Tag Archive for: Greenwings

A Mediterranean Macro Safari

It had been a while since the last time I did led a holiday that was new to me so I was excited to head out to northern Greece and team up with top macro photographer Matt Doogue for a Mediterranean Macro Safari for Greenwings. We met our guests for the week at Thessaloniki airport and, brief introductions made, we headed out to the minibus and got on the road for a journey of around an hour and twenty minutes to our hotel near Lake Kerkini.

On arrival, we took a little time to freshen up before heading over the road for lunch in a local restaurant. We spent a moment or two to get to know one another better and find out what we each wanted from the trip as we waited for our food to arrive, and once we’d eaten we continued this with a brief talk from Matt about the different aspects of macro photography we could expect to cover this week, some of the kit he uses and the techniques he favours. 

We then ventured out for our first foray into the field, heading to a spot near the Strimonas River. On the way, we saw White Storks nesting, not only in our village but on a number of telegraph posts in neighbouring villages too. There was a glimpse of a Hoopoe, some Bee-eaters and two Golden Orioles spotted in flight.

We pulled up to find the local Water Buffalo herd were nearby, but there was plenty of space between us and them so we set about looking for photographic subjects. It didn’t take long to find some beautiful longhorn beetles in the genus Agapanthia, a number of Chafers and a variety of both Crickets and Dragonflies. One of our group found a tiny European Tree Frog in a large Milk Thistle and, as we photographed it, the farmer arrived on a scrambler bike and ushered the Buffalo across the track in front of us and down the embankment on the other side. We took a moment to look for a few more subjects  and then, having established they were heading in the opposite direction, we headed down the  embankment ourselves.

Another guest spotted a Common Blue butterfly fluttering around but it was reluctant to settle for photographs. We approached the hedgerow at the bottom and soon found there to be water beneath and damselflies fluttering about. The vast majority were either Blue or White Featherlegs but there were a number of Banded Demoiselles too, albeit mostly in less accessible spots for photography.

White Featherleg Damselfly, Platycnemis pennipes

White Featherleg Damselfly

We were soon finding all sorts of other delights too; a couple more Tree Frogs, an obliging Comma butterfly, one enormous spider plus lots of smaller ones, nearly all Araneus circe, and a lot of dragonflies including Scarlet Darter, Black-tailed Skimmer and Scarce Chaser.

European Tree Frog, Hyla arborea

European Tree Frog

Comma butterfly, Polygonia c-album

Comma

It was soon time to head back to the hotel and we tore ourselves away, pausing on the way back to the minibus first to watch a flock of around 60 Bee-eaters circling over the field next door and then to photograph a neon green Weevil with blue legs which Matt found sitting on top of a metal fence post. It didn’t make for the prettiest perch but the colouring was fascinating to see and none of us had come across one like it before. A tortoise made an appearance just as we were gathering our things to leave.

We had a short drive back to the hotel but there was an interruption to our journey when we came across a traffic jam seemingly in the middle of nowhere and cars parked all down one side of the road. We made our way forward tentatively but were soon head to head with a tractor on our side of the road which was trying to get around the same problem. It transpired that there was a rural chapel and a wedding was happening. The car behind us had the bride in and we were beckoned to reverse into the chapel entrance so she could be delivered and then the tractor could pass so that we could move on. We spent a happy evening chatting about the drama of it all and debating our favourite finds from the afternoon whilst eating dinner in a restaurant a short walk through the village from our hotel.

The next morning, we set out for the day and headed through the village of Vironeia and up the hill towards an old quarry. Having parked up, we wandered along the track taking in the many macro photo opportunities that presented themselves. There were quite a number of butterflies flitting among the Christ’s Thorn blossoms, mostly at this stage of the day Meadow Browns but with a  few skittish Lattice Browns joining them, though proving harder to photograph, especially if a macro image was the objective.

Meadow Brown butterfly, Maniola jurtina

Meadow Brown

The woods around us reverberated with the song of Nightingales, with perhaps a dozen individuals singing over the course of our walk. A woodpecker sounded an alarm nearby and a Jay flew overhead. Along with the butterflies, the Christ’s Thorn was also being visited by a variety of other insects, honey bees provided a background hum while large green Rose Chafers bombed around between blooms. 

We came to a bit of a clearing where grazing had left only a selection of unpalatable plants such as Spanish Oysterplant and a Mullein to provide any perches for our potential subjects. Thankfully, the invertebrates were unfussy about this and we were soon scattered among the plants photographing Robberflies, Spiders and all sorts of other interesting invertebrates. One guest spent some time searching for butterflies and had fleeting glimpses of Ilex Hairstreaks, Clouded Yellows and more elusive Lattice Browns but was soon better rewarded when I found a Little Tiger Blue, perched most inaccessibly in a clump of spiky plants but proving most obliging as we took turns to capture images.

Little Tiger Blue butterfly, Tarucus balkanicus

Little Tiger Blue

Moving on up the track, Matt located a lovely pink and white Crab Spider and we noted there  were a number of butterflies fluttering around the Cionura erecta that scrambled through the trees like a Clematis. They were all out of reach with a macro lens and very active so we continued on a few yards more to where the landscape opened up to reveal the high rock walls of an old quarry. There were Wall Browns flitting amongst the rust brown rocks and a number of jumping spiders, mostly Red-bellied Jumping Spiders, Philaeus chrysops with strikingly marked red and black males. We were on the lookout for another red and black spider though and it wasn’t long before I spotted one in an uncharacteristic pose up a grass stem; the male Ladybird Spider. 

Photographs taken, we watched Hummingbird Hawkmoths zipping between flowers, noted the pale yellow blooms of Onosma echioides and had several tantalising glimpses of Large Tortoiseshells as they flew past and on up the steep rock face. Crag Martins wheeled overhead and a pair of Black-eared Wheatears collected prey items, presumably for a growing brood. 

