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Białowieża Forest, a primeval part of a modern world

Last week I wrote about the first half of a fantastic tour to north eastern Poland that I led for Greenwings Wildlife Holidays. We spent an incredible few days in the unspoilt Biebrza Marshes which were enormously biodiverse and had me wondering whether we really know what we are missing in our British landscape. The whole area felt like a step back in time, the farming was far less intensive and the wildlife thrived alongside the locals as they cut their hay and tended their crops. The second half of our tour would take us into the Białowieża Forest, into a UNESCO World Heritage Site which in itself was something I hadn’t knowingly experienced before. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more this corner of Poland could hold.

To start where I left off last time, having devoured the soup and potato pancakes our guesthouse provided for lunch, we loaded the van and set off. The drive took about an hour and we had a brief comfort break just before our main stop for the afternoon where coffee, chocolate and paprika crisps were the order of the day. Having stocked up, we drove the short distance to some fishponds that Tomasz had told us of. 

The first view of the site was a cacophony of Black-Headed Gulls circling above an area thick with rushes. As we made our way along the bank, Great Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were singing too and Fire Bellied Toads plus Pool/Marsh Frogs joined the chorus. We could see several Gull chicks on nests and a Little Tern flew overhead. Great Crested Grebe and Red Necked Grebe were both seen and later, both appeared with two chicks each. 


Common Gull chicks


It wasn’t long before we started to spot dragonflies and damselflies with Red-Eyed Damselfly and Four-Spotted Chaser quickly added to our list. Siberian Winter Damsel along with both Common and Small Bluetail as well as both Variable and Azure Damsels were seen too. A teneral dragonfly was thought to be a Norfolk Hawker while Common Clubtail, Scarce Chaser and Black-Tailed Skimmer were spotted. In the background, Bittern boomed and Cuckoo called incessantly. Our guests were happy to find some Robberflies to photograph and a couple of Small Heath butterflies were seen. I came across a sawfly larva trying to shuffle out of the remains of its old skin and watched as it freed itself.


Sawfly larva shedding its skin


Sawfly larva emerged in its new skin


As we walked, Pool/Marsh frogs leapt from the grassy path towards the reeds and a couple of Lizards also scampered out of our way, likely Common Lizards here though none hanging around to be formally identified. One frog in particular caused some amusement as it sized up a damselfly hanging from a reed above it and leapt to try and catch it for dinner, sadly failing. I hadn’t spotted the damselfly as I took my first photograph and sadly failed to get both in the image but the frog’s upward gaze made for a different shot.


Pool/Marsh Frog – eyes on the prize!


Meanwhile on the water, Gadwall, Mallard and lots of Coot were noted and on a distant part of the furthest pool, a single swan proved to be a Whooper while a Tufted duck was also spotted. Nearer to the bank a Lilypad Whiteface dragonfly was pointed out to us by Tomasz and a little further along the path a teneral Blue Emperor was found hanging vertically on a reed. As we turned onto the last stretch back to the van, a Savi’s Warbler reeled and a wounded Gull was found in the middle of the path and carefully circumnavigated.

We made a swift departure for our onward journey as we still had some way to go. The first impressions of Białowieża Forest were how verdant everything seemed. Our final stop before reaching the second hotel was in a meadow with a viewing tower where one of my keen eyed guests noticed a Lesser Spotted Eagle atop a branchless Silver Birch trunk. Having made one last detour to check for Bison (but without finding any) we made it to the hotel and checked in. Our evening meal was devoured and we managed a run-through of the checklist before turning in for the night.

The first morning in Białowieża Forest dawned bright and clear. After breakfast we took a short drive to a spot outside the village and very close to the Belarus border. Here we walked a track which briefly passed through a meadow where Red-Backed Shrike was seen in the top of a nearby tree while Painted Lady and Small Heath butterflies zipped over the Cow Parsley. 

The track then entered the woodland and we were treated to a number of differing forest habitats, beginning with wet woodland. Wild Raspberry, Jack-by-the-Hedge and Greater Celandine were growing by the path while Yellow Flag Iris and Water Violet bloomed from the pools beneath the trees. I found tiny Figwort Weevils on the Figwort here. Crested Tit was seen and a Wren was singing loudly out of sight. 


Water Violet


Walking on, we entered a drier area of mixed forest where a guest found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest and shortly afterward, I spotted a Green Hairstreak. Broad Leaved Helleborines were found beside the path just coming into bud along with Asarum europeum, white starry flowers of Wood Stitchwort which is less common in the UK and the yellow flowers of Touch-me-mot Balsam. Song Thrush sang from the trees as we continued.

We soon reached a bridge over the river which gave us picturesque views up and downstream. There were large numbers of European Map butterflies on the Cow Parsley here as well as both Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles on the river below. A Blue Tit looked particularly resplendent in the sunshine as it flew across the river at head height. 


European Map


Crossing to the other side we entered Alder Carr woodland with Cirsium dissectum flowering in patches beneath the trees. The Cuckoo which had been calling throughout our walk so far sounded particularly resonant here, almost seeming to echo around us, while Chaffinch and Robin sang from the treetops. Both Collared and Pied Flycatchers were also heard calling but couldn’t be located among the leafy canopy. 


Alder Carr Woodland


Moving on, we came to a part of the woodland dominated by Norway Spruce on a raised bog, conditions typical of the Taiga forest of the far north. Here we found Common Spotted Orchids in bud and masses of Anemone hepatica leaves, hinting at the purple carpet this woodland enjoys each spring. Here we also heard both Wren and Dunnock singing as well as finding another Great Spotted Woodpecker nest. Tomasz was surprised to hear White Backed Woodpeckers too and we soon had a brief but clear sighting of them as they flew into a clearing in response to him playing their call. 

As we came to a junction in the path, we found the telltale signs of Wolves scent marking which Tomasz thought to be a couple of days old. He also pointed out Dentaria, a plant in the cabbage family which produces edible and nutritious dark purple bulbils. At his suggestion, I tried one and reported that it tasted rather like raw broccoli but not unpleasant. 

We soon reached the end of our walk and were met by Lukasz in the minibus for a short drive to a roadside meadow. Here we spent a short time wandering between flowers of Ragged Robin, Lesser Spearwort and Ox-Eye Daisy looking for butterflies. We had some success with one of my guests finding a Short Tailed Blue and me adding Dingy Skipper to the list along with more Small Heath and Common Blue.


Dingy Skipper


Finding a dry patch where we could comfortably sit, we had a few minutes rest in the sun while Tomasz went in search of fritillaries in an adjoining, wetter meadow. We enjoyed listening to a Great Reed Warbler in a nearby clump of bushes while we photographed a variety of flowers and insects around us.


