The Large Blue Butterfly
The very rare Large Blue can be seen emerging during June. Declared officially extinct in 1979, the Large Blue has been successfully reintroduced. They are particularly vulnerable due to their complex life cycle. The caterpillars will only feed on wild thyme or marjoram, and depend principally on one species of red ant for their survival. Once eggs are laid, the caterpillars feed for a few days, and then begin to secrete a sweet liquid attracting the ants, which then take the small caterpillars down into their nesting chambers, and feed on the secretion. The caterpillar then hibernates underground. Emerging from hibernation, the caterpillar will feed on the red ant’s eggs, and once grown will form a chrysalis, hanging from the roof of the ant’s tunnels. Hatching into a mature butterfly, the large Blue will be escorted out of the tunnel by the ants, and they will protect the butterfly from predators until the wings are dry, and it can then fly off to look for a mate.
They can be seen at various sites in Somerset. Most have restricted access, but Collard Hill (NT) is fully open to the public.
The trees and hedges are now full of fledgling birds. Groups of blue and great tits can be heard flitting through the hazel copses, the family groups maintain contact with a constant peeping call. The juveniles are rather pale in appearance, yet to develop the full colouring of the adults. Warblers with young will give a sharp tsk-tsk warning call, and will wait with a beak full of insects, until you move away, not risking revealing the location of their nest of young. Willow warbler, garden warbler, whitethroat, chiff-chaff and blackcap are still singing. Young goldfinches can bee seen feeding on thistles, a pale imitation of the adult, but distinguished by the gold bar in the wing.
The days are very long, with sunrise at 05.00, it is a good time to get out and hear the dawn chorus. At this early hour you have a good chance of seeing owls returning from a night’s hunting, watching a barn owl flitting silently through a woodland glade is a magical and unforgettable experience.
Swifts and martins now have young, and are avidly feeding. The swifts are often seen high in the sky, whereas the house martins are fond of following the course of a river, skimming just over the surface. Swallows prefer a meadow, or open water. The female mallards escort their large broods, often a good dozen, staying together until the young are full sized birds.
The hedgerows are now a tangle of growth, wild clematis and hops competing for space, with borders of foxgloves and red campion . There are spectacular displays of wild flowers in the meadows, butterfly and spotted orchids among the great swathes of ox-eye daisy. You may see sections of hedge full of white webs, which is the work of the bird cherry ermine moth, which arrive en masse, and strip the host plants of every piece of greenery, sometimes killing them, and leaving an unsightly hole in the hedge.
Greater Butterfly Orchid
Collard Hill © CJ Chappell
Lesser Whitethroat and
Greater Butterfly Orchid © Wikipedia