Graylings in Greece

Grey is not such a bad thing after all

Although grey is a drab colour, the grayling butterflies are actually quite interesting. In Greece I encountered some familiar species and some new.

One familiar species was the widespread and unmistakable Great banded grayling (Brintesia circe). It occurs all over the southern half of Europe from the summer to the fall. You can easily recognize it in the field by its large size, the clear white pattern on the upper wings (visible in flight) and the small white patch on the underside of the hindwing (visible when stationary as below).

Great banded grayling brintesia circe butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/6.3   1/800   ISO 100

A new species for me was Freyer’s grayling (Hipparchia fatua). My friend and I encountered this specimen in the oddest of places: at the very touristic entrance to the Nestos river canyon between plastic chairs, children’s tour groups, stray dogs and cigarette-chainsmoking locals. After a week of almost complete solitude in the mountains, we were unaccustomed to such scenes. The butterflies though were totally ok with their environment and posed like they belonged there like everyone else. Together with bright early morning sunshine it made for magical lighting.

Freyer's grayling Hipparchia fatua butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 100

Another close-up shot from later that day:

Freyer's grayling Hipparchia fatua butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/250   ISO 100

Last in line and also a new species for me was the Eastern rock grayling (Hipparchia syriaca). It is awfully similar to the Woodland Grayling (Hipparchia fagi) but slightly smaller. Both species occur in the Balkans at the same time and are very hard to distinguish. I am pretty confident that this specimen is the Eastern Rock Grayling. To be 100% sure you would have to look at the julien organ of the male genitalia, something that I did not dare do. There should be something left on one’s bucket list, isn’t it?

Eastern rock grayling Hipparchia syriaca butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4   1/400   ISO 100

This was the third and final episode of our adventures in Greece. In the next blog, I’ll search for butterflies closer to home. Stay tuned!

Feeling blue

Feeling blue means treating you Blues

It’s the end of the butterfly season in The Netherlands. Autumn has arrived, winter is around the corner. And I am feeling blue. It has been such a great season with lots of nice butterfly photography opportunities, many new species and succesful travels to France and Greece. Really, I have nothing to complain about. Except that at the end of the season, I already start longing for the next one.

To reflect my mood, I thought it would be appropriate to treat you on some more butterfly pictures from the Gossamerwing family, specifically the Blues.

In Greece, we visited Mount Falakro twice. On both occasions, we did not see the rare species that we hoped for. We did see some nice Blues warming up in the morning sun like this Mazarine Blue (Cyaniris semiargus).

Mazarine blue cyaniris semiargus butterfly
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/5.6   1/1600   ISO 100

Also present at the same rocky path was a Turqoise Blue (Polyommatus dorylas).

Turquiose blue polyommatus dorylas butterfly
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/6.3   1/1250   ISO 100

And last but not least an Amanda’sBlue (Polyommatus amandus).

Amanda's blue polyommatus amandus butterfly
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/5.6   1/3200   ISO 160

Whenever there are mud-puddling butterflies, you can count on some Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus) to be present. I like the way these three line up as if they are the Three Musketeers:

Silver-studdded blue plebejus argus butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/250   ISO 1o0

Now, to break the pattern of Blue-butterfly-on-rocky-bottom somewhat, let’s have a closer look at this Chequered Blue (Scolitantides orion). It was flying close to the ground on some muddy forest path when a cloud blocked the sun and the butterfly settled. I’ve recently discovered the benefits of flash when photographing butterflies in the shade, and this was the perfect opportunity for it. Hope you like the result!

Chequered blue scolitantides orion butterfly
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/200   ISO 125

Party time!

A new personal record of 41 species in a single day

We had done our homework for our trip to Greece: prepared an itinerary, searched the internet for locations, drafted a species list etc. It all worked out very fine. Nothing however gave me more pleasure than to stumble unto an unexpected, unprepared, unknown location with an abundance of butterflies. This is exactly what happened on day 3 of our trip.

We had been chasing butterflies in the middle of nowhere close to the border with Bulgaria all morning and early afternoon. The temperature had risen to 35 degrees, sweat was running down our backs and we got pretty tired being on our feet for hours on end. Time to head back. Now, I have to tell you there’s is a miracle technology available that makes tired butterfly photographers revive: it’s called airconditioning. The ride back to the little hamlet of Potamoi was enough to make us long for more.