Cucumber Spider in an Ox-Eye daisy


Our afternoon stop was a little drive away where the forest gave way to a chain of lakes, glittering in the afternoon sun. As we were unloading lunch from the van, one of our guests spotted a Purple-Shot Copper flitting around. We watched Black Redstart and White Wagtail hopping around in the sun as we ate. Having finished, we set off for a circular walk around one of the lakes. 

We had barely begun when we spotted some lovely flowers including dark purple Columbine, Spiked Rampion (in its white form), the pretty Wood Vetch and a single Bird’s Nest Orchid behind a nearby bench. A guest also found a lovely Sand Lizard basking on a tree stump.


Spiked Rampion, Phyteuma spicatum 


Wood Vetch, Vicia sylvatica


As we rounded the bend to join the path around the lake a Great Reed Warbler sang from a nearby reed patch. We walked only a few feet onto a small bridge and were surrounded by Dragonflies. Despite the strange looks that the local fishermen were giving us, we studied them as best we could through binoculars, scope and cameras. There were lots of Norfolk Hawkers, Brilliant Emeralds and Four-Spotted Chasers not to mention damselflies. The first part of the walk was going to be slow paced, there was almost too much to take in!


Norfolk Hawker in flight


As we moved on, we followed a disused narrow gauge railway line through a shadier patch where the water was behind the trees from us. Another Sand Lizard was spotted on a fallen tree trunk and Painted Lady butterflies were nectaring on Bramble flowers in the dappled shade. Emerging back into the sunlight, we found a spot where several fallen branches in the water were being used as perches by a variety of Dragonflies, including a very obliging Yellow-Spotted Whiteface which allowed us all a good look at it. 


Yellow-spotted Whiteface


Taking a right turn to follow the edge of the lake, we were now under some large trees, mostly Oak and there was wet woodland on the other side. The sheer number of dragonflies and damselflies was still astonishing as they seemed to occupy every square foot of space on the water’s edge. We soon came to another junction from which there was a good open space to view the lake. Behind us, I realised that there was another Woodpecker nest in a dead tree, and it turned out to be a Lesser Spotted which allowed us good views as it came to feed the noisy youngsters within.

Just as we were about to move on again, a Great Reed Warbler flew into the reeds only a few feet away and proceeded to sing. After teasing us by moving about several times we eventually all got a decent view of the bird. 


Great Reed Warbler


We paused again at a sluice gate and marvelled at the number of dragonfly and damselfly exuviae on the structure. There was also a teneral damselfly drying off on the back of the handrail. It looked such an idyllic place and in the heat of the day we joked at the idea of swimming despite the sign warning us not to. 


Teneral damselfly


We were nearing the end of our circuit now and the lake edge was a little further from the path but there were several small meadow patches which Tomasz and I checked for butterflies. There were few to be seen but the ubiquitous Common Blue and Small Heath were noted. 

As we began the last stretch back to the minibus, Tomasz saw a Pine Marten cross the path beyond him but unfortunately was unable to locate it again. He did discover a huge patch of Bird’s Nest Orchids under the trees on the last section of path though, perhaps fifty or more nestled inconspicuously in the undergrowth. 

As we still had good light and plenty of time, we made one more stop on our way back to the hotel at a meadow full of Bistort. Rose Chafers and Shield Bugs adorned many of the flowers, but we were here to look for butterflies and duly found them.


Shieldbug on Common Bistort


Both Weaver’s and Bog Fritillaries were flying around, difficult to distinguish from one another until they settled long enough to look closely at the patterns on their underwings. 


Bog Fritillary


Spreading Bellflower flowered in small patches and further into the meadow Tomasz found a lovely area full of both fritillaries and Violet Copper which provided us all with wonderful photographic opportunities. A rather tatty Peacock butterfly was also patrolling the edge of the woodland here adding to our tally for the day. 

Spreading Bellflower, Campanula patula


Violet Copper


Having enjoyed a wonderful, nature filled day we retired for an early night after dinner. 

Our day began incredibly early the next morning with coffee in the dining room at 3.15am but with excellent reason; we were heading out on a Bison hunt!

Incredibly, despite the early hour, the light was already growing and the scene that met our eyes as we left the confines of the village was exceptionally beautiful, with mist hanging low over the meadows and Roe Deer grazing in its depths. 

We made several loops around various hopeful spots but apart from a couple more Roe Deer and a Fox there were no Bison to be found. In a change of tactics, Tomasz took us for a walk down one of the many tracks through the forest in the hope that if we couldn’t see Bison from the vehicle, maybe we’d find them in the forest on foot. 

We paused on our way to investigate insect traps which Tomasz showed us to be full of what he called “stupid males” of the Spruce Bark Beetle, a forestry pest lured into the trap by pheromone scents. It was almost fully light by now and the birds were beginning to wake. We stopped at a crossroads in the track and were given strict instructions to keep scanning in all directions, as Bison could cross the track at any moment and this would be our best chance to see them. 

Tomasz had kindly brought a flask to make coffee so that we were alert for our scanning duties and duly handed it round. A cat wandering across the path made for momentary confusion but we couldn’t see the intended Bison. Having wandered up and down a short distance in each direction while we kept watch, Tomasz returned to the crossroads only to discover that we had been milling around with signs of the elusive Bison right beneath our feet! He pointed out hoof marks that he explained were fresh since yesterday as they had yet to dry out. We followed the direction of the beast’s path into the trees but they disappeared far quicker than we imagined for such a large creature. 


Bison track – my hand for scale!


In the meantime, Tomasz whistled like a Pygmy Owl in the hopes of drawing one in. It didn’t work in that respect, but it did draw attention from all number of small birds including Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Marsh Tit and Crested Tit. I spotted a Hawfinch in the top branches of a nearby Alder tree and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker nest was located beside the track.


Great Spotted Woodpecker at nest


Having waited some time with no joy, we returned to the bus and Lukasz took us back to the hotel with time for a quick nap before breakfast.

Refueled after a delicious breakfast, we met with our guide for the UNSECO site, Joanna. Despite his excellent knowledge and respect for the countryside around us, we were not allowed to enter the World Heritage site with Tomasz alone and so Joanna would accompany us for the morning. We took the short drive round the perimeter of the Tsar’s Palace grounds and got our things together while Tomasz sorted out our official passes. 

