Back in the summer, I led another Butterflies of Greece tour for Greenwings Wildlife Holidays. This was a repeat of last year’s tour which centres round the Gulf of Corinth and in particular, Mount Parnassos and Mount Chelmos which are both home to some rare endemic species as well as a whole host of lovely things that we don’t see in Britain. This time, I flew out a day ahead of the group purely because I couldn’t get on the same flight as them. I stayed in a great Airbnb just down the road from the airport and was able to acclimatise a little and get a good nights sleep before meeting everyone at the airport the following afternoon. It also meant that I had already organised my minibus when they arrived and so we were soon heading out to the waiting vehicles. We spotted our first butterflies in the carpark on the way where a small patch of Birdsfoot Trefoil sported several Common Blues.
The first part of the journey took us down the rather less scenic motorways skirting the city but we made a brief stop at a service station on the way where a Scarce Swallowtail flew low over the buses as we parked. Once we left these faster roads we were able to spot a few species on our way too. The butterflies we were able to identify whilst moving included Cleopatra, Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow. A number of birds were spotted including a raptor which was probably a Short-toed Eagle, an abundance of Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Crag Martins. Hooded Crow and Collared Dove were also noted. We also enjoyed an abundance of Clematis scrambling over the low shrubs on the dry hillsides and admired the purple profusion of flowering Vitex agnus-castus, known by some as the Chaste tree, and which has flowers superficially similar to those of Buddleia.
We arrived in the pretty town of Delphi on the lower slopes of Mount Parnassos in the early evening and, having found our hotel, we settled in with our hosts before a quick introductory meeting and a walk out to a local restaurant for dinner.
The following morning dawned bright and, after a pleasant breakfast, we set off up Mount Parnassos to begin our exploration of the many meadows that grace its slopes. Our first stop was beyond the village of Kalivia Arachovas at a damp meadow beside the road. There was a large puddle on one side of the road but despite the appealing thought of mud-puddling butterflies and although there were no bee hives visible in the vicinity, there seemed to be rather more bees than lepidoptera. Not to be put off by this, we continued our exploration and found that although the area didn’t look particularly flowery there were some nice plants to be found including buds of Rusty Foxglove and plenty of endemic Astragalus thracicus spp. parnassi forming low growing hummocks of dense leaves studded with thorns and covered in clumps of delicate pink flowers.
Of course there were butterflies to be found too, the most numerous seemed to be Silver-studded Blues and Painted Ladies but there were also Small and Essex Skippers, Large and Small Whites, Common Blue, Clouded Yellow, plus Small and Sooty Coppers. A lovely female Adonis Blue was admired for a while and the identity of an Amanda’s Blue was puzzled over for a moment or two. All the while Hoopoe and Serin called nearby.
Just as we were about to get back in the vehicles a Field Cricket was caught to photograph and we were able to show this beautiful insect to the group. It is somewhat of a rarity in Britain and looks distinctly unlike many of its counterparts. Here they seem reasonably widespread and common but are a joy to see nevertheless.
We were soon moving on to a spot where Dwarf Elder, often known as Danewort, grew beside the road and the opposite bank boasted masses of Dorycnium graecum covered in small white flowers. We began wandering up the bank to explore and almost immediately there were several new species of butterflies seen including Ilex Hairstreak, Lang’s Short Tailed Blue, Escher’s Blue and a pale Helice form of the female Clouded Yellow. There was another Adonis Blue here too and quite a bit of a blue flower which initially appears rather like a bulb but is in fact Asyneuma limonifolium, a member of the bellflower family.
After a few minutes exploring there was a call to look back towards the road where a Large Tortoiseshell was spotted sailing along just below the tree tops and shortly after this some great excitement from one of our guests who had reached the patch of Danewort growing behind the crash barrier and found all sorts of lovely insects nectaring. Among them, many more Ilex Hairstreak, Hungarian Skipper, Silver Washed Fritillary, Heath Fritillary and several Burnet moths.
There were also a huge number of clearwing moths and more Painted Ladies plus an interesting bee-fly with black wings, Hemipenthes morio.
A particularly large Horsefly landed on another guest’s camera, which turned out to be Philipomyia graeca.
A Red Helleborine was also found flowering behind the crash barrier and while some were photographing it, the Parnassos subspecies of Mazarine Blue was spotted.
Meanwhile, Great Banded Grayling and Wood White were seen and another guest enjoyed finding Mediterranean Shieldbugs gathering on a plant near the buses.
It was only a short drive to the next stop where yet more Danewort and a lovely little meadow full of vetches would prove to be full of butterflies. Great Banded Graylings and beautiful metallic green Rose Chafers shared the Danewort by the bus with a hornet mimicking hoverfly.
Meanwhile a gorgeous male Grecian Copper was spotted nectaring at the bottom of the sloping meadow.
