Balkan Butterflies, 15-22 June 2013
Our base was the little town of Kalavryta, situated in the foothills of Mount Chelmos, in the Peloponnese region of Greece. The area is a wilderness of pine forested slopes, merging into flowery grasslands and rock at around 800 metres and is renowned for its endemic flora and fauna. Butterfly species such as the rare, beautifully coloured Chelmos Blue, found only on Mt Chelmos in Europe, are not only a delight to behold, but creatures which must be preserved. It’s a very peaceful place too, often with only the hum of bees or the tinkling of goat bells to punctuate the silence. To be out on this vast magical mountain, which is sometimes known as ‘Aroania, will always engage the mind and lift the spirits. Our group of ten guests was guided by celebrated author and naturalist Tristan Lafranchis and this is a brief summary of the week’s events…
Our group of butterfly watchers
Day 1: Chelmos. Our first day following our arrival. The weather was perfect with blue skies interspersed with light cloud cover as we headed out onto the mountain exploring different habitats ranging from gullies to scree and meadows. All around us in huge numbers flew Black-veined Whites, Cleopatras, Large Tortoiseshells, Greek Clouded Yellows and Powdered Brimstones. The group was thrilled that we found all of our key target species: Pontic, Chelmos, Balkan Zephyr and Odd-spot Blue and Southern Swallowtail.
Day 2: Towards the coast. In search of the Two-tailed Pasha. We stopped en route at a meadow by a stream, to see curious looking Nettle-Tree Butterflies along with Southern White Admirals, and good numbers of Escher’s Blue. Large Torts were again ubiquitous among the many other species there. At a gorge, beautiful pink Crepis rubra flowers added a splash of colour to the impressive geological feature rising up high above and around us. Tristan had prepared a bait for the Pashas, and with his hand held out of the car window, Pashas were soon following the car. Equally impressive were the swathes of wild Oleander, their pink flowers seeming to touch the deep azure sky. Our third habitat was a walk back along the cliff face in a successful search for new brood Southern Comma butterflies.
Day 3: Undisclosed location. Tristan had spent a few years studying the 3 regional Anomalous Blues and took us to a secret spot high in the mountains to see them all together. We were delighted to see all 3; Grecian, Ripart’s, Anomalous. We lunched at the top of the mountain overlooking the Gulfs of Patra and Corinth whilst Scarce Swallowtails, Ilex and Sloe Hairstreaks fluttered all around us. On returning towards Kalavryta we encountered innumerable Balkan Marbled Whites, nectaring on Echium italicum and our first Grecian Coppers.
Day 4: Hidden Glades. Matt Berry and I had visited the area in 2010, thus it was a treat this day to share a new area with Tristan. A flowery meadow was filled with a huge variety of butterflies; flashes of violet and metallic orange Purple-shot Coppers took our breath away. Queen of Spain Fritillaries were ever present, whilst beautiful Marbled Fritillaries, dabbed their eggs onto Brambles. Ambling up the mountain track we watched Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, Dark Green Fritillaries and Grizzled Skippers nectaring on the many Clovers and Sages, pausing occasionally to take photographs or sample some of the delicious wild strawberries. Wood Whites in this part of Greece choose Dorycnium hirsutum on which to lay eggs. We saw plenty of these. At the glade we picnicked by a babbling stream, frequented by nesting Grey Wagtails, picking their food from the small boulders and stones. Clumps of a beautiful pink Valerian species, Centranthus longiflorus, provided a banquet for many butterflies including Cleopatras and Brimstones. The glade was filled with so many butterflies but the most exciting and interesting discovery was that of the Blue Argus. Tristan watched spellbound as the male settled, rubbing his hindwings back and forth, while the female buzzed him 6 inches or so overhead.
Mud puddling Blues
Day 5: South to Panagitsa. By steep banks above a stream shaded with overhanging Oriental Planes all sounds were drowned out by that of freshly hatched singing Cicadas. We followed the stream, meeting Camberwell Beauties, Balkan Marbled Whites, Mallow Skippers and Chapman’s Blues along the way. A short walk after lunch saw our first Oriental Meadow Browns nectaring on an abundance of pink flowered Bramble. Our last stop of the day by a rushing stream full of half submerged waterside vegetation was alive with butterflies. Tristan had implored us to check every butterfly, particularly the blues. And so it was that we observed our first Meleager’s Blue, mud puddling in a mixed group which also included Chapman’s and Common Blues, Grecian and Sooty Coppers. Flying above the water, Silver-washed Fritillaries performed their courtship and all around, Great Banded Graylings and Cleopatras filled the air. An interesting skipper proved to be our first Sage Skipper of the holiday and we were able to add Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper to our list whilst being serenaded by purring Turtle Doves.
Balkan Marbled White
Day 6: Chapel Meadow and Ridge. The alpine terrain above the snow line promised a very different selection of wildlife, particularly flowers and birds and the opportunity to watch hill-topping butterflies looking for mates. A Delattin’s Grayling flew up the slope and a fine male Peloponnese Wall Lizard (an endemic species) basked on a rock to warm up. Silver Studded, Common, Escher’s and Balkan Zephyr Blues were all flying as the sun warmed the lower slopes. On Mt. Avgo we stopped briefly for Woodlarks singing their beautiful song from the pines and firs, whilst a Wheatear perched on the buildings. As we began the ascent, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and Large Tortoiseshells seemed to be following us. When the vehicles could go no further, we parked and carried on upwards, passing a huge patch of melting snow. Here we watched Alpine Accentors and one of the true alpine specialists, Clouded Apollo, which was out in force, flying over the vegetation looking either for mates, nectar or Corydalis blanda on which to lay eggs. Large numbers of Mountain Small Whites involved in courtship activity appeared in greater numbers than ever, along with Spotted Fritillary, Eastern Zephyr Blue and Adonis Blue. We were well above the tree line now at around 2,000 metres and in a truly alpine setting with patches of snow still on the ground in the middle of summer. Tristan pointed out Ranunculus ficarioides, and then Verbascum acaule, a small stem-less variety of Verbascum. Tristan uttered his surprise at seeing Grecian Copper which had never before been recorded there above 800m. At the ridge we observed 20 Camberwell Beauties hill-topping, along with Swallowtails, Large Tortoiseshells and Painted Ladies. It was a real privilege to witness such a wonderful natural spectacle. Here we finally enjoyed a number of Blue Argus females egg-laying on Erodium chrysanthemum in the sward. After such excitement we rested for lunch we headed back down to a spot that Tristan had noted earlier. Upon arrival we were amazed at the spectacle of Crocus sieberi, growing in purple profusion all around the damp patches left by the receding snow and ice.
Crocus sieberi in the snow
Day 7: Floriferous meadow outside Kalavryta. Our final day in this beautiful corner of Greece. We had an afternoon flight back to the UK so time was limited. However, we made one final excurison to a meadow close to the small town of Kalavryta. This lush area was filled with echiums and thistles which provided plenty of nectar for myriad Eastern Bath Whites and Cleopatras. A small track lined with flowering mints attracted both Lesser Fiery and Sooty Coppers. A pair of Malacosoma franconica, moths (members of the Eggars and Lappet family) had united on a flower stem providing a good chance to observe the sexual dimorphism of the species with the females being possibly twice the size of the males.
Lesser Fiery Copper
We recorded a total of 97 butterfly species during the week long holiday. For the full report and to book on this years holiday follow the link to Balkan Butterflies