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

Large Blue Report & Picture Submissions! – 12th June

Still no Large Blues!

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Today once again looked like it might be the day, a gorgeously misty and dewy morning gave way to the sunniest day I’ve seen yet at Collard, there was barely a cloud in the sky and hardly any wind at all.

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Perfect flight weather brought out all number of invertebrates in addition to our wealth of butterflies. In particular, Mayflies were out in huge numbers today. A mating pair flew into my face at one point which was uhh… an experience.

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Butterfly species seen today included: Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow, Common Blue and Large White. Unfortunately I’ve not seen the Small Copper since it’s first appearance, which makes me sad as it’s one of the most striking species of butterfly I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

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Today’s other points of interest:
I spotted some cool fungi growing on our spectacular Oak near the viewpoint & bench.

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Whilst I was resting in the shade of said Oak, I was visited by a pleasant little Chaffinch.

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I also spent a hilarious 15 minutes chasing around after the ridiculously mobile Hummingbird Hawk-Moth we’ve got on site:

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… It didn’t go too well.

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Seriously these things are fast.

This is pretty much the best I could do.

I’m so sorry everyone.

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Other than that there’s really very little to report from today, we’re still waiting with baited breath for the first Large Blue to emerge.

Thanks for reading!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

 

Today’s excellent picture submissions are from John Aldridge, you too can get your best pictures featured on the Blog if you submit them to Collard.hill@gmail.com. Unfortunately it seems that wordpress’ library feature seems to ruin the image quality so we’ll try to work on this!

John Aldridge

 

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Large Blue Report – 11th June

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Back on the site today! I’m beginning to fear that “Still no Large Blues” is becoming a bit of a catch-phrase.

Today was a nice calm day up at Collard, both in terms of  the number of A) visitors trickling through our gates and B) the weather. Despite being predominantly cloudy, occasionally the sun shone through and the temperature remained high. Additionally the wind up here seems to have really died down since last weekend, if the sun was shining properly I would have expected to see a huge amount of butterflies on the wing today!

Since I’ve been away the Small Tortoiseshells and Meadow Browns have come out in fairly good numbers across the site.Today also saw the first Marbled White on the wing! No pictures of this one I’m afraid – It was definitely on a mission every time I saw it and went whizzing past at the speed of light.

I did manage to (just about) capture one of our mesmerizing Clouded Yellows today though!

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The Thyme still seems to be fairly slow to flower across Collard – This is probably the most developed example I found today.

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The Pyramidal Orchids towards the bottom of the slopes, in the open area of the site, are starting to show themselves and they’re out in better numbers than we first thought!

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I also managed to catch my first decent shot of a Common Blue Damsel Fly! You can find a fair few Damsels flitting about around an the Lynchets (an area just to the south of the eastern glade).

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Most of the fungi across the site have been turned into a black mush by solar exposure, but there are still a fine few to be found. There’s really something magical about even the most simple mushrooms.

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Thanks for reading! I’ll keep you posted on the Large Blue status as well as all the cool little things and fun I’m having on site! Thanks for reading!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

P.S. Near the end of the day, I’m pretty sure this little guy tried to murder me.

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Large Blue Report – 8th June 2014

Not too much to report today really, no Large Blues, but we’re still expecting them any day now!

Collard saw another day of really nice weather, mostly sunshine with spells of clouds. The weather meant there were fairly good numbers of butterflies out on the wing again, especially along the bottom slopes of the eastern glade.

Today I mostly found myself focusing on the vegetation across the site, trying to spot species which I’d not yet seen and drawing up a rough list of flowers on Collard. Two such new species were; Cowslips, found along the top of the main track through the site.

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Along with the amazing little wildflower, Eyebright. This is famously known for its use as eye medication, hence the name!.

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One of the great things about being able to focus on a single site on a daily basis is noticing the change in individual plants. I’ve been looking forward to the Yellow Wort coming into flower since I arrived and today it made good on its promise. A really striking little plant which really stands out in the sward.

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That’s about all for today! The only new flying species we saw on site today was a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth.

Technically I’m not on duty for Monday and Tuesday, but there’s a good chance I’ll find myself up the hill at some point, so if you see me come and say hello!

Thanks for reading!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

Large Blue Report – 7th June 2014

Luckily, Collard managed to survive last night’s thunderstorm. The only evidence that it had ever passed were a few broken boughs, which had to be cleared from the paths and a lot of mud on people’s boots.

