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

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First batch of butterflie
I wonder if it's not Forster's anomalous blue. I'm sure you read the same descriptions which suggest the differences are darker ground colour, more prominent spots and straight (and pronounced) white streak. The Turkish butterflies site had loads of photos of both... ...if you think you can definitely tell them apart (not sure I can on this phone):

Kelebek Türk
I wonder if it's not Forster's anomalous blue. I'm sure you read the same descriptions which suggest the differences are darker ground colour, more prominent spots and straight (and pronounced) white streak. The Turkish butterflies site had loads of photos of both... ...if you think you can definitely tell them apart (not sure I can on this phone):

Kelebek Türk
Many thanks for this link - Forster's was my intial thought, but I failed to really persuade myself. Will have a good investigation of that link (y)
25 June. Amaghou Steppe, Noravank & Vardenyats Pass.

Travelling south from Khosrov, stop one was at Amaghou Steppe, a superb area sitting at about 1700 metres altitude. Far greener than the Khosrov area, flowers covered the slopes and it was immediately apparent it was going to be excellent for butterflies. And it was, first species on departing the car, an exquisite Odd-spot Blue, a species almost totally absent in Europe. Even though still only 9.00 am, abundant butterflies were already on the wing, Silver-studded Blues in their thousands gathering at damp patches alongside the road, plus oodles of skippers. Barely moved for an hour, sifting through the blues added quite a number of Chelmos Blues (restricted to Mount Chelmos within Europe), a few Amanda's Blues, several Pontic Blues, plus Common Blue and Brown Argus. And then there were the skippers - among the easier to identify, many Marbled Skippers, a few Oriental Marbled Skippers, several Inky Skippers and a couple of Dingy Skippers. Also relatively common Small Skippers, one Essex Skipper and a few Large Skippers. Rather harder were the Pyrgus types - ended up with one Orbed Red-underwing Skipper, a couple of Oberthur's Grizzled Skippers and several Sandy Grizzled Skippers. Also at least ten Klug's Tawny Rockbrown, one Dark Rockbrown, plentiful fritillaries (Cardinal, Niobe Fritillary, Spotted Fritillary and Queen of Spain Fritillary most common, plus one Silver-washed Fritillary, at least one Caucasian Spotted Fritillary), many Mountain Small Whites, fairly frequent Hermits and several Balkan Marbled Whites. Moving down the slope a little, concentrations of butterflies were mind-blowing - thousands puddling at roadside mud, mostly the species above, but also my first Scarce Swallowtails of the trip, one Kruper's Small White and a couple of Black-veined Whites.

Unfortunately, not long after 10.30 am, the wind suddenly picked up and it clouded over …visions of my day coming to a premature end came into my head. With the sun gone and butterfly activity very much reduced, I decided to retreat back down the mountain and visit the nearby Noravank Monastery instead.

The key bird at Noravank is Persian Wheatear. After a scramble up the slope behind the monastery, it didn't take long to find them - at the top of an area of scree dotted by bushes, one family of fairly confiding Persian Wheatears, often flitting up onto the adjacent rock faces. Also here, Finsch's Wheatear, Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Crag Martins and Red-billed Chough.

And with that, as the sun returned to the skies, it was back to butterflies. A kilometre below the monastery, a small trail follows a stream up through the gorge. And absolutely amazing it was - hundreds of puddling blues at the start, Odd-spot Blue, Pontic Blue and Chelmos Blues among them, plus a rich assortment of added extras on flowers around, including five Gerhard's Black Hairstreaks, several Lesser Lattice Browns, one Large Tortoiseshell and a Southern White Admiral. Also Silver-washed, Cardinal, Dark Green, Queen of Spain, Freyer’s, Knapweed and Spotted Fritillaries. Winding up the trail, added yet more species, not least two Hungarian Gliders, a couple of Nettle-tree Butterflies, three Bluespot Hairstreaks, one Turkish Fiery Copper and a Saadi's Heath.

Another patch of brief cloud mid-afternoon persuaded me to leave this excellent area and drive north towards Lake Sevan, idea to be on location for further butterfly action the following morning. Still time however for further treats this day - stopping at the roadside just shy of the Vardenyats Pass (altitude 2300 m), I had a mini bonanza of species: as well as Black-veined Whites floating around the slope, no less than eight new species for the trip - one Transcaucasian Fritillary, six Marsh Fritillaries, three Twinspot Fritillaries, a single Scotch Argus, one Russian Heath, one Small Heath and five Pearly Heaths.

Then, as the afternoon was nearing an end anyhow, it did terminally cloud over. Drove up and over the pass, Common Rosefinches commonplace, a few flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings. Traversed the length of Lake Sevan, many Armenian Gulls on route, settled to stay overnight in a bit of a dump of a place on the north-east shore. Had been a good day, 57 species of butterflies.
26 June. Arakelots Beech Forest.