Joanna was excellent at explaining the history of the area as well as how and why it became a UNESCO site. We began our walk along a sunny track with meadows either side. A Red-Backed Shrike was spotted on the telegraph wires nearby and a Corn Bunting called from the top of a Silver Birch in one of the meadows. 

Joanna explained that the meadows went through a period of neglect when it was thought that leaving them unmanaged was more beneficial for the species within, but that this led to a decline in various species. Since then, they have begun to cut them regularly again and the invertebrate and bird life has increased once more and the meadows have become more floristic again. They now supported Marsh Orchids, Spreading Campanula, Bistort, Bloody Cranesbill and a number of other lovely flowers which were being frequented by Small Heaths, Common Blues and Pale Clouded Yellow butterflies. 

We soon came to a huge wooden gate signalling our entry into the specially protected area of virgin forest. Passing through, we stepped into a green and tranquil ancient mixed woodland with Oak, Ash, Maple, Douglas Fir, Alder and Hornbeam. Joanna explained the natural succession of the forest and how when one tree dies and falls others will take its place. We stopped to admire a variety of fungi and slime moulds and listen to the bird song around us. 

Taking a junction in the path, we paused to watch a pair of Collared Flycatchers at their nest hole and Joanna explained that in this part of the forest, many more species nest in holes created by woodpeckers because the diversity of the place is such that the woodpecker population is large, and so there are lots of available spots and that they are safer from predation from species like Pine Marten as a result. 


Collared Flycatcher at nest


Further round, we came to a section of boardwalk overlooking a patch of Alder Carr and we were shown how the trees here grew differently where it was wetter as they developed a hump shaped structure on which they grew to keep their roots out of the water as much as possible. A Robin was spotted singing from a low branch beside the path a short way further on, and as we came to the next junction Joanna asked us to wait a while because there was a nest she wanted to show us. In the meantime, we enjoyed a traditional pony trap that was patiently waiting to take a group of tourists back to the main entrance.


Forest pony trap


Joanna then revealed the nest cavity of a Black Woodpecker, the largest of the eight Woodpecker species here, similar in size to a Crow. The hole was just over half way up the trunk of a tree beside the main path and we waited for a while to see if the adult bird would appear. In due course it did and we had great views of the adult feeding its babies, two of which stuck their heads out to take food. 



Black Woodpecker feeding young

At various points on the walk, we were able to see Woodpecker damage on both fallen logs and standing dead wood. It was interesting to see the different types of foraging behaviour from each species. Joanna showed us how Black Woodpeckers were much more destructive and usually at the base of a standing tree trunk where ants had made a nest in the base; Greater Spotted Woodpeckers tended to take strips off fallen logs to access the beetle grubs and other insects within; while smaller Three-toed Woodpeckers made much smaller, shallower round holes in standing dead trees looking for insects just beneath the bark. 

We paused to look at a large patch of Wild Garlic and the strange flowers of Herb Paris. We came across a Badger latrine very close to the path and photographed Fairy Ink Caps (Coprinellus disseminatus) growing on a moss covered fallen tree nearby. 


Fairy inkcap


Continuing on, we were soon retracing our steps back to the gate through which we had entered. We walked back through the grounds of the Palace and had lunch in a small restaurant next to the National Park Headquarters which has since been built on the site of the main Palace itself. Sadly the Palace had been burnt down after coming under friendly fire during the war.

On our way back to the hotel after lunch we admired the original gate house and stable block, which are still standing. Our afternoon today was free and some chose to explore the little town a bit more while others took time to catch up on a bit of sleep, do some photography or edit images. We reconvened for an early dinner before an evening outing. 

Tomasz explained that he wanted to take us to a spot a little further away where he was sure we would find Bison, but we briefly checked a couple of the spots we had visited that morning before leaving the immediate area. We weren’t successful and so we drove for a while to the area Tomasz had in mind. We once again took several bumpy tracks to check meadows bordering the forest, but despite our efforts there were no Bison to be seen. Then, as we rounded a corner, Lukasz got a glimpse of a large brown lump in the middle of a field and we turned off the road onto a gravel track to allow us a better view.

Under Tomasz’s expert guidance, we got out of the vehicle and walked carefully towards the huge bull, one of the largest in the area, who we named Bruce. We paused when he lifted his head and approached up wind so that he could smell us and not be startled. He wasn’t bothered by us in the slightest and continued grazing before walking nonchalantly across the path we were on and behind a manure heap, promptly disappearing from view despite his bulk. He soon reappeared, but it brought home to us how well these huge animals blend into their surroundings even in more open spaces. 


Bruce, a large bull European Bison


We eventually left him in peace and returned to the minibus buzzing about our experience. On our way back towards Białowieża we pulled into the meadow where we had seen the Eagle on our way here. We climbed the observation tower and spent a short while scanning the area with our binoculars. A Roe Deer was spotted grazing in front of us and steadily moved towards us until it was startled by a guest sneezing. Woodcock and bats flew overhead and Corncrakes rattled their call out of sight.

The stars were just appearing as we descended the tower and Tomasz showed us Jupiter rising above the trees. He got the scope trained on it and we were able to see four moons of Jupiter through it.

We made one last stop to look for Beaver but Tomasz informed us that there were people drinking by the water and so it wasn’t possible this evening. A Red Deer bounded over the road an our homeward journey and we returned to the hotel a tired but very happy bunch having seen our first European Bison.

Our final morning dawned bright and clear and we set out after breakfast to a spot where Tomasz was planning another walk in the forest.

Our first stop was alongside the main track to the walking spot. Tomasz knew of a nesting site of Three-Toed Woodpecker, a species we had yet to see. We were lucky that the adult female came in fairly quickly after our arrival and we had good views of it sticking its head into the cavity to feed the youngsters. We hoped for a male to arrive next and so we waited for some time to see if we could see both. Unfortunately for us it was the female that fed them again next and by this time we had been waiting a while, so we moved on content with our views. 


Three Toed Woodpecker at nest


Further along the track, we came across a Northern Goshawk nest. The adult bird flew when we reached the site, but there were two chicks visible on the platform of sticks which seemed somewhat precariously placed in the very top of a Norway Spruce tree. Having watched their antics for a moment or two before leaving them in peace and continuing on our drive to our main stop. 


Enjoying the forest


It wasn’t much further to a large glade where we could park. The meadow in the glade was buzzing with life including some large Robberflies and one of our guests decided to stay behind to photograph them while the rest of us continued on our walk. 

We began down a wide track which had a broad verge on one side yielding an unusual plant, Thesium ebracteatum which was tricky to see at first, but once you got your eye in appeared everywhere! It is semi-parasitic on a number of other plants and has the odd feature of producing flowers which appear to be in the centre of the leaf. 

