Sunday, 26 August 2018

Creatures of the Cols part I

If the birding was hard work on our recent holiday in the French Alps, butterflying was a bit easier and more productive - we caught the end of the continental heatwave, enjoyed good weather even at altitude, and I saw several species for the first time. Colleagues are still helping me with some of the trickier identifications - oh for the simplicity of the British butterfly list and its 59 reasonably discrete species! So this post, the first of a couple focusing on the species I was reasonably confident about identifying myself, may be followed by others as my tentative identifications are either confirmed or corrected.
Queen of Spain Fritillary, Col du Grand Colombiere
The closest I got to photographing the stunning pearls of the Queen of Spain's underwing
Queen of Spain Fritillary
One of our first excursions to higher altitude from our base near Annecy took us west to the Col du Grand Colombiere, just shy of 1500m. This was a recommendation from Dr Martin Warren who kindly provided some site info before I left - and a good recommendation it was too. Within a few minutes I had seen Apollo, Scarce Copper, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Large Wall Brown as well as species familiar from home in the UK like Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper.

Scarce Copper - the first of several new species for me
A view of the Scarce Copper underwing
The first Apollo of the trip was the smartest - but a bit distant for a good photo
From there we dropped down into the lowlands and the beautiful Marais de Lavours, another recommendation from Martin. A boardwalk took us through a variety of wetland habitats but it was too hot for both us and the wildlife it seemed - a False Heath Fritillary and a fleeting view of a probable Southern White Admiral were the highlights.
Adonis Blue was one of a number of species familiar from home
Ditto, Chalkhill Blue...
...and Silver-spotted Skipper - this species appeared quite widespread - more range restricted back at home
From there we again went in search of the cooler air of high altitude, driving up to the top of Mont du Chat, an attractive location who phonetic pronunciation caused much mirth with my increasingly puerile children. I really don't know where they get it from. As well as spectacular views, Mont du Chat offered a close encounter with a hilltopping Swallowtail of the gorganus sub-species which prevails in continental Europe.
The Silver-spotted Skippers (this a female) appeared darker to my eyes than those we see at home...
...the field guide suggests this is a feature of higher altitude specimens - this one a male
False Heath Fritillary at Marais de Lavours
With the heat of the day receding we descended to the lowlands to meet up with friends for a swim in Lac de Bourget. The lakeshore area was too developed to see much in the way of wildlife but for someone who is not much of a swimmer I must say even I enjoyed a dip in the refreshing mountain waters.
This Swallowtail was in excellent condition
Found in very different habitats to the britannicus sub-species I saw in Norfolk earlier this year
Returning to base near Annecy was a reminder that we didn't need to climb into the high mountains to see good butterflies - there were Brown Hairstreaks nectaring in the garden and I even rescued a Glanville Fritillary from the swimming pool!
Brown Hairstreak - not bad for a garden butterfly
This Glanville Fritillary was water-logged in the pool
I was able to see the attractive underwing pattern as it dried out

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