My co-guide, Dan got to see his first Black-veined White and along with it, Meadow Brown, Idas Blue, Red Admiral, Cleopatra, Green Hairstreak, Osiris Blue, Brimstone, Balkan Zephyr Blue and Dingy Skipper were all new additions to our ever expanding list. We also noted Clouded Yellow, Adonis Blue, Wood White, Large White and both Small and Essex Skipper here which we had already seen previously, not to mention Painted Ladies which were by far the most numerous species of the trip, seen at almost every site we visited during the week and in vast numbers as we drove over the mountains.
On our way back towards the road up to the Parnassos Ski Centre, we paused briefly at a lovely spot where Red Valerian grows in clumps along a steep rocky bank on the roadside. Our visit paid off as we we able to watch both Hummingbird Hawkmoth and Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth nectaring together on the flowers alongside Large Skipper, Large Wall, and Mountain Small White plus the ubiquitous Painted Lady and the odd Large White too.
Heading on up the mountain, we stopped for lunch in a lovely flowery meadow surrounded by pine forest and with a mostly dry stream bed running through it. Having eaten, we took our time wandering through the meadow at leisure and discovering the natural treasures it held. Those of us that ventured into the woodland saw Speckled Wood and there were one or two Orange Tips around too.
The meadow itself was full of lovely flowers including Campanula sparsa, Cut-leaved Selfheal, Nottingham Catchfly, Tassel Hyacinth and some gorgeous pink Dianthus. Both Red and Sword-leaved Helleborines were flowering in the shadier spots and there were plenty of butterflies to be seen. Clouded Yellow was joined by Greek Clouded Yellow, distinguishable by its deeper orange colouring, and Clouded Apollo were found here too. Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Brimstone were among some of the more familiar species to be seen but there were also Queen of Spain, Black-veined White and Camberwell Beauty flitting around. A dark form of Small Copper caused a little confusion until it was explained that this is often an altitudinal variation. A number of small cicadas were spotted hanging on longer grass stems while a Large Tortoiseshell was seen to perch on a lower branch of a fir tree. In the stream bed, an Olive Skipper was found puddling with several other butterflies and elsewhere, Heath Fritillary and Mazarine Blue were added to the list.
Having had our fill in the meadow, we moved on uphill with amazing numbers of Painted Ladies round every corner, seeming to fall like autumn leaves fluttering in a gentle breeze. An impromptu stop was made near the top of the mountain where a particularly flowery verge looked resplendent in the sun and the migrating butterflies were making the most of the nectar. Among others, there were several plants of particular interest here which are endemic to the area including Astragalus angusitfolius ssp. erinaceus, Daphne oleoides and Linaria peloponnesiaca.
Having made it up the last little stretch to the ski centre, a stiff breeze made for a welcome relief from the heat of the sun. A flock of Alpine Chough wheeled overhead, a Citril Finch was heard calling and a family of Northern Wheatears entertained us from the top of some nearby rocks. Butterflies were altogether harder to see as the accessible areas with vegetation were very steep but Clouded Apollo, Great Banded Grayling and yet more Painted Ladies graced us with their presence. Euphorbia myrsinites grew in the gravel and a Cranesbill which might have been Geranium thessalum was found in flower. It was decided not to stay too long here as it was very exposed in the sun and we were soon moving on back down the mountain.
We made another brief impromptu stop at a small but pleasantly flowery roadside glade found last year. Here we added Balkan Zephyr Blue to the list and also noted Clouded Apollo, Osiris Blue, Cleopatra and Clouded Yellow, not to mention a steady stream of Painted Ladies.
Continuing on down the mountainside we stopped at a shrubby meadow just below where we had had lunch earlier. There were more small fir trees and an endemic Hawthorn, Crataegus pycnoloba, growing here. Birdsong was noticeable here with Robin, Great Tit and Chaffinch calling as we wandered in to explore. Ground Pine, Ajuga chamaepitys and several Thymes were growing among the grass. Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Great Banded Grayling and Balkan Zephyr Blue were noted. A pale Brimstone with slightly different markings prompted a debate about the characteristics and range of Powdered Brimstone though it was eventually decided to err on the side of caution and leave it off the list. Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper was found here and there were good views to be had of Oriental Meadow Brown.
Our final stop on the way back was at the top of the Arachova pass. We didn’t spend long here but admired the view over the valley below and the plateau behind us. We took in the pink cushions of Pterocephalus perennis flowering on the rock face by the road and marvelled at the tiny flower perfection of Herniaria hirsuta. Balkan Marbled White was seen and there were a number of chubby looking Parnassos Stone Grasshoppers which blended in wonderfully with their gravelly surroundings.
I was particularly pleased to find a stunning male Ladybird Spider (I may have done a little happy dance!) and was able to show it to a few of the group before it took refuge in the depths of a plant.
