Farewell

I have watched the crops grow golden, the Large Blues come and go and the sun rising and falling in Somerset since the 30th of May. What a wonderful experience it has been, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore, it is time to say goodbye to Collard Hill and all of it’s inhabitants. A new chapter of adventure awaits me.

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Here are a few images I have taken over the course of my time on Collard Hill which I did not manage to put on the blog posts:

Goodluck to the 2017 Large Blue Butterfly Volunteer Ranger. May the Large Blues be another success in your presence!

Abbi

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Sunny Collard Hill

What a great day today turned out to be. There was sunshine, there were new butterflies and there were visitors to keep me company. But there were no Large Blue butterfly appearances, instead I was graced with the presence of another beautiful butterfly; a Peacock butterfly.

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Peacock Butterfly

It was also a great day for Cloud Busting! Can anyone else see a Poodle in the clouds?

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Cloud Busting

I also saw these, but wasn’t sure on what they were exactly, can anyone help?

Silver Y moth

Silver Y Moth again?

bee or wasp

Bee or Wasp?

It is getting closer and closer for the end of my time at Collard Hill, even with the extra week I still do not want to leave. It is a gorgeous site and no-one should under-appreciate it for a moment.

Abbi

Mid-Week Wonder

We are nearing the end of the second week of July now and sadly there have not been any more sightings of Large Blues. I believe there to still be some on site but with compromising weather conditions they just don’t want to show themselves.

I will still be walking the transect route twice a day for this week, when the weather conditions feel right and I will still be updating the blog, until further notice, with photographs I have taken from each day when searching for the remaining Large Blues on Collard Hill.

There will always be a lot to see on Collard Hill, from the wildflowers in the meadow to the Red Devon cattle in the fields (and of course the unforgettable view of the Levels). So please do come along and help in the search for the last Large Blues of 2016.

Here are some photographs from today, including a photograph of a Cinnabar Moth taken by a National Trust volunteer and a photograph of the Caterpillar:

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

Ronnie Harkness

NT Volunteer: Ronnie Harkness

Ox Eye Daisies

Ox Eye Daisies

Silver Y Moth..

Silver Y Moth

I had a guess that the above was a Silver Y Moth, but if not then please do correct me.
Enjoy the rest of your week!

Abbi

Flutterbys

Today, they just didn’t want to settle it seemed and when they did they had disappeared. Over the course of today, I believe I saw around 7 individuals flying around the more sheltered parts of the site, due to a high Southerly breeze.

I trust the experts when they say the Large Blues will still be around for the weekend and for next week. So there is still a good chance of seeing one this year! Plus, the view is spectacular from Collard Hill, so is definitely worth the trip down anyway.

Collard Hill

Flag to show Information and Visitor Comment Books

I managed to photograph a Red Admiral on site today – the first sighting this year, amongst other butterflies and invertebrates today:

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

Harvestmen

Harvestman

Marbled White

Marbled White

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Ringlet

Ringlet

We also have many types of thistle on site, but I couldn’t figure out which this could be, and thought it best to ask yourselves! [update: It is not a thistle, it is Teasel! That’s why I couldn’t find it in the thistle section of my identification guide!]

Any suggestions, as always, are welcome.

Abbi

An Eventful Day

When arriving on sight to the sun warming my face, the bird’s singing away, and a gentle breeze on through my hair, it was just so peaceful. I then came across some early birds who had traveled from Hampshire and Kent to see the Large Blue butterflies. After a quick chat, I put up the flag and prepared for my day. Then it was time for me to go to Ivythorn Car Park (by the YHA) where I was to meet and greet some National Trust Somerset Rangers and Volunteers.

It was great fun showing them about, teaching them about the site and talking about the Large Blue with them. When arriving on site with them, within 10 minutes we had spotted some visitors that had collected just off of the pathway -always a good indicator that a Large Blue is at their feet. So as a group we crept up to see the Large Blue in all its glory.

I then walked the transect route with them sharing knowledge of hotspots for Large Blues and for specific plant species, such as the wasp and bee orchids (although most of them are no longer in pristine condition).

Within the Quarry we saw a freshly emerged Large Blue with its wings still crumpled and curled. It was beautiful! Other visitors today spoke of similar sightings at different parts of the site, meaning the Large Blues could be around for an extended period of time. We shall just have to wait and see.

Here are some images from today, including some challenges for you to try and help me identify:

6-spot burnet moth

6-Spot Burnet Moth

C.Restharrow with unidentified bug

Challenge: What is this bug?

