A Trio of French Trips

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petesmith
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A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Sat Jul 22, 2017 1:27 pm

Having enjoyed many posts on this forum over the years, I thought it was time I made a small contribution of my own. I have recently had the good fortune to be able to make three trips to three very different parts of France during June and July this year. My first trip was to the Doubs department of Eastern France, close to the Swiss border, with Violet Copper being at the top of my "most-wanted" list, this being a species that I had never seen before.
When planning this trip, I had identified around 15 potential wetland sites via the use of google searches, IGN French maps, and google earth imagery. However, ideally what I wanted was to visit a known site for this species, where I could "get my eye in", before going on to survey other possible areas. It soon became apparent that getting any specific site information on Violet Copper was going to be difficult, but fortunately an eminent French Lepidopterist very kindly gave me details of a good site for it.
I flew out to Geneva on 2nd June, picked up my hire car, and headed straight for the site...
helle habitat Chaffois.JPG
habitat of L.helle - wetland with abundant Bistort, scattered scrub/trees and tussocks

I was very excited about the prospect of seeing my first Violet Copper. One would be nice enough, but I was astonished to find them flying in their hundreds! They really are a beautiful creature!
Violet Copper male 2.JPG
L.helle male

Violet Copper male 11.JPG
and another

Violet Copper female 4.JPG
the female of the species

Violet Copper female 3.JPG
and another

Absolutely delighted with finding these on my first day, the rest of my week was spent seeking out further sites, but by day three I had fallen foul of the notorious weather out in this part of France. At altitudes ranging from 800 to 1100 metres above sea level, this region is frequently cool and damp even in summer months...
A change of tactics was called for, so while the sun was eluding me, I searched potential sites for eggs of this species. Having watched females egg-laying on my first day here, I had a fair idea of where to look, and I managed to confirm occupancy at a further five sites by finding the characteristic eggs on Bistort leaves.
Violet Copper ovum.JPG
L.helle ovum on Bistort

When the sun did come out, I found Violet Coppers at three more locations, making a total of nine colonies.
Violet Copper mating pair.JPG
L.helle mating pair

Violet Copper unds 4.JPG
L.helle underside

I suspect that many more colonies occur in the region, but they are vulnerable to collectors, inappropriate or inadequate habitat management, and I understand why people are reluctant to divulge site details of this rare species.
The wetlands of this region have a very special feel to them and I soon became quite enamoured with Doubs. As well as my target species, I encountered a good number of other butterflies. Woodland Ringlet, Lesser Marbled Fritillary and False Heath Fritillary turned up at many sites, with Lesser Marbled Fritillary often in very good numbers.
Woodland Ringlet 4.JPG
E.medusa

Woodland Ringlet 2.JPG
E.medusa

Lesser Marbled Fritillary.JPG
B.ino

False Heath Fritillary 11.JPG
M.diamina

Black-veined Whites were common, and were just emerging. It was good to see a few very fresh examples with hardly any scale-loss, before their wings had begun turning towards transparency.
Black-veined White.JPG
a fresh example of A.crataegi

The Purple-edged Copper was another frequently encountered species on several bogs. I have only ever seen the alpine form of this butterfly previously, which of course lacks the "purple edge", so it was nice to see examples that showed where the name comes from!
Purple-edged Copper 3.JPG
L.hippothoe

The Large Copper and Chequered Skipper were much less common out here than the species mentioned above, but it was a pleasure to see both.
Large Copper male.JPG
L.dispar

Chequered Skipper.JPG
C.palaemon

And finally, the icing on the cake of a particularly fine week, one of France's rarest, and dare I say most beautiful, heaths - the Scarce Heath.
Scarce Heath.JPG
C.hero

Scarce Heath 6.JPG
C.hero

This trip earned me three new "life ticks", and it was hard to leave the bogs behind and drive back to Geneva for my return flight.
But trip number two was just around the corner - a fortnight in a gite in the north of the Dordogne, close to the Charente border,with my wife and some good friends of our, with the prospect of some more butterfly action.
Part two to follow shortly...
pete smith

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David M
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby David M » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:08 pm

I will certainly look forward to your 'Part Two', Peter, but Scarce Heath is going to be difficult to eclipse!

