Moving pictures!

I have decided to try and capture some video footage of wildlife this year, butterflies in particular. For this a new tool was needed and so I’ve chosen a Canon G16 camera, which can take fine stills but also full 1080p 60fps video.

So a new adventure begins and hopefully I’ll have lots of clips from the UK and further afield to share this year!

To begin with here is a test I did of a Comma butterfly. Unfortunately the Ash branch its on is swaying in the breeze so it does seem a bit wobbly. But overall I am happy with the quality and can see lots of potential uses for this bit of new kit!

For the full effect please select 1080p on the resolution setting.

Thanks for watching!

Butterflies have some very strange tastes!

Most butterflies feed on plant nectar although a few get their energy supply from aphid secretions. However, they also need moisture in dry conditions and the males need to take salts, usually from damp ground, essential for reproduction. Some species are also partial to more bizarre substances such as tarmac, diesel or carrion and carnivore excrement is particularly appealing to many species. It can be quite disconcerting to see Erebia ringlets feasting on the rotting corpse of a dead marmot or a Purple Emperor supping on spilt diesel in a motorway service station on a French motorway.

This type of behaviour can occasionally be seen in England but is much more commonly seen in Europe. In suitable spots where the ground is damp, large numbers can sometimes be seen congregating, often in one small area. It is not uncommon to see a number of different species puddling together although usually they keep within their own groups.

The Greenwings tour of the Mercantour National Park on 5-12 July will visit a number of locations where communal puddling can be expected. In one location, over 500 butterflies of 25 different species have been seen within an area of just over 1 square metre!

photo1

Photo 1

Photo 1  above shows a section of this group, including a large number of Small and Essex Skippers, Pyrgus grizzled skippers mainly Safflower, and many blues including Escher’s, Amanda’s, Eros, Chalk-hill, Mazarine, and Mountain Argus. Curiously, even though Escher’s, Amanda’s and Eros are close cousins of the Common Blue, the latter species is rarely seen puddling at altitude.

Blues are particularly partial to this puddling behaviour and can often be seen in large numbers. It is especially noticeable at higher altitudes above 1000m and quite common above 2000m in the Alps and Pyrenees. From the observer’s perspective, this offers the opportunity to observe the species at close quarters, enabling identification and the opportunity to take photographs.

Focussing on blues, there are some 42 species that occur in France. During the Mercantour tour, it should be possible to see over 20 of them. In most cases, a view of the underside would be definitive as many are similar when viewed from the upperside alone. During puddling, they often open and close their wings so thoughtfully assisting their identification.

Photo 2

Photo 2

Some are easy to identify: in photo 2  above we can see the darker blue of Mazarine, the steely grey-blue of Glandon, a couple of the larger and bright blue Escher’s, Eros (although it shimmering pale blue is not that visible here), and the undersides of Idas which is a close cousin of Silver-studded.

Photo 3

Photo 3

In photo 3 we can see Mazarine, Glandon, Idas (with the chequered hindwing margin), Eros, and Alpine on the far left. The latter species, generally only seen at over 2000m, is very similar to the Common Blue from the upperside but very distinctive from the unique underside where its characteristic white spots have no black centres. Photo 4  below shows the distinctive underside of the Glandon Blue.

Photo 4

Photo 4

In photo 5 we have several of the aforementioned blues together with many Pyrgus grizzled skippers, together with a couple of Tufted Marbled Skippers.

Photo 5

Photo 5

In photo 6 we have the usual blues together with a couple of Small Blues, in company with the high-altitude Grison’s Fritillary.

Photo 6

Photo 6

Photo 7 shows the Black-eyed Blue puddling, a rather small blue with a shimmering blue upperside.

Photo 7

Photo 7

Photo 8 shows a Glandon Blue in company with an Eros Blue, showing the shimmering pale blue of the latter.

Photo 8

Photo 8

One species that is very prone to mass communal puddling in the Black-veined White. In photo 9 we see almost 100 of them congregated in one very small area, and others joining the group usually landed on top of the gathering, creating mayhem!

