Butterflies at Woolston Eyes

The varied habitats and relatively unpolluted environment make Woolston Eyes an excellent location for observing most of the more common species of butterfly to be found in the region. Whilst no rarities breed on the Reserve butterflies can be found in good numbers throughout the summer months. Permit holders are requested to record sightings in the logbook in the Sybil Hogg Hide with details of numbers seen and locations.

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2003 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2004 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2005 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2006 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2007 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2008 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2009 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2010 Annual Butterfly Report

Click here to view the Woolston Eyes 2012 Annual Butterfly Report


A systematic list of the Butterflies recorded at Woolston Eyes can be seen by clicking on the link below;

…Woolston Eyes Systematic Butterfly List 2015

The individual species recorded at Woolston Eyes with photographs follows.

Click on an image to enlarge it


01 Small Skipper

Thymelicus sylvestris

Found in good numbers in areas of uncut grassland in all parts of the reserve. Flight period from June to August with a peak in July.

2013 Records - this species normally emerges in June but for the second consecutive year there were no sightings until the beginning of July. In 2012 the first was seen on 3rd July and this year the first record was on 7th when a total of 14 was found on No.1 and No.2 Beds. The following day a survey of the rest of the Reserve produced another 18.

Numbers then increased dramatically and between the 13th and 17th July no less than 126 were recorded. This is by far the highest total since systematic recording began in 2003. The previous maximum being 49 in 2009.

Butterflies remained present in excellent numbers until the end of July with the last sightings on 1st August. It was surprising that given the record numbers the flight season was exceptionally short, a mere 26 days. Numbers were distributed fairly evenly across the Reserve in areas of rough grassland which is its preferred habitat.

Photograph no Woolston image available

02  Large Skipper
Dave Bowman

02 Large Skipper

Ochlodes sylvanus

Uncommon but annual and can be found in small numbers in June and July. Found in similar habitat to Small Skipper but tends to emerge a week or so earlier.

2013 Records - like the previous species emergence was late this year and the first record was on 24th June when 3 were found along the river. Records continued until 24th July when3 were found on Butchersfield Tip and a total of 7 across the Reserve was above average for a butterfly that is never seen in large numbers at Woolston. Both species of Skipper had an unusually short flight season this year, probably due in part to the cold spring and early summer.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

03  Orange Tip
David Waterhouse

03 Orange Tip

Anthocharis cardamines

Small numbers are present during April and May. The males are unmistakable but the females can be confused with other “whites”. Again the undersides of the wings which are mottled green are the best means of identification.

2013 Records - for the second year in succession this species was adversely affected by poor weather during its flight period (April and May). None were recorded until 23rd April when 3 were seen and small numbers were recorded during the next two weeks.

By the beginning of May the temperature had failed to exceed 14 degree C but a sudden warming resulted in an increase in numbers. On 7th May the temperature reached the dizzy heights of 22 degrees C and a year maximum of 14 was recorded. There was little further favourable weather and totals remained low until the final sighting of a second consecutive disappointing year on 25th May. Nevertheless, the year maximum was an improvement on the previous year’s highest count of 6.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

04  Large White
Dave Bowman

04 Large White

Pieris brassicae

Never plentiful but can be found anywhere on the Reserve in small numbers during the summer months.

2013 Records - there were 2 May records, both of singles, on the 5th and 19th. None were then recorded until 7th July and only small numbers were seen until an increase at the end of that month. Maximum numbers were recorded in the first week of August when up to 35 were seen across the Reserve.

This is an excellent count for Woolston, exceeded only by the huge total of 127 in 2009. The rest of August saw regular reports of small numbers and the final sighting was on the fairly typical date of 4th September.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

04  Large White - underwing
David Waterhouse

04 Large White - underwing

Pieris brassicae

Photograph from No3 Bed 2013


05 Small White

Pieris rapae

Can be found across the Reserve in good numbers throughout the summer months.

2013 Records - cold weather during April delayed the emergence of many species and the first Small Whites were not reported until 1st May when 1 was on No.1 Bed and 1 on Butchersfield Tip. Surprisingly, there were no further sightings until 13th July but thereafter numbers increased dramatically until the month end.

