Please note that the pictures on this page are Copyright and cannot be used for any purpose without the express permission of the owner - © Jack Harrison

June Butterflies in and around Heydon and the Chishills

by Jack Harrison, June 2011

The recent drought is likely to have a significant effect on many of our butterflies. The vegetation that species feed on when they are caterpillars has in many cases become desiccated. 2012 might well see a sharp decline in numbers of our common species. But they will recover in due course.
June is the month of “The Browns”, all normally abundant.

Meadow Brown

This is the first to emerge during the first few days of the month and should be around until the end of August. They can be found anywhere where there is grass. They often stay near the ground but will fly higher to feed on bramble. They are very easy to observe although in hot sunshine, the males can be quite restless.
Males and females are slightly different in appearance with the females having more extensive orange patches on their wings.


Ringlets can be seen towards the end of June month and throughout July often in large numbers. They are slightly smaller than Meadow Browns but most easily distinguished by their almost black appearance. The underside (shown) has the prominent rings – hence the butterfly’s name. Another useful way to distinguish from Meadow Brown is that the Ringlet has white fringes to the wings. Ringlets often share their habitat with Meadow Browns but Ringlets prefer slightly damper and often more shady conditions. Like the Meadow Brows, Ringlets stay near the ground expect when feeding on flowers.

Marbled White

Despite its name it is not a member of the white family but is in fact a “brown”. But that is what it is called although I would prefer a name such as “Chequered Brown”.
Marbled White has been one of the success species over the past ten years. Before the turn of the century, it had no colonies in East Anglia except in the extreme south of Essex. But it has spread rapidly in recent years and can be found in some of the grassland in and near our villages. There is no difficultly identifying this species even when seen flying.
They start appearing towards the end of June but have gone within a month. Marbled Whites love to feed on Knapweed flowers.
Large Skipper


Skippers are small butterflies that are often confused with moths. In reality though, the distinction between butterflies and moths is not clear cut.
We get two species here in good numbers on grassy areas such as meadows and roadsides.
The Large Skipper (Left) has a much more mottled appearance than the rather plain Small Skipper (right).
Large Skippers might be seen from as early as the first week of June but Small Skippers are unlikely to be out until towards the end of the month. Both species can be still found well into July. The photos show the characteristic resting pose with one pair of wings at an angle to the other pair.
Large and Small Skipper stay near but will feed on low-growing flowers.
Small Skipper


May Butterflies in and around Heydon and the Chishills

by Jack Harrison, May 2011

This month we see several new species

Red Admiral and Painted Lady

These two are in effect foreign butterflies. A few Red Admirals (picture left) manage to survive our British winters, but like its close relative the Painted Lady, they are really migrants arriving from southern Europe during the late spring and early summer. These immigrants then breed and the subsequent generation is flying in late summer. They are familiar to garden watchers but normally seen only in ones and twos. Sometimes however, staggering large numbers of Painted Ladies arrive in May. In 2009 it was estimated that at one point, the total population of Painted Ladies in Britain was around one billion. Yet the following year they were scarce and I saw fewer than half-a-dozen. (Painted Lady right)
Red Admirals never experience these wild population fluctuations although certainly are more numerous in some years than in others. They love feeding on showy flowers such as buddleia or verbena. They also have a particular liking for ivy flowers and fallen rotting apples (they enjoy the fermentation products)
First Red Admiral of 2011 seen 20th April

Common Blue

Common Blues are tiny. It has two flight seasons, May and late July/early August. They stay close to the ground and might be found in any grassy areas such as roadsides.
It isn’t always common as it name might suggest, but occasionally populations explode. In summer 2010, there were huge numbers over the whole of southern England including our area.
Males and females are very different. Males are purplish blue on the upper wings but females are usually brown with a row of orange half moons round the edge of the wing. Both are shown here.
(The female is in fact egg-laying)
A superb blue form of the female – but still with the orange lunules – sometimes makes up a significant proportion; this was the case in 2010. The underwings of both genders are similar.  