Butterflies were flitting up and down the track in the sunshine including Map, Painted Lady, Brimstone and Comma. As we continued on, we noticed a Wren singing loudly from the depths of the woodland alongside both Goldcrest and Firecrest, plus the ever present background call of the cuckoo. We soon emerged onto an old railway bridge where we settled for a while in the sunshine to take in our surroundings. Golden Orioles called from somewhere nearby and Tomasz tried to whistle them in for a closer view but without success. Both Banded and Beautiful demoiselles danced in the sunlight beneath the bridge. A Kingfisher called on the river below us and a Barred Warbler sang in the undergrowth out of sight. A White Wagtail was very curious and obliging in sitting only a few feet from us as we rested. A Yellowhammer also flew into one of the Willows beside the bridge and sang for a while.

Moving on, Tomasz lured a Thrush Nightingale from a dense scrub thicket out into the open giving us all great views. We took a narrower path into the woodland here and wound our way between the tall Spruce trees. A Black Veined White was spotted flitting through one of the small glades from thistle to thistle and another Great Spotted Woodpecker nest was found near a fork in the path. 

We came out onto a raised bank where an enormous observation tower stood overlooking a marshy section. A couple of our guests braved the seven storeys to take in the view, while I was thrilled to find buds of Martagon Lily and an intriguing crab spider which turned out to be Xysticus cristatus. Another White Wagtail was busy feeding a nest full of young somewhere just out of sight and a Blackcap sang from a nearby willow tree. The sky was darkening though and there was a distant rumble of thunder so Tomasz advised we shouldn’t stay long here. 



Our walk back to the vehicle took a lovely track winding though the Spruce forest but we didn’t slow our pace to take it in as the rain was clearly headed our way. It arrived just as we neared our starting glade and we piled into the bus glad of the shelter from the storm. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in a pub in a nearby village where it was insisted that we try the local vodka! 

Our final afternoon was bright and sunny after the thunderstorm and we headed to a picturesque spot by a large reservoir to soak it in. The grassy banks here yielded a number of interesting butterflies including Sooty, Small and Large Coppers, the latter in the form of a pristine female which had obviously just emerged. 


Female Large Copper


The reservoir itself was a distant blue line on the horizon but we were overlooking a large marshy area that drained into it and this yielded all number of wonderful bird species including Common, Black and Whiskered Terns, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Snipe and Lapwing plus White Tailed and Greater Spotted Eagles. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen in a tree beside the water and Swifts and Swallows hawked for insects along with Norfolk Hawker and Common Clubtail. Redshank and Green Sandpiper were heard calling out in the marsh; Yellow Wagtail and Black Redstart were also spotted and a Lesser Whitethroat sang noisily from the scrub beside the embankment. Green Frogs added to the glorious cacophony and a Penduline Tit was found to be building a nest nearby. 

Our last stop on the way home was at the meadow we had visited on a couple of occasions previously. Here, there was little to see in the way of larger wildlife but one of my eagle-eyed guests came across Grizzled Skipper, which was a new butterfly for the list and there were plenty of Small Heaths flitting around too.


Grizzled Skipper


Small Heath


We returned to the hotel to pack before dinner and our final evening meal was accompanied in true Polish style by a bottle of the famous Bison Grass Vodka and one of a Belarusian honey vodka kindly supplied by Tomasz and Lukasz by way of a farewell. There was one last bit of wildlife watching to squeeze in before the morning though and so after dinner we took a short walk into the Palace grounds. Tomasz had his torch with him and as we walked along the path beside the small river he scanned the surface for activity. 

It wasn’t long before we came across what we were looking for, a young beaver swimming with its head above the surface and its tail floating out behind it. It didn’t seem to be bothered by us in the slightest and so we kept quiet, hoping that it might be brave enough to leave the water and join us on the bank. It passed very close in front of us on several occasions and eventually slipped out of the water among the long grass on the opposite bank. We thought for a moment or two that it had vanished altogether until some loud chewing noises emanated from the vegetation on the far bank. After a while it reappeared and having watched it swim down the river a way, we left it in peace. It was a splendid way to round off the day and we chattered happily about it on our return walk to the hotel. 

The morning was another bright and sunny one. I ventured out along a section of railway line for a photographic walk before breakfast and came across a Latticed Heath Moth. These little day flying moths had been numerous throughout the trip but this individual was covered in dew drops and made for a lovely photographic subject.


Dew covered Latticed Heath moth


After another lovely breakfast and having packed up the vehicles we were just about to set off when a Lesser Spotted Eagle was seen by a guest, soaring overhead. We had to get on the road though and so we departed Białowieża discussing the highlights of our trip. 

Tomasz had one last place in mind to visit on the way to the airport; the Forest Lake we had enjoyed walking around a few days earlier and the road up to it. He called out for Lukasz to stop the van in a sunny patch of the track and got out to investigate some butterflies which he had hoped might be Poplar Admiral. They turned out to be Woodland Brown, another new to the tour species and although not the Admirals we had hoped for, still a beautiful butterfly to see with striking eye spots down the outer edges of the underwings.


Woodland Brown


We spent a few more minutes watching Norfolk Hawkers and Brilliant Emeralds hawking over the pools a little way up the road and Nigel contributed another bird to our list with a pair of Goldeneye that he spotted further out. 


Final stop at the Forest Lake


The rest of our journey was less eventful in terms of wildlife and we were soon entering Warsaw along the riverside to drop some guests at their hotel so they could stay a few days longer. We however were on our way to the airport for the rest of our journey home. We had so many lovely encounters with a great variety of species over the course of our week, there would be plenty of fond memories to look back on and plenty of photographs to go through! What astonished me was the sheer diversity of both Białowieża Forest and Biebrza Marshes. I have certainly never found so many woodpecker nests before – we found ten belonging to five species of woodpecker in just three days!

More Grecian Butterflies

Following on from my last post detailing a tour round the Gulf of Corinth for Greenwings Wildlife Holidays to look for Grecian butterflies, I’m picking up where I left off. Join Julian Dowding, esteemed illustrator Richard Lewington and me as we set out for several more days exploring the Greek countryside in search of its rich and diverse lepidoptera – of course everything else we find is a bonus and not to be overlooked either!

Our fourth day broke and we woke to a rather miserable morning weather-wise, but were not too disheartened as we were transferring to our second base for the week and so hoped that we may be able to find a sunny spot on our way. We packed up the vans after breakfast and set out, making a brief fuel stop en route. Unfortunately the rain didn’t relent and so we stopped for a coffee in a small cafe on the harbour front in the charming little town of Galaxidi. As we finished our drinks the sun came out and we were able to have an impromptu wander around the harbour and up the wooded hill on the far side to a little historic cave dwelling.

