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Butterflies of Armenia, June-July 2022 (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
INTRODUCTION

Inspired by a trip report on BirdForum and following on from several birding trips to the neighbouring states of Georgia, Turkey and Iran, it was time to visit Armenia. The focus this time however was butterflies - in the varied habitats of the high Caucasian mountains, expanses of steppe and arid semi-deserts, a total of over 240 species of butterfly have been recorded in the country, many of which do not occur further west. In my ten-day trip, I would see approximately 125 of these. Naturally, though most of my attention was dedicated to butterflies, birding also figured prominently, not least at the superb Armash Fish Pools (White-tailed Lapwing, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater), at Mount Aragats (Radde's Accentor, White-throated Robin, etc) and at Vedi Gorge and Novarank (Grey-necked Bunting, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Persian Wheatear, etc).



BUTTERFLY LOCATIONS

In terms of butterflies, Armenia is a relatively unknown country to the outside world, little is available online and scant information exists for the visiting butterfly enthusiast. In determining where to visit and to work out an itinerary, I used three main sources:

  • Armenian butterfly conservation website (www.butterfly-conservation-armenia.org) - this includes a section on suggested localities, with basic habitat information, likely day totals at each and lists of some of the potential species.
  • Naturetrek website - this company has run successful butterfly trips to Armenia for a number of years and includes trip reports for several recent years.
  • Bird reports (eg from Cloudbirders) - the rationale here was visit the key birding areas and the butterflies would surely follow.

As a result of this, my route was an approximate loop from Yerevan firstly southward to areas around Khosrov Reserve, Armash Fish Pools and Noravank Gorge, then northeast past Lake Sevan and north up to the beech forests at Acharkut. From here, I crossed westward over the Jajur Mountain Pass and then back south visiting the superb slopes of Mount Aragats and Mount Gndasar. Due to rain on my first visit to Acharkut, I revisited this site and Jajur at the end of the trip too.

In an attempt to partially address the lack of information available, I include here basic details and coordinates for the main sites visited, plus the number of species I saw at each (full details of the species are in the later day log and species lists):

Vedi Gorge (39.9392, 44.7076)
Primarily a birding locality (Grey-necked Bunting, etc), but also provides possibility for arid country species. Saadi’s Heath and Christoph’s Blue here, but was too early in the morning for many butterflies.

Khosrov (three productive areas 39.9796, 44.8794 / 39.9627, 44.8618 / 39.9473, 44.8883)
Reserve not accessible without permit and guide. Surrounding areas fairly arid, full of Hermits, assorted skippers and Ripart’s Anomalous Blues. Best numbers of butterflies along watercourses, as in coordinates above. As a dry country locality, only 36 species seen.

Amaghou Steppe (39.6793, 45.2056)
Excellent roadside location, high altitude steppe rich in flowers. Incredible numbers and varieties of butterflies, especially puddling blues and skippers. 29 species seen in a couple of hours.

Noravank Gorge (39.6823, 45.2350)
Below the famous monastery, a small trail through riverine woodland and open scrub. High diversity and abundance of butterflies, including puddling blues at the beginning of the trail, a variety of hairstreaks and many others. 39 species seen.

Vardenyats Pass (northside 39.9336, 45.2323 / plateau 40.006, 45.2343)
Steep wet slopes on the south side, supporting a good mix of frillaries and heaths, plus Clouded Apollo. Extensive grasslands on the plateau not so productive on my brief visit, though Greek Clouded Yellow present. Brief visit, 24 species seen.

Arakelots Beech Forest (41.032, 45.0697)
Lush deciduous forest and open meadows, many butterflies. A species mix more similar to parts of central Europe, including many Hungarian Gliders and Great banded Graylings. 54 species seen, including many not seen elsewhere in Armenia.

Jajur Pass (grasslands and pine 40.8651, 43.9992/ mountain valley 40.8728, 43.9939)
High steppe grasslands, mountain valley and pine forest. Many species present, including localised Lederer’s Heath and both Gavarnie Blue and Alcon Blue. In total, 49 species seen.

Amberd Valley (40.3599, 44.2506)
Riverine vegetation and lush vegetation in an otherwise arid gorge. Massive numbers of butterflies, both puddling along the track and attracted to the many flowers. Whole valley for several kilometres was phenomenal, though access may be restricted beyond a gate a half kilometre in (was prevented from entering on a return visit). 58 species seen.