We had lunch in a picnic shelter with a fabulous view over the landscape beyond with the lake in the distance. A Painted Lady was spotted passing by as we packed up to move on and we stopped by a large puddle on the way back down to see if we could find more butterflies collecting moisture and minerals around it. A Silver-washed Fritillary was zipping around at high speed and several Nettle Tree butterflies were found but there weren’t as many species as we had hoped.

Nettle Tree butterfly, Libythea celtis

Nettle Tree Butterfly

Nevertheless, Matt suggested we look on the edge of the woods here and we found some more attractive species including the hairy green spider, Heriaeus hirtus and in turning over some stones in the woods, a large Scolopendra centipede along with a couple of Scorpions. Stones carefully replaced, we moved on.

We paused in the village below for ice creams and admired a Stork nesting on the nearby church tower. Matt spotted a Ruby-tailed Wasp and then a damaged Scarce Swallowtail which he was able to show the group as he rescued it from the road.

Our main stop for the afternoon was a short drive away at Mandraki Harbour where we were greeted by a cacophony including Cuckoo, Great Reed Warbler and a plethora of frogs. There were a couple of large Gypsy Moth caterpillars on a nearby tree trunk which we paused to look at before spreading out to see what we could find; some of us heading down towards the water while others investigated the surrounding vegetation.

There were a number of sightings of Water Snakes although pictures seemed to be proving elusive until a member of our party found a Caspian Whip Snake up a tree! We wandered down a track nearby and Matt pointed out a Green Huntsman spider which was making a nest in the top of a reed by curling it over on itself. A few dragonflies were spotted including White-tailed Skimmer and back on the pier, we all made the most of the Balkan Green Lizards sunning themselves plus a guest spotted a Lang’s Short-tailed Blue Butterfly taking minerals.

White-tailed Skimmer dragonfly, Orthetrum albistylum

Female White-tailed Skimmer

Lang's Short-tailed Blue butterfly, Leptotes pirithous

Lang’s Short-tailed Blue

A last hurrah before we called it a day came in the form of a pristine Swallowtail looking for a spot to roost near the bus.

The previous evening we had agreed we’d like to return for an early morning foray at the harbour and so we set out at 5:30 from the hotel to arrive just after the sun had come up. Turtle Dove, Cetti’s Warbler and Cuckoo were calling to greet us and we had a huge flypast of Pelicans  overhead as they headed for fishing grounds at the other end of the lake. 

Wandering into a patch of meadow with long grasses, Poppies and a few other flowers, we found lots of Robberflies covered in dew, some with prey making for excellent subjects. There were a couple of slightly bedraggled Common Blue butterflies roosting too and when we emerged on to the track again, Matt pointed out some lovely clusters of roosting bees. The most tightly bunched were Longhorn Bees while others nearby with striking green eyes were beginning to warm up for the day and become more active.

Robberfly with prey

Robberfly with prey

A Cricket and a Robberfly share a reed

Robberfly and Cricket

We returned to the hotel for breakfast and, having eaten, set out for a day further afield. We made an impromptu stop beside the road to admire some Dragon Arums in full bloom, stinking of death but impressive nonetheless. A tight corner and steep climb in a village proved a challenge for the minibus but allowed views of a Hoopoe close at hand. Having negotiated the road, we turned off it onto a well maintained forestry track for the final stretch of the journey. I spotted a number of Balkan Lizard Orchids as we drove but we decided to stop for them on the way back.

In fact, just a short way further ahead, that plan changed as we came across a timber lorry being loaded and blocking our route. We managed to explain that we would like to get past and found a spot to park up while they finished their job that allowed the lorry past when it was done. A guest and I walked back the short distance to the orchids which were up the bank in a nice group. Meanwhile, another lady found a stunning longhorn beetle on one of the tree trunks that was lined up waiting to be loaded onto the next lorry. The group took turns in photographing it and in no time were being ushered back into the vehicle to manoeuvre our way past the vehicles up the track.

We continued our way uphill, stopping further up where there was a flowery corner to see what else we could find. Another guest was the one to make the star find this time, in the form of a couple of Green Hairstreaks, content to pose for photos while they soaked up the morning sun.

Green Hairstreak butterfly, Callophrys rubi

Green Hairstreak

Another group member meanwhile had found a beautiful Southern White Admiral. Matt uncovered a large centipede with young, still white and translucent, in the surrounding woodland. Further up, Red Helleborines flowered beneath the  trees and more butterflies were found including a number of Green Hairstreaks, some obliging Nettle Tree Butterflies and a mating pair of Common Blues.

Our final stop on the route was where we’d enjoy lunch by a spring fed water trough in a large meadow, and spend a couple of hours pottering around and enjoying it for the afternoon. Settling to eat first, there were a few butterflies fluttering around including Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Clouded Yellow. A lovely male Red-backed Shrike was perched on a wire opposite us and Matt was coming up with a plan to try and photograph some of the Pond Skaters on the water trough at low level. 

Sandwiches devoured, we split up to explore. There were Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Comma and Purple-shot Coppers among other butterflies noted.

Purple-shot Copper butterfly, Lycaena alciphron in Clover

Purple-shot Copper

The ungrazed edges of the meadow  against the shrubs bore purple masses of Viola graeca and delicate Maiden Pinks, and there were all manner of interesting invertebrates from jumping spiders to picture-winged flies, crickets and grasshoppers to shield bugs.

