Category Archives: South West revisited

South West revisited – Large Blue butterfly

My trip to the South West back in June was extremely rewarding. One of the many highlights was seeing a Large blue butterfly at the National Trust’s Collard Hill in Somerset.

The Large blue butterfly is one of the rarest butterflies in the UK and actually became extinct as a native butterfly in 1979, but since then it has been successfully re-introduced. However, Collard Hill is currently the only place in the UK where the public have access to see this butterfly during the few weeks in summer when it is flying.

Despite it’s name, it’s not particularly big! Though it is the largest of our blue butterflies, its size can vary and is relatively small in comparison to many of our other native butterflies.

Our first sighting was of one nestled in some grass close to the footpath…

Their markings are also variable – but the deep blue upper wings fringed with black and unmistakable arch of black spots on the forewing (in most cases looking almost like a paw print) are diagnostic…

The reason for the Large blue’s rarity is due to its curious lifestyle which involves spending the majority of its life-cycle as a larvae and pupae within the nests of red ants, where the larvae feed on ant grubs!

Its life-cycle was not fully understood until the work of Jeremy Thomas in the late 1970’s and the key discovery of its dependence on a particular species of red ant (Myrmica sabuleti) which itself requires specific environmental conditions in order to survive (i.e. warm, well drained grassland with a very short sward and the presence of wild thyme). Unfortunately, this discovery came too late to save it from extinction and it was the absence of this particular red ant from many of the former sites which ultimately led to the loss of the Large blue in the UK.

It was a privelege to see this once absent species which is now, thankfully, a success story – bouncing back in a number of locations across the South of England.

South West revisited – finally, a Badger!

I love Badgers. They’re wonderful creatures.

Despite them being reasonably common and widespread in the UK, they are particularly allusive (adding to their intrigue). Unfortunately, the closest most people ever come to one is the forlorn sight of a dead badger at the side of the road.

Up until very recently I had never seen one either. I tried especially to see one last year, picking them out as one of my top 3 species to try and find and observe in the wild. I have come across numerous setts during my wanderings, have had the chance to marvel at a badger skull and recently caught them on my Trail CAM, which was great – but I never got the opportunity to actually see them. Nothing can beat watching an animal in the wild, in its own surroundings, doing its own thing. I continued to hope that one day I would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

After my recent trip to the South West my luck finally arrived…

A surreal experience. A memory that will stay with me forever. The moment this charming little creature shuffled out into view, sniffing the air in front of me – my whole world stopped. I watched it for less than a minute but it felt like a lifetime. Was I dreaming? Was this actually happening? So special.

When I arrived home I found out about this. The badger above (as well as all other badgers) could now be in danger (due to US, humans). I don’t have the words to explain how this makes me feel. Despite still being over the moon at finally seeing a badger in the wild, I also can’t help but feel very sad indeed…

South West revisited – Choughs on the Lizard Peninsula

Whilst in the South West I made sure to take a day out to visit the Lizard Peninsula, the most southerly point of the British mainland. A combination of the mild maritime climate and complex and unique geology has produced an area with a distinctive character, well known for its rare and unusual flora.

It is also home to one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds – the Chough. The chough is a member of the crow family that I have hoped to catch a glimpse of ever since my first visit here in 2010 whilst walking the South West Coast Path.

After an initial fruitless walk around the coastal path showed no signs, a second lap paid dividends and not only a single bird, but a whole family of choughs flew in to land in a nearby field – two adults and three young (together with two Jackdaws).

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The red bill and legs of the chough make them very distinctive as well as their mastery of aerobatics – they like to wheel and soar along the cliffs on broad, rounded wings, the tips spread out like fingers.  Their name is pronounced ‘chuff’ (not ‘cough’, which is how I originally, rather embarrassingly, thought it was pronounced). Anyway, the name is thought to be an imitation of its ‘keeaar’ or ‘chee-aw’ call.

The chough began breeding here in 2002 after a long absence and a concerted effort by local conservationists.

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The chough’s down-curved bill is ideally suited for its diet of worms, caterpillars, and other insects such as beetles, particularly dung beetles.

Whilst taking a video of the chough family I noticed the adults were actually showing the younger birds how to feed, though sometimes not very successfully – eventually summoning to the loud bleets for food from the young and dropping a worm down their neck to keep them quiet.

Eventually the family left, flying off into the distance. Walking around the field after they had left I noticed a number of holes in the numerous dung piles. A common sign of chough feeding. Yummy!

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South West revisited – Gog and Magog

Early into our trip we paid a visit to the magnificent ancient oak trees of Gog and Magog.

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These two trees – with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – are located close to Glastonbury Tor in Somerset.

Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are thought to be over 2000 years old and to have been part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond.

It definitely felt special, sacred even, being in the presence of these two beauties – one of which is now standing dead, the other still clinging on to life.

A little eerie in some respects too. Here, the tree paints a contrasting picture of a face high up in the canopy…

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