Mount Chelmos and its endemic butterflies

In my last post I wrote about the first half of the Butterflies of Greece tour that I led for Greenwings this summer. This week I’m continuing the story and starting where I left off having left our base in Delphi on our way across the Gulf of Corinth to our second base for the week in the pretty town of Kalavryta on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, another beautifully scenic area and with several endemic butterfly species that we would be looking out for.

Our first stop was only a few minutes down the road at my Grass Jewel site. The wind whipped up as we climbed out of the van and there was some concern over whether we would find any but we carried on regardless. There were Rock Nuthatches calling incessantly nearby and a Kestrel flew overhead. Several Antlions were spotted, some small and damselfly-like, others larger and more heavily patterned.

On reaching the spot where we expected to see the Grass Jewels, we noted the Corridothymus capitatus flowering well and while some of the group walked on, I settled in to look. The few who walked ahead saw a tortoise but were soon called back because their target butterfly had been found. The tiny Grass Jewel was astonishingly difficult to spot but once we got our eyes in there were at least three individuals seen and most of the group managed good images of the little beauties as they battled against the breezy conditions.

 

Grass Jewel

 

The ubiquitous Painted Lady was also seen along with Meadow Brown and plenty of large Robberflies. On the way back to the vehicles, an Eastern Bath White was spotted.

We had a slightly longer journey ahead of us but would break it briefly to fill up with fuel in Itea and then follow the scenic coastal road to the idyllic seaside town of Galaxidi. Here, we parked up on the harbour side and went for a wander up the hill opposite the town.

 

Galaxidi Harbour

 

Freyer’s Graylings were numerous under the pines here and a Marbled Skipper was found. Rosemary bushes beside the path yielded stripy Rosemary Leaf Beetles, meanwhile Prickly Pears played host to Lobed Orbweaver Spiders, many of which had egg sacs.

 

Marbled Skipper

 

Several Hoopoes flew over and Collared Doves were plentiful here too. As we returned downhill towards the road, Dan spotted another new species for the trip, a Geranium Bronze.

We had a very pleasant lunch in a restaurant beside the water where Swallows nested beneath the sun canopy and each nest had a bespoke wooden balcony beneath to catch the droppings. We commented on how well it worked and were charmed to see the Swallows sitting on their balcony rails twittering at one another.

We continued our journey onward having eaten and followed the Gulf of Corinth to the impressive Rio Antirrio bridge, making a very brief pause for photographs on the way. Once on the other side, we made good time heading down the motorway to Diakopto and turning uphill  towards Kalavryta.

Our next stop was at a wet flush on the hillside where a small meadow is occasionally used by local beekeepers. Thankfully there were no hives here today but there were plenty of lovely butterflies to be seen. Among the first were Silver Washed Fritillary, a good number of which were nectaring on a fennel plant. Spotted Fritillary and Holly Blue were also seen here and many Ilex Hairstreaks were nectaring on a large patch of brambles.

 

Holly Blue

 

Ilex Hairstreak

 

Lythrum hyssopifolia was found flowering beside the water. A whole host of new butterflies for the trip were then added in  fairly fast succession including Ripart’s Anomalous Blue, Lesser Fiery Copper, Sooty Copper and Pygmy Skipper. Common Blue, Southern White Admiral and a particularly dark Balkan Marbled White were also noted. Venturing carefully onto the roadside a Bright Bush Cricket was found and a glade along the road a few yards yielded a Swallowtail. Here, and elsewhere in this area, we also came across some rather attractive Blister beetles.

 

Blister beetle

 

I also photographed a dried out Cicada exuvia which I came across in a nice position on a Canary Clover flower. These strange insects mature in several stages much like dragonflies but underground rather than underwater. They then climb a suitable stalk and emerge as winged adults in much the same way leaving behind a husk that shows their previous form.

 

Cicada exuvia

 

Exhilarated by the richness of the previous site we were chattering about our finds as we drove the last stretch of our journey to our next hotel in Kalavryta. We settled in and headed out for Pizza in the evening in good spirits.

The following day dawned bright but a little cooler. We set off after a delicious breakfast to head up Mount Chelmos. Our first stop was at a meadow where Pyramidal Orchid, White Helleborine, Everlasting Sweetpea, yellow Rock Rose and a white Armeria flowered. There was a large bumblebee making the most of the nectar available.