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby Art Frames » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:52 pm

Likewise, super shots and 3 species I have not seen. This is getting me in the mood for my upcoming trip to France. Look forward to the next instalment :D
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby bugboy » Sun Jul 23, 2017 6:20 am

That's a mouth watering array of species, non of which I have seen!
Some addictions are good for the soul!

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:42 am

Part Two - A trip to the north of the Dordogne -17th June to 1st July 2017
This was a very different trip to the previous one. Four of us shared a gite for a fortnight, and spent our time exploring the lovely towns and countryside of the "Perigord Vert". We did a few touristy things, ate some fantastic food, drank plenty of wine, and of course also did a bit of butterflying, but the emphasis was very much on having a truly relaxing holiday! When we arrived, the heatwave was in full swing, and during the first week we were contending with temperatures of up to 37C, which made photography very difficult, as the butterflies were all hyperactive. The weather crashed in our second week, and we had rain and much cooler weather.
I had four species on my hit list - Lesser Purple Emperor, False Ringlet, Twin-spot Fritillary and Woodland Brown. Despite visiting "known sites" for all of these, we spectacularly failed to see any of them except for the Lesser Purple Emperor!
Below are a couple of poor photos of this species. These were taken at full zoom and have been cropped, so they are grainy and horrible, but for now they are the only shots that I have of LPE. We found them in good numbers on sap runs on oaks at a wetland site, and even had them flying around our gite, but they didn't come down to the ground for us.
Lesser Purple Emperor f.clytie.JPG
A.ilia

Lesser Purple Emperors.JPG
A.ilia x 3 on sap run

I think the highlight of this trip for me was the sheer numbers of Large Blues that were flying in the meadows next to our gite. We were surrounded by a mosaic of flowery limestone grassland meadows and woods, and the Large Blues were having a great year!
Large Blue meadow.JPG
one of the Large Blue meadows

Large Blue 2.JPG
M.arion

Large Blue 3.JPG
M.arion

Large Blue 5.JPG
M.arion

Large Blue 6.JPG
M.arion

Large Blue egglaying.JPG
M.arion egg laying

Marbled Whites were also very common in the meadows, and a high proportion were of the leucomelas form, with the unmarked white underside hindwing.
Marbled White f.leucomelas 2JPG.JPG
M.galathea f.leucomelas

Scarce Swallowtail and Berger's Clouded Yellow were just emerging by the end of our first week, and we saw very good numbers of Great Banded Grayling and Woodland Grayling.
Scarce Swallowtail.JPG
I.podalirius

Berger's Clouded Yellow.JPG
C.alfacariensis

Woodland Grayling.JPG
H.fagi

Another highlight for me was re-acquainting myself with the irrepressibly bouncy Large Chequered Skipper, which we found at a couple of wetland sites, and also in much drier habitat in amongst woodland on a limestone plateau near La Rochebeaucourt-et-Argentine. I just love the way these beasts fly, and their underside markings are just sublime!
Large Chequered Skipper.JPG
H.morpheus

Blue-spot and Ilex Hairstreaks were both fairly frequently encountered in almost any scrubby grassland areas, and we did see just one Sloe Hairstreak at one site.
Blue-spot Hairstreak 2.JPG
S.spini

Ilex Hairstreak.JPG
S.ilicis

The increasingly ubiquitous Geranium Bronze showed up right on our gite doorstep. Eggs were easy to find on the local pelargoniums.
Geranium Bronze.JPG
C.marshalli

Right at the end of our fortnight, we were very pleased to see the Dryad beginning to emerge. This area is very good for this species, and in late July and early August I have found them by the hundreds, but I didn't expect to see them quite this early in the year. A sure sign that the region had been experiencing prolongued hot weather.
Dryad underside.JPG
M.dryas

