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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 (adjacent to the south screen platform on the approach to the footbridge on exiting) with details of numbers seen and locations.
A systematic list of the Butterflies recorded at Woolston Eyes can be seen by clicking on the following link; Woolston Eyes Systematic Butterfly List Rev. Dec2018
The Butterfly species recorded at Woolston Eyes with Reserve photographs for ID and text from the penultimate published annual report follows. Click on an image to enlarge it
You can view previous Woolston Eyes Conservation Group Annual Butterfly Reports to compare and review historical records via clicking on the following year links;
2017 BUTTERFLY REPORT
The picture was very mixed this year with some species performing well and others poorly. Some of the more conspicuous butterflies were amongst the less successful species and this gave the impression that this was a poorer year than in reality. The season began predictably with late March records of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Early April saw the emergence of Speckled Wood and Orange Tip and the latter species was seen in record numbers. A sighting of Holly Blue on 4th April was the earliest ever Woolston record for this species.
The summer saw mixed fortunes; Purple Hairstreak reappeared in good numbers after a blank 2016 and other species to perform better than the previous year included Common Blue, the two Skippers and Small Copper, although in this case numbers were still worryingly low. The “whites” were seen in about average numbers but Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper were very disappointing. The major successes were Red Admiral which was present in record numbers, and Comma, which had its best year since 2006. Both benefited from spells of very warm weather in late May and mid-June.
Butterflies were seen regularly until virtually the end of November with Red Admirals particularly prominent. Poor weather was undoubtedly a factor in explaining the poor performance of some species, especially those which normally peak in July and August, but this did not appear to affect all butterflies equally so other factors must be at play.
The Butterfly Transect is now in its 12th year and with the support of Les Jones who is prepared to cover for holidays etc. full coverage was again achieved, not insignificant considering the often-unsuitable weather conditions. It is essential that the Woolston Eyes records are seen in context and the importance of the Reserve was confirmed by the fact that the highest counts in Cheshire for six species were recorded here.
This report is dependent on the submission of records by fellow wardens and permit holders and I am grateful for their help. Any sightings are welcome but it is important to provide details of dates, numbers and location to avoid double counting. As always, I would welcome any assistance in monitoring what is a very large site and would be happy to assist with details of monitoring methods and/or identification.
Status Found in small numbers in grassy areas in all parts of the reserve. Flight period from June to August with a peak in July. Males can be distinguished by the thin, much finer than the Large Skipper’s, dark bands (sex brands) on the forewing.
2017 Records - The flight period of this often- overlooked species was particularly short this year. The first was found on the northern section of No.1 bed on 1st July. A series of visits between 5th and 12th July produced a total of 23 which is a considerable improvement on the 2016 maximum of nine. Of these, 12 were on the northern half of No.1 bed and five on Butchersfield Tip. This inconspicuous butterfly is largely confined to the eastern area of the Reserve but three were on the north bank of No.2 bed and a single on No.4 bed. The last record was on 18th July, the earliest final date since systematic recording began in 2002.
Status 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. Males are distinguished by the dark band (sex brand) on the forewing.
2017 Records - A single on No.3 bed on 11th June was the first of a fairly average year for a species that is never seen in large numbers at Woolston. Maximum numbers occurred between 17th and 21st June when a total of ten was recorded. As with the previous species the vast majority were found on No.1 bed and Butchersfield Tip with singles on Nos. 3 and 4 beds the only records from the rest of the Reserve. The final sighting was of two on the northern section of No.1 bed on 9th July.
Status One of the earliest butterflies to emerge in the spring. Small numbers are present during April and May across the Reserve. The males are unmistakable with their orange wing tips but the females lack this splash of colour having dark grey-black wing tips and can be confused with other “whites”. The undersides of the wings which are mottled green are a good means of identification.
2017 Records - The first of the year was on 7th April when one was found in the car park. The following day one was on No.3 bed and a second on No.4 bed. By 18th April a survey of the whole Reserve resulted in a total of 21 and by the 22nd this had increased to a year maximum of 39. These were distributed as follows: 11 on No.1 bed, six on Butchersfield Tip, seven on No.2 bed, three on No.3 bed and 12 on No.4 bed. This is the highest count since systematic recording began in 2002, just exceeding the previous maximum of 34 in 2009. It was also the highest in Cheshire this year
It seems probable that this species benefited from the dry weather throughout April, which was in fact the driest month of the year. There were no further double-figure counts with Reserve totals of seven and nine on 26th April and 10th May the only records of significance. Singles on 19th, 26th and 31st May concluded an excellent year.