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But to the important news: still no Large Blues! 😦

Don’t be too disappointed they’re not here yet! We’re still expecting a bumper year. Despite the extremely wet weather early in the season, the site recovered really really well. The grazing timing has been bang on and the Dexters have grazed the grass to the perfect height. If the vegetation is too thick, the ground can’t warm up enough for the ants to get active. We’ve also had a really mild winter, which has hopefully benefited the ants. The Thyme is thriving across the site, although it can be a little tricky to spot before it’s in full bloom. This is an example of a really good nest with a thriving population of Wild Thyme:

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The weather was on fine form for the second day in a row, allowing lots of other butterflies to get out on the wing again.

I saw my first Cinnabar moth of the season today. These things in flight are a pink blur and look like they belong in the tropics more than the British Isles.

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The sunny weather also brought out the first Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady of the season! Both of these butterflies undergo migrations which are spectacular given their small size.

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The usual suspects are still very much on the scene; plenty of Common Blues, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths and Brown Argus were flitting about.
As I was walking along the tree line at the very bottom of the site today, a buzzard flew DIRECTLY over my head, casting it’s shadow over me. It was only about 30ft away and completely stopped me in my tracks. Seeing birds of prey so close feels like a real privilege.

I can’t help but love these tiny little mushrooms which can be found across most of the site (if you look hard enough). The clover leaves here should give a real sense of scale.

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By now I’m fairly au fait with 90% of the vegetation across the site, but these two caught me out today. Answers in the comments please! (Click for full size)

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So, another fantastic day atop Collard Hill, no Large Blues yet but it would be no fun without all this anticipation!

Today I even caught this cheeky couple of Common Blues.

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Thanks for reading! See you out on the hill.

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger.

 

 

 

No Large Blues – But plenty of others!

Today started out looking extremely bleak – rain showers and thick clouds. Fortunately it picked up after about an hour and we were treated to bright sun and blue skies for the rest of the day. Lucy and I were treated to quite a few butterfly species we’d never seen before – many of them too fast for me to get pictures of though.

By the end of the day we’d recorded; Common Blues, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Small Coppers (which I just about got a picture of!), Brown Argus and Grizzled Skipper.

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Here’s a fun one – Brown Argus or Common Blue (female)? Answers in the comments!

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The sun once again brought with it a fair number of visitors in search of the Large Blue. No Large Blue meant they had to settle for the amazing view, searching for orchids and for the other butterflies out on the wing – not too bad a consolation prize at all.

The majority of Thyme still seems to be in its early stages – perhaps a sign that we may still be waiting a little while until the Large Blues emerge. One thing working with the Large Blue teaches you is patience.

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There’s still plenty to keep anyone interested around the site;
Running around trying to photograph little critters like this:

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Finding unexpected cool things while looking for butterflies – not too sure what species this belongs to.

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Around noon I spent some time sat in the quarry, (the wooded area on your right as you enter the site) watching many of the enigmatic bird species on the site. Chaffinches and Goldfinches were numerous and raucous, while a small family of Coal Tits flitted between the conifers, I’d never seen the birds so active and it’s a wonderful sight to behold.

Also while on my way home through Ivythorn Woods today, I saw evidence that a Thrush had been at work. Fascinating:

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So yes, still no Large Blue at Collard just yet, but plenty to find if you do come and visit! (Saturday’s weather is looking absolutely awful though, so I’d give it a miss until after it’s cleared up)

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

P.S I am absolutely tasting my new sunhat.

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Still on the lookout

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This morning, I threw open the curtains at 6am to clear blue skies and blaring sunshine. This HAD to be the day…

Unfortunately the glorious weather didn’t stick around for long, and we haven’t seen any Large Blues just yet. The sunny weather held for a good few hours but was accompanied by a fierce wind, keeping everything hunkered down underground or deep in the vegetation, after which the clouds closed in.

Today I was joined by one of our new volunteers, Lucy, who helped me in our search for the ever-elusive Large Blue. We found a few butterflies on the wing, with Lucy’s brilliant eye for Common Blues:

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Full points to anyone who can comment with the identity of this mystery creature.

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Or who can identify this caterpillar!

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Today saw the first few visitors trickling into the site, and although there were no large blues there were plenty of other interesting points to guide them towards, the Bee Orchids are still putting on a particularly impressive show! I don’t think a single day will go by at this site without me finding something new – today’s discoveries:

This particularly spectacular field mushroom (around half a ft. in diameter) amongst the pines,

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This clump of fungi alongside one of the muddy paths in the eastern glade,

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And a newly flowering Pyramidal Orchid – this should look amazing when it’s in full bloom.

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Seeing people coming to the site interested and enthused about the natural world is one of the best things.

We’ll keep on searching, and we’ll keep you all posted!