 

Bordered Orbweaver spider, Neoscona adianta on a Plantain flower

Bordered Orbweaver, Neoscona adianta

Red Shieldbug nymph

Red Shieldbug Nymph

Having spent a happy time delving into their worlds, we heeded the warning of the thunder clouds that had gathered overhead and made our way back down. We paused briefly just above where we’d passed the timber lorries to admire the view across to the lake and its  surroundings, made more impressive by the weather unfolding in front of us. Wary not to wait until it reached us, we headed on and emerged onto the road again well below the narrow-streeted village we’d negotiated earlier and glad not to have to traverse the same route again. 

We made one last impromptu stop at a flowery patch beside the road which proved rather smelly owing to a number of Dragon Arums hidden from initial view beneath the trees, but incredibly fruitful in macro photography terms. We came across roosting Small and Essex skippers, a number of the incredibly beautiful Large Balkan Spoon-winged Lacewings, a Brassy Longhorn micro moth, several sleepy bees and a Spurge Hawkmoth among other things.

Large Balkan Spoon-winged Lacewing, Nemoptera sinuata

Large Balkan Spoon-winged Lacewing

Brassy Longhorn micro moth, Adela metallica

Brassy Longhorn

Thoroughly buzzing at all the lovely things we’d found during the day, we headed back to the hotel and out to dinner where the chatter would continue into the evening. 

We started the following day picking up two more people who had been with another group in a nearby hotel, one would join us for the day owing to a late flight while the other  would remain for 3 days. The bus full, we made our way to a spot near the Strimonas River where we made our way down a track along the raised embankment. Bee-eaters flew overhead, settling in the trees and as we dropped down into the field away from the river, we found their nest holes scattered among the rough vegetation. I found a Marginated Tortoise and Matt pointed out the huge number of Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars in varying instars. There were Crested Larks near the track and both Common and Red-rumped Swallows were hawking for insects and dipping for a drink from the river. Little Egret, Purple Heron and Cormorant made fly-bys along with White Stork and Little Ringed Plover.

Bee-eaters, Merops apiaster

Bee-eaters

There were a few dragonflies around, mostly passing at high speed and not settling for images, and we all enjoyed seeing and photographing a tiny European Tree Frog on a thistle leaf, and  shortly afterwards, a juvenile Green Toad.

For lunch, we headed in to the small town of Irakleia where we found a restaurant offering Gyros and, having eaten, we headed out for an afternoon in a disused quarry which has since been reclaimed by nature with Wild Thyme, Pink Everlasting and Jasione jankae flowering in the bottom.  Crested Larks and Black-headed Buntings sang from the fields around the quarry as we made our way down the entry track. Small Heath, Hungarian Skipper and Meadow Brown butterflies fluttered among the flowers along with the  day flying Spotted Clover moth. There were a number of Praying Mantis, including Mantis religiosa, Ameles spallanzania and Empusa fasciata, plus some fascinating beetles which we later identified as Cerocoma muehlfeldi, the males of which have  bizarre antennae that look almost malformed.

Praying mantis, Mantis religiosa

Mantis religiosa

Cerocoma meuhlfeldi

Additionally, there were a few beautiful robber flies,  Promachus leoninus with strikingly green eyes, several small Paper Wasp nests being attended by adults, nursery webs of the attractive jumping spider Mogrus neglectus, plus a variety of shield bugs and other interesting beetles and Matt uncovered a large Scolopendra centipede. On the track where we’d parked and in the small damp meadow the other side, we found the large Egyptian Grasshopper with characteristically stripy eyes, Pygmy Skipper and the distinctive Red-bellied Jumping Spider.

Pygmy Skipper, Gegenes pumilio

Pygmy Skipper

It was soon time to return to the hotel and freshen up before dinner in the restaurant over the road. I took the one lady to eat early and then to the airport for her flight home, while the rest of the group enjoyed a more leisurely meal.

We set off the next morning for one of our more distant sites, heading through the town of Sidirokastro and up into the mountains. The last section of our journey was along a rough track but we were confident that the rewards at the end would be worth our mild discomfort and indeed it proved true. We pulled up in a woodland clearing and despite Matt’s concern that recent improvements to the area had included mowing off some of the wildflowers, we found it to be full of interest. We explored the immediate area first, a few of the group coming across a couple of Tawny Owls in the trees. One of them then found a stunning Cream-spot Tiger Moth, meanwhile Matt and I took in an impressive chapel built into a cave in the side of the cliff.

Cream-spot Tiger moth, Arctia villica

Cream-spot Tiger moth

Back in the clearing, some of the ladies had found a couple of different Burnet moths including Zygaena punctum, plus a few butterflies and Bee Chafers to photograph. There was a Small Blue in excellent condition, a rather tattier Dingy Skipper, Mallow Skipper and both Chequered and Adonis Blues along with Nine-spotted moth, Pygmy moth and a variety of beetles.

A Burnet moth, Zygaena punctum

Zygaena punctum

Mallow Skipper head on, Carcharodus alceae

Mallow Skipper

The group opted to walk back down the track towards our next stop which we had passed on the way up. I picked a couple of them up on the way but the rest preferred to see what they could find on foot. Reaching our stopping point, we parked up and got things ready for lunch which we would eat when the others joined us. There were Red-rumped Swallows zipping past at head height, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings calling from the tops of nearby bushes and a beautiful selection of wildflowers  including Haplophyllum balcanicum, Saponaria bellidifolia, Ornithogalum narbonense, Linum tenuifolium and Fumana ericoides among others. Having eaten, we spent some time enjoying the insect life too, spotting a Mountain Small White butterfly and finding some longhorn bees, and taking photos of the impressive landscape while we had the opportunity.

On the way back, we stopped in the village of Achladochori for ice creams, and spent a few moments watching the comings and goings of House Martins from their nests on the nearby buildings while House Sparrows chattered noisily in the trees of the village square.