Common Restharrow

Common Restharrow

Field Mushroom

Field Mushroom

Scarlet Tiger Moth...

Challenge: Is this a Scarlet Tiger Moth

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Challenge: What is this bug (2nd picture)?

I also found what I thought was a Pied Shieldbug and another unidentifiable bug, but these proved more difficult to snap up a picture.
Any ideas on the identification of the bug and the moth is welcome.
Abbi

 

A Fond Farewell

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Hi folks!

Just thought I’d post a quick summary of all the cool little things I’ve found on Collard this past week. For the most part, I’ve only been on site for the mornings, conducting a single butterfly transect. This is partly because visitor numbers have dwindled and partly because I’ve had 6 weeks worth of data-inputting to do in the afternoons!

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It’s not all chasing after butterflies and running through meadows…

Aside from all the boring paperwork, I’ve actually had a pretty interesting week at Collard. I said it at the start – “I don’t think I’ll ever have a day up here where I don’t find something new or interesting” – and it’s held true for a whole month now.

In terms of butterflies, there are three species which have begun to steal the show at Collard.

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Gatekeepers have really exploded over the past two days on the hill, almost to the point where their numbers are overtaking Meadow Browns.

 

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Peacocks are a familiar site across England, but I can’t help but really admire their beautiful shimmering ‘eyes’. They really are a fantastic butterfly. These can now be found in huge numbers in patches of scrub around the site, especially along the Eastern Glade.

 

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Brimstones are back! The July-August individuals are brand new offspring. It’s believed that Brimstone’s yellow, buttery wing colour is what first gave rise to the name ‘butterfly’!

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This (Hummingbird?) Hawk-moth caterpillar narrowly avoided being squashed beneath my boot as I spotted it in the undergrowth just in time. I’d never before seen a Hawk-moth caterpillar and oh man, they are something to behold. Check out the yellow-tipped spike at its tail-end. This picture really doesn’t do it justice, but I didn’t want to bother him too much. Incredible.

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These spiders are absolutely brilliant. Goldenrod spiders have an AMAZING ability to change their colour based on the flower where they reside. They also have the coolest eyes ever.

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I came across this pretty sinister looking creature on a Wooly Thistle absolutely covered in aphids, which drew in crowds of diverse insects preying on them. This is of course, a Ladybird larva!

To top it all off I saw my first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the pines on Thursday! Photographing birds is too much for me, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine that subject.

I can’t speak highly enough of my experience here at Collard Hill, leaving is going to be very strange and I’ll miss it a lot. I’m sure I’ll be popping along next year to see how the Large Blues are getting on!

I’ll leave you with a list of all the species I’ve been lucky enough to see while on Collard Hill this summer (and there are still a few to come yet!).

For the last time, thanks for reading everybody!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.

 

 

 

 

Collard’s Critters! – Macro Photography Special

Hi all!

Not too bad a morning up on Collard today. The weather was mostly overcast with occasional drizzle which thwarted my efforts to carry out transects today. I have to admit I eventually ran away this afternoon when this bank of rain started drawing in.

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Because there’s little left to report now and my time here is drawing to a close, I’ve gone back and found a wealth of photos I’d taken but not had the chance to put in the blog.
Today I want to focus on ‘Collards Critters’, the little creatures that are easy to miss. I’ve had far too much fun chasing after little things like these, most of which I know very little about because they are so diverse. There’s something amazing about the way that little critters can catch my eye when I’m not expecting it, after which I can often find myself watching them for minutes, seeing how they behave or how they use their minute appendages in cool ways.
Macro lenses really let you capture some of these amazing features and bring them to life, so hopefully I can share that with you. The really incredible thing about these little guys is just how easy it is to pass them by unnoticed.

As always, if you’re familiar with any of these, please share in the comments! If you would like to see them enlarged, simply click on an image and it should open in full resolution.

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I noticed quite a few of these crab spiders across Collard. They’re hardly photogenic so I was always photographing them at strange angles, but they’re very charming. They’re always extremely quick to drop from vegetation and retreat if you walk near them, which is possibly an adaptation for living in a grazed habitat.

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I’m not even slightly sure what species this chap is a member of, would love an I.D though. Wasp-like markings are fairly common in many species of flying insects, but I personally love how irregular the bands are on the abdomen of this one, they almost look like a mistake.

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These guys were common as muck, real ugly too, they look like right bruisers of the insect world. They were particularly abundant along the grassland strips on the way to Collard, where large numbers would feed/nectar on Apiaceae.

