Sarah Meredith here, Large Blue warden from 2010. Well this is my fourth season working on the Large Blue project, this summer I am once again working for Oxford University and Butterfly Conservation carrying out habitat surveys, Large Blue counts and monitoring the phenology of Wild Thyme across a number of site in the Poldens and the Cotswolds.
I visited Collard today with David Simcox (Large Blue project manager), our aim was to assess where we are in the Large Blue flight season. I have been visiting Collard 2-3 times a week over the past month. The views from the Hill never fail to impress, there is always some thing different happening within the landscape and today was no exception.
As well as looking for Large Blues I was keen to have a look at the orchids across the site, I had heard the Wasp orchids were back but hadn’t yet seen them.
I was pleased to see a number of the Wasp orchids down by the lynchets again this year, they always make me smile as do Bee Orchids which are also dotted around the site, there is a very nice one by the Wasp orchids but the ones in the Quarry are now nearly over.
Before seeing the Wasp orchids David and I walked around the site looking for eggs and for Large Blue adults. It took a while before I saw my first Large Blue flying, as normal my reaction was of excitement and watching it for as long as I could. The weather was not great, it was warm but overcast. This Large Blue wasn’t sticking around for me to admire so I carried on my way after watching him (it was behaving with typical male characteristics) fly off at speed towards the middle of the site. This sighting was at the top of the Quarry, so we headed down into the quarry to look at the flowering thyme and to see if any Large Blues were hiding themselves down there.
Before we got to the bottom David spotted a freshly emerged Marbled White which was still drying it wings. These are such beautiful butterflies.
Close by the Marbled White I stumbled across a Six Spot Burnet moth caterpillar, as with Large Blues and many of the other butterfly species these are late going into their cocoon stage.
Some have gone into pupation though as the above photo shows, as with many of the insect species present on Collard plant species are also late due to the cold spring. Common Century is now starting to show its beautiful pinks across the site.
So after being distracted by the other many wonderful species across the site we made it to the bottom of the Quarry and there we saw another Large Blue, this one played ball a bit more and spent a good few minutes just fluttering around us and actually landed long enough for me to take a photo.
This individual was very fresh and either emerged early in the morning today or yesterday. As normal I said hello to him and had a broad smile on my face. The joy of seeing them never disappears for me, any flash of blue at this time of year is enough to make me heart beat faster, with the question is it, is it not… YES it is!!
I am not going to lie this season has been a difficult one, it was and still is unknown the true effect the cold spring has had on the Large Blue, the obvious one is their late emergence. The majority of Large Blues seen flying on Collard have so far been male which indicates that we may still be early in the emergence, the Wild Thyme is flowering well but the majority is either in egg laying condition or just coming into egg laying condition so both plant and butterfly are in sync still. One of the unknown facts is the impact the cold spring had on the ants and whether they were forced to eat their own grubs for survival because they couldn’t get out to forage.
I am pleased to say that we found eggs on the Eastern Glade so the butterflies are again using the whole of Hill, so it is possible to see that heart stopping flash of blue any where on the site!
So despite it being the 28th June we feel that Large Blue numbers haven’t reached the peak yet, the next few weeks will inform us how the cold spring has truly impacted on the ants and the Large Blue.
When/If you visit Collard Large Blues are flying and we expect them to be on the wing for at least the next 10-14 days but numbers are lower than in previous years. Also as show by adult siting and egg presence we know they are flying and using the whole site, not just the Eastern Glade. For me I have seen them in Quarry, on the Eastern Glade and within the middle section of the site flying around the gorse bushes. Plus when you visit there are many other things for photograph and admire. Below is a picture of a collection of Pyramid orchids.
So please come and visit one of my favourite sites and the site where my passion of Large Blues started in 2010. Steve and the team of National Trust volunteers will be there to welcome you to Collard and show you the main wonders Collard has to offer.