Status Never plentiful but can be found anywhere on the Reserve during the summer months. Males are all white with dark grey-black wing tips whilst females are the same but additionally have two black spots and a black spot smudge on the forewings.
2017 Records - This year was about average for a species that is only rarely present in high numbers at Woolston. A single on Butchersfield Tip on 10th May was the first record with a further sighting in the same area on the 31st May. None were then reported until 5th July. Between 9th and 16th July a total of nine was present across the Reserve, the highest count of the year. Of these, seven were on No.1 bed and Butchersfield Tip with the other two on No.3 bed. After July there were only two sightings, both from No.3 bed where three were present on 9th August and two on 14th September.
Status Can be found across the Reserve in good numbers throughout the summer months. The male is distinguished by the grey wing tips and single small grey/black spot on the forewing whilst the female has similar grey wing tips but two larger black spots on the forewing.
2017 Records - Numbers of this common but often under-recorded species vary considerably from year to year and this year’s totals were probably about average. The first was found on 8th April and about 13 were present on the 18th of that month. Small numbers were seen during May and June with the second brood emerging in early July. Between 5th and 12th July about 46 were found, including 15 on the northern section of No.1 bed and 14 on daisies in the centre of No.2 bed. This was the highest count of the year but was less than half the 2016 total. Reasonable numbers continued to the end of July and up to fifteen were counted on 20th and 23rd August. There were no further counts in double figures and a single at Latchford Locks on 18th September brought a fairly typical year to a close.
Status Present in good numbers during late spring and summer but often difficult to distinguish from Small White especially in flight. The grey lined veins on the underside of the wings are diagnostic. Sexes are similar but the subtle differences in colour and markings mixed with those of subsequent broods makes separation in the field difficult.
2017 Records - The fortunes of this species mirrored those of the Small White but in this case maximum numbers were similar to those recorded in 2016. The first record was of two on 18th April and by 4th May about 22 were present. The 20 “whites” seen on 10th May were thought to be all, or nearly all, of this species. Very few were reported during June but July opened with a pair seen mating in the centre of No.3 bed. As with the previous species the second brood emerged about 5th July and maximum numbers occurred between the 5th and 18th with an estimated 46 present which is about average. Ten were on the northern section of No.1 bed on 22nd July and on 9th August 23 were seen, of which 12 were on No.3 bed. Between 15 and 20 were present on 23rd August and ten on No.4 bed on 30th August were considered to have been exclusively of this species. The year ended with up to five on No.4 bed on 14th September and two on No.3 bed on the 18th.
Status A rare migrant which is occasionally seen from mid-summer onwards in small numbers. Females are similar looking to males but have yellow submarginal spots in the upper fore and hind wings.
2017 Records - no records submitted for the last six years.
Photograph - no Woolston image available
Status 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. Females tend to be paler and greener hued than the males, especially the colour of the underwings.
2017 Records - There were only three records of this attractive butterfly which is often one of the earliest to emerge from hibernation. The first was found on Butchersfield Tip on 23rd March and one was on the Canal track on 18th April. The only other sighting was on 25th October when Brian Baird photographed one on No.2 bed. This is the second latest ever record of this species at Woolston.
Status 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. It is difficult to sex individuals in the field but generally females are more brightly coloured than males.
2017 Records - Although the record counts of 2016 were not repeated, this was still a good year for a species which has become increasingly common at Woolston in recent years. Two were reported on 4th April and a total of thirteen was recorded on the 18th. Butterflies were seen more or less continuously throughout the season with counts of between ten and thirteen during May and June. Numbers increased towards the end of July and ten were on the south bank of No.3 bed on the 25th. At the end of August 101 were counted across the Reserve, a good performance but much lower than the 235 recorded in 2016. It was still the highest in Cheshire for the year. Early September found 34 still present on Nos.1 and 2 beds and a Reserve total of 13 on the 14th was the last of the year although no further Reserve-wide surveys were carried out during the remainder of September.
