this one on the path near the bottom of the wooden steps. It flitted from Thyme to Salad Burnett before resting on this Thistle. We waited a while nearby for it to open its wings and the below photo was caught in the few seconds that the breeze died down enough for it to bask. This very one was then amazingly scouted by a male LB and they began to copulate!

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Large Blue

I passed on some knowledge that one of the Large Blue experts, David Simcox, shared on a training day, and that is male LBs often zig- zag from the bottom of the slope, where unmated females instinctively congregate, to the top where females are newly emerged from the red ants nests in the search for a mate. This led me to believe the above is a female…

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Mating pair of Large Blues on thistle

David also passed on tips for identifying the Large Blue against the Common Blue (which are present at Collard Hill as well) at a distance. Not only can you look out for the orange spots on the underwing that Large Blues do not have, but Common Blues are much more likely to land on yellow flowers as opposed to Large Blues which more often land on purple ones. Hope that comes in handy to any future visitors!

Other volunteer rangers will be filling in for me until Tuesday but the weather is looking to be sunny in Street tomorrow (Monday) for anyone planning a visit. Remember to write in the comments book about your experience as we’d love to hear from you!

Until Wednesday,

 

– Gabrielle