Mount Aragats (upward from 40.3996, 44.2509)
With habitats including dry and damp meadows at various altitudes, lush vegetated valleys and high altitude grassland, a very good range of species present. Highest numbers of species were found in a steep valley on the Amberd Castle road, but many good localities found by random stops. Low number of butterflies at the highest altitude (around Lake Kari), but does support Bowden's White, a species found nowhere else in Armenia. In total, 47 species seen.

Mount Gnishik (39.8299, 45.1537)
High altitude mountain steppe, excellent mix of butterflies, many puddling and attracted to abundant flowers. Access via steep rocky track, high clearance/4WD required. 52 species seen.
 
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Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
BUTTERFLY IDENTIFICATION

In reality, finding where to watch butterflies was not an issue. The same can not be said for identification! At this eastern fringe of the Western Palearctic, identification is a challenge - not only are many of them not illustrated in European guides, but no dedicated fieldguide as yet exists for Armenia. At present, the only guide that does cover the country is 'Butterflies of Caucasus and Transcaucasia' by Vadim V. Tshikolovets. This book is not particularly user-friendly and additionally uses only scientific names for the butterflies, choosing to refrain from including English names. As it also has a hefty price tag, I gave this book a miss and instead used a combination of a European fieldguide (Collins) and an attempt to photograph all difficult or new species and then use online resources to try and identify. In this regard, the Armenian butterfly conservation website was a good starting point, not only detailing which species are present in Armenia, but also providing distribution maps and a single photograph of each (this frequently not sufficient to identify many within the harder groups, e.g. blues and skippers). Beyond this, the Butterflies of the Caucasus website was also useful (in Russian, Google translate) and, for the those species covered, EuroButterflies.
 

David_

Well-known member
Germany
Really looking forward to your report. Currently planing a longer bikepacking trip for next year and Armenia is on the shortlist of destinations. At this stage I am trying to get an idea of the quality of bird, butterfly and odonata watching opportunities for each country on my short list (besides research on security of camping, accessibility and number of backroads as I don‘t want to bike the main roads, food resupply options in small villages etc. ). So your report will definitely help as I couldn’t find a lot on butterflies in Armenia.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
So here we go, the day log ...


22 June. Arrival in Yerevan.

Departing Lithuania at 4.30 pm and taking the now familiar long detour to avoid Belarusian and Ukrainian airspace, touchdown in Armenia was a grand four hours later, 9.30 pm local time. Mostly clear skies and 25 C on arrival, but already dark.

Picked up my 'super lush' Lada Niva from Europcar, four-wheel drive and high clearance - perfect for the roads I was expecting, though in reality a standard saloon would have done in many places. Departed the airport for a half hour drive south to accommodation for the first night …sat nav decided to take me over a small cliff on the outskirts of Yerevan due to changes in the road network, that aside all hunky dory.



23 June. Vedi Gorge & Khosrov Reserve.

Early start from Yerevan, Laughing Doves on roadside wires, hordes of Swifts circling. An hour south of the capital, destination this morning was Vedi Gorge, a locality in arid sandstone hills known for Grey-necked Bunting. Soon was seeing birds - Rollers, Hoopoes and European Bee-eaters, Crested Larks two-a-penny, several Finsch's Wheatears. I trundled the car midway up one of the two splits of the gorge, then set out on foot. Immediately plenty of rewards - Black-headed Buntings in song, Isabelline Wheatears to supplement the Finsch's Wheatears, several Rufous Scrub Robins, several Eastern Rock Nuthatches, one Upchur's Warbler. Also Long-legged Buzzard and Common Kestrel. As for Grey-necked Bunting, this required a bit of a hike, a singing bird finally found on a steep cliffside a couple of kilometres from the start. All very nice, but this was dedicated as a butterfly trip, so even nicer were when the first butterflies of the morning took to the wing, first a couple of Eastern Bath Whites, then my first new species - the rather smart Saadi's Heath. Second new species didn't take much longer - also rather exquisite, albeit via some id headscratching, a couple of Christoph’s Blues.