Thanks for reading,

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

2014 Large Blue Training Day

At the start of every Blue season here at Collard, the conservation team gets together for what we call the Large Blue ‘Training Day’. The training day is really important for teaching all of the National Trust’s (amazing) volunteers the basics for surveying the Large Blue populations and understanding the basic ecology of the site.

The weather was not kind to us. Traditionally we’d be walking the transect routes with the exciting prospect of actually seeing a Large Blue, which wasn’t going to happen in today’s pouring rain! We still got stuck into learning the vegetation around the site.

Dave Simcox showing the team areas of thyme

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Getting the basics of the butterfly transect was helped along by Sarah’s excellent Large Blue impression.

Charactoristics of a female Large Blue

Despite the weary weather, it was an excellent chance to find some of the rare plant species which are out on collard at the moment, such as this super cool bee orchid. This unique orchid is not only shaped to mimic the female bee, but also produces a scent similar to that of the female bee in order to attract the male for pollination.

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Every now and then the sun shone through the clouds, allowing me to try out my fantastic shiny new macro lens. On some of the slopes we found a few Common Blues drying themselves along with a (fantastically named) Grizzled Skipper.

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For me, today was all about meeting some amazing new people; some amazing experienced conservationists and some incredible volunteers who are willing to give up their valuable time to help us out.  A special mention has to go out to Dave Simcox (who led the training day and has been involved in the reintroduction of the large blue since the very start). He is like a walking tome of knowledge.

Tomorrow’s forecast is looking really really positive, and the conditions in the sward look perfect for the Large Blue to start emerging, some thyme flowers have just started to show their colours. Tomorrow could be the day!

I’ll keep you all updated! Thanks for reading

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

P.S. Some of you might be interested to know that the ants I posted about aren’t nest building, but it’s likely they’re actually engaging in aphid farming (you can just about make out one of the aphids in the picture I posted yesterday) and you can read more about the process here if you’re as interested in ants as I am!

Our new Large Blue ranger!

Hi everyone!

So, I’m Jono and this is just a little post to introduce myself and let you know what I’ve been up to. I’ll try to keep it brief and not too boring! I’ve spent the last 3 years working towards my bachelor’s degree in ‘Countryside Conservation’ from Aberystwyth University, which was a healthy mix of pure ecology and practical land management. I really enjoyed my study but the really important thing is that it’s led me to where I am right now – working with a fantastic organization to conserve a fascinating species. I absolutely could not be more excited to be here.

To those of you who don’t know, the role of the Large Blue ranger comprises of three main parts; monitoring the site and its populations, meeting & talking with visitors, and communicating what’s going on at Collard Hill through this blog! I’ll be the friendly face there to answer any questions you have about the site at all, to give you advice on where to see the best specimens, or anything else at all!

I was around the hill today, but the weather has continued to prove dreary the past few days. Although there’s little to see in the way of butterflies, there are still many points of interest around the site.

The wet weather is fantastic for showing up the often invisible dens of spiders:

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The grasslands just outside Collard are absolutely carpeted with the Common Spotted Orchid (below), Butterfly Orchid and Yellow Rattle at the moment, which makes for a spectacular sight.

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Whilst out on the site I came across something which caught my eye…

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And upon closer inspection saw…

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As you can see, it seems as though some of the ants here thought the base of a Wooly Thistle would be the perfect place to start building a nest! Ants really are an impressive species, so small yet so ecologically significant. Seeing them slowly building their nests piece by piece is a magnificent sight.

There were also plenty of bees ready to emerge from the undergrowth and begin their foraging amongst the Bird’s-foot Trefoil as soon as the sun broke out from the cloud. There’s little more enjoyable than running around after these charming fellows trying to get good picture.

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It’s an extremely exciting time here at Collard Hill right now, we could see the Large Blues begin to emerge any day… Currently we’re just waiting for the weather to pick up! I’ll try to update the blog on a daily basis so you don’t miss a thing.

Stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

Ready for the 2014 flight season

Well, its been a right old dreary day over at Collard with rain falling the majority of the day. We have been setting up for the flight season; with posts going in, paths being strimmed, rope going out, car park looking all smart and a general good old tidy up. Ivythorn meadows are looking really good with plenty of orchids appearing – greater butterfly orchids in small patches!

Jono, who will be the large blue volunteer ranger is starting on Monday so if your out for a walk on the hill and see someone new,go and say hello!

Collard Hill is looking good at the moment with regards to grazing, the grass is at the right height so Pat (the grazier) has taken the cattle and ponies off the hill-side and put them into the top field. Doing this will ensure the grass doesn’t get too short and have an impact on the ant as well as the butterfly.

As for large blue sightings for 2014… there have been no confirmed sightings as yet. I was on site a few days ago and saw  common blues, a small heath and a large white.

Hayley – Ranger