We made a couple more stops on our return journey, the first of which was by some meadows which bordered the river, though the water itself wasn’t terribly accessible. There were some lovely butterflies including Southern White Admiral, Eastern Knapweed Fritillary, Spotted Fritillary, and Eastern Festoon, although the  latter was generally in fast flight along the edge of the trees and not willing to settle. There was a  large puddle on the track and some of the butterflies were coming down to take minerals and drink. The main interest in the puddle itself though were a number of Balkan Frogs which plopped out of sight when anyone came too close but were content enough to pop up again so long as you sat still.

Balkan Frog, Pelophylax kurtmuelleri

Balkan Frog

Having checked another possible stop and ascertained that it was not an option, we made an impromptu pause on the side of the road for some mud-puddling butterflies including Wood White, Amanda’s Blue, Mazarine Blue, Nettle Tree, Pygmy Skipper, Red Admiral and Brown Argus. 

Moving on once more, we stopped at an area where the river we’d been following was more accessible. There were a  couple of butterflies here too but mostly Meadow Browns, although I was trying to find an Oriental Meadow Brown, without success. Down by the water, a number of Demoiselles were perched on the vegetation and one of our group spotted a Grass Snake. In the meantime, Matt and I were astonished by the number of Antlion pits in a small sandy area – perhaps thirty or forty of these small conical depressions, and at the base of each the voracious Antlion larvae waiting for an unsuspecting insect to get trapped.

Our final stop of the day was beside the river once more, but a little further downstream where the water tumbled over rapids between smooth rocks. Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars, dragonflies, several beetles and bees were the main focus of the stop until Matt found more Spoon-winged Lacewings in one of the meadows.

Macro image of Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars, Hyla euphorbiae

Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars

Sadly though, most of the group didn’t hear him calling owning to a large lorry trundling down the track which we were parked on and me having to move the minibus to let them past! It was soon time to head for the hotel though and enjoy another meal in a local restaurant. 

Our morning began bright and early the nextday but with good reason. Nikos, the owner of the hotel we were staying in as well as the local boat guide on the lake met us at Mandraki harbour just before 6am for our boat trip. Although billed as a largely macro-focussed holiday, we couldn’t come to this beautiful part of the world without taking advantage of this opportunity. The sunrise was beautiful and cast a golden glow over the water as we set out.

Sunrise over Lake Kerkini

Sunrise over Lake Kerkini

We began by circling a small clump of willows in which Spoonbills and Pygmy Cormorants were nesting, before turning into a quiet section between the reeds where a Black-crowned Night Heron fished and Great Crested Grebe nests could be glimpsed between the reed stems.

Spoonbill with young, Platalea leucorodia

Spoonbill with young

As we emerged on to the open water again, we had good views of both Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans feeding individually. We set off across the lake now towards the island where the Pelicans were nesting, careful not to pass too closely, we were able to see that the Dalmatians were mostly on a wooden platform to one side while the Great White Pelicans held most of the island itself. Yellow-legged Gulls and a few stray Pelicans atop wooden posts proved good photographic subjects as we headed towards the flooded forest. As we drew near, the cacophony rose from the huge number of Cormorants nesting in the trees here.

Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahelis

Yellow-legged Gull

Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus

Dalmatian Pelican

We had nice views of Little Egrets too, their fine head plumes indicating their breeding status. We made our way up the mouth of the River Strimonas a short way, noting small groups of Pelicans feeding together, Spoonbills in the shallows and a Penduline Tit nest suspended in a willow overhanging the water. Much of the time, it was hard to know where to look first with birds flying past almost constantly. Squacco Herons proved particularly tricky to photograph but we were all grateful of the ability with digital cameras to take a great number of images and pick through them later to find the best.

On our way back, we stopped to marvel at another tree which held the nests of Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret at least. On returning to the harbour, we found a Grey Heron waiting for us on the pier. We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and a warm drink.

Great Cormorant and young, Phalacrocorax carbo

Cormorant and young

Having refuelled, we took a short drive out to a spot just outside the village where some new species awaited us. We were enthralled on the way there by Great Reed Warblers not seeming to be troubled by the bus as we passed. On pulling up, it was apparent that there were masses of dragonflies to photograph, the challenge would be capturing the images as it was already warm and they were flighty. We split up to see what we could find. 

There were lots of Scarlet Darters here, along with White-tailed Skimmers and Black Pennants. There were a few Bee-eaters around, more Great Reed Warblers, Little Bitterns and a Kestrel. One guest managed to find the only butterfly of the stop, a Common Blue.

White-tailed Skimmer & Scarlet Darter

Male White-tailed Skimmer & Scarlet Darter

Having had Gyros once more in Irakleia for lunch, we moved on to another spot for the afternoon, close to the dam at the southern end of the lake. As we pulled up, Matt commented on how different the area looked to the last time he had visited, the course of the river had changed and with recent high water levels, the area nearest the road was now largely boggy and impassable. Not to be deterred, we wandered up the track a short way and found plenty to photograph on the way including cryptic looking Grasshoppers, more gorgeous Little Tiger Blue butterflies and a couple of attractive Southern Migrant Emerald Damselflies. A couple of female Black-tailed Skimmers kept settling on the track too but were too flighty for close shots. 

Further on, on the edge of a quarry area, Matt found a Bladetail dragonfly, sadly not seen by the rest of the group despite efforts to find others. There was a brief sighting of a Camberwell Beauty that disappeared around a tree never to reappear, and the group found a variety of intriguing invertebrates including Antlions, Velvet Ants, and Beetles.

Macro photo of an adult Antlion

Adult Antlion

There was a Cirl Bunting calling from the top of a nearby tree and moving up the adjacent slope, I spotted a family of Masked Shrikes although they sadly flew shortly after. A Lobed Orbweaver became the subject of our attention here and while it was being photographed a couple of tiny Green Toads were found hopping about. Matt found an even more impressive spider down a burrow and I coaxed it out with a piece of grass for photographs to be taken.