With butterflies now flying, it was time to relocate to my main destination for the day, Khosrov Reserve. Or at least I thought it would be my main destination, I was soon to find out that a permit was required in advance to visit this protected area. In the meantime, blissfully unaware of such a need and thus parking a kilometre or so inside the protected area, butterfly action kicked off in fine form - abundant Chasara Hermits (at least 450 during the day), plus five Lesser Lattice Browns, three Oriental Meadow Browns and two Klug’s Tawny Rockbrowns in the relatively greener valley bottoms and open bushland. Also Southern White Admiral and Large Wall Brown along a stream, along with Mountain Small Whites in more open areas. Then I got caught! Wandering up the track, a small meadow near the reserve visitor seemed to be attracting a few butterflies, so over I sauntered …several Cardinal Fritillaries, a few Niobe Fritillaries and one reserve ranger! My skills in Armenian and/or Russian are non-existent, but it was clear that I was getting my marching orders. With his permission however, I did take a final fifteen or twenty minute walk in meadows across the stream, these adding Freyer’s Fritillaries and many Balkan Marbled Whites. Then however another ranger appeared and I did have to leave.

No big issue in reality, I soon found excellent habitat aside a stream two kilometres down from the reserve - similar butterflies to earlier, plus assorted skippers, Clouded Yellows and Berger's Clouded Yellows, Old World Swallowtail and several Holly Blues. Birds in abundance too, including Black-headed Buntings in song, four Pale Rock Sparrows, a family of Blue Rock Thrushes a pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes, etc.

By now early afternoon and over 30 C, it was time to check my accommodation for the next two nights - the EcoLodge the nearby Caucasus WildLife Refuge. An excellent base with good views across the mountains and, thanks to its associated bear rehabilitation centre, the rather nice possibility to drink coffee on the veranda while watching Brown Bears sauntering around. Settled in, avoided the temptation to just sit on the verada all afternoon, then hiked down to the river valley beneath the centre. Rich patch of flowers here - many skippers to keep the headaches going (Yellow-banded Skipper a stunner, Small Skipper and Large Skipper familiar enough, all the rest needing varying degrees of effort in terms of identification - Obethur’s Grizzled Skipper, Sandy Grizzled Skipper, Orbed Red-underwing Skipper, Marbled Skipper, Alcides Skipper). Also here, one Bluespot Hairstreak, a couple of White-letter Hairstreaks, two Lesser Fiery Coppers, abundant Brown Argus and Common Blues and two that had me scratching my head again in terms of identification - several rather distinctive blues that I eventually decided were Ripart’s Anomalous Blues (excluding Forster’s Anomalous Blue primarily because it should be rare and preferring of more grassland habitat) and a number of fritillaries that I eventually decided were regular Spotted Fritillaries (excluding Caucasian and Persian Spotted Fritillaries on underwing venation).

With the day's action over, I then established a pattern that I would follow each evening, an hour or more double checking identifications and compiling totals. Not bad for a very arid area, 38 species of butterflies this day, a number of which were totally new for me.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Is it big? Looks it.
Quite big :)

I found it hiding in a door arch and not wishing it to get squashed, I moved it by persuading it to climb on a stick ...it then proceeded to run quite fast up the (small) stick 🙂

It was then a race would I get outside before it got to my hand ...had no real wish to find out if, or how hard, it bit 😂
 

3Italianbirders

well-known member
Supporter
Italy
Quite big :)

I found it hiding in a door arch and not wishing it to get squashed, I moved it by persuading it to climb on a stick ...it then proceeded to run quite fast up the (small) stick 🙂

It was then a race would I get outside before it got to my hand ...had no real wish to find out if, or how hard, it bit 😂
😁
I hear you. I have been in the same position many times. I used to be the official spider remover at the offspring's nursery school. Now I mostly use the cup and paper method, but of course you need to have both at hand!
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
I stepped on a Camel Spider with bare feet while camping near Sossusvlei, Namibia, luckily it turned out to be an empty husk - I don't think I'd want to get bitten by those fangs!
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
24 June. Amash Fish Pools & Khosrov Reserve.

Abutting the Turkish and Azerbaijan borders, with the mountains of Iran also clearly visible, the Amash Fish Pools are superb - not only a key locality for White-tailed Lapwing, but just generally a top class birding locality with incredible numbers of birds scattered over a fairly vast area.