Much of the ground vegetation had been cleared here, presumably to prevent fire risk being so close to the town, but we still managed to find a few things of interest. The first was a reasonable sized Marginated Tortoise, looking for all the world like an old tin army helmet with legs, and which seemed rather surprised to be suddenly confronted with people! One of our guests then spotted a Freyer’s Grayling on a tree trunk and as the sun’s warmth continued to pervade we saw many more, most of us sporting them as fetching accessories at one point or another during our time here. There were also a couple of Small Whites and Wall Browns fluttering around.

Some large Lobed Orb-Weaver Spiders, Argiope lobata, caught people’s attention among the spines of a Prickly Pear and several Rosemary Leaf Beetles shone beautifully in the sunshine among the twigs of the Rosemary bushes beside the path, showing off their metallic red and green stripes.

Back in the harbour, we had nice views of Yellow-legged Gulls, and lots of House Martins and Collared Doves. There was plenty to look at in the water too, with crabs feeding on the surface where a patch of seagrass held them above the water and lots of small fish, sea anemones and sea urchins just beyond the harbour wall.

It was soon lunchtime and we found a delightful restaurant on the waterfront which offered us a selection of delicious local dishes to enjoy before we hit the road again. Our journey took us along the coast road to Antirrio. Unfortunately the rain set in again while we were on the road and the views of the other side of the Gulf of Corinth were masked by low cloud, but the sea still looked amazingly blue-green despite the poor weather. We crossed the spectacular Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge over the Gulf and turned back towards Athens taking a turn off the new motorway at Diakopto. By now, the sun had begun to shine again and we were soon making an impromptu stop to make the most of it.

We had not long turned onto the road towards Kalavryta when we saw a suitable spot to stop beside a river where some orchards came down to the road. Here we found Holly Blue, Speckled Wood and Southern White Admiral butterflies as well as Beautiful Demoiselle and Whilte-legged Damselflies.


White-legged Damselfly


There were some impressively large Weevils as well and once again one of our guests spotted a Short-Toed Eagle take off from a nearby tree and soar overhead.


Lixus angustatus weevils mating


Our legs suitably stretched we decided to move on up the mountain to another good butterfly spot while the weather allowed. Our next stop was a small meadow surrounded by woodland with a small spring running through it to the river below. As we pulled in a large butterfly soared effortlessly over the vans at high speed and quite a height. Julian leapt from the vehicle with a shout of “Cambi” but the Camberwell Beauty was almost out of sight. It made a few brief appearances at great height overhead but didn’t come so close again. Nonetheless, we soon had plenty more to look at including Brown Argus, Common and Chapman’s Blues, Small Skipper and Balkan Marbled White.


Brown Argus


An eagle-eyed guest found a beautiful brown form female Meleager’s Blue and there were still more lovely butterflies to be found here including Lattice Brown, Wood White, Hungarian Skipper, Painted Lady, Ilex Hairstreak, Grecian Copper, Large Wall and Freyer’s Grayling.


Brown form female Meleager’s Blue


Another member of our group found a lovely Silver Washed Fritillary while a third came across a Greek Stream Frog. I also found a rather nice Longhorn beetle on the back of a Bramble leaf.


Longhorn beetle, Corymbia cordigera


We also found a pair of beautifully coloured Jewel Beetles living up to their name.


Jewel Beetles


An intriguing plant also caught my eye here, a very slender, yellowish Bupleurum.


Bupleurum glumaceum


The rain eventually caught up with us as we climbed back into the vehicles for the last leg of the trip which was punctuated only by a brief stop at a roadside kiosk to buy locally grown cherries which were passed around the buses to share. We arrived in Kalavryta in the early evening and had time to settle in before taking a walk round the town and heading to dinner in a Pizzeria near the town square.

Another morning of unseasonably wet weather greeted us the following day and we decided to head back towards the coast in the hope of getting out of it. We took a circuitous route via a small village called Plataniotissa where a huge and ancient hollow Plane tree has become the local church and which you can read more about in my piece about an Autumn trip to the area. There was little wildlife to see in the downpour but the magnificent church in a tree was worth a detour.

Reaching the coast, we visited the bottom of the Vouriakou Gorge and set up a bait of over-ripe bananas mixed with ouzo in the hopes of attracting Two-Tailed Pashas. The rain didn’t let up though and while we saw a few Beautiful Demoiselles and one of our group spotted a freshwater crab, we soon headed into Diakopto in search of a coffee shop to warm up and wait out the worst of the storm.

Suitably refreshed, a few members of the group decided that they would like to take the rack and pinion train back up the gorge to Kalavryta. Having checked the timetable, we gave them their packed lunches and sent them on their way, promising to wave as they passed us, as we were heading back to the gorge. Our second stop here was more successful as the rain abated for a while as we ate our lunches, supplemented with some lovely local sunflower seed breadsticks from a bakery in town. A couple of Lattice Browns were spotted flying around the treetops and a wander yielded Eastern Bath White and Southern Small White. It was a start!

The Beautiful Demoiselles were still there in some numbers and a couple of White-legged Damselflies were found too while a Common Kestrel’s calls echoed through the valley from above us.


Beautiful Demoiselle


Probably the most intriguing find was the utterly enormous green caterpillar of the Giant Peacock Moth, Europe’s largest moth. It was easily 4-5 inches long and feeding happily in a Blackthorn bush. We all got good photos and were able to admire the bright blue spots from which sprouted coarse looking black hairs. In the damp weather, several of these held water droplets.

Heading back up the mountain we stopped once more at the spring in the woods that we had visited the day before. The rain had stopped and although the sun wasn’t quite out there were butterflies about as well as a Cetti’s Warbler loudly declaring its presence from the trees nearby.

In terms of butterflies there seemed to be a vast number of Brown Argus in particular and most posing calmly for photographs so I took rather a lot. I’m not going to post them all but here are a select few!


Brown Argus


At one point, I saw a frog jump into the undergrowth and was looking for it when I became a model of a new species for the trip, a Woodland Grayling which had landed on my arm and sat nicely for the rest of the group to photograph there. It then sat on the numberplate of one of the vans for a moment or two which allowed me to photograph it too.