It was soon time to return to the hotel. We spotted a Little Owl on our way back and enjoyed another local meal in the evening.

For our final full day in the area, we gave our guests the option to choose which site they would like to return to. We began with an early morning outing to the quarry we’d visited in the middle of the week, noting several communal clusters of Codophila varia shield bug nymphs as we entered. The night had been cool and there was dew covering the flowers, as well as some of the roosting Small Heath butterflies we encountered. There seemed to be a lot more of the green-eyed robber flies than previously, allowing all of us to obtain a variety of photos, macro and wider angle. Meanwhile Matt found a large and beautiful Jewel Beetle, Julodis ehrenbergii.

Jewel Beetle, Julodis ehrenbergii

Julodis ehrenbergii

Macro image of a Robberfly, Promachus leoninus

Promachus leoninus

An obliging Eastern Bath White fluttered in and settled among the Thyme before we left and as the sun came up.

Eastern Bath White butterfly, Pontia Medusa

Eastern Bath White

The overwhelming vote for a site to return to was Mandraki Harbour which we did after returning to the hotel for breakfast. As previously, there was plenty to see. Along with the usual suspects of Squacco Herons, and Cormorants flying over, two of our group saw and photographed a Great Crested Grebe wrestling with a snake. I meanwhile was getting up close and personal with some of the Balkan Green Lizards on the pier and, later, almost closer still to a juvenile Dice Snake which liked the look of the rock I was sitting on!

Balkan Green Lizard with Mulberry, Lacerate trilineata

Balkan Green Lizard

Matt, on the other hand, had found some Thistle Tortoise Beetles munching on the Giant Burdocks beneath the trees while Blue-tailed Damselflies and Lang’s Short-tailed Blue butterfly also proved popular subjects.

Before long it was time to move on. We headed to a restaurant nearby for some lunch before continuing on to our final spot for the afternoon in the quarry we’d visited on our first full day. Once again we had a fun few hours pottering about and finding all sorts to photograph such as beautiful Worm Snakes uncovered by Matt, plenty of butterflies including Ilex Hairstreaks, Clouded Yellows, Large Tortoiseshell, Common Glider, Silver-washed Fritillary, Wall Brown, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Brown Argus among others. We were once again serenaded by Nightingales but there were also a pair of Ravens overhead. Among the other finds were Heriaeus hirtus, the green hairy spider we’d seen on our first visit, a jumping spider in the genus Heliophanus and an Assassin Bug.

We returned to the hotel for our final evening and enjoyed a home cooked meal there with Nikos for our last evening together. The table was laden with salads, vegetables and side dishes to accompany delicious Moussaka made by his wife Melina. It was the perfect way to end our time on the shores of Kerkini.

The weather for our journey to the airport the next morning had obviously realised we were leaving and was miserable on our behalf. Thankfully dry while we packed luggage into the bus, the heavens opened as we drove. Our spirits were not to be dampened however as we chatted amicably about all the wonderful species we’d seen and what we hoped to find on our memory cards when we eventually downloaded our images, macro or otherwise. We said our farewells at the airport in Thessaloniki and headed our separate ways after a wonderful week of camaraderie, good food, and great wildlife. 

Mount Chelmos and its endemic butterflies

In my last post I wrote about the first half of the Butterflies of Greece tour that I led for Greenwings this summer. This week I’m continuing the story and starting where I left off having left our base in Delphi on our way across the Gulf of Corinth to our second base for the week in the pretty town of Kalavryta on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, another beautifully scenic area and with several endemic butterfly species that we would be looking out for.

Our first stop was only a few minutes down the road at my Grass Jewel site. The wind whipped up as we climbed out of the van and there was some concern over whether we would find any but we carried on regardless. There were Rock Nuthatches calling incessantly nearby and a Kestrel flew overhead. Several Antlions were spotted, some small and damselfly-like, others larger and more heavily patterned.

On reaching the spot where we expected to see the Grass Jewels, we noted the Thymus capitatus flowering well and while some of the group walked on, I settled in to look. The few who walked ahead saw a tortoise but were soon called back because their target butterfly had been found. The tiny Grass Jewel was astonishingly difficult to spot but once we got our eyes in there were at least three individuals seen and most of the group managed good images of the little beauties as they battled against the breezy conditions.

 

Grass Jewel

 

The ubiquitous Painted Lady was also seen along with Meadow Brown and plenty of large Robberflies. On the way back to the vehicles, an Eastern Bath White was spotted.

We had a slightly longer journey ahead of us but would break it briefly to fill up with fuel in Itea and then follow the scenic coastal road to the idyllic seaside town of Galaxidi. Here, we parked up on the harbour side and went for a wander up the hill opposite the town.

 

Galaxidi Harbour

 

Freyer’s Graylings were numerous under the pines here and a Marbled Skipper was found. Rosemary bushes beside the path yielded stripy Rosemary Leaf Beetles, meanwhile Prickly Pears played host to Lobed Orbweaver Spiders, many of which had egg sacs.

 

Marbled Skipper

 

Several Hoopoes flew over and Collared Doves were plentiful here too. As we returned downhill towards the road, my co-guide Dan spotted another new species for the trip, a Geranium Bronze.

We had a very pleasant lunch in a restaurant beside the water where Swallows nested beneath the sun canopy and each nest had a bespoke miniature wooden balcony beneath to catch the droppings. We commented on how well it worked and were charmed to see the Swallows sitting on their balcony rails twittering at one another.