Status Once regularly seen on the Reserve in the 1980’s but with the decline in the national population this species has not been recorded since the late 1980’s possible 1990. In the UK their distribution has receded to coastal regions in isolated colonies although some movements are known with potential for recolonising suitable habitat.
2017 Records - None
Status Despite the ‘heath’ name it is found in a wide variety of habitats but is best looked for in sunny grassy areas as its other cousins in the Brown family. Sexes are similar in colour and markings. Females are generally slightly larger.
2017 Records - no reports this year. The last sightings were the single individuals located on No.1 Bed in consecutive years of 2002 and 2003.
Status 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. It was first recorded at Woolston when David Hackett found the species on the south bank of No.2 Bed on 1st July 2014. Sexes similar but females general lighter on the upper side than males with usually larger ocelli (eye like spots) and yellower brown underwings than males.
2017 Records - This was another disappointing year and despite repeated surveys none were found until 4th August when a visiting member of the ringing team who is familiar with the species observed one on No.3 bed. Since its arrival at Woolston in 2014 this species has maintained a tenuous foothold and better conditions during its flight period would help it to become more firmly established.
Status Plentifull from June to early September with maximum numbers in July and August. Found in grassy areas, rough ground and scrubland in all parts of the Reserve. The size and extent of the orange (fulvous) area of this species is variable between the sub-species but males have less extensive orange in the forewings surrounding the eye-spot than females. The underwing in both sexes are similar but with subtle differences.
2017 Records - Numbers were very disappointing in spite of a promising start to the flight period. The first were noted on the fairly typical date of 14th June and there was a rapid increase. Two visits on 18th and 21st June resulted in a Reserve total of 105, of which 98 were on No.1 bed and Butchersfield Tip. At this point it looked as though this species would have a successful season but surprisingly this proved to be the highest count of the year. By 1st July numbers had reduced by about 50 % and although 42 were on the northern section of No.1 bed on 9th July and 45 on the 22nd very few were found in other parts of the Reserve. By early August only 30 remained and the final sightings were of two on Butchersfield Tip on 30th August. This year’s counts were the lowest since 2007.
Status 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. Males can be identified by the dark bands on the forewing extending from the body towards the eye-spots.
2017 Records - This is the second year in succession in which numbers have been disappointing. An early sighting on 24th June was the earliest since 2010 but there were no further reports until 5th July when 15 were found. Visits on 9th and 12th July resulted in a Reserve total of 93 and numbers peaked at 133 between 18th and 25th July. This is the lowest total since systematic recording began in 2002 and represents a marked decline since 2013 when over 1600 were present. Perhaps surprisingly this was still the highest total in Cheshire. Poor weather during the flight season was undoubtedly a factor and it is hoped that better conditions in future years will result in a recovery. The usual decline occurred during August and the last record was of six on 23rd August.
Status A rare visitor which does not breed locally. First recorded in August 2013. Sexes similar in the field but female upper wings are generally paler.
2017 Records - no sightings were reported this year. The first record of this species found by Roy Peacock, a permit holder, on 2nd August 2013 feeding on Buddleia on the south bank on No.3 Bed remains the only record todate.
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.
Status This common migrant can be found in small numbers anywhere on the Reserve with maximum numbers usually present in the autumn. Sexes are similar looking with subtle difference in the shade of the dark upperwing ground colour being slightly browner in females but easily confused with worn males and colour of later broods.
2017 Records - Without doubt this species provided the highlight of the year with record numbers present. The first was on No.3 bed on 26th May and corresponded with a short period of warm weather. Odd ones were reported until 21st June when nine were present. Again this was associated with a spell of hot weather – a temperature of 29 degrees was recorded at this time. Numbers increased dramatically and a series of visits to all areas of the Reserve between 26th June and 12th July resulted in a total of 78. Of these, 13 were on the northern section of No.1 bed, two on the southern half, six on Butchersfield Tip and 19 on No.2 bed. No less than 27 were found on No.3 bed where the Buddleias on the south bank proved particularly attractive. No.4 bed held a further nine and two were at Latchford Locks. This is by far the highest total ever recorded at Woolston, exceeding the previous record of 50 in 2014, and the highest in Cheshire since 2011. It seems likely that these record numbers were a result of an influx during the hot weather brought in by southerly winds in mid-June. Butterflies remained plentiful throughout July and into August with fifteen still present on the 9th. On 2nd September eight were on No.2 bed and on the 17th no less than ten were on the northern half of No.1 bed where self-seeded Buddleia is plentiful. Six were found on 15th October and there were five November records, the last being of one on No.3 bed on the 24th.