A series of visits at the end of July and the beginning of August resulted in a record total of 709. Distribution was fairly even across the Reserve with 119 on Butchersfield Tip, 123 on No.1 Bed, 157 on No.2 Bed, 100 on No.3 Bed and 210 on No.4 Bed. The butterfly transect alone held 98 on 7th August with the west bank of No.2 Bed particularly productive.

High numbers remained throughout August and into September with over 100 seen between the 4th and the 9th. Sightings concluded with 3 in October to end an excellent year, the last report was on 24th. This year’s counts are all the more remarkable when compared with a maximum count of 16 in 2012.

Photograph no Woolston image available

06  Green Veined White
David Bowman

06 Green Veined White

Pieris napi Family Pieridae

Present in good numbers during late spring and summer but often difficult to distinguish from Small White especially in flight. The veins on the underside of the wings are diagnostic.

2013 Records - in contrast to the Small White, Green-veined Whites had a poor year. The first record was on 23rd April which was later than average. A count of 20 “whites” was made on 7th May and it was thought that most if not all were Green-veined. Smaller numbers were recorded throughout the summer months with a peak at the end of August when up to 25 were counted. The final record was of one on 8th October, the latest in Cheshire in the year.

The low numbers at Woolston were surprising considering that this species fared well at other sites, notably Rixton Claypits where 262 were recorded on 1st August.

Photograph 2013


07 Clouded Yellow

Colias croceus

A rare migrant which is occasionally seen from mid-summer onwards in small numbers.

2013 Records - no records submitted for the last two years.

Photograph - no Woolston image available

08  Brimstone - underwing
Roy Peacock

08 Brimstone - underwing

Gonepteryx rhamni

Relatively uncommon but small numbers are seen annually mostly in April on emergence from hibernation. Also seen later in the summer when newly emerged butterflies are on the wing.

2013 Records - this attractive butterfly enjoyed a better than average year with 10 records received, all of singles. The first of 4 spring records was on 14th April. Unusually, there were 6 sightings of the summer brood between 2nd August and 6th October, all males apart from a female feeding on Buddleia on 22nd August.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

09  Speckled Wood
Andy Weir

09 Speckled Wood

Pararge aegeria

As this butterfly continues to expand its range northwards it is seen in increasing numbers at Woolston. Seen across the reserve it prefers areas of dappled shade. Present between April and September with peak numbers in late summer.

2013 Records - the first of the year was reported on 30th April, the latest date for many years. Frequent sightings followed but there were no counts in double figures until early July when 10 were recorded on No.3 Bed.

Numbers remained low, with very few in early August. It was not until mid-month that there was any improvement but an emergence towards the end of August produced much larger numbers. On the 29th, 16 were seen on No.4 Bed and the beginning of September found record numbers on the Reserve. A survey of all beds on 4th September involving two observers found a total of 124 of which 49 were on Butchersfield Tip. Visits to the uncounted areas over the next few days increased this total to 164 which easily exceeds the previous record of 101 in 2009.

Very few were then seen, the only subsequent reports being of 3 on 20th September, 1 on the 24th and a final record of 1 on 6th October.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

09  Speckled Wood - underwing
Dave Bowman

09 Speckled Wood - underwing

Pararge aegeria

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

10 Ringlet
Dave Hackett

10 Ringlet

Aphantopus hyperantus

Ringlets have been slowly spreading northwards and this is the first record of the species at Woolston Eyes. Dave Hackett found the species on the south bank of No.2 Bed on 1st July 2014 and managed to get the record shot opposite.

This butterfly likes damp and partial shady habitats such as damp uncut grassland. In Northern areas it is found in more open and less shady environments than its more usual southern habitats. Bramble and Wild Privet flowers are favoured nectar sources for the butterfly.

Photograph from No.2 Bed 2014

11  Meadow Brown
David Bowman

11 Meadow Brown

Maniola jurtina

Plentiful from June to early September with maximum numbers in July and August. Found in grassy areas in all parts of the Reserve.

2013 Records - the latest ever emergence of this species on 25th June was attributable to the poor weather conditions in spring and early summer. There were no further sightings until 7th July but by the following day over 200 were recorded across the Reserve. Butterflies continued to appear and by the 17th nearly 500 were counted. A series of visits between 22nd and 27th July covering all areas produced a remarkable total of 828, far in excess of the previous year’s record of 500.

