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Butterflies in the Italian Alps, 8-22 July 2021. (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Following on from a successful trip in August 2019, this two-week trip to the Italian Alps again focussed on butterflies in the dramatic mountain landscapes of the Dolomites. Revisiting excellent sites in Trentino, including Val di Rabbi and Peio, I also added the Lombardy and Veneto regions in the hope of finding the localised Cynthia's Fritillary and Alpine Blue.

In addition to the above two species, the main targets on this trip were Asian Fritillary and, more generally, to simply enjoy the multitude of ringlets, fritillaries and blues available in this area.

In the event, travelling a month earlier this time than previously, the two trips nicely complemented each other - not only did the species selections differ, but so too did overall butterfly abundances and diversity.

8 July. Arrival in Italy.

Covid passports in pocket, digital passenger locator all completed and checked, then aboard for the 2.5 hour flight to Milan Bergamo. Arrived early evening to a massive thunderstorm, plane couldn't land, circled for a half hour, then diverted to Verona. On the ground, chaotic organisation of onward travel back to Bergamo, then a hailstorm of biblical proportions! What a start to the trip!

Amazingly managed to get back to Bergamo only a couple of hours after the original arrival time, picked up the rental car in no time at all, then hit the autostrada eastward back towards Verona and, a little over 1.5 hours later, was approaching the first destination, a hotel on the higher slopes of the splendid Mount Baldo. Tawny Owl in the darkness on arrival.

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
9 July. Mount Baldo.

Blue skies at dawn, a bright sun climbing. Lots of gravel and debris on the roads from the rain and hail of the evening before, I wondered what impact it might have had butterfly numbers, surely many must have succumbed. After a bit of breakfast and coffee, a nice meadow at about 1000 metres kicked off the action with the first butterflies of the trip - Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites in good enough numbers, plus one Adonis Blue, an Amanda's Blue and both Large and Essex Skippers. Soon added Queen of Spain Fritillary and High Brown Fritillary and, nearby, a colony of Chalkhill Blues on a flowery slope. One Alpine Chamois also seen, plus Black Kites and a Honey Buzzard.

Descending into the Mollini Valley, excellent in the preceding August, butterflies were distinctly lacking, very few individuals on the wing - perhaps the storm had impacted them. Gave it a quick scoot around, then turned instead to the higher altitudes of Mount Baldo, the main destination for the day. Took a chair lift to 1840 metres, highland meadows with plenty of butterflies - quite a few Woodland Ringlets, Chalkhill Blues and Small Tortoiseshells. Also Little Blue and assorted others too. Overhead, Alpine Swifts screaming past and Alpine Choughs tumbling through the skies.

From here, I hiked to the 2140 metre peak at Cima delle Pozzette - scree slopes and a low diversity of butterflies, but this rocky terrain is home to one highland specialist - Sooty Ringlet. Finding them was fairly easy, photographing them rather harder - active only on the steep slopes of loose scree, they are also highly mobile, rarely settling long. Fortunately, after slipping and sliding for quite a while, I eventually got a few photographs, a nice butterfly. One Mountain Fritillary here too, plus Queen of Spain Fritillaries. With that, by now early afternoon, I then wandered northward along the main ridge of Baldo, a couple of Swallowtails, several Dingy Skippers, a population of Common Brassy Ringlets, many Chalkhill Blues, then descended a rough track back to middle altitudes. Several Large Wall Browns on route down, plus more Common Brassy Ringlets, a couple of Bluespot Hairstreaks, two Tufted Marbled Skippers and, lower down, a single Marbled Fritillary giving grief to a Silver-washed Fritillary. Pearly Heaths also here.

Finished the day with a several kilometre wander back to the car, mostly through woodland, no new butterflies. All in all, despite a relative lack of butterflies at the lower altitudes, 39 species this day, a reasonable enough total to start the trip.

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
10 July. Lowlands & Madonna di Campiglio.

Northward day, departed Baldo and headed towards Madonna di Campiglio, briefly stopping at two roadside localities in the lowlands - Lago di Cavedine and a riverside near Stenico. Randomly found localities, both had served me well the year before and I thought deserving of another visit. However, with the notable exception of at least 20 Great Sooty Satyrs and a Woodland Brown in rocky terrain just before, the first site was actually fairly poor - very arid and few flowers, the only butterflies of note were six Scarce Swallowtails. Arrival at the second site didn't seem much better, but then I decided to explore a short track a hundred metres above the river. This was better - a dozen or so species, including several White Admirals, Wall Browns, a variety of fritillaries and, the highlight, four very nice Chequered Blues nectaring on flowers.

At Madonna di Campiglio, I hiked to Rufugio Laghi, altitude 1970 metres - nowhere near the numbers of big fritillaries as in the previous August, but an excellent diversity of species. At lower altitude, as I began the meander upward, Purple-edged Coppers, Mazarine Blues, Little Blues, Arran Browns and Lesser Mountain Ringlets, plus lots of Alpine Heaths and my first Northern Wall Browns and Large Wall Browns of the trip. Further up, Titania's Fritillary, several Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and one Pearl-bordered Fritillary, a couple of Silky Ringlets appearing among the Lesser Mountain Ringlets. A little beyond Rufugio Laghi, a butterfly that really got me going ...one of my main targets for the trip, a superb Asian Fritillary quietly sitting atop a flower. Settled by a momentary patch of cloud cover, this stunner was welcome indeed. Continued to Lago Ritorto and, low and behold, two more Asian Fritillaries!