While our first day had been a full one, everyone agreed that it had been very enjoyable with lots seen. We returned to the hotel to have a relaxing drink while we updated our trip list and then walked down into the town to have a delightful dinner in a restaurant with a fabulous view over the valley.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Several of the group went for a pre-breakfast wander up the hill and reported that there were already butterflies on the wing. We ate and gathered our packed lunches ready for the day ahead but our first stop was only a few minutes drive away. We pulled up in a shaded lay-by beyond the entrance to the ancient site of Delphi and walked back along the roadside to make our way in. A beautiful Great Green Bush Cricket was spotted as we passed a spring and a little further on, a Lattice Brown was admired.
Having got our tickets we made our way inside and gathered to set our plans for the morning. A Hoopoe was calling throughout the morning while Crag Martins swooped high overhead and noisy Rock Nuthatches entertained us as we climbed towards the treasuries.
A little way above them a Marginated Tortoise was spotted making a meal of the only green leaf in its immediate surroundings.
Moving on beyond the Temple, where a few small flowers of Campanula topaliana ssp. delphica were spotted nestled among the enormous stonework, we came across several very large Robberflies, one of which used a guest’s hat (while still on her head!) as a hunting perch.
Climbing above the Amphitheatre we found a number of very large predatory bush crickets and on a bend beneath a tree we came across a large Spider Hunting Wasp subduing and dragging away an equally impressive Tarantula Wolf Spider in the middle of the path! I have since learnt that it was this species of spider that gave Tarantulas their name – it was named having been discovered near the Italian city of Taranto.
As per usual, I pointed out Squirting Cucumber plants which eject their fruit with explosive force, spreading their seeds far and wide. There were also Round Headed leek growing here and a Jay flew over. Among the butterflies seen were Meadow Brown, Large White, Cleopatra, Balkan Marbled White and Southern White Admiral though many were only glimpsed brief in the heat of the morning.
With most of the group having made it to the top to admire the stadium, we reconvened near the entrance in the shade of some large pines and then made our way back to the vehicles. We had lunch in a nearby dry spring where we sat beneath Oriental Plane and Olive trees to eat. Having devoured our packed lunches we set off up the mountain once more, following the same route as the previous day and stopping in a large wet meadow just above where we had enjoyed our lunch the day before. We drove up a track a short way and walked back down it towards the road. Along the way were plenty of lovely things to admire.
There was a wonderful forest to our right as we walked downhill, dominated by the Grecian Fir. Beneath the trees Broad-leaved, Red and Narrow-leaved Helleborines flowered and there were pale yellowish green leaves and seed pods of Hellebores seeming to almost glow in the dark understory. Puddling Small Whites were among the first butterflies to be seen, although some dark butterflies which flew up from the track as we drove up were likely to have been Nettle Tree butterflies. A Common Wall Lizard basked on a stone beside the track as we wandered past too.
Goldcrests sang from the woods as we continued and Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Common Blue and Speckled Wood were swiftly added to the tally here. Cleopatra and Clouded Yellow followed suit along with Balkan Zephyr Blue and Parnassos Mazarine Blue. Southern Comma flitted past, Orange Tip was spotted along with Great Banded Grayling. I found a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth in a puddle and with Dan’s help managed to revive it. Elsewhere Chapman’s Blue, Large White, Mazarine Blue, Small Copper, Comma and Large Tortoiseshell were noted along with Cream Spot Tiger Moth. In a drier section of meadow near the road, Dan found a particularly obliging Clouded Apollo and had good views of a Camberwell Beauty. Heath Fritillaries zipped from flower to flower and I had a brief glimpse of a Lang’s Short-tailed Blue before it flew off. I also found a Common Malachite Beetle which posed nicely on a grass flower.
Heading back through the damp meadow we found it to be full of gorgeous Gladiolus imbricatus. There were some Beautiful Demoiselles hanging among the long grasses and both Pyramidal and Loose Flowered Orchids were found flowering. Common Blue, Turquoise Blue, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Meadow Brown were also noted here.
Among the long grasses, I came across an intriguing green spider, Araniella opisthographa.
A few of the group walked up to investigate the small chapel beyond the vehicles before we made our way back down the mountain. On our way home, we spotted a gully that we were keen to investigate just beside the main road from Arachova to Delphi and we made an impromptu stop. There was not a lot to be seen as it was only a small area but nevertheless we found Ilex Hairstreak, appropriately on its food plant Kermes Oak, along with a very large Bush Cricket, some lovely Balkan Marbled Whites and Convolvulus oleifolius.
Most interestingly though, we found an aberration of Blue Argus which caused quite a bit of discussion. For those of you less familiar with the term, an aberration is when a butterfly has a variation in colour or pattern which differentiates it from the typical form of that species. Sometimes it can be tricky to know what it is an aberration of, particularly when the variations between species can be very slight.
We returned to the hotel to freshen up before dinner in the same restaurant as the previous evening. The following morning was a little different as the day had come to leave the slopes of Mount Parnassos and move to our second base for the holiday and so, after breakfast we packed up the minibuses. Just as we were about to leave an obliging Southern Comma settled on the pavement outside the hotel affording the whole group excellent views before we moved out. I’ll continue the story in another post though as this one is getting a bit long!