As in 2012 the eastern end of the Reserve was the most favoured area and accounted for more than half the total. Distribution wasas folloes; Butchersfield Tip 180, No.1 Bed 360, No.2 Bed 133, No.3 Bed 35 and No.4 Bed 120.

Numbers remained high during the first half of August and about 200 were observed on the 14th, By the 22nd this had reduced to less than 100 although Butchersfield Tip still held 53 on the 28th. ightings continued into early September albeit in lower numbers, for example 22 on the 4th. The last report of an excellent year was on the fairly typical date of 9th September.

Photograph from No3 Bed 2013

11  Meadow Brown   underwing
Andy Weir

11 Meadow Brown underwing

Maniola jurtina

Photograph from No3 Bed 2013

12  Gatekeeper
Dave Waterhouse

12 Gatekeeper

Pyronia tithonus

As this species extends its range northwards it can be found in huge numbers during July and August. In good years more than a thousand can be present.

2013 Records - an exceptional late emergence meant that none were seen until 13th July when 90 were found on No.1 Bed. There was no gradual build up and large numbers were present from the start.

Over 100 were on No.4 Bed on 14th July and numbers continued to increase dramatically. By 17th July over 650 were recorded across the Reserve and maximum counts occurred towards the end of July. A series of visits around the 27th produced a total of 1601, which nearly equals the highest ever count of 1638 in 2006.

Distribution was fairly even with about 200 on Butchersfield Tip, 500 on No.1 Bed, 300 on No.2 Bed, 100 on No.3 Bed and 500 on No.4 Bed. As usual, Woolston held by far the highest numbers recorded in Chesire.

The usual slow decline set in during early August and a very few were seen after mid-month. A mere 13 were recorded on the 22nd and the final report on 4th September was the latest ever, albeit by only one day.

Photograph from No3 Bed 2013

12  Gatekeeper - underwing
Chris Monks

12 Gatekeeper - underwing

Pyronia tithonus

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

13  Dark green Fritillary
Steve Dolan

13 Dark green Fritillary

Argynnis aglaja

A rare visitor which does not breed locally. First recorded in July 2013.

2013 Records - on 2nd August Roy Peacock, a permit holder, reported what was thought to be a butterfly of this species feeding on Buddleia on the south bank on No.3 Bed.

Fortunately, he and other observers were able to photograph the insect and post it on the website and elsewhere. From these photographs it was possible to confirm that this was indeed Woolston’s first ever record of Dark Green Fritillary.

Essentially, an occasional visitor to Cheshire, there are almost annual reports of a few individuals in the county. It does not breed in Cheshire and reports are usually of wanderers from breeding sites in the Peak District. There were 7 reports in Cheshire in 2013 which is above average.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

14  Red Admiral
David Waterhouse

14 Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

This common migrant can be found in small numbers anywhere on the Reserve with maximum numbers usually present in the autumn.

2013 Records - for the second consecutive year there were no spring records and the first was found on No.3 Bed on 6th July. What may have been the same insect was reported again there a week later but there were no further sightings until 8th August.

There were many reports during August and numbers peaked around mid-month at about 13. This is above average for Woolston and an improvement on last year’s maximum of 6. Early September saw a total of 6, of which 3 were on No.3 Bed and 4 on the 24th which included 2 on Ivy at Latchford Locks. The final report was of 2 on 4th November.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

14  Red Admiral - underwing
David Waterhouse

14 Red Admiral - underwing

Vanessa atalanta

A common butterfly across the Reserve.

Photograph 2013

15  Painted Lady
Brian Ankers

15 Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui

A summer migrant present in variable numbers from June onwards.

2013 Records - given the excellent summer weather numbers were disappointing with only 4 reports and a maximum of 2 butterflies. The first record was of 1 near the Weir on 20th June and 1 was then seen on No.3 Bed on 8th and 9th August. The final sighting was of 2 on the recycling plant area on 26th August.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2012

16  Peacock
Brian Ankers

16 Peacock

Aglais io

Very common with good numbers in the spring and also from late July when maximum numbers are usually found.

2013 Records - for the first time in many years there were no March records and the first sighting was not until 9th April. Numbers remained low until the end of April and the highest spring counts were on the 1st and 7th May with 37 and 39 respectively. There were no counts into double figures for the remainder of the month and only odd ones were recorded during June and early July.