We continued our journey onward having eaten and followed the Gulf of Corinth to the impressive Rio Antirrio bridge, making a very brief pause for photographs on the way. Once on the other side, we made good time heading down the motorway to Diakopto and turning uphill  towards Kalavryta.

Our next stop was at a wet flush on the hillside where a small meadow is occasionally used by local beekeepers. Thankfully there were no hives here today but there were plenty of lovely butterflies to be seen. Among the first were Silver Washed Fritillary, a good number of which were nectaring on a fennel plant. Spotted Fritillary and Holly Blue were also seen here and many Ilex Hairstreaks were nectaring on a large patch of brambles.

 

Holly Blue

 

Ilex Hairstreak

 

Lythrum hyssopifolia was found flowering beside the water. A whole host of new butterflies for the trip were then added in  fairly fast succession including Ripart’s Anomalous Blue, Lesser Fiery Copper, Sooty Copper and Pygmy Skipper. Common Blue, Southern White Admiral and a particularly dark Balkan Marbled White were also noted. Venturing carefully onto the roadside, a Bright Bush Cricket was found, and a glade along the road a few yards yielded a Swallowtail. Here, and elsewhere in this area, we also came across some rather attractive Blister beetles.

 

Blister beetle

 

I also photographed a dried out Cicada exuvia which I came across in a nice position on a Canary Clover flower. These strange insects mature in several stages much like dragonflies but underground rather than underwater. They then climb a suitable stalk and emerge as winged adults in much the same way leaving behind a husk that shows their previous form.

 

Cicada exuvia

 

Exhilarated by the richness of the previous site we were chattering about our finds as we drove the last stretch of our journey to our next hotel in Kalavryta. We settled in and headed out for pizza in the evening in good spirits.

The following day dawned bright but a little cooler. We set off after a delicious breakfast to head up Mount Chelmos. Our first stop was at a meadow where Pyramidal Orchid, White Helleborine, Everlasting Sweetpea, yellow Rock Rose and a white Armeria flowered. There was a large Clay Bumblebee making the most of the nectar available.

 

Bombus argillaceus

 

It was cooler here but we were able to find some butterflies roosting in the long grass. The Peloponnese Mazarine Blue was found here along with Green Veined White, Silver Studded Blue, Common Blue, Zephyr Blue, Large White and Small Heath. A Scarlet Tiger Moth was also spotted in a Juniper bush and provided ample photographic opportunities for the group despite being a little restless.

 

Scarlet Tiger Moth

 

We ventured up to the top of the mountain but found rather a lot of it in cloud and the same sort of thing on the other side, so we retraced our steps a short way to a warmer spot. Here we saw Golden Drops (Onosma erecta) flowering along with an attractive endemic  Skullcap, Scutellaria rupestris ssp. parnassica which one of our guests found. Some lovely Peloponnese Wall Lizards were photographed and there were a few butterflies here too, mostly Ilex Hairstreak but also Balkan Marbled White.

 

Scutellaria rupestris ssp. parnassica

 

As the cloud was being slow to clear and we weren’t finding much here, we dropped down further to some meadows off the Cave of the Lakes road where we also had lunch. Along with the numerous Ilex Hairstreaks here, we also found Sloe Hairstreak and Purple Hairstreak. Meadow Browns were plentiful here and Small White was noted too. An Anomalous Blue caused a bit of a stir in a sheltered gully near where we parked, and where Dianthus and Larkspur flowered among the longer grasses, Small Skipper was joined by Balkan Marbled White and there was a brief glimpse of a shimmering green Forester Moth.

 

Small Skipper on Dianthus

 

All the while, a Nightingale sang from the depths of a patch of thick scrub. One of our keen-eyed guests found a beautiful neon yellow and blue Cuckoo wasp, relative of the Ruby-Tailed Wasp which we managed to find again several minutes later still nectaring on the same Giant Fennel plant.

 

Cuckoo Wasp

 

By this point, the clouds had finally lifted off the peaks of Mount Chelmos and so we headed up the mountain once more to a sunlit slope where we would look for one of the endemic butterflies, the Odd-spot Blue. Transparent Burnet Moths, Dingy Skipper and Silver Studded Blue were all found in the flowery patches of this natural rock garden. The plants themselves were of note too with one particularly striking one, catching the eye of most members of the group for looking rather prickly and thistle-like but not having remotely thistle-like flowers. They were the pink and white blooms of Morina persica, but there were some other nice things here too including glorious yellow Stonecrops, cushions of Thyme and hummocks of Spiny Thrift which are the food plant of the Odd-spot Blue.

There was a lot of hunting around for this tiny butterfly and in the meantime we found several lovely Philaeus chrysops jumping spiders, the males of which have a striking red and black abdomen.

 

Male Philaeus chrysops

 

Female Philaeus chrysops

 

There were also some gorgeous Milky Owlflies, insects built a little like Dragonflies with the exception of long clubbed antennae and a slightly shorter, hairier body. They, like dragonflies, hawk for insect prey and often have colourful wings.

 

Milky Owlfly, Libelloides lacteus

 

At last, there was a call that a guest had found an Odd-spot Blue, and sure enough there were eventually two or three individuals seen and thoroughly photographed!

 

Odd-Spot Blue, Mount Chelmos

Odd-Spot Blue, Mount Chelmos

Odd-spot Blue laying eggs

 

In the meantime, we had been talking with a keen Dutch butterfly enthusiast and he was equally pleased to see these tiny insects although he duly left us still enjoying them. We paused only once more on our way back to the vehicles to admire a particularly fresh Queen of Spain Fritillary.