Photo 9

Photo 9

Photo 10 shows five Wood Whites on what is clearly a particularly delectable piece of earth with a couple of others looking on, maybe just waiting their turn.

photo 10

photo 10

This post was written by our guide for the French Alps holiday in July, Roger Gibbons. He also supplied all the photos. More of his photos and information about Roger and French butterflies can be found on his website Butterflies of France

Butterfly tour in Greece – June 2013

Butterfly tour in Greece – June 2013

Balkan Butterflies, 15-22 June 2013

Mountain scenery

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

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.

Chelmos Blue

Chelmos Blue

Cleopatra

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.

Two-tailed Pasha

Two-tailed Pasha

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.

Odd-spot Blues

Odd-spot Blues

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

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

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

Crocus sieberi

Crocus sieberi in the snow

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

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

Meat eating Bush Cricket!

This is a Balkan Sawing Cricket Saga natoliae, seen and snapped (with an iphone cam) on the Greek island of Rhodes.

It is one of the largest species of Orthoptera in Europe at between 10cm –  15cm in length! They are pretty ferocious predators and feed mainly on other insects. It is also said they’ll take other prey items, such as small lizards.

For sure it is an impressive beast!

Saga natoliae

Saga natoliae

Photo of the week: Wild Gladioli

An Olive grove adorned with Wild Gladioli Gladiolus italicus on the island of Rhodes, Greece. The shot was taken during one of our recent wildlife holidays and the group all had a chance of capturing the scene using a mixture of techniques, such as wide angle (like this shot) and macro like the shot below (for isolating a single flower and maximum detail).

Gladiolus italicus

Gladiolus italicus

Gladiolus italicus

Gladiolus italicus

 

 

Greece – The Garden of Europe

As a small Country with a plant list of around 6,000 species and an endemism rate of 15%, Greece can surely be counted amongst the most botanically rich and diverse countries in the whole of Europe. Orchids are without doubt one of the highlights to see when visiting almost any part of Greece. If one considers that there are about 250 species recorded across Europe and there have been over 200 recorded in Greece then it’s easy to realise how good Greece is for orchids.

More than half of the species found are from the Ophrys genus and on the Dodecanese island of Rhodes this is very evident. In fact the majority of the 76 species described by our Greek expert are Ophrys (46), although there are also representatives from a further 9 genera. Rhodes itself is a small island, approximately 544 square miles in area and about 50 miles long from top to tail and half that at its widest point. In spite of its modest size it is blessed with many and varied biotopes; forest, coastal, phrygana, Mediterranean scrub and cultivated land, such as Olive groves.

Orchis sancta by Matt Berry

Orchis sancta by Matt Berry

There are many beautiful and interesting species to see on the island, here I will highlight some of the more notable ones and pick out a few of my own personal favourites. The King Ferdinand’s Ophrys Ophrys regis-ferdinandii (also known as Earwig Ophrys due to the insect-like appearance of the flower) is, like its similar cousin Ophrys speculum, a fairly small orchid, but can produce numerous flowers per spike and several stemmed clumps. It is only present on Rhodes, a few other islands and parts of Turkey. A sun lover, this curious looking Ophrys can be found in Phrygana, on fairly open areas.

Ophrys RegisFerdinandii by Jeroen Gerdes

Ophrys Regis-Ferdinandii by Jeroen Gerdes

The Colossus Ophrys Ophrys colossaea is endemic to Rhodes and was first described as a new species in 2005. It gets it evocative name from the placement of the imposing Colossus of Rhodes statue (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World) which once stood on the island. The large size of the flower and spike also make Colossus an apt name for this orchid, colossaea can reach a height of 70cm.

Ophrys colossaea by Matt Berry

Ophrys colossaea by Matt Berry

Another species gaining its name from the island is the rather rare Attaviros Ophrys Ophrys fusca spp. attaviria, first described in 1990 and named after Mount Attaviros, the highest peak on the island where it was first found. This particular species can be hard to separate from another local rarity, Ophrys fusca spp. eptapigiensis, which also gets its name from the island as “epta pignes” is a spring-fed valley, famous for its seven “epta” springs.  Our local Rhodian expert calls this something of a phantom orchid, due to its rarity, the similarity with Ophrys attaviria and the current lack of knowledge about its insect pollinator.