Woodland Grayling


A Silver Washed Fritillary was found in the higher section of meadow along with a Long-tailed Blue, while Brown Argus, Holly Blue and Wood White were seen lower down. There was soon a call from the roadside that a new species had been found in a clearing a few yards further on and so we carefully walked down the road to find it. On the way we found a lovely male Meleager’s Blue on a mint plant in the ditch and a green shield bug nymph doing its best to blend in.


Male Meleager’s Blue


Shieldbug nymph


In the clearing beyond, we were greeted by a lovely Grecian Anomalous Blue which was perched atop a plant and quite happy to be photographed by one and all.


Grecian Anomalous Blue


Moving on uphill it was decided that as we still had time to spare we would head on beyond Kalavryta to see if the sun was shining higher up. We passed those that had taken the train on the way as they were returning from the Monument of Remembrance marking the terrible massacre that occurred in the town during the Second World War.

We found a sunny spot just off the road and pulled in to explore some local meadows. A nightingale sang here and just outside the buses a patch of mint was covered in Common and Chapman’s Blues and Brown Argus. The other side of the track a Great Banded Grayling basked on a rock and a Lattice Brown rested on a Mullein leaf allowing good views of its lovely eye-spot patterning.

Acanthus spinosus was in good flower here as were a number of slender Larkspur stems. Small Skipper, Meadow Brown and Clouded Yellow fluttered around the flowers in the meadow and a lone Hermit was found soaking up the sun on a small stone at the top of a steep bank. Other butterflies found in the meadow were Balkan Marbled White as well as Small Heath and both Anomalous and Ripart’s Anomalous Blues.

Suitably content that we had found butterflies despite the soggy start to the day we made our way back down the mountain. That evening we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a traditional restaurant around the corner from our comfortable hotel.

With the weather looking as though it might be clearer the next day, we set off after breakfast up the mountain once more and headed for the Chelmos ski centre. We were in the cloud on arrival but made the decision to venture out for a few minutes to see whether any butterflies could be found settled in the long grass. The temperature was a decidedly chilly 8°C which was a surprise to most of the group who had packed for more usual warm conditions.

Despite our searching there were no invertebrates to be seen and the only species noted were Linnets in the car park. We drove the short distance to look into the Valley of the Styx and see whether we might have more luck there, but as we couldn’t even see into the valley for the cloud we turned back the other way and took the road towards the Cave of the Lakes. The weather was not improving so we dropped down into the small town of Kleitoria for a coffee stop.

It wasn’t long before the sun broke through the clouds and, suitably refuelled from our refreshment break, we set out uphill once more. We had barely left the small town when we made our first stop beside the road at a scrubby meadow where the beautiful Grecian butterflies we were looking for were making the most of the warming sun.

Immediately beside the buses was a patch of brambles which bore both Small White and Southern Small White plus a couple of slightly battered Common Blues. There was fennel growing in the verge too and closer inspection of the plants yielded several Swallowtail caterpillars at different stages of development. One of our guests also came across a Sage Skipper nectaring on the flower of a Spanish Oysterplant.


Swallowtail caterpillar


Along with the Swallowtail caterpillars in the verge, I also came across another caterpillar which at the time was somewhat of a mystery in terms of identifying what it was and would turn into. Thankfully, my lovely Twitter followers have helped me to establish that it is a moth called Manuela palliatella.


Manuela palliatella


The other side of the road I came across several instars of Hairy Shield Bug nymphs. I was intrigued to see that they become progressively less hairy as they age but they certainly show how they earned their common name!


Hairy Shield Bug nymph


Climbing the bank there were plenty more butterflies to be found including Great Banded Grayling, Brown Argus, Small Copper, Wall Brown and Southern White Admiral. A Large White fluttered past along with an Eastern Bath White and several Clouded Yellows followed suit. Overhead a Kestrel was making rather a commotion and looking up, we found it to be mobbing a juvenile Golden Eagle directly above us.


Small Copper


One of our guests found a Weasel hunting around a stone pile in one corner of the meadow and popping up, “whack-a-mole” style every few moments to keep an eye on him. Further up the bank, an Anomalous Blue was found along with Spotted Fritillary, a slightly worn Grecian Copper and several Long-Tailed Blues.


Long Tailed Blue on Felty Germander


A gorgeous Scarce Swallowtail also flew through, pausing to feed on a lovely blue Eryngo and allowing most of the group a good look albeit from a reasonable distance. In a meadow below the road at least two more were spotted egg-laying on Blackthorn bushes. Along with the butterflies we found a Red Assassin Bug wandering about, presumably in search of its next invertebrate victim.


Red Assassin Bug, Rhynocoris iracaundus


Another guest was particularly pleased to find a Spotted Sulphur Moth, now considered extinct in the UK but previously limited to the Brecks. Meanwhile we found a Four-spotted Moth which was equally striking in its markings. On the way back to the vehicles it was established that the lovely Sage Skipper was still there but sadly had been caught by a cunning yellow Crab Spider which was busy devouring it – such is nature!


Spotted Sulphur Moth


We moved on to another roadside meadow the other side of Kleitoria for our lunch stop. Here there were a good number of enormous Illyrian Cotton thistles and before we had even parked there were cries of “Swallowtail!” as both Common and Scarce Swallowtails were feeding on the huge purple flower heads. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was also zipping from one to the next while most bore beetles of one sort or another including Rose Chafer, White Spotted Rose Beetle and some more fine weevils.


Rose Chafer on Thistle bud


A Cetti’s Warbler called loudly from somewhere below us and among the flowers up the bank above were yet more butterflies including both Common and Chapman’s Blues, Great Banded Grayling and a lovely male Meleager’s Blue. A Balkan Marbled White was particularly obliging for photographs and another Sage Skipper was found. A few yards up the road one of our group came across a pristine pair of Brown Argus mating while Sooty Copper, followed swiftly by a Grecian Copper were spotted next to the vehicles.


Balkan Marbled White


I also found a rather pretty Dianthus species with gorgeous patterning on the petals. I have yet to identify it to species level but thought it worth sharing anyway!


Dianthus sp.


Having enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine we turned back towards the town and stopped by the river on the outskirts. We walked a short way down a side road following the course of the river and were rewarded with a variety of lovely things. Julian spotted what he thought was an unusual form of Cleopatra but by the time we had caught up from our dawdling enjoying the sun and the birdsong and looking at the plants it had disappeared into the ether. Not to be disappointed we carried on and were soon fascinated by a particularly large wasp, Megascolia flavifrons which was gorging itself on another large thistle flower.


Megascolia flavifrons and honey bee


The flower head next to it held a spectacular Violet Carpenter Bee and there were lots of other, smaller insects humming around too.