 

Bombus argillaceus

 

It was cooler here but we were able to find some butterflies roosting in the long grass. The Hellenic Mazarine Blue was found here along with Green Veined White, Silver Studded Blue, Common Blue, Zephyr Blue, Large White and Small Heath. A Scarlet Tiger Moth was also spotted in a Juniper bush and provided ample photographic opportunities for the group despite being a little restless.

 

Scarlet Tiger Moth

 

We ventured up to the top of the mountain but found rather a lot of it in cloud and the same sort of thing on the other side, so we retraced our steps a short way to a warmer spot. Here we saw Golden Drops (Onosma erecta) flowering along with an attractive endemic  Skullcap, Scutellaria rupestris ssp. parnassica which one of our guests found. Some lovely Peloponnese Wall Lizards were photographed and there were a few butterflies here too, mostly Ilex Hairstreak but also Balkan Marbled White.

 

Scutellaria rupestris ssp. parnassica

 

As the cloud was being slow to clear and we weren’t finding much here, we dropped down further to some meadows off the Cave of the Lakes road where we also had lunch. Along with the numerous Ilex Hairstreaks here, we also found Sloe Hairstreak and Purple Hairstreak. Meadow Browns were plentiful here and Small White was noted too. An Anomalous Blue caused a bit of a stir in a sheltered gully near where we parked, and where Dianthus and Larkspur flowered among the longer grasses, Small Skipper was joined by Balkan Marbled White and there was a brief glimpse of a shimmering green Forester Moth.

 

Small Skipper on Dianthus

 

All the while, a Nightingale sang from the depths of a patch of thick scrub. One of our keen-eyed guests found a beautiful neon yellow and blue Cuckoo wasp, relative of the Ruby-Tailed Wasp which we managed to find again several minutes later still nectaring on the same Giant Fennel plant.

 

Cuckoo Wasp

 

By this point, the clouds had finally lifted off the peaks of Mount Chelmos and so we headed up the mountain once more to a sunlit slope where we would look for one of the endemic butterflies, the Odd-spot Blue. Transparent Burnet Moths, Dingy Skipper and Silver Studded Blue were all found in the flowery patches of this natural rock garden. The plants themselves were of note too with one particularly striking one catching the eye of most members of the group for looking rather prickly and thistle-like but not having remotely thistle-like flowers. They were the pink and white blooms of Morina persica, but there were some other nice things here too including glorious yellow Stonecrops, cushions of Thyme and hummocks of Spiny Thrift which are the food plant of the Odd-spot Blue.

There was a lot of hunting around for this tiny butterfly and in the meantime we found several lovely Philaeus chrysops jumping spiders, the males of which have a striking red and black abdomen.

 

Male Philaeus chrysops

 

Female Philaeus chrysops

 

There were also some gorgeous Milky Owlflies.

 

Milky Owlfly, Libelloides lacteus

 

At last, there was a call that a guest had found an Odd-spot Blue, and sure enough there were eventually two or three individuals seen and thoroughly photographed!

 

Odd-Spot Blue, Mount Chelmos

Odd-Spot Blue, Mount Chelmos

Odd-spot Blue laying eggs

 

In the meantime, we had been talking with a keen Dutch butterfly enthusiast and he was equally pleased to see these tiny insects although he duly left us still enjoying them. We paused only once more on our way back to the vehicles to admire a particularly fresh Queen of Spain Fritillary.

 

Queen of Spain Fritillary

 

The time soon came to move on and we drove a short way down the mountain to a damp gully where Corn Buntings sang from some scrubby Hawthorn bushes and we were hopeful of finding Chelmos Blue, the second endemic species which is found only the slopes of Mount Chelmos. Just as we started to descend the bank, the Dutchman pulled up in his car and leapt out wielding a jam jar. It transpired that, as he knew we were hoping to see Chelmos Blue, when he had found one he had caught it in the jar to show us. He told us about the site where he had caught it and left us with the jar. We continued on, pausing a while to admire some mud puddling blues including Chalk-hill and Turquoise as well as a couple of Skippers. Reaching a suitable spot, we carefully released the Chelmos Blue from it’s jar and gathered to admire and photograph it as it settled on a mint leaf before taking its leave.

 

Chelmos Blue, Mount Chelmos

Chelmos Blue

 

One of our guests meanwhile had found a Lackey Moth caterpillar near the vehicles.