Small Copper

This little butterfly does occur in our area but is quite scarce. Like the Common Blue, it stays near to the ground and might be found in similar places such as verges or on wasteland. However to see Small Coppers in good numbers, the wide open sandy rides in Thetford Forest cannot be bettered.
Small Coppers are pugnacious little chaps and will chase off other butterflies many times their size.
You can get more information from Jack by emailing him at, and see more of his pictures at


April Butterflies in and around Heydon and the Chishills

by Jack Harrison, February 2011

The four species that had hibernated as adult butterflies are still around in April and will be busy egg laying. These will become caterpillars then chrysalises and finally turn into butterflies in the summer prior to hibernating.
April is the month when some species that spent the winter as chrysalises emerge.
Orange Tip
This is many people’s favourite butterfly. It grabs attention as it flits across gardens, thorough meadows, along lanes; its white wings tipped with a lovely orange colour make it unmistakeable. Not only is it a delight to see but it says quite clearly that summer is just around the corner when they are first seen in mid-April. Only the males has the orange wing tips the female being otherwise similar but without the orange. The bright orange eggs are easily found later in the month and in May on Hedge Garlic (Jack-by-the Hedge) seed pods and are very easy to breed in captivity. I do so every year and get great delight releasing the butterflies the following April with the thought: “I knew you as an egg!!!”

Green-veined White
When they’re flying, Green-veined Whites can easily be confused with female Orange Tips. They settle quite readily and then the greenish-black veins, particularly on the underside of the wings, can be seen easily. Green-veined Whites are found in all types of habitat.
Green-veined Whites are never garden pests unlike their close relatives, the Small (Cabbage) White and the Large (Cabbage) White. Neither the Small nor the Large Whites are particularly numerous in the spring but the second brood in July they are sometimes seen in huge numbers. The caterpillars of the Large White in particular are very destructive on cabbages and garden nasturtiums
Speckled Wood
A common butterfly nowadays and occurs along shaded lanes or woods. In spite of the fact that they are woodland butterflies, they enjoy sunshine and almost any patch along a tree-lined track where the sun breaks through will have a male Speckled Wood holding territory. The footpath opposite Reeves Pightle in Great Chishill is a guaranteed spot and so too are churchyards.

Holly Blue
This is a tiny blue butterfly. It is never numerous but has the knack of suddenly turning up where it hasn’t been seen for ages. Another blue butterfly, the Common Blue flies later in the year. There is an easy way to tell if the blue you see is a Holly Blue. If a blue flying high over bushes or even trees, it has to be a Holly Blue; Common Blues NEVER fly high. A blue low down over the vegetation is most likely to be a Common Blue, but Hollies do sometimes descend to ground level.
In other parts of Cambridgeshire, two rarities can be found. On Devil’s Dyke between Newmarket and Burwell, there are small colonies of Green Hairstreaks. Near Ramsey in the Fens, Grizzled Skippers can be found.
You can get more information from Jack by emailing him at, and see more of his pictures at


March Butterflies in and around Heydon and the Chishills

by Jack Harrison, February 2011

The first warm sunny day in mid-March brings out four species from their winter hideaways. It often surprises people that some butterflies hibernate as adults. In Britain, four do so regularly and a fifth, the Red Admiral, is able to do so in favourable conditions. Many individuals look in perfect condition but others show signs of wear, the wings being torn or scales rubbed off.
This butterfly will be familiar to all. It can sometimes be seen as early as mid-February on mild sunny days. The male is bright yellow and flies steadily along hedgerows and roadsides on a continual search for females. Brimstones rarely land at this time of year so it is difficult to get a good view of one. When they do land, they always keep their wings shut. The females come out of their hibernation sites in ivy about a fortnight after the males and are seen far less frequently. Females are white with just the merest hint of yellow and are easily confused with some of the cabbage white butterflies although those true whites are rarely seen before mid-April.

First one seen in Great Chishill in 2011 on 25th February


The Peacock is easily recognisable and many argue that it is one of the most impressive species in the world. This common butterfly - and it is perhaps more numerous today than it has been at any time in the past 60 years - is a garden regular in high summer feeding on buddleias. Their behaviour in spring is rather different. They set up territories along tracks on the sunny side of a hedge or a copse. As you wander along, a Peacock might fly up in front of you and then land again with wings spread wide to absorb the warmth of the sun. The butterfly will do this several times; you can in effect take “your” Peacock for a walk (or should that be, for a fly?) When it reaches the limit of its territory it will dash over your head back into home ground. Males and females look similar, but when you see a Peacock, you can test by throwing a lump of earth or a small twig in the air. A male will investigate thinking perhaps he’s found a female; a female simply ignores the thrown object.
Commas also have become much more abundant in recent decades – one of real the gains during my lifetime. They prefer slightly more wooded habitats than the Peacock although when just out of hibernation they enjoy basking in sheltered spots such as ditches beneath hedges. The jagged wing outline might make them look damaged but this is not so. Admittedly, after hibernation many have lost wing scales and while this gives them a shiny appearance, it doesn’t affect their ability to fly. Males and females are almost indistinguishable.