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These buzzers need no introduction. Bees are really abundant at Collard, especially along the bottom meadows rich with trefoils, clover and thistle, where I’d often end up chasing after them. (I just really love the light in this picture)

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This one’s a mysterious and fairly unremarkable individual. I really love the way the Hawkbit came off in this.

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The magnificent iridescence of this beetle is what first caught my eye, but upon closer inspection I noticed it’s preposterously over-sized chunky legs. I believe this beetle is a fairly common species, but it’s absolutely fascinating when you get a proper look. It has something else I’ve not seen before – a large gap along its back, thus its wings are visible (where normally they’re encased in most species?).

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I’ve already featured this guy on here, but couldn’t resist posting him again simply because this is one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken. I mean look at that abdomen. Click for more species info.

 

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This is another little member belonging to the Araniella genus, although I’m not sure exactly which species. I found a large number of these in one corner of the site, each with their own webs atop wooly thistle plants.

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Now this one’s a puzzle. It’s a pretty poor photo for I.D. so I apologise, but I saw a few of these around and they just look absolutely evil.

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The humble and excellently-named ‘Marmalade Fly’ (Episyrphus balteatus). I absolutely love these hoverflies, and without them my dissertation experiments would have completely failed, so I’m still thankful to them for that. They’re fairly common, and in my opinion, really underrated.

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This little fly wouldn’t leave me alone. He wanted to be friends.

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I have no idea what this species was, and it wasn’t until I got it under the lens I began to see all of its strange detail. They have a number of really amazing features; their really bizarre sting-like appendage at the back of their abdomen, their amazingly detailed green eyes and their markings along their backs.

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The ant vs. fly showdown. (you can really see how amazing their eyes are in this one)

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This striking little hoverfly really stood out amongst the Thyme. I believe it’s a member of the Parhelophilus genus, as identified by its unusual vertical bands on the thorax.

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These tiny little beetles(?) were covering my shirt most days, possibly attracted by the extreme orange. My arm hairs give a pretty accurate impression of just how tiny these little ones are.

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Another species I’m unsure of, but the colours on this are really really striking, they have a real metallic sheen. I was lucky to get it posing for the camera on a nice bit of Thyme.

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This guy caught my eye as I was sat on the bench, as it was just resting on a fence post straight ahead of me. You should be able to make out the huge proboscis and all the interesting structures within his thorax.

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This one was almost invisible to the naked eye, but I spotted him perched on this grass head. Once again no idea what kind of critter this is, almost looks like a mite of some kind. Wonderful.

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I had to include one of the humble ‘bloodsucker’. Rhagonycha fulva or the ‘Common red soldier beetle’ doesn’t actually feed on blood, thankfully preferring pollen, aphids and nectar.

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I thought it would be nice to finish with this tiny little spider holed up in grass. The feathery depth of field on the grass is what really makes this image for me.

 

As ever, a massive thankyou goes out to all of our readers. This is likely going to be my last major entry, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog while I presided over it and despite the poor year for Large Blues. A very special thankyou to everyone who’s praised the blog this year, you all gave me a warm fuzzy feeling which has allowed me to continue putting in the extra effort to try and make these posts as interesting as possible after long days on the hill!

Hopefully not making this sound too much like an award-acceptance speech, I’d also like to say a thankyou to all of the NT staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with, who work insanely hard across a huge number of sites and welcomed me onto their team. To all the volunteers who give up their free time to help improve the countryside and conservation sites for us to enjoy. And to David Simcox and Sarah Meredith for making the time to work with me and for freely imparting their expert knowledge.

Okay I’m done! The speech is over!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger.

 

Collard Hill Report – 5th July

Hi all!

Another fairly gloomy day on Collard today, but dry enough for me to perform some more egg counts. Once again, more comprehensive work needs to be done before we can publish a final figure but it’s not looking bad at all. There is really very little to report for today, visitor numbers have really started to dwindle for obvious reasons. With the threat of rain and very little on the wing the hill takes on a very different tone, but there are still treasures to be discovered!

My favourite part of today has to be this. I’m still really really happy about it as I write this.

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I spotted this Elephant Hawk-moth roosting on grass stalks while I was searching for Thyme, and while gently moving some of the surrounding intrusive vegetation it fluttered on to my thumb, from where it refused to move. This little guy was completely stuck to me, I’ve clearly made a friend. I’ve been looking forward to seeing these since I arrived and had almost given up hope!