Coming down from the mountains, there was a small stream visible down below, but we found no place to get near to it without risking our lives. Therefore, we decided to go upstream from the village bridge. The road quickly came to a dead end near a small church, a picknick site and a small stream. We parked the car in utter silence, not a butterfly in sight. We stepped out to check for sure, took a few steps towards the stream and a virtual cloud of butterflies took flight. Wow! Party time!

Here you have Silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus), Chapman’s blue (Polyommatus thersites), Escher’s blue (Polyommatus escheri), Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and Anomalous blue (Polyommatus admetus) in a single photograph.

Butterflies mud puddling party
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/7.1   1/500   ISO 100

In these puddling parties, Silver-studded blues are usually the most common. Here we have one on the left in good company of Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) and Eastern baton blue (Pseudophilotes vicrama).

Holly blue celastrina argiolus silver-studded blue plebejus argus Eastern baton blue pseudophilotes vicrama butterfly
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/800   ISO 100

I had seen Escher’s blue before in France, but never in such numbers as in Greece, allowing to take a decent picture.

Escher's blue polyommatus escheri
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/200   ISO 100

Chapman’s blue was also quite common. It resembles Common Blue, the difference being that it lacks a spot in the basal area of the underside of the forewing.

Chapman's blue polyommatus thersites
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/800   ISO 100

Apart from the massive number of blues, maybe the best surprise was a pair of Nettle Tree Butterflies (Libythea celtis). They were very hard to approach so I had to fall back on the big white tele.

Nettle tree butterfly libythea celtis
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/4.5   1/1250   ISO 100

Last but no least, a fresh Southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta) paid us a quick visit.

Southern white admiral butterfly limenitis reducta
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/6.3   1/800   ISO 100

Thanks to all the species in this mud puddling party, I set a new personal record of 41 species in a single day.

Hellenic highlights

Three new lifers from our trip to Greece

One of last year’s lessons from a COVID-dominated summer was: grab a holiday while you can. You never know when the next lockdown or travel restrictions will be announced. Therefore, after visiting France with my wife, I had planned a full week of butterfly photography in Greece with a friend of mine. Greece boasts around 200 butterfly species and is the destination of many organized butterfly tours, so we hoped to see a lot.

Our first base of operations was the small city of Drama, a two-hour drive from Thessaloniki, close to the Rodopi Mountain Range NP and the Bulgarian border. The area is dominated by forests, small farms with cow herds (and watchdogs!), hills, mountains and streams. We were only a short drive away from one of the highest peaks, Mount Falakro (2,232m) which hosts some endemic species. The whole region is sparsely populated: on some days, on isolated gravel roads, we would hardly see another soul.

However, butterflies were anything but rare and were flying around us in large numbers. We counted over 80 species in a week with a staggering 41 species on a single day. Personally I could add a dozen or so new species (“lifers”) to my list. I’ll present a couple of them in this blog.

First one up is arguably one of the most beautiful butterflies on the continent: the Little Tiger Blue (Tarucus balkanica).

Little tiger blue butterfly tarucus balkanica
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.5   1/640   ISO 100

The second was also a very nice surprise: the Anomalous Blue (Polyommatus admetus). We should have come across this species in Hungary last year, but missed it for some reason or another. In Greece we encountered just two specimens. Both in mint condition, looking as is they had just emerged from the pupa. Our feeling was that the flight times were later than usual this year (just like at home in Holland) as we have missed a couple of species that were supposed to be certainties. Had we scheduled our trip a few days earlier, we might have missed the Anomalous Blues as well.

Anomalous blue butterfly Polyommatus admetus
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/200   ISO 100

Our second base of operations was the little hamlet of Stavroupoli, closer to the Livaditis waterfall and the Nestos Delta on the coast, two more locations that we were planning to visit.

At the parking spot to the waterfall, we stumbled upon this beautiful Ottoman’s Copper (Lycaena ottomanus). Usually hard sunlight in the middle of the day does not make for perfect lighting, but in this case the sun shining directly unto the butterfly from above accentuated the red glow nicely.

Ottoman's copper butterfly lycaena ottomanus
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/640   ISO 125

Keep following this blog for more images of Hellenic butterflies, as our trip to Greece provided much more to share.