Heavy overnight rain, no real let up at daybreak - wet, windy and not very warm. Plan for this day had been to explore some areas of steppe on the eastern shore of Lake Sevan …but with the weather absolutely not conducive to finding butterflies, I decided instead to drive two hours north to the forested slopes around Arakelots Monastery in the hope of better weather there. It was not to be, the day remained cloudy throughout, punctuated by spells of rain. In a few brief periods of relative brightness however, hints of the extreme richness of these northern hills were immediately apparent - managed to notch up no less than 25 species of butterflies, the highlights being my first ever Blue Argus and my second Yellow-banded Skipper, plus an additional seven new species for the trip (Mallow Skipper, Mountain Green-veined White, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Painted Lady, Peacock, Pearl-bordered Fritillary).

With the arrival of more rain from early afternoon, I called it quits and stayed overnight in the small town of Ijevan. Common Redstarts in the town garden, Common Rosefinches calling.
A small indication of the abundance ... one tiny little fragment of a puddling group. Was like this in all damp areas.

Quite wonderful such a show, but surely very much a complication to actually finding the individual species.
How does one stay focused on the target specimen when fifty others are vying for attention?
Do you take notes as you spot them?
Separately, how did you manage the language aspect?
Really a great trip report, your travels open many new vistas. Thank you!
Quite wonderful such a show, but surely very much a complication to actually finding the individual species.
How does one stay focused on the target specimen when fifty others are vying for attention?
Do you take notes as you spot them?
Separately, how did you manage the language aspect?
Really a great trip report, your travels open many new vistas. Thank you!
Would be nice if only 50 vying for attention 🙂 At many locations, the puddling masses of butterflies numbered in the many hundreds, thousands over extended damp patches. Probably did overlook some species in these groups, but basically just slowly sifted through the groups picking out the multiple species.

Notes, no. Anything that I wasn't sure of, I either photographed or tried to remember till evening.

As for language, butterflies don't care 🙂 For the two legged folk that I sometimes encountered, I muddled through - some people do speak English, but in reality I didn't really need to speak with people day to day, so no issue.
27 June. Jajur Pass.

Sunny at dawn, but not very promising skies. Had toyed with returning to Arakelots, but clouds over the hills dissuaded me of that idea, so instead headed ninety minutes west to the 1945 m altitude Jajur Pass. An area of fantastic habitat, high steppe grasslands stretch upward towards pine forest on both sides of the road, the grassland rich in flowers and full of butterfly promise. Having driven through cloud almost all the way, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jajur bathed in sunshine. Set off to explore the slopes south of the road and it was butterflies galore, especially along the edge of the pine forests! Among the many seen, at least 20 Lederer's Heaths, 40 or so Woodland Ringlets, a couple of Dark-veined Whites and many fritillaries (most common Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Transcaucasian Fritillaries, Spotted Fritillaries and Glanville Fritillaries). In the moments that I took my nose out of the grass, one or two birds bird's too - Whinchats and Woodlarks common, a party of Crossbills, one Montagu's Harrier through.

Cutting east a little across the grassland, plenty more butterflies with Amanda's Blues and Common Blues heading the cast, ably supported by several Yellow-banded Skippers, a few Sooty Coppers and a Pearl-bordered Fritillary. However, still only 10.30 am, ominous clouds were beginning to build, my time was limited. Dropping down through a shallow valley, Adonis Blue, Idas Blue, Osiris Blue and Small Blues were flying, plus one of the area's specialities - Alcon Blue, about six seen. Now though, the sun really had gone, clouds were hugging the mountain pass and the Alcon Blues were basically at roost. Precious little was actively flying.

With the northern slopes seeming to hold the sunshine, I retracked my route and relocated a kilometre further along the road to a narrow valley that cuts north. This valley should have all sorts of special butterflies, not least the classic Gavarnie Blue, but the clouds were faster than me …it was raining within minutes of arriving in the valley and I saw nothing! Not optimistic that it would clear, I opted instead to leave and head to lower altitude …guaranteed sunshine!

Driving east towards Dilijan, random stops added little until I hit upon a set of fantastic riverside meadows near Arjut. In high grass, abundant shrubbery and woodland edge, I found no less than 30 species of butterflies, many in very good numbers. Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns and assorted fritillaries all common, but top of the lot, one Tufted Marbled Skipper, one Ilex Hairstreak and five Large Tortoiseshells. Also six Purple-shot Coppers, plus my only High Brown Fritillaries and Marbled Fritillaries of the trip.

After an enjoyable couple of hours there, I then made the mistake of continuing westward …crashing straight into a bank of cloud again shortly before Dilijan. End of butterfly action for the day. Short stop in that town, adding my only Great Cormorant of the trip, then headed 120 km south to Aragats, base for the next couple of nights.
28 June. Amberd Valley & Mount Aragats.

Juniper zone on the southern flanks of Mount Aragats, dawn attempt on Radde's Accentor. In a shallow boulder-strewn valley, I began my wanders, Red-backed Shrikes dotting small bushes, Rock Buntings and Black-headed Buntings singing all over, one pair of Ortolan Buntings too. Almost immediately found a pair of White-throated Robins feeding recently fledged young in a gully, then added Ring Ouzels doing likewise. All in all, top class birding, a pair of Barred Warblers also feeding young, several Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes and both Black Redstart and Black-eared Wheatear. As for Radde's Accentor however, not a peep.