Violet Carpenter Bee


We were soon seeing butterflies too with a stunning Silver Washed Fritillary one of the first to be spotted. There were a few Odonata here too with both Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles as well as White-legged Damselflies. A Blackcap sang from the trees on the bank over the water and a small flock of Serins flew over. I also came across a small but striking moth sitting amongst the brambles on the riverbank.


Tineid moth, Euplocampus ophisa

Dropping into a small roadside meadow we came across Sooty Copper, Common Blue, Brown Argus and Spotted Fritillary.


Common Blue on Vervain


A Southern Skimmer Dragonfly hung from a bramble leaf and there was a mass of Dodder too, which is an interesting orangey-yellow parasitic plant that winds itself around other plants.


Dodder, Cuscuta palaestina


Making our way back towards the vehicles we came across an Eastern Bath White, a Hummingbird Hawk-moth and a Sage Skipper.


Eastern Bath White

Sage Skipper


A large red and black beetle was also found face down in a thistle flower. Richard identified it as Trichodes apiarius, the Bee-eating Beetle, so named for the larval stage of their lifecycle where they parasitise solitary bees, eating their larvae.

One of our guests also came across an uncommon lizard behind the small spring, the Greek Algyroides which is endemic to the Peloponnese and a few outlying islands. Up a dry track nearby there was another Sage Skipper as well as both Meadow and Oriental Meadow Browns.


Meadow Brown on Spanish Oyster plant


A new Dragonfly was also found, a lovely yellow Small Pincertail.


Small Pincertail Dragonfly


Moving on once more we headed to a local spring for our last stop of the day where we hoped to find the endemic Greek Goldenring Dragonfly. Indeed we were barely out of the vehicles when the first individual was spotted. There were several patrolling the waters here and one of our guests even photographed one ovipositing in the calmer water at the edge of the main torrent.


Greek Goldenring Dragonfly


Along with the impressive Goldenring, several exuviae of which were found and collected, were smaller Spectre dragonflies and lots of Beautiful Demoiselles, the latter of which seemed to take a liking to those wearing hats as a novel perch.


Beautiful Demoiselle


The dragonflies were not the only interest here as there were Sooty Copper and Mallow Skipper as well as wonderfully shiny metallic green Mint Leaf Beetles and some lovely Longhorn Beetles too.


Sooty Copper


Mint leaf beetle


Well and truly satisfied at a good day of entomology, botany and ornithology we set out back to the hotel and another pleasant evening at a local restaurant.

The following day dawned sunny with just the odd cloud in the sky and we thanked our lucky stars that the peculiar weather seemed to have come to an end. Setting off after breakfast we found that once again the mountain top was in cloud but as there was so much blue sky elsewhere we were confident that with a little time it would burn off.

We continued down towards the Cave of the Lakes to the roadside meadows we had stopped in several evenings previously. Once again the patch of mint next to the buses was covered in butterflies, Brown Argus were most numerous with a couple of Common Blues joining them. A Cirl Bunting sang from a telegraph wire overhead while a Hoopoe called nearby. Great Banded Grayling and Lattice Brown flew overhead and Meadow Browns fluttered through the long grasses around us.


Lattice Brown


This morning, rather than scramble up the bank to the meadow above us we chose to walk on down the track to see what lay in wait in the fields beyond. We rounded the first corner and found the day’s first new butterfly of the trip sitting on a rusty fence wire, a Purple Hairstreak. A Ripart’s Anomalous Blue was next to be found and in a small, stony field Clouded Yellows flitted about while an Eastern Bath White and Balkan Marbled White fed on Illyrian Cotton Thistle flowers. One dying flower head held a colourful and likely endemic Bright Bushcricket.


Bright Bushcricket, Poecilimon sp.


There were some lovely flowers here although they weren’t immediately obvious as the surroundings were so dry that many were rather smaller than they might have been. Among them though, rarities in England such as Corncockle and Larkspur, as well as Common Poppies and Love-in-a-Mist. Felty Germander was prolific in places too and with it came a variety of butterflies and other insects such as the Hairy Flower Wasp, Scolia hirta.


Hairy Flower Wasp, Scolia hirta


Small Skippers were plentiful here and in another meadow, so were Mallow Skippers and Hermits, the latter seeming to prefer the thistle flowers too.


The Hermit


An Anomalous Blue was found and a probable Southern Grayling along with Chapman’s Blue, Small Heath and Zephyr Blue. The Hoopoe called throughout but didn’t make an appearance though a Sardinian Warbler did and so too did a large mixed flock of goats and sheep which were being moved through the meadows.


Anomalous Blue


Chapman’s Blue


Turning to make our way back to the vehicles a few of the group had a lovely clear view of a Southern White Admiral basking in the lower branches of a Spiny Pear tree.


Southern White Admiral


Just beyond we came across a huge and beautifully marked adult male Antlion.




As we were climbing into the vehicles another new species to the trip, a Sloe Hairstreak, was found on that notorious patch of mint by our parking spot and everyone disembarked to photograph it before we moved on.


Sloe Hairstreak


Retracing our steps we headed uphill once more towards the ski centre. It was still not quite as bright as it could be and so we continued on into the Valley of the Styx and found a lovely spot to stop where a track led along the mountainside through meadows and rough scrub. The butterflies here were numerous and there were plenty of other things to see too. We began with a Large Skipper, another new species for the trip, and followed soon after with a rather unhappy Black-Veined White which I moved off the path and onto a flower with the hope it might recover.


Black Veined White


There was soon a call from Julian that he had spotted a Chequered Blue in the meadow over the rise and so we quickened our pace to join him. It had gone by the time we got there but there were Spotted Fritillaries and Clouded Yellows bombing all over the place in the heat of the morning and along with them, Common and Chapman’s Blues, Brown Argus, Balkan Marbled White and Large White. There was lots of wild Oregano here which the butterflies were particularly enjoying.


Brown Argus


A little further along a newly emerged Cicada was found, still green and soft with its exuvium beneath it on the grass stem it had chosen. Nearby a pair of mating Great Banded Graylings were found while a Southern White Admiral flew overhead. There were at least two species of Burnet moth visiting the Oregano flowers here too.


Great Banded Graylings


On the track, a Turquoise Blue posed nicely for the group to get photographs and a short way further on a Meleager’s Blue was spotted which would be the first of many with a mating pair found later too.


Meleager’s Blues


There were several Ripart’s Anomalous Blues nectaring on the fluffy white Felty Germander (Teucrium polium) growing down the middle of the track and a Grecian Anomalous Blue was spotted too. There was also a Greek Goldenring Dragonfly zooming about which seemed rather bizarre as there was no sign of any water nearby.