 

Queen of Spain Fritillary

 

The time soon came to move on and we drove a short way down the mountain to a damp gully where Corn Buntings sang from some scrubby Hawthorn bushes and we were hopeful of finding Chelmos Blue, the second endemic species which is found only the slopes of Mount Chelmos. Just as we started to descend the bank, the Dutchman pulled up in his car and leapt out wielding a jam jar. It transpired that, as he knew we were hoping to see Chelmos Blue, when he had found one he had caught it in the jar to show us. He told us about the site where he had caught it and left us with the jar. We continued on, pausing a while to admire some mud puddling blues including Chalk-hill and Turquoise as well as a couple of Skippers. Reaching a suitable spot, we carefully released the Chelmos Blue from it’s jar and gathered to admire and photograph it as it settled on a leaf before taking its leave.

 

Chelmos Blue, Mount Chelmos

Chelmos Blue

 

One of our guests meanwhile had found a Lackey Moth caterpillar near the vehicles.

 

Lackey Moth Caterpillar

 

We made one last stop of the day at the new site where the generous Dutchman told us he had found the Chelmos Blue. While we were delighted to see one at all, it would be the icing on the cake to find one for ourselves. This new spot was particularly colourful with vetches, Pyramidal orchids and all manner of other flowers providing plenty of nectar for butterflies and other pollinators alike. Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoths and Hummingbird Hawkmoths joined Transparent Burnet Moths and a variety of butterflies including the ever present Painted Ladies, Clouded Yellow, Small Skipper, Balkan Zephyr Blue and Clouded Apollo among others. We didn’t find our own Chelmos Blue but we had fun trying!

 

Transparent Burnet moths

 

We returned to our hotel satisfied with a good day’s butterflying despite a cloudy start. We enjoyed dinner in a lovely local  restaurant where we were served delicious traditional dishes.

The next day began bright and hot and after breakfast we set off towards the coast. One couple among us had set out on their own adventure today to explore the ancient site of Olympia so we were a smaller group for a few hours.

We pulled into the Vouraikos Gorge with the sun blazing above us and I spread out some rotting fruit bait on various tree branches and leaves in the hope of luring our target species for the day, the Two-tailed Pasha. There were few butterflies on the wing here today perhaps because of the rather oppressive heat, even in the morning. Nevertheless, we spent a short while exploring and found Beautiful Demoiselles on the vegetation near the river and Small Pincertail Dragonflies hunting from a variety of perches. Speckled Wood and Freyer’s Grayling were found lurking in the shadier spots and a Peloponnese Wall Lizard was seen to scuttle away. With little  sign of the Pashas and not much else to look at, we decided to take a sojourn elsewhere and return in a short while.

We retraced our route a short way up the road to a spot where water was spilling into a shallow puddle in a layby. There were plenty of insects taking advantage of this moisture and we spent a happy half hour enjoying a steady stream of Painted Ladies, as well as puddling Wall Brown, Southern White Admiral and Pygmy Skipper. An enormous Buprestid beetle, later identified as a member of the Chalcophora genus, landed on my co-guide’s head. He took his cap off to investigate and was able to show the group.

 

Large Buprestid beetle

 

Several Southern Skimmers were also zipping around and while we agreed that it was not the most picturesque stop we had made, the number of invertebrates for such a small area was impressive.

Having allowed time for the bait to work its wonders, we returned to the gorge and had barely got out of the minibuses when the first Pasha was spotted. I put some more bait nearer the vehicles under an Oriental Plane tree and was buzzed by one before I had even opened the tupperware box! To have such close views of these fast moving, blousy insects gave me as much joy as any other wildlife close encounter I’ve experienced.

These stunning large butterflies were admired for a while and a slightly tatty Swallowtail was photographed nectaring on a Cotton Thistle nearby. Cleopatra was spotted and several of the group took the opportunity to cool off by paddling in a shallow area of the river which was very refreshing. We had lunch here and enjoyed the Pashas a little longer before heading back up the mountain.

 

Swallowtail

 

Our next port of call was at Mega Spilaio monastery where we had a gentle wander up the slopes and round the grounds. We were treated to impressive views over the valley and the gorge in the bottom while Crag Martins wheeled overhead and flew up to the cliff face above. The call of a Peregrine Falcon alerted us to its presence and we watched it dance on the updrafts at the top edge of the rock face. An Eastern Rock Grayling was admired alighting on the path ahead of us while Clouded Yellow, Ilex Hairstreak and Balkan Marbled White were noted elsewhere. Silver-washed Fritillary and Red Admiral were spotted almost immediately and a Southern Swallowtail nectared alongside them on a patch of Red Valerian growing out of a wall. It fooled us all into thinking it a Scarce Swallowtail for some time but was eventually noted to be different and garnered a little more attention. A few of the group ventured into the monastery to admire the extraordinary murals.

Heading on up the hill towards Kalavryta, we made a brief stop to buy some delicious local cherries from a roadside stall in Kernitsa and on returning to town it was decided that as it was particularly hot and many of the group would rather have a relaxing afternoon, we would have some free time with an optional walk up to the Memorial on the hillside above the town.

A small band of intrepid guests joined us to walk up to the memorial later in the afternoon, pausing on the way to buy ice creams. The memorial is dedicated to the young men who lost their lives in a horrendous massacre by the Nazi forces during the Second World War. It is a humbling spot which commands a beautiful view of the town below and the planting of nectar rich plants as well as the wildflowers among the grass meant that there were many butterflies to be seen. On the way up, we checked many Fennel plants for Swallowtail caterpillars but were disappointed not to find any. We did see Balkan Marbled White and one of our guests found a Ripart’s Anomalous Blue too.

 

 

A number of Great Banded Graylings were flying around the memorial and on the flowers there Common Blue, Grecian Copper, Eastern Bath White, Meadow Brown and Oriental Meadow Brown were noted among others. We took a gentle return journey and had time to change before dinner.