With the sun rising over the peaks though, time to forget Radde's, time to switch back to butterflies. Driving 15 minutes or so back down the mountain, the destination was the Amberd Valley, accessed from Bjurakan village. And as valleys go, this was absolutely phenomenal! A narrow gorge with a gravel track following a stream for several kilometres, it was bucketloads of butterflies all the way - literally thousands and thousands of butterflies at every turn, damp patches attracting mass puddlings of blues, skippers and whites, abundant flowers a magnet for many more species. Within a half hour, I had already seen 30 species, highlights including several Nettle-tree Butterflies and numerous Black-veined Whites (at least 300 during the morning) and Hungarian Gliders (about 120).

It soon became apparent that long periods of the morning would be spent on my belly photographing the puddling butterflies! In other words, nose to nose with endless butterflies of numerous species. Lycaenidae alone numbered more than 20 species, the most numerous being Silver-studded Blues and Common Blues, both in their many hundreds. Adonis Blues and Amanda's Blues also in abundance, plus a rich smattering of others, not least two Eastern Baton Blues, at least three Turkmenistan Zephyr Blues (quite possibly more), my first Mazarine Blues and Turquoise Blues of the trip, one Eastern Brown Argus (and several Brown Argus), a few Pontic Blues and a trio of coppers, specifically Sooty, Small and Purple-shot Coppers. A positive soup of skippers too, Marbled Skippers, Orbed Red-underwing Skippers and Oberthur's Grizzled Skippers leading the way, all three pretty common. In their midst, a couple of Tufted Marbled Skippers, one Inky Skipper, a half dozen Yellow-banded Skippers and several of both Small Skipper and Large Skipper. Aside the blues and skippers, the other main component of the puddling masses were the whites - however, in contrast to most of Armenia where Mountain Small Whites seemed to predominate, the main puddler here was Green-veined White, hundreds congregating in places. A taxonomic note regarding these - the Butterflies of Armenia website doesn't list Green-veined White (Pieris napi) as present in the country, but instead False Small White (Pieris pseudorapae). However, it seems this is now considered synonymous with Green-veined White. Either way, they looked very much like standard Green-veined Whites found across Europe.

Throughout the valley, it was pure pleasure to be among this simple abundance of butterflies. Among the attractions, masses of Painted Ladies and assorted fritillaries (Cardinal Fritillaries, Niobe Fritillaries and Spotted Fritillaries most common, Dark Green Fritillaries, Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Marsh Fritillaries, Knapweed Fritillaries, Glanville Fritillaries, Transcaucasian Fritillaries all in varying numbers), several Large Tortoiseshells and one Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, four Scarce Swallowtails and one Old World Swallowtail and a whole bunch of browns (two Wall Browns, one Klug's Tawny Rockbrown, one Dark Rockbrown, one Hermit, many Small Heaths, several Pearly Heaths, one Oriental Meadow Brown).

Without much effort, I spent five hours in this valley and in reality could have spent far more. In the early afternoon however, now about 25C, I decided to return to the car at the bottom of the valley for coffee. Yet more puddling butterflies here, these including about 25 Nettle-tree Butterflies and both Commas and Small Tortoiseshells. I had considered further wanderings in the valley, but a barrier a half kilometre up that had previously been unmanned was now manned and the guy didn't seem enthusiastic to allow entry. Potentially access to this site can be problematic.

No real worry, the butterfly delights of Mount Aragats awaited just adjacent. Passed back though the juniper zone, still no Radde's Accentor, then began to make random stops wherever butterflies seemed abundant, a mix of common species seen, plus several Chapman's Blues. Final stop was at the top of the road, just short of 3200 metres altitude, a grass bowl a little beneath Lake Kiri. Very few species this high, but the key one is Bowden's White, a highland specialist that occurs here in its only Armenian locality. Though warm and sunny elsewhere, a stubborn patch of cloud seemed enthusiastic to hog the summit, repeatedly throwing my slopes into shade. When sunny, immediately a few Small Coppers on the wing and plenty of Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells zooming about, a clear migration of the former in progress. Probably was not the best time of day to seek out Bowden's White - all butterflies were highly active and very rarely settling. And that exactly applied to the only white that I saw, a high velocity Bowden's-sized thing vanishing off over rock and scree.

Still, was good for birds - Shorelarks, Water Pipits, Twite and Northern Wheatears. Decided Bowden's White would be easier next morning, so descended again, stopping at some slightly boggy areas to add Blue Argus and Geranium Argus, plus a rather aggressive Armenian Viper. Coiled, ready to strike and intently eyeing me, it was a little beauty nevertheless. Managed to edge in close enough to photograph without getting bitten, then decided to end the day with another walk for Radde's Accentor in the juniper zone. Still nawt.

After the now familiar hour and more evening session of perusing a few of the difficult butterflies, especially the blues and skippers this time, the day's tally settled at 62 species. As for numbers of individuals, many many thousands ...a spectacular day.
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