Status This is another summer migrant with variable annual numbers reaching the UK from June onwards. It favours open sunny areas especially where the food plants such as Thistles and Knapweed are common. The sexes are alike in the field and difficult to separate but females tend to have larger rounder abdomens than the males.
2017 Records - On 31st May at least three were found; one on No.1 bed, one on the west bank of No.2 bed and one in the Sandpit Pond area. A possible fourth butterfly was seen briefly on the west bank of No.4 bed. Unfortunately these were the only spring records and the only other sightings were of singles on No.1 bed on 16th and 26th August. This migrant species is very unpredictable and rarely seen in good numbers at Woolston.
Status Very common with good numbers in the spring and also from late July when maximum numbers are usually found. Sexes are similar in colour and markings making separation in the field difficult. In general, females are slightly larger than males.
2017 Records - Like the previous species the Peacock emerges from hibernation in early spring and the first was reported on 23rd March. Two were on No.3 bed on 8th April and Reserve totals of 15 and 12 on 18th and 22nd April were disappointing. Very few were seen during May with a maximum of five on the 5th. None were present during June and the second brood emerged on 18th July with a single on Butchersfield Tip. The next report was of five on No.3 bed and the Canal track on 29th July. The highest count of the year was on 6th and 9th August when a total of 29 included 16 on the northern section of No.1 bed and 12 on No.3 bed. Fourteen were still present on 23rd August and the final record was of two on No.1 bed on the 26th. This is the second consecutive year in which there have been no September sightings. As with the previous species numbers have declined dramatically since 2013 when over 600 were recorded.
Status A very rare visitor, the most recent record being in 2003. Sexes are similar looking.
2017 Records - no sightings submitted.
Status 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. Another species with the sexes looking similar in the field and difficult to separate but anatomically the females generally are slightly larger than males.
2017 Records - One of the first butterflies to emerge in spring, the first was not seen until 24th March. Very few were reported until 18th April when a Reserve-wide survey produced a total of 24. Disappointingly this proved to be the highest count of the year, the lowest since 2009. Numbers have declined each year since 2013 and a species that was once abundant at Woolston is becoming increasingly uncommon. On 22nd April ten were on No3 bed but no more than three were reported during May and June. The second brood emerged at the beginning of July and eleven were on the northern section of No.1 bed on the 9th with another six in the rest of the Reserve. There were few subsequent sightings; one on 20th August, one in the Sandpit Pond area on 23rd August and five on the northern section of No.1 bed on the 26th. A single on 14th September was the last of a poor year.
Status Seen in variable numbers from early spring to mid autumn. The sexes are similar looking and marked but can be distinguished. The features are difficult to assess with individuals in the field or with worn specimens but females are slightly larger with less ragged wing edges and hind wings plainer looking and darker than the richer marbled males. 2017 Records - Early April saw the first record with further sightings of single butterflies on 18th April and 10th May. The summer brood emerged on 18th June when three were present. Numbers increased rapidly and by 26th June 14 were found. A series of visits between 26th June and 12th July produced the excellent total of 51, the most since 2006 when over sixty were recorded and the highest in Cheshire this year. They were distributed as follows: eight on No.1 bed, five on Butchersfield Tip, 14 on No.2 bed, 14 on No.3 bed, seven on No.4 bed and three on the Canal track. By August numbers had reduced to single figures but six were still present on 14th September. A successful year ended with two on No.2 bed on 15th October and one on No.3 bed on 1st November. This species is spreading northwards, almost certainly in response to climate change. The fascinating history of this attractive butterfly shows that it was near to extinction a hundred years ago and more or less confined to the Welsh Borders. In the early 19th century its range was similar to that of today but between then and now it has undergone a spectacular decline and subsequent recovery.