I am not sure if this is strictly speaking allowed on this website, but to finish off, here is a photo of one of the more interesting burnet moths that we encountered. I am half expecting alarms to start ringing and my computer screen to start flashing when I post this moth picture on a butterfly forum, but as the French refer to these as "Papillons du Jour", hopefully I will get away with it!
I think this is Zygaena fausta, but I am happy to be corrected...
Zygaena fausta.JPG
Z.fausta

So, all in all this was a very relaxed and productive trip to a lovely part of France, in the company of good friends.
Trip three involved an eight night hotel-hopping tour encompassing the Alpes Maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence and the Hautes Alpes. Well over 100 species were seen. Part three will follow shortly, with some interesting high altitude specialists, a couple of aberrant forms, mud-puddling, and perhaps a couple of pleas for confirmation of IDs!
pete smith

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby Chris Jackson » Sun Jul 23, 2017 2:00 pm

Great sightings and marvelous photos, Pete.
Clearly well prepared trips.
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby Art Frames » Sun Jul 23, 2017 2:51 pm

These stories are great. It is just the France I know and love. Truly a restful holiday with large blues and lesser purple emperors on the doorstep.

Thank you for sharing. I await number three. :D
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Sun Jul 23, 2017 4:12 pm

Thanks for your kind comments, folks. I shall get part 3 uploaded shortly!
pete smith

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby David M » Sun Jul 23, 2017 4:58 pm

More great images there, Pete. What an interesting array of Large Blues you saw, ranging from sparsely marked to the big, bold-spotted one in your third picture.

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Sun Jul 23, 2017 6:29 pm

Thanks David - yes, the diversity of the markings on the Large Blues was quite remarkable! Presumably a good sign of the genetic diversity of the local colonies. Also, something that doesn't come across in the photo's is the sheer size of some of them. I am not exaggerating when I say that some individuals were very almost the size of Small Tortoiseshells!
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby David M » Sun Jul 23, 2017 7:53 pm

petesmith wrote:Also, something that doesn't come across in the photo's is the sheer size of some of them. I am not exaggerating when I say that some individuals were very almost the size of Small Tortoiseshells!


Yes, there are some which appear significantly more 'robust' than our own UK specimens. In the Alps, they're also very, very dark, almost looking like a different species. Nice to see some of the lower altitude specimens having more blue on the wings!

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Mon Jul 24, 2017 12:13 pm

Part Three - Alpine adventures in the Alpes Maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence and Hautes Alpes - 8th to 15th July 2017
This was an ambitious trip, attempting to take in three different departments in the mountains of south-east France over the course of eight days. I have visited this area quite a few times now, and I know that several contributors to this forum also know the region well. It is truly spectacular! Without doubt, this is the richest area I have ever visited for butterflies, both in terms of species diversity and sheer numbers, and every trip is different. The season can be several weeks adrift each year in terms of what is on the wing, depending on whether it is an early or late one. Every visit is different, but it never disappoints! We met up with good friends in Nice on the morning of Saturday 8th July and headed north. Over the next eight days we were to visit numerous diverse sites at altitudes from 600m to over 2700m above sea level. Here are just a few of my personal favourite moments...
lac foreant 2.JPG
alpine scenery

The high altitude habitats are just stunning places to walk, and the butterfly species that can be found up here fascinate me.
lac egorgeou.JPG
alpine scenery

Here is one species that I have very rarely seen. The Alpine Grayling seems to be very localised in this area. This one posed obligingly for me in the Hautes Alpes, at around 2600m. In common with other grayling species, they seem to angle themselves precisely on occasion to maximise their intake of heat from the sun.
Alpine Grayling.JPG
O.glacialis