Small Tortoiseshell
While the Brimstone, Comma and Peacock have done well, the Small Tortoiseshell has become less common. Abundance varies significantly from year to year. They can be quite scarce one year yet the following season, numbers bounce back well. In the 1950s when I was young, Tortoiseshells were always more common than Peacocks and Commas, but today they are probably the scarcest of the three closely related species. The cycle of abundance/scarcity is almost certainly a reflection of the scarcity/abundance of their predator enemies. Tortoiseshells, while behaving in a similar way to their near relatives, are much more often seen feeding on spring flowers especially Sloe and Wild Cherry. These are in blossom in April, so although “Torties” might be seen in March, April is perhaps a better time
Red Admiral
Red Admirals very occasionally hibernate in our part of England but are unlikely to be seen before a new influx of immigrants arrives from southern Europe in May. There are two exceptionally rare butterflies, Large Tortoiseshell and Camberwell Beauty which have been known to over-winter in Britain, but in reality are better thought of as continental insects. I have seen just one example of each in more than 65 years butterfly watching. April will see another half-dozen butterfly species on the wing. And then May, June and July are the BIG months.


The Butterflies of Great Chishill

by Jack Harrison, July2010

10th July 2010 was a red-letter day when I photographed a female Silver Washed Fritillary on a large patch of bramble bordering a line of trees. To my knowledge, they have never before been seen in this area. The inexperienced might mistake a Comma or even a Painted lady for a Silver Washed so be careful before making claims. It is unlikely that this big Fritillary will colonise as it is more at home in extensive woodland. The Chishill butterfly was doubtless a vagrant from some distant colony such as those in the east of Buckinghamshire.
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Silver Washed Fritillary (Topside)
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Silver Washed Fritillary (Underside)
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Marbled White
During my 19 years living in Great Chishill, I have seen 27 different species of butterfly in and around the village. One, the Wall Brown used to occur in my garden but it has sadly vanished entirely from this part of England. But on the positive side, the Marbled White colonised in 2007 and is now thriving. Marbled White has an unfortunate name. It is no relative of the common cabbage whites but is in fact a “brown”. 27 is a good total and compares favourably with anywhere else in Cambridgeshire. One arboreal species (White-letter Hairstreak) MUST occur in the village but I have yet to track it down.
Many people will be familiar with the “big four” that occur in most gardens on flowers such as buddleia from July to the end of August; Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady, Red Admiral. Painted Ladies are not seen every year; it is an immigrant and although it had an amazing 2009 not one has been seen in my garden in 2010. Another, common butterfly, the Comma , is easily overlooked as it often prefers to feed high up and on top of the blossom out of sight. It is recognised by its jagged wings – this is not damage – and little “comma” marks on the underside.
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Small Tortoiseshell
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Painted Lady
Photo: Copyright Jack Harrison 2010
Red Admiral

Several species of “brown” can be seen in this area. The tiny Small Heath is generally regarded as “nationally threatened” although this is a somewhat emotive term; it isn’t all that scarce, merely rarely being seen in large numbers. However, some local grassland is a fine exception in having strongest colony I have encountered anywhere in Britain.
Since I first became interested in butterflies in 1945(!), I have seen many changes. Despite what many people believe, butterflies aren’t doing all that badly today. The main concern – as always – is loss of habitat. But it is certainly encouraging that modern farming methods are far more benign than they were say 20 years ago – field edges, planting of new hedgerows, and so on.
All species of butterflies have flight seasons so don’t for example, expect to see an Orange Tip in August. The best time to see a good range of species is May, June and early July. Flight seasons are now very much earlier – by as much as three weeks - than they were 50 years ago (global warming perhaps). Sadly the dates gleaned from old books are often repeated in newer publications.
Chishill is good for butterflies. We are fortunate. But you do need to look for them; they don’t all come into our gardens.
An excellent website (to which I am a regular contributor) is ukbutteflies:
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