Status 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. Sexes have subtle colour and marking differences, males have purple-blue sheen to both upper fore and hind wings with dark, blackish borders and underside postdiscal white lines and orange anal spots. Females have bluish, less purple, sheen to upper forewing only and underside markings as male but vestigial.
2017 Records - After a blank year in 2016 it was encouraging to find two on the early date of 3rd July. These were found in Oak trees next to the entrance to No.3 bed. Two days later three were at the same location and on 17th July six were on the Canal track and a seventh on the south bank of No.3 bed. Three were on the south bank on 24th July and what was almost certainly a different individual was found near the viewing screen on 7th August. The final sighting was of one near the footbridge on 10th August. Careful analysis of the records indicates that a total of ten butterflies was present which is the third highest total ever recorded at Woolston where the species was first discovered in 2011. A brief survey of Oak trees on the south banks of Nos.1 and 2 beds failed to find any butterflies. It appears that this species is confined to the south bank of No.3 bed and the Canal track but given its elusive and often unpredictable nature it is impossible to be certain. This year’s sightings raise the question of why none were found the previous year in spite of a series of evening visits, sometimes in suitable conditions, during the flight period which is more or less confined to July and August. Hopefully this species is now permanently established on the Reserve.
Status 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. Sexes are similar. Anatomically, females are often slightly larger than males.
2017 Records - Following a disastrous year in 2016 when only one record was received, this year represented a slight improvement. One was found on No.1 bed by Dave Riley on 5th May and what was probably the same butterfly was present in the same area five days later. On 12th July there was a further sighting from the same area of No.1 bed. Records of singles included what was described as a “battered” individual on 7th August, again on No.1 bed. A search of the northern section of No.1 bed on 26th August produced a single and the final record of the year was on 7th October. All sightings were from No.1 bed and the future of this attractive butterfly at Woolston remains precarious.
Status A first record for Woolston Eyes in July 2013. Sexes similar, especially in the field where flight is usually high in tree, Elm is principle larval food plant, but female generally slightly larger and upper wing paler brown. Male also has small dark sex brand on upper forewing but nature of closed wing resting and feeding stance makes it a difficult feature to spot.
2017 Records - no sightings reported. The first record of this species for Woolston Eyes on 27th July 2013 in front of the John Morgan Hide on No.3 Bed remains the only sighting todate.
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 in 2013 may be part of that trend.
Status 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. Sexes diamorphic with males vivid blue upper wings and females brown with orange spotted border.
2017 Records - This species normally emerges in mid-May but due to holidays no surveys of the favoured eastern end were carried out until the end of the month. On 31st May eight were present; five on No.1 bed, one on No.2 bed and two in the Sandpit Pond area of No.4 bed. On 18th June the northern section of No.1 bed held 16 and the Reserve total around this time was about 26. The last sighting of the first brood was on 21st June and none were then reported until 18th July when one was on No.1 bed. Ten were on the northern half of No.1 bed on 22nd July and this had increased to 16 by 6th August. Maximum numbers appeared around 23rd August when no less than 40 were on the northern section of No.1 bed. A further 21 were found in other parts of the Reserve making a total of 61, the highest anywhere in Cheshire. This included a single butterfly in the centre of No.4 bed. Although not spectacular, this is the highest count since 2014 and double the 2016 maximum. By the end of August butterflies had disappeared with the final sighting (three) on the 30th.
Status An uncommon species at Woolston with only a few records each year. Sexes easily distinguished, males blue upper wings with narrow black border, females upper wings less vivid blue and much broader less defined black border.
2017 Records - After a very disappointing 2016 when there were only two sightings there was an improvement this year with nine records submitted. The first was of a single on 4th April, the earliest ever record for The Eyes. This sighting was from under the footbridge on No.3 bed. During April and May there were six reports, all of singles, from Nos.1, 2 and 3 beds. There were no further records until 12th July when one was on No.2 bed. Two (possibly a pair) were on the Butterfly Transect on the west bank of No.2 bed on 16th July and the final sighting of the year, again on No.2 bed, was of a single on the Canal track on 6th August. This attractive small butterfly is never common at Woolston so this year’s records are probably above average.