The main emergence occurred towards the end of July and numbers increased dramatically during the first week of August. A series of visits around this period resulted in an excellent Reserve wide total of 601, by far the highest count in Cheshire in 2013. Distribution was as follows; 61 on the northern half of No.1 Bed and 31 on the rest of the bed. There were 36 on Butchersfield Tip. 110 on No.2 Bed, 230 on No.3 Bed and 133 on No.4 Bed and the Canal track. Areas with Buddleias were particularly attractive and those on the south bank of No.3 Bed held 190 whilst a single shrub at the ferry hosted no less than 90! This total was the largest since systematic monitoring began in 2002, the previous record being 500 in 2009.

Numbers remained high throughout August but there was a slow decline from mid-month onwards. On the transect of 20th August the 39 records had reduced to 15 the following week but a Reserve wide count of 96 on the 22nd was noteworthy. Very few remained into September and only 4 were found across the Reserve on the 4th. The only other records were of 2 on 24th September and a final report of 1 on 4th November.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2012

17  Small Tortoiseshell
Roy Peacock

17 Small Tortoiseshell

(Aglais urticae)

Present in good numbers on emergence from hibernation in April and May. Found across the reserve and often attracted to Buddleia. Maximum numbers normally occur in late summer.

2013 Records - an early report on 2nd March was followed by a further sighting on the 16th. From 7th April there were frequent reports but numbers remained low until the 20th when 16 were seen. A similar count was made on 1st May but none were then reported between 5th and 25th May. The only June record was of 3 on 1st.

The first summer brood emerged on 5th July and 28 were noted on the 8th. Numbers increased and significant counts included a Reserve total of 67 on 17th July, of which 36 were on the paths to the south of the Loop of No.4 Bed, an area rich in nettles. A series of visits between 22nd and 27th July produced a total of 120 but numbers then declined rapidly and a survey of the whole Reserve on the 14th August found only 2 butterflies.

There was a major emergence at the end of August and the year maximum of 163 occurred at this time. These included no less than 93 on the northern half of No.1 Bed where Buddleias proved particularly attractive. Numbers remained high into September; 27 were seen on No.1 Bed on 8th and 10 were seen on the butterfly transect the following day. There were 4 further records; 2 were found on the transect on 24th September and singles reported on 6th and 22nd October. The final sighting, the latest ever for Woolston, was of 1 on 30th November. This year’s count of 163 was the highest for at least 10 years and hopefully shows that this species is recovering from its decline in recent years.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

17  Small Tortoiseshell - underwing
Dave Bowman

17 Small Tortoiseshell - underwing

Aglais urticae

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013


18 Camberwell Beauty

Nymphalis antiopa

A very rare visitor, the most recent record being in 2003.

Photograph no Woolston image available

19  Comma
David Bowman

19 Comma

Polygonia c-album

Seen in variable numbers from spring onwards.

2013 Records - unusually, but not surprisingly in view of the poor conditions there were no spring records and the first sighting was of one on 9th June. The next report was on 7th July but it was not until mid-month that more than one was seen.

A total of 5 on the 17th was the start of an increase in numbers which peaked at the end of July and the first week of August. A series of visits at this time produced a total of 28 of which 10 were on the northern half of N0.1 Bed. This is well above the average for a species which occurs in variable numbers.

After 8th August there were no sightings until 4th September when 4 were seen. The only other September records were of 5 and 8 on the transect on the 9th and 24th. October produced 3 reports, 4 on the 6th, 3 on the 24th and 1 on the 31st. A final record on 1 on 7th November was the latest ever at Woolston.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2012

19  Comma - underwing
David Waterhouse

19 Comma - underwing

Polygonia c-album

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013

20  Small Copper
Dave Hackett

20 Small Copper

Lycaena phlaceus

Uncommon but seen annually in small numbers from May onwards. The highest ever count is of thirty. Butterflies can be found across the reserve in areas of shortish grass, including the canal track between the ferry and the entrance to No.3 bed.

2013 Records - the first sighting was not until 22nd May when 1 was found on the north bank of No.2 Bed. Further reports during June included singles on the 12th and 17th and 2 on the 25th. There were no further records until 1st August and during the next week about 6 were seen.

Numbers peaked in the second half of August when a series of visits resulted in a Reserve wide total of 30. This is slightly up on 2012 when a total of 28 was the highest total since systematic recording began.