The end of the Large Blue flight season marks the beginning of the end for me, so I’m already becoming somewhat reflective about the time I’ve spent here with the National Trust. It really couldn’t have been any better, I don’t even mind that it was such a poor year for the numbers of adults because of all the challenges it created, and how much more exciting and rewarding it made tracking them down or showing them to visitors. With all that said, I’ll still be up on the hill for a while longer yet, so if you do fancy coming to Collard for a poke around and to take in the views, make sure you track me down! The Blog entries will start to dwindle now, although I do have a nice idea planned for tomorrow, so stay tuned at least until then!

As always, thanks for reading.

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.

 

 

Collard Hill Egg Counts – 4th July

Hi everyone,

Today’s weather was really rather intimidating, with driving winds and the ever-present threat of rain.The forecast is not looking good, rain for the next week, which almost certainly means an official end to the Large Blue season.

Luckily the rain just about held off for the most part, allowing Dave Simcox, Sarah and I to perform our egg counts with relative ease. I forgot to get a photo of us, but if you imagine three people rooting around on their hands and knees looking for tiny eggs, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what our day involved.

The main news is positive. We will definitely have a population next year. We’re yet to calculate a full figure, and some more surveying is yet to be done, but we found eggs in every part of the site we checked today.

Egg surveying consists of using a semi-random method of throwing out 1m canes. The cane’s location then gives us a 1x1m grid in which to survey, in which we search for Thyme plants and Large Blue eggs. The site is split into 9 areas and each area is sampled between 15-30 times. Some samples contain no Thyme, so this method is also useful for giving a rough estimate of Thyme density across the site.

A full egg estimate can then be made by simply multiplying the average eggs found in an area by the size of that area.

The total egg estimate is likely to be lower than last years, but that by no means correlates directly with our population expectations (i.e. we’re not necessarily predicting that next year will have fewer adults than this year). One of the main reasons for this year’s poor population is the way in which last years summer drought really fried and dried out a lot of Thyme, hugely increasing the mortality of the Large Blue caterpillars dependent on it.
Ecosystems are generally full of checks and balances. This year’s poor number of LB caterpillars has likely meant the that the Myrmica Sabuleti ants will be doing well (which can be assessed by our ant surveys further down the line), meaning this years caterpillars will have plenty of food and a high chance of collection.
Density dependence effects also suggest that less dense egg laying means there will be higher survivability of caterpillar as competition between ‘caterpillar neighbors’ is greatly reduced.

So while we can’t account for the weather and climate of the coming year, the foundation isn’t looking too bad.

Thanks for reading!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger

 

Large Blue Report – 3rd July

Hi everyone,

Another glorious day out on the hill meant there was plenty on the wing today – but for the second day running, I’m sorry to say, no Large Blues.
The morning was dominated by Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and (perhaps surprisingly) Ringlets! Plenty of others put in an appearance; Small Heath, Small Skippers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells (a lot of butterflies have small in their name don’t they?). I saw the first Painted Lady I’ve seen in a week or so, which was nice, and the Common Blue’s second brood is definitely in full swing.

Yesterday saw the site’s first sighting of a Dark Green Fritillary this year, which is definitely one to look out for! No sign of our Long-tailed Blue unfortunately, these are extremely strong flyers so it’s hardly surprising it got away, but it would have been fantastic if some more of us could have seen it eh? It may be worth mentioning the possibility that this individual didn’t arrive naturally, and may have been released, as no similar sightings have been made in Somerset (to my knowledge).

The afternoon saw the cloud thicken and the wind pick up so most things hunkered down. After the weather closed in there wasn’t too much going on across Collard simply because the wind was so fierce. Though I was treated to some awesome aerobatics as a Kestrel streaked across the sky, chasing down its airborne prey with incredible agility. Quite something to behold.

One of our visitors, Chris Janet, has sent in this cracking picture of a pair of mating six-belted clearwings. Despite their wasp-like appearance, clearwings are actually a type of day-flying moth. This relatively rare species is often found on calcareous soils, where its main foodplants are Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Kidney Vetch. Keep your eyes peeled for these incredible little creatures if you’re on site!

 

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Speaking of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, embarrassingly, I never actually realised where its name came from until today, when I saw its seed pods.

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It all makes sense now.

So, still no Large Blues. It’s possible we could have reached the end of the season already, although it’s still a little early to call that verdict definitively. The end of the period arriving so quickly has come as a bit of a shock. With their (late) emergence on the 14th, we imagined that we’d just be at the tail-end of their peak now in early July.
Butterflies are an inherently changeable species, so sometimes no matter how perfectly you manage for them, the climate can conspire against you. This is year two of declining numbers, but it’s extremely likely they will bounce back fairly shortly.

Our egg count tomorrow may begin to shed light on just how quickly…

 

Thanks for reading,

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.