Alpine Grayling 4.JPG
O.glacialis

Alpine Grayling 2.JPG
O.glacialis

Alpine Blues are a little easier to find. This one was also photographed in the Hautes Alpes, in an area where it is not uncommon. The unusual underside of this species is lovely!
Alpine Blue.JPG
A.orbitulus

And speaking of unusual undersides, here is a fairly extreme aberration:
ab radiata.JPG
ab.radiata

I believe this is ab.radiata and it is most likely a Common Blue female, but I can't rule out Eros Blue either. It was taken at around 2600m. Other blues on the wing in the immediate area included Mazarine, Damon, Idas, Glandon, Alpine, Eros, and Small Blue. I would be interested in any comments anyone has on which species they think this is!
The Peak White was often seen at high altitude, but as usual was very difficult to approach or get close enough to photograph. I managed a couple of shots of both male and female, but still don't have that definitive photograph that I have been after for several years...
Peak White male.JPG
P.callidice male

Peak White female.JPG
P.callidice female

Cynthia's Fritillary, my absolute favourite European fritillary, was already showing signs of wear, and had obviously been on the wing for a while. These two were the freshest individuals that I found, but it was good to find this iconic species at several new sites this year. They seem to be fairly common once you get above 2500m.
Cynthia's Fritillary male.JPG
E.cynthia male

Cynthia's Fritillary female.JPG
E.cynthia female

Both Niobe and Grison's Fritillary appeared regularly at several high altitude sites.
Niobe Fritillary 2.JPG
A.niobe

Grison's Fritillary.JPG
M.varia

I think the photos below are of False Heath Fritillary, but they appear slightly variant.
False Heath Fritillary var.JPG
M.diamina

False Heath Fritillary var 2.JPG
M.diamina

The various Erebia species often prove challenging to identify, but here are two that hopefully are beyond doubt.
Lesser Mountain Ringlet and Common Brassy Ringlet, the latter showing a hint of the blue/green brassy hue that gives it it's name.
Lesser Mountain Ringlet.JPG
E.melampus

Lesser Mountain Ringlet 2.JPG
E.melampus

Common Brassy Ringlet.JPG
E.cassioides

Here are a couple of high altitude heaths. The Alpine Heath in particular was very common this year in many locations. Darwin's Heath was also plentiful, but less easy to ID, as they didn't sit still for long!
Alpine Heath.JPG
C.gardetta

Darwin's Heath.JPG
C.darwiniana

Damon Blues were already quite numerous in places in early July this year, and the Purple-edged Copper could be found in abundance close to nectar, especially on Bistort flowers.
Damon Blue male.JPG
A.damon

Purple-edged Copper unds.JPG
L.hippothoe

And now we come on to the thorny subject of the Pyrgus species! I am no expert on these, but I hope that I have identified the two below correctly as Warren's Skipper and Dusky Grizzled Skipper. I stand ready to be corrected by those more expert in this field!
Warren's Skipper 3.JPG
P.warrenensis

Dusky Grizzled Skipper.JPG
P.cacaliae

Here is a small group of pyrgus - feel free to identify these yourself!
trio of pyrgus.JPG
trio of pyrgus

And to finish off this "high altitude" section of the trip, below are one or two blues enjoying some mud-puddling, plus a handful of interlopers:
mud puddling compressed.jpg
mud puddling

The mud-puddling action was on a damp streamside at 2400m.
I have a few more photographs from lower altitudes, which I will put on shortly as a separate post, as I am in danger of exceeding my 30 file allowance!
pete smith

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Mon Jul 24, 2017 1:05 pm

Here is the continuation from my last post, and a couple of high altitude species that I missed.
Firstly, the lovely Silvery Argus:
Silvery Argus.JPG
P.nicias

And secondly, the Silky Ringlet, a tricky Erebia that favours scree slopes and is difficult to get close to. I have seen it at several sites over the years, often in the company of the Sooty Ringlet - in fact, these two species often seem to come as a double act.
Silky Ringlet.JPG
E.gorge

Silky Ringlet 2.JPG
E.gorge


The following photographs were all taken at considerably lower altitudes, mainly around the 1000m mark.

