Wednesday 25 June 2014

I've got the Blues 25th June 2014

With a continuation of this beautiful sunny weather I cancelled plans for a lie in and decided on a whim to venture into that part of The Cotswolds that lies over the border from us in Gloucestershire. I had heard that Large Blue's were on the wing at Daneway Banks Nature Reserve, a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve between Cirencester and Stroud. This was an easy trip for me of less than thirty miles so at around 10am I was being guided by the Satnav down deep cleft, narrow country lanes that were green with overhanging branches and dappled in sunlight  until I came to a tiny car park with room for no more than five cars at the bottom of a beautiful wooded valley. I walked over the old canal bridge and climbed the stile into the reserve.

Entrance to the Reserve
The Large Blue butterfly slope
Before me lay a steep open slope, a wonderful example of limestone grassland covered in summer grasses and a profusion of wild flowers. A sight to gladden the heart and soul. I was entirely alone as I wandered up and through the bounteous summer abundance manifesting itself on all sides. Marbled Whites like exotic chequer boards lolloped through the grasses settling on clover and thyme to feed. Meadow Browns, those mundane, ill considered members of the lepidopteran world jinked and bounced along through the waving grass stems and a smart Six spot Burnet Moth examined a Field Scabious but where were the Blues?

Marbled White
Meadow Brown

Six Spot Burnet Moth on Field Scabious
I wandered further up the bank through bright yellow patches of Lady's Bedstraw, careful not to tread on the many Pyramidal Orchids, their cerise purple, cone shape flower heads glowing bright amongst the green stems.

Pyramidal Orchid
I found an anthill, home to the Yellow Meadow Ant. I am not sure if this is the ant that is vital to the Large Blue's life cycle as I always thought it was a particular species of red ant that was necessary but in any case the young caterpillars secrete a solution which persuades the ants to carry them to their nest and the caterpillars then feed on the ant grubs before they pupate in the ant's nest, with the adult butterfly eventually emerging from the ant's nest to dry its wings and then fly.

Nest of Yellow Meadow Ant
There was still no sign of a Large Blue as I walked through the swaying grasses until what looked like a small pale blue leaf  on the stem of a seeding Goat's Beard caught my eye. I looked closer and joy of joy I  had found a Large Blue, in fact not one but two, a mating couple, clinging stoically in unison to the seeding stem. I sat beside them in the cool grass and admired the intricate patterning on their underwings and their sheer size. Much bigger than I imagined and quite unmistakeable. 

Large Blues mating
Now I wanted to see one with its wings open. These two would be here for ages so I set off again criss-crossing the bank in a quest for another Large Blue. They were, frankly, hard to find but then one flew past me, moving fast just above the grass heads and disappeared. I had an impression of a steel blue coloured butterfly slightly darker in tone than its cousins. I tried to follow but it was gone. I waited and then saw one fluttering over some Wild Thyme, their food plant. Cautiously I approached it and there at last I was looking down on a Large Blue, now feeding on the thyme with its wings spread open to the sun. It is hard to describe the sheer elation at seeing, after so many years, a butterfly I never seriously considered I would ever see in the wild like this. The distinctive black spots on the blue forewings were no longer something I dreamed about in fanciful moments. Here they were on the living insect a few feet from me! I savoured every moment watching this very rare buttterfly brought back from the brink of extinction in England by the dedication of enthusiasts and involving a huge conservation effort. The population on this particular reserve was re-introduced in 1999 and is now thriving although by no means from what I could see, in large numbers. After my initial encounters I found one other mating couple plus other single Large Blues, some of which were obviously females laying eggs on the buds of Wild Thyme. Their fat, furry, silver bodies curled over and pressed into the thyme buds. During my visit lasting about two hours I think I saw seven or eight including two mating couples. 

Large Blues on Wild Thyme

Female Large Blue egg laying on its foodplant Wild Thyme

No one else came while I was there and I was left to myself, almost in a reverie, to wander the slope looking for Large Blue's. What a pleasure, what a completely satisfying and uplifting way to spend a sunny morning in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings. To make life even more bearable just on the other side of the narrow lane was The Daneway, a country pub with a garden overlooking the valley. I finished my day with a pint in the pub garden.


  1. Wonderful to hear of a wildlife success story, and all the blues are so spiritually uplifting Butterflies.
    The Oxon Feather.

  2. Congratulations on the Large Blue,and with their wings open,we were at Collard Hill yesterday,and managed to capture a .few images.

    1. Hi John
      Thanks. Good to hear they are out at Collard Hill as well.They are truly magnificent and it was great to see them at last.
      best wishes