So it was, having departed EcoLodge early and trundled the 40 km down to Amash, there I was at the gate at 7.00 am watching White Storks and Pygmy Cormorants overhead. Only one snag - the security guard was resolutely refusing to open the barrier! Though I had arranged permission to enter, this clearly had not reached this guy and with a shrug of the shoulders he ambled back to his shack. Not all lost however, one quick phone call to Yerevan and, like magic, moments later a CB radio crackled to life in the guard's shack, out came the guard and 'open sesame', I was in.

The next few hours were phenomenal. From the gate, the very first pool, dry with a small wet area to one end, started the action in style - amid smart feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Glossy Ibises and Squacco Herons, one very nice pair of White-tailed Lapwings with fluffball chicks! Cuckoos in strange abundance too, at least ten on wires at this point. From this pool, I looped north and skirted a series of extensive pools, all well-reeded and all bustling with birds. Bearded Tits everywhere, Pygmy Cormorants in constant stream, flocks of Red-crested Pochards and Ferruginous Ducks, masses of both Whiskered Terns and White-winged Black Terns, quite a few Marsh Harriers, plenty of Little Egrets, Purple Herons and Squacco Herons. Plenty on the embankments too - yet more White-tailed Lapwings, plus Menetries's Warbler in small bushes, a party of Penduline Tits and Yellow Wagtails

Reaching the final bar one pool, it was time for wader fest! Though clearly not in peak wader migration season, still much to see - in shallow waters marked by patches of short emergent vegetation, hundreds of Black-winged Stilts, a rich mix of assorted other waders (Ruff, Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Common Redshank, Little Ringed Plovers, etc) and, cream of the crop, no less than 40 Collared Pratincoles, these taking to the air to hawk as the day warmed up. The next pool was also pretty productive - not only White-tailed Lapwings all along the embankment, but also three classic Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters posing nicely. Several European Bee-eaters too.

So continued my trip to Amash, birds on each pool, further highlights including a pair of White-headed Ducks with ducklings, several Moustached Warblers, a few flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings and a massive breeding colony of Pygmy Cormorants, Squacco Herons and Little Egrets, plus more Purple Herons and several Night Herons.

On the butterfly front, not much. Of limited note however, while Mountain Small Whites seemed to predominate across most of Armenia, the main species here was Small White.

With that, I departed and headed for Vedi, the idea to get a permit for Khosrov. Still no joy getting access however - while the permit would be no problem, I then discovered entry is only permitted with a guide. Scrubbed that idea and explored instead the southern hinterlands of the reserve again, this time visiting a rocky gorge behind Gevorg Marzpetuni Castle. Though a very small valley and arid in the main, a small spring fed a relatively verdant slither of greenery in the valley bottom. And rich in butterflies it was - among the many species seen, a whole bunch of new for the trip: one Eastern Brown Argus, an Eastern Greyling, a Meleager's Blue (one of only two on the whole trip), a very nice Nettle-tree Butterfly and others that would later be seen several times, including Chapman's Blue, Brimstone and Queen of Spain Fritillaries. Perhaps least expected however was a splendid Apollo Butterfly hurtling over at fairly high speed, looping around a couple of times. I had presumed Apollos would only be encountered at higher altitude areas, certainly not in this fairly arid area. Several anomalous blues here too, potentially a couple not Ripart's Anomalous Blues, though I had to reach the conclusion that I lacked sufficient criteria to reach any satisfactory identification.

After this, returned to the EcoLodge just in time for a low fly-over of a Lammergeier, then took a another walk up the river valley beneath the camp. Late afternoon/early evening butterflies included two new skippers for the trip (Inky Skipper and Mallow Skipper), plus my only Eastern Baton Blue of the trip and only Dusky Meadow Brown. Not bad birds either - among them, Blue Rock Thrushes, several Golden Orioles, both Red-backed Shrikes and Lesser Grey Shrikes and, only ones of the trip, a pair of Red-fronted Serins feeding fledged young. Ending the day in style, one Bezoar Mountain Goat on a high crag.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
(if any knowledgeable person out there, I am ready to be convinced that the two anomalous blues posted above might not be Ripart's Anomalous Blues)
 

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