In April we are offering the chance to spend a week on Rhodes, under the guidance of a Greek botanist, to explore the island and seek out some of its Orchids and other natural treasures. Aside from the orchids there are other special plants, such as the beautiful white Rhodes Peony Paeonia clusii ssp. Rhodia or the dainty yellow Rhodes Fritillary Fritillaria rhodia – both endemic to the island.

Rhodes endemic peony

Rhodes endemic peony by Jeroen Gerdes

Our guide has lived on the island for many years and made in depth studies of its flora. His particular passion is Orchids and he loves to share them and his expert knowledge with visitors to the island. I also have a close affinity to the island, having been a frequent visitor for the past decade. Together, we look forward to providing our guests with the renowned Greek hospitality and helping steer you on a discovery of the real Rhodes, including sampling genuine Greek culture in the form of delicious homemade food. For sea food lovers that might be freshly caught Symi Island Prawns, or for vegetable fans might include pitaroudia (Chick Pea fritters, a Rhodian speciality). One thing is for sure, there can be nothing more enjoyable or more sociable than eating together traditional mezedes style (sharing many plates of different food), whilst being bathed by the warm spring sun in Greece, sharing tales of the days wildlife encounters.

We have a few places left so to find out more information about this and our other wildlife holidays please visit our website at www.greenwings.co

Birds of north Greece – Dalmatian Pelican

We are delighted to be donating some of the proceeds from two of our north Greece tours in 2013 to a local conservation project to help the Dalmatian Pelican, designed and managed by our partners in the region BirdWING (BirdWatching In Northern Greece). We’re offering 2 tours, one in May and one in June:

Birds of north Greece

Butterflies & Birds of north Greece

The details of the project can be read below (All text and images courtesy of BirdWING).

Dalmatian Pelican by Steve Mills (BirdWING)

A two-phase project, put forward by Birdwing, was approved by the board of the National Park of the Evros Delta to encourage breeding of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelicanus crispus). The project, funded by Birdwing, is only possible due to donations.

Until 1962 there were 40-50 pairs of Dalmatian Pelicans nesting at the Evros Delta but this colony was destroyed by local fishermen. There have been no reports of breeding since.

The species is classed as Vulnerable in both the Greek and IUCN red list categorisations. Indeed the world population is only around 14 000. Dalmatian Pelicans are present almost all year at the Evros Delta and it is hoped that by altering habitat and providing nesting materials for them (Phase 1) or, if necessary, building a nesting platform similar to that at Lake Kerkini (Phase 2) breeding may be re-established.

The project began during 2012 and is scheduled to run until June 2014.

In late November 2012 an area on the chosen island site in Drana lagoon was cleared of existing vegetation, nesting material was provided and several ‘nests’ were created to give the pelicans every idea of what we would like to happen next! The area is being monitored during this phase to see what level of interest is shown by the birds. Further nesting material will be provided in the event of strong winds in the area.

Summary of project phases

Phase One is to determine whether an area or areas within Drana Lagoon issuitable for breeding and to:

  • clear part of an existing island
  • provide reed material
  • monitor the interest shown by the pelicans towards this location
  • evaluate whether a platform could be built and used with greater success

Phase Two is to implement and build a platform. This will be enacted:

  • if interest is shown in the breeding site
  • if breeding is attempted without success
  • if, following evaluation, it is determined that a platform would improve the likelihood of success

Project timetable

Phase One Timescale:  May 2012 – June 2013
May 2012 Evaluate and choose suitable site for Phase One
November/December 2012 Clear area of vegetation  (approximately  6m x 6m)
December 2012 Cut reeds from another area of the delta and transport reeds to island A and cover the cleared area with them
January to June 2013 Monitoring breeding interest
Phase Two Timescale:  Autumn 2013 – Summer 2014
Autumn 2013 Produce an evaluation report outlining how Phase Two should be enacted
November/December 2013 Constructing and siting wooden platform
January to June 2014 Monitoring breeding interest