Ripart’s Anomalous Blue on Felty Germander


Reaching the end of the track where it dropped away at too steep a rate to continue we had lovely views of a female Silver Washed Fritillary and on the way back to the vehicles, we found a male as well.

Female Silver Washed Fritillary


Female Silver Washed Fritillary


We ate our lunches by the vehicles before retracing our route up the mountain. On the way back uphill, a snake crossed the road in front of Julian’s van. We all stopped and several people jumped out for a closer look but it had slithered beneath a bush not to emerge again and so we never did manage to identify it.

Our next stop was the first of three at consecutively higher altitudes to look for the elusive Chelmos and Oddspot Blues. We stopped beside the road and walked up a rough track to a gully where scree collected. There was a lovely clump of Narrow Leaved Valerian here and although it didn’t yield any butterflies, a Ripart’s Anomalous Blue was found nearby while higher up a Mountain Small White fluttered past. There were Ravens cronking and tumbling overhead and a small-flowered Wild Rose grew beside the track while a Woodland Grayling did its best to blend in with the rock on which it sat.


Wild Rose


Woodland Grayling


A little further up the mountain we stopped in a damp gully and found a number of Corn Buntings singing from the tops of the shrubby trees there. The butterflies we were hoping for were not to be found but we did see Silver Studded Blue and Oriental Meadow Brown. Julian also found a Dark Green Fritillary though many of the group didn’t manage to see it. There was a nice wild cornflower there too, Centaurea pichleri. Climbing back into the vans for the next stop, one of our more intrepid guests opted to walk and set off before we did as it wasn’t far.

He rejoined us soon after we disembarked the vans at our next stop. It was a rather windy and exposed spot but we felt that it was worth exploring as the sun was better here than it had been all week.

We hadn’t gone terribly far when the first butterfly was found, it wasn’t the local endemic we had hoped for but a Silver Studded Blue. This was the first of four, and the only butterfly species we found here. There were some lovely large beetles bumbling around though and the flora was very interesting. There were cushions of Thyme, the lovely Scabious, Pterocephalus perennis and pink flowered Spiny Thrift, Ancatholimon echinus (the food plant of the Odd Spot Blue) studded with sedums sporting both pale pink and yellow clusters of starry flowers.


Mountain flora


The lower slopes were tufted with endemic low growing, grey leaved Hawthorns, Crataegus pycnoloba and there were some lovely pale yellow endemic Toadflaxes here too, Linaria peloponneasiaca.


Linaria peloponnesiaca


We began to make our way back down towards Kalavryta and made an impromptu stop in a promising looking glade where Lathyrus grandiflorus and Ornithogalum narbonense were flowering. I came across a rather lovely looking Blister beetle and there were Meadow Browns and a couple of Blues flying about but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for and so we moved on.


Blister beetle. Mylabris quadripunctata


Our next impromptu stop was at another roadside meadow with a track through it. Here, we began with nice views of a male Red-backed Shrike on top of a low growing shrub. There were a couple of butterflies including Balkan Marbled White, Clouded Yellow and Common Blue but once again not quite the new and exciting species we were after. Having photographed a Cicada which sat nicely for everyone on the wooden post of a sign by the bus, we continued downhill.

Our final stop was only a short distance on from the previous one, another meadow down a rather steep bank but worth the effort of scrambling down into it. The few who stayed at the top didn’t miss out though and saw a number of species including an Eastern Baton Blue found by one of our guests.

In the meadow below there were several lovely bright green lizards though none stuck around long enough to be examined for identification purposes. There were lots of butterflies though including Brown Argus, Painted Lady and Hermit. One Small Heath defied its name a little by being rather larger than normal and a guest excelled herself by finding a stunning specimen of Lesser Fiery Copper.


Small Heath


Grecian butterflies - Lesser fiery copper

Lesser Fiery Copper


In a gravel basin at the top of the slope there was Onosma erecta flowering and Crag Martins swooped over our heads.


Golden drops, Onosma erecta


It was soon time to wend our way back down the mountain but our wildlife viewing was not quite over yet as a pair of Short Toed Eagles was spotted circling overhead as we drove down the last stretch towards Kalavryta and a very small Hermann’s Tortoise crossed the road by the path to the memorial.

We spent our last evening at Grand Chalet watching the sun set over the gorge below us and eating delicious home cooked food.

Of course, being our last day, the weather was glorious! We packed up and set out in reasonable time saying our goodbyes to one of our guests before doing so as he was staying on. We headed back down to the bottom of the gorge at Diakopto and laid out our bait once more. Within moments there were Two-tailed Pashas dropping in to feast on the fermenting fruit and although a couple were a little tatty, there was at least one in excellent condition.


A rather worn Two Tailed Pasha


In addition to the stunning Pashas we also saw Berger’s Clouded Yellow, Holly Blue, Pygmy Skipper (our only of the trip) and both Freyer’s and Woodland Graylings. There were quite a few dragonflies and Damselflies around today too, plus numerous frogs on the edge of the river and several fine male Peloponnese Wall Lizards showing off their vibrant orange throats.


Greek Marsh Frog, Pelophylax kurtmuelleri


Male Peloponnese Wall Lizard


We were also able to show the Giant Peacock Moth caterpillar to those who had taken the train up the mountain earlier in the week. We discovered that there were in fact two in the same bush – how we had missed the second which was a similar size to the first, we will never know!


Giant Peacock Moth caterpillar


On our way to this spot, one of our guests who has a keen interest in jumping spiders came across a rather splendid red and black male Philaeus chrysops which had been sitting on the shoulder of another guest in the minibus. We were able to release it in a suitable spot for photographs and after a wonderful time pottering around in the sunshine, we set off towards Athens for the last leg of our journey.


Male jumping spider, Philaeus chrysops


As we were doing well for time, we made a stop at the Corinth Canal where we ate our packed lunches and took in the staggering engineering of the canal which had been dug by hand. We watched a pair of Lesser Kestrel flying back and forth over the dry meadow at the top of the deep channel and soon had to leave for the airport. We dropped a few of our guests at Arrivals to make their onward journeys into the city before returning the vehicles and bidding our farewells.

A total of 78 species of Grecian butterflies were seen during a very enjoyable week, and despite the extraordinary unseasonable rainy weather. Our guests were all charming and I thoroughly enjoyed working with both Julian and Richard, finding the trip both a rewarding and fascinating experience. I can’t wait to lead again for Greenwings in the future and I look forward to telling you about my upcoming adventures soon!