In the interim, at the request of our guests, my co-guide Dan also gave a short talk about his involvement in establishing Corfu Butterfly Conservation, the work they do and some of the species that occur on the island. Later in the evening we visited a lovely restaurant called Grand Chalet which was a short drive back down the mountain. It has fantastic views over the gorge below and we were treated to a delicious meal there as we watched the sun go down.

Our final full day in Greece dawned bright once more and  we set off uphill once again. Our first stop for the day was on the far side of the mountain where a track carved its way through some rough meadows and scrubby woodland. On exiting the vehicles, several tall Illyrian Cotton Thistles standing nearby drew our eye as their broad purple flowerheads were covered in butterflies and other insects. Rose Chafers and Bumblebees butted shoulders with Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns and Brimstones.

 

Clouded Yellow on a Cotton Thistle

 

Wandering on up a gentle slope, we came to a more open area where Juniper bushes studded a rocky meadow. Several different Burnet Moths were seen here including the Billowing Burnet and Crepuscular Burnet.

 

Crepuscular Burnet

 

Billowing Burnet

 

A Balkan Lizard Orchid was also found and admired by the group. Without realising it, I managed to capture a tiny solitary bee that was coming to pollinate the flower in my photograph!

 

Balkan Lizard Orchid

 

A short way further on, a lovely male Meleager’s Blue was spotted.

 

Male Meleager’s Blue

 

Nearing a bend in the track, a Cardinal was spotted briefly by a guest but seemed to then vanish into thin air as butterflies often seem able. Just beyond, a thicket of enormous Cotton Thistles sported Brimstones, Clouded Yellows and Cleopatras galore plus Violet Carpenter Bees and a whole host of other invertebrates. Several Greek Goldenring Dragonflies were seen darting about and one or two even settled for photographs.

 

Greek Goldenring Dragonfly

 

A female Ruddy Darter was also noted along with Turquoise Blue, Silver Washed Fritillary, Ilex Hairstreak and Balkan Marbled White.

 

Female Ruddy Darter

 

On our return walk down the track, the Cardinal was spotted once more and this time obliged us by allowing the majority of the group to see it, albeit rather briefly before it settled in the shade of a Kermes Oak. It transpired later in the day that two of our guests had independently photographed Persian Skipper here too.

 

Cardinal

 

Moving on, we made our way through a pretty little village in the valley below to a forest glade. This involved a rather bumpy track and we eventually abandoned the vehicles to walk the final few hundred metres as the track disintegrated further. We had our lunch here before exploring further and our efforts were soon rewarded with a flowery meadow where Adonis Blue and Queen of Spain Fritillary were joined by Southern Small White, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and several other familiar species. Dusky Skipper was added to the list here and further up in the woodland, Dan was able to show us a beautiful pristine male Dark Green Fritillary. Dingy Skipper, Wood White ad Essex Skipper were noted too. I picked wild strawberries for the group and we admired some particularly enormous Common Spotted Orchids growing on the riverbank as well as Red Helleborines in the shade alongside the track. A happy couple of hours were spent pottering around this lovely spot, ending with a group photo beneath the trees before we headed back the way we had come.

We made a short but productive impromptu stop beside the river on our way back where a large patch of Danewort was in  full flower. Once again we found it to be a magnet for insects and there were plenty of lovely butterflies to enjoy including Green Hairstreak, Spotted Fritillary, Ilex and Sloe Hairstreaks, Lang’s Short Tailed Blue and a particularly fine Sooty Copper.

 

Spotted Fritillary

 

Sooty Copper

 

A guest came across a Berger’s Clouded Yellow on the far side of the road but it wasn’t keen to stay put for a photograph. A pale Helice form of the female Clouded Yellow was a little more obliging.

 

Helice form female Clouded Yellow

 

We made another stop on our way back up Mount Chelmos at a rough track where we would look once more for our own Chelmos Blue. A guest spotted a beautiful red Dianthus just as we got out of the vans and we saw more of it as we climbed the track. There were Mallow Skipper and Southern Grizzled Skipper flitting along in front of us as we ambled uphill. Reaching a flowery patch on a bend where the track widened, we came across Mullein moth caterpillars on a Figwort and a lovely Longhorn beetle in the genus Agapanthia.

 

Mullein moth caterpillar

 

Common Blue and Riparts Anomalous Blue were noted and a beautiful green Balkan Wall Lizard was spotted on the rocks before it darted into some undergrowth. One of our guests made her way to a steep meadow above us and photographed a Great Sooty Satyr to add to our list before we returned to the vans.

Our final stop was another at the memorial above Kalavryta. Those who had not been before were keen to do so on hearing of our previous excursion and those who had were happy to return. We spent a short while photographing a great many Grecian Coppers and Oriental Meadow Browns among other butterflies and a Ruby Tailed Wasp provided an added pop of colour.

 

Oriental Meadow Brown

 

Ruby-tailed Wasp

 

We returned for our final evening together to the local restaurant we had so enjoyed a couple of nights earlier and had another fantastic meal.

Another bright morning heralded the end of our trip and we bid farewell to Kalavryta and Mount Chelmos soon after breakfast so as to get on the road in good time. We made only the one stop on our way to the airport, calling in at the impressive Corinth Canal to admire the beauty of this incredible feat of engineering and stock up on refreshments in a local cafe. We were happy to watch a family of Lesser Kestrels swooping over the top of the canal but our rest was brief as we had planes to catch.   

We dropped the group at the entrance to Athens airport before returning the vehicles and having hoped to see them all inside for a farewell, I was sad to be departing from a different set of gates as I headed off to France while the others returned home…that’s for another post though! It had been a wonderful week with our final tally of butterfly species coming to an impressive 99 – beating the all time high – and a wealth of lovely flowers and other vertebrate and invertebrate species seen too.