From there, I decided to loop down through a wooded valley. I hadn't expected very much here, but I hit the jackpot - in an open clearing, not only at least 12 more Asian Fritillaries, many in pristine fresh condition, but also five Thor's Fritillaries, a Scotch Argus and a Chequered Skipper. Top stuff.

Rounded the day off with a Geranium Argus a little lower down, then tootled a few kilometres to Dimara, base for the next three days. 41 species of butterflies this day.
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Well-known member
I love your butterfly expeditions and can't wait for some pictures!

How do you even begin to know where to look!

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
1 & 2. Sooty Ringlets, scree specialist.
3. Woodland Ringet.
4. Common Brassy Ringet.
5. Tufted Marbled Skipper.


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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
11 July. Val di Rabbi.

It's a 10 hour hike up and down, but Val di Rabbi is just sensational, top class butterflies in glorious landscapes. I began the hike at 8.00 am in the deep shade of early morning, a relative sprint of an hour or so taking me to a steep lightly wooded slope at 1700 metres. First sunshine and, immediately, butterflies sunning - Scarce Coppers, Mazarine Blues and, simply stunners, a dozen Apollos gently floating around the steep slope. Also Sooty Copper, Purple-edged Copper, plenty of Arran Browns and both Northern Wall Brown and Large Wall Brown. Pushed a little higher and arrived in what is very much the centrepiece of the Val di Rabbi - choc a bloc with butterflies, a wide open meadow at 1775 metres. Probably spent an hour here, the numerous butterflies including quite a few Clouded Apollos, plus Titania's Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, Large Blues and a Cranberry Blue, Almond-eyed Ringlet and Lesser Mountain Ringlets. Also added Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper, Chequered Skipper and Safflower Skipper. Adding to the spectacle of the previous day, eight Asian Fritillaries here too.

Could easily have stayed longer, but altitude called - the next section, bordering on near vertical in parts, was both the toughest climb and one of the most productive parts of the valley for butterflies. As the path snaked up the mountainside, soon rising above the tree line, abundant flowers peppered the slopes. The result was butterflies galore - my upward progress was necessarily slow, not because of the sheer slog of the climb, but more due to the frequent stops for butterflies. Many species present, not least heaps of Mazarine and Little Blues, dozens of Alpine Heaths, a couple of Mountain Ringlets and, as well as several colonies of Apollos, at least eight Small Apollos too ...with Clouded Apollos a little earlier, that made a full hat-trick with these dramatic butterflies!

Eventually got to the lip of the slope, the path then rising more gently as it crossed into a high altitude valley dominated by wet grassland along the stream and stunted vegetation on the valley sides. By now early afternoon, Moorland Clouded Yellows drifting by, several Alpine Graylings found in their cryptic dress, Common Brassy Ringlets and Almond-eyed Ringlets fairly common. I continued the upward walk and finally got to Rufugio Silvio Dorigoni, altitude 2400 metres. Unfortunately here it clouded over, a stubborn waft of cloud hugging the summit most of the time I was there, butterfly action immediately quashed. Alpine Marmots calling somewhere distant. With lower slopes still bathed in sunshine, soon I decided to descend - plenty of butterflies again and certainly far easier going down than up. Added Dewy Ringlet and Swiss Brassy Ringlet to the day tally, but otherwise similar species to that on my ascent.

Got back to my car early evening, a splendid day it had been, 43 species of butterflies and amazing numbers of individuals. Could have been even more had I not hit cloud at higher altitude.
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
12 July. Val di Peio.

Top day, a mega 50 species of butterflies recorded. Started with a double ski lift ride up to the giddy heights of 3000 metres. Barren of vegetation and patches of pretty deep snow, no butterflies up here. Alpine Accentors, Alpine Choughs and Alpine Marmots the key wildlife seen. After a bit of a plunge up to my waist crossing one snowfield and cutting my leg on rocks in the snow, I began my descent to greener pastures further down.

At the first hints of vegetation, one Small Tortoiseshell and two Mountain Ringlets, but it was not until about 2300 metres that I really began to see butterflies in any numbers - here, just above the tree line, Mountain Fritillary, Alpine Grayling, many Alpine Heaths, Mountain Green-veined Whites, a couple of Mountain Alcon Blues and quite a few Common Brassy Ringlets and Almond-eyed Ringlets. Descending further, it became ever better - a couple of Swallowtails floating past, flower meadows with Mazarine Blues, Olive Skippers and Lesser Mountain Ringlets, forest edges with Arran Browns, Moorland Clouded Yellows and yet more Asian Fritillaries. Big fritillaries however were distinctly low in numbers in comparison to my August trip, but still a good diversity of species - Silver-washed, Dark Green and High Brown Fritillaries all seen, along with a few Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and a dozen or so of both Queen of Spain Fritillary and Heath Fritillary.