On the second day of our trip, we were delighted to stumble across a colony of Ripart's Anomalous Blues. This is a species that I have previously found to be uncommon and difficult to find in the region.
Ripart's Anomalous Blue.JPG
A.ripartii

Ripart's Anomalous Blue 3.JPG
A.ripartii

Purple-shot Coppers are widespread out in this part of the world, but always a pleasure to see. This is surely one of the most stunning European species.
Purple-shot Copper.JPG
L.alciphron

Meleager's Blue is another favourite of mine. This one is a fresh male, showing off its lovely scalloped hindwing shape.
Meleager's Blue male unds.JPG
M.daphnis

Escher's Blue is usually quite common around the 1000m mark.
Escher's Blue underside.JPG
P.escheri

Below are two butterflies strongly associated with very dry, rocky or scree habitats, one locally common (Dusky Heath), the other increasingly rare (Hermit). This was only the second time that I have seen Hermit in the Alps. It really is a lovely creature, especially when on the wing. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me!
Dusky Heath.JPG
C.dorus

Hermit.JPG
C.briseis

Spotted Fritillaries were commonly encountered at many sites. The two-tone females are absolutely gorgeous to my eyes.
Spotted Fritillary female.JPG
M.didyma

Finally, this one is potentially a new life tick for me, so I would appreciate any feedback on the identity of the butterfly below. This was taken near Saint Paul sur Ubaye, on a flowery/stony hillside at 1470m. I think (hope) that it is a Dusky Meadow Brown. It was not behaving like a normal Meadow Brown. Unfortunately it refused to open its wings at any time.
Dusky Meadow Brown.JPG
?H.lycaon

Well, that's the end of this particular trip. A brilliant time was had by all! I can't wait to be out and about again in search of more European butterflies, but in the meantime I can reflect on some great memories from my Trio of French Trips this summer! Thanks for letting me share these with you good folk out in the world of UK Butterflies.
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les demoiselles coiffres.JPG
les demoiselles coiffres
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby Padfield » Mon Jul 24, 2017 4:25 pm

Absolutely stunning pictures and some excellent finds. For what it's worth, I go for eros for your aberrant blue. I can't really say why - it just looks like eros. Your warrenensis looks perfect for this species. It would be nice to confirm with an underside, because so many other Pyrgus fly in the same habitats, but the 'feel' is just right. The usual candidates for confusion here are carlinae, serratulae, cacaliae and alveus, which last does occasionally come in diminutive forms at altitude. Your next picture, of cacaliae, shows nicely why it's not this species and I can't comfortably see it as any of the others. Well done for finding this! And definitely lycaon for the meadow brown further down the page. It's amazing how in the books lycaon and jurtina look similar but in the field they are absolutely distinctive. Lycaon never rests with its wings open, in my experience at least - it is like a small heath in that respect.

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby John Chapple » Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:19 pm

Nice one Pete. Could have done with another week really, a bit rushed in only one week. A great time never the less. We are both still recovering so the trip dvd will have to wait mate!

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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby petesmith » Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:49 pm

Thanks Guy - interestingly, eros ws my first call on the aberrant, mainly because they were much the commoner species in the area, and I struggled to confirm a definite icarus up there. Appreciate the confirmation of lycaon -I was fairly confident, but having spent many hours in search of this species, I wasn't 100% sure that I had finally nailed it!
John - no rush with that DVD mate - any time before Christmas will do! Hope you and Kate are recovering - what a great week!
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Re: A Trio of French Trips

Postby David M » Mon Jul 24, 2017 8:18 pm

A quite wonderful and rare array of truly montane (and not so montane) species in your last post, Peter, so let me assure you that is is we who need to thank you for posting these images, and I personallhy will remain rather envious over those species that I covet but yet have not seen.

Feel free to post more if you have any....they will be warmly received!


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