There were continued sightings at the beginning of September when 4 were found and the final record of a successful year was on 24th October when 2 were seen. An interesting late report was of 2 mating on No.2 Bed on 17th October.

Photograph from No1 Bed 2013


21 Purple Hairstreak

Favonius quercus

First discovered in 2011, this elusive species is found in the canopy of mature oak trees from July to mid-August. The colony now appears to be well established in oaks along the canal track between the ferry and the entrance to No.3 bed and on the south bank of No.3 bed. The best time to search for this species is on sunny evenings during its flight period. Patience is required as often only fleeting views are obtained.

2013 Records - the colony first discovered in 2011 continues to thrive. An evening visit on 18th July found 19 in Oak trees along the Canal track and on the 23rd Brian Ankers and Brian Martin found an additional 11 on the south bank of No.3 Bed. The total of 30 is more than double the previous maximum of 14 in 2012 and was the highest in Cheshire. Also on the 23rd July 4 were observ on the Trans-Pennine Trail at Thelwall, about a mile from the Reserve. No doubt butterflies were present at Woolston into August but no further records were submitted.

This is an elusive species and patience is needed to obtain good views. The best time to search is on sunny evenings in July and August when with luck they can be seen flitting about in the canopy of Oak trees. Whilst they can be found along the Canal track between the ferry and the entrance to No.3 Bed, perhaps the best views are from the south bank of No.3 Bed where butterflies can be seenin the trees to the south of the Sybil Hogg Hide.

Photograph - No Woolston Image avaialable

22  White-letter Hairstreak
Andy Weir

22 White-letter Hairstreak

Satyrium w-album

A first record for Woolston.

2013 Records - one of two new species for Woolston Eyes in 2013. One was seen and photographed by Andy Weir and David Bowman in front of the John Morgan hide on 27th July 2013.

Although there are a number of colonies locally, notably at Rixton Claypits and Moore Nature Reserve, it was a surprise to find one at Woolston as this species is normally associated with Elm trees. There are few if any on the Reserve and this individual was seen on Thistles rather than in the tree canopy.

There is some evidence of range expansion in recent years and the unexpected appearance of this butterfly may be part of that trend.

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013


23 Holly Blue

Celastrina argiolus

An uncommon species at Woolston with only a few records each year.

2013 Records - one of the few disappointments this year was the total absence of sightings of this species which can occasionally be seen on the Reserve - 2 in 2012. It appears that this was a poor year throughout Cheshire with numbers well below average. It may be that the small numbers reported were due to the regular cyclical fluctuations to which this species is prone.

Photograph - no Woolston imaga available.

24  Common Blue - female
David Bowman

24 Common Blue - female

(Polyommatus icarus)

Variable numbers but can be found form May onwards in areas of short grass, preferably with Bird’s Foot Trefoil. Again the canal track is a good area to search for this species.

2012 Records - The past few years have seen a resurgence in the fortunes of this species at Woolston with totals in excess of a hundred in each of the past three years. Unfortunately, this was not the case this year as continued poor weather and possibly changes to the habitat took their toll.

The first was found on 22nd May and up to 9 were reported on No.2 and No.3 Beds by the 29th May. Similar numbers were seen during the few periods of sunshine in June and the only July record was of one on the 7th. The second brood emerged on 1st August and this coincided with a slight improvement in weather conditions. A series of visits between 8th and 11th August produced a total of 14, increasing to 23 towards the end of the month.

Maximum numbers were seen between 28th August and 5th September when 35 were found across the Reserve. However poor this total was, it was nevertheless the highest reported in Cheshire in what was a very disappointing year. Of the 35, 24 were on No1.Bed, including 15 in a small grassy area close to the Viaduct. The north bank of No.1 Bed, which had been so productive in 2011, held only 6 butterflies. This may be due to a combination of the weather and the increased vegetation in the area around the recycling plant. The last report of the year was of a single on 15th September.

Photograph 2013

24  Common Blue - male
David Bowman

24 Common Blue - male

(Polyommatus icarus)

Photograph No.3 Bed 2012

24  Common Blue - underwing male
Andy Weir

24 Common Blue - underwing male

Polyommatus icarus

Photograph No.3 Bed 2013


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there was 2 shellduck sat together in harmony till another male came in and a fight broke out it lasted for nearly 5 minutes and as soon as it started a coot went straight over to get a good view almost joing in, this was followed by a second coot, Read more...

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