As I passed the middle ski lift, it was now 30 C and I was encountering Woodland Ringlets and, a little further, classic low altitude species began to appear - Small Heaths replacing the Alpine Heaths, a few Meadow Browns, dozens of Scarce Coppers, the odd Sooty Copper and Purple-edged Copper here and there. Amongst these, one Large Blue. Found a nice area of cow manure, a damp patch at one end attracting puddling butterflies - alongside Mazarine Blues and Amanda’s Blue, one rather fine Geranium Argus and one Chequered Skipper. Continuing down, now rich meadows and well-developed forest edge, Niobe Fritillaries appeared, so too Titania’s Fritillaries and whole range of other common species, including Small Whites, Common Blues and both Small and Large Skipper.

Eventually, nine hours after starting, I was back at base altitude - 1400 metres. The end of an excellent day, the final stroll of a couple of kilometres back to the car added Grizzed Skipper and Scarce Swallowtail.
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
13 July. Madonna di Campiglio.

From 50 species of butterflies the previous day to five on this, a weather affected day! Cloudy skies from morning, I decided nevertheless to walk the Vasenella trail on the eastern slopes above Madonna di Campiglio.

One Arran Brown fluttering in the dampness on the lower slopes, then the brief appearance of a weak sun though the clouds at 1800 metres was enough to bring a Mazarine Blue and Scarce Cooper to sit atop flower stalks and to persuade me to climb higher. Justly rewarded with two further species, the last remnants of the brightness producing two fine Thor's Fritillaries and a colony of Mountain Green-veined Whites. Many Crossbills and Nutcracker also.

Thereafter, as I climbed above the tree line, thickening cloud ended any chance of further butterflies. Did see a few more birds however - Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit and abundant Northern Wheatears. And then, as I reached about 2300 m, it started to rain. With the sky ever blackening and rumbles of thunder echoing up the valley, I decided it time to run! A marathon run all the way back to the base of the mountain, I arrived at the car just as it started to absolutely tip down. And that's how it stayed for the rest of the day, heavy rain till evening.
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Slight edit to 12 July ...forgot to add Apollo to my tally and overlooked a Pearl-bordered Fritillary among the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. 52 species during the day, not 50 - best day total of the trip.

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
14 July. Passo Gavia.

Plan this day was to search for Alpine Blue and other high altitude species on the Alpine meadows at Passo Gavia, 2650 metres above sea level. With my entire wardrobe for the trip consisting of tee-shorts and open crocs, I had not planned for a cold front to hit the Alps - but that is exactly what did happen, it was snowing and a mere 0.5 C at the pass! Brrrr! A layer of fresh snow on the surrounding peaks and a cocktail of rolling clouds, fog, snow and hail all day didn't make for happy butterfly hunting!

Still, did see a flock of Snowfinches on a rocky crag, one Alpine Marmot by the roadside and six Alpine Ibex on a slope, the male carrying very impressive horns. Predictably butterflies were very few...did manage to find two Dewy Ringlets sheltering however, plus four Little Blues and one Mazarine Blue.

Waited all day for a break in the weather, alas it was not to come. Eventually gave up at about 4 pm and headed to lower altitude in the Bormio area. Pleasant sun greeted me, so I stopped and explored random meadows - not a bad evening, 16 species of butterfly flying, including many Marbled Whites, a Mountain Alcon Blue and, new for the trip, at least 10 Knapweed Fritillaries.

Adey Baker

I've had a similar experience several years ago on the Grossglockner in Austria. One year we had an included excursion up the famous pass there and saw several super high mountain species, including Little Fritillary but the next year we were met with snow once we gained the desired level for the mountain specialities - both trips were in July.

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
15 July. Bormio.

None too promising weather again, low cloud and rain early on, I had to presume snow at Passo Gavia. By 9.00 am, with the weather a fraction brighter, I decided to hike Cimo Bianco directly above Bormio town. The theory was that it might be in a slight rain shadow and would, perhaps, be more likely to have an occasional sunny patch than Passo Gavia.

It didn’t really turn out that way - I hiked through cloud and fog to 2500 metres, not a hint of sun. Many Nutcrackers and Crossbills in the scattered pines, then Water Pipits and a Rock Ptarmigan on the open slopes. At 2500 metres, I didn't see much point going higher, so waited it out …rolling banks of cloud and fog till late afternoon, intermittent rain. One very welcome Wallcreeper did appear however, feeding on a boulder-strewn hillside. One approachable Alpine Marmot too.

At near 5 pm, one ultra brief sunny spell, literally less than 10 minutes. It was however just enough time to get a few butterflies up and about - one Mazarine Blue, about six Alpine Heaths, two Blind Ringlets, one Lesser Mountain Ringlet, one Mountain Fritillary and two Olive Skippers. No Alpine Blue. And then back came the cloud, time to descend and return to base.
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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