 

Lackey Moth Caterpillar

 

We made one last stop of the day at the new site that the generous Dutchman told us he had found the Chelmos blue. While we were delighted to see one at all, it would be the icing on the cake to find one for ourselves. This new spot was particularly colourful with vetches, Pyramidal orchids and all manner of other flowers providing plenty of nectar for butterflies and other pollinators alike. Broad Boarded Bee Hawkmoths and Hummingbird Hawkmoths joined Transparent Burnet Moths and a variety of butterflies including the ever present Painted Ladies, Clouded Yellow, Small Skipper, Zephyr Blue and Clouded Apollo among others. We didn’t find our own Chelmos Blue but we had fun trying!

 

Transparent Burnet moths

 

We returned to our hotel satisfied with a good day’s butterflying despite a cloudy start. We enjoyed dinner in a lovely local  restaurant where we were served delicious traditional dishes.

The next day began bright and hot and after breakfast we set off towards the coast. One couple among us had set out on their own adventure today to explore the ancient site of Olympia so we were a smaller group for a few hours.

We pulled into the Vouraikos Gorge with the sun blazing above us and I spread out some bait on various tree branches and leaves in the hope of luring our target species for the day, the Two Tailed Pasha. There were few butterflies on the wing here today perhaps because of the rather oppressive heat, even in the morning. Nevertheless, we spent a short while exploring and found Beautiful Demoiselles on the vegetation near the river and Small Pincertail Dragonflies hunting from a variety of perches. Speckled Wood and Freyer’s Grayling were found lurking in the shadier spots and a Peloponnese Wall Lizard was seen to scuttle away. With little  sign of the Pashas and not much else to look at, we decided to take a sojourn elsewhere and return in a short while.

We retraced our route a short way up the road to a spot where water was spilling into a shallow puddle in a layby. There were plenty of insects taking advantage of this moisture and we spent a happy half hour enjoying a steady stream of Painted Ladies, as well as puddling Wall Brown, Southern White Admiral and Pygmy Skipper. An enormous Buprestid beetle, later identified as a member of the Chalcophora genus, landed on my co-leader’s head. He took his cap off to investigate and was able to show the group.

 

Large Buprestid beetle

 

Several Southern Skimmers were also zipping around and while we agreed that it was not the most picturesque stop we had made, the number of invertebrates for such a small area was impressive.

Having allowed time for the bait to work its wonders, we returned to the gorge and had barely got out of the minibuses when the first Pasha was spotted. I put some more bait nearer the vehicles under an Oriental Plane tree and was buzzed by one before I had even opened the tupperware box! To have such close views of these fast moving, blousy insects gave me as much joy as any other wildlife close encounter I’ve experienced.

These stunning large butterflies were admired for a while and a slightly tatty Swallowtail was photographed nectaring on a Cotton Thistle nearby. Cleopatra was spotted and several of the group took the opportunity to cool off by paddling in a shallow area of the river which was very refreshing. We had lunch here and enjoyed the Pashas a little longer before heading back up the mountain.

 

Swallowtail

 

Our next port of call was at Mega Spilaio monastery where we had a gentle wander up the slopes and round the grounds. We were treated to impressive views over the valley and the gorge in  the bottom while Crag Martins wheeled overhead and flew up to the cliff face above. The call of a Peregrine Falcon alerted us to its presence and we watched it dance on the updrafts at the top edge of the rock face. An Eastern Rock Grayling was admired alighting on the path ahead of us while Clouded Yellow, Ilex Hairstreak and Balkan Marbled White were noted elsewhere. Silver Washed Fritillary and Red Admiral were spotted almost immediately and a Southern Swallowtail nectared alongside them on a patch of Red Valerian growing out of a wall. It fooled us all into thinking it a Scarce Swallowtail for some time but was eventually noted to be different. A few of the group ventured into the monastery to admire the extraordinary murals.

Heading on up the hill towards Kalavryta, we made a brief stop to buy some delicious local cherries from a roadside stall in Kernitsa and on returning to town it was decided that as it was particularly hot and many of the group would rather have a relaxing afternoon, we would have some free time with an optional walk up to the Memorial on the hillside above the town.

A small band of intrepid guests joined us to walk up to the memorial later in the afternoon, pausing on the way to buy ice creams. The memorial is dedicated to the young men who lost their lives in a horrendous massacre by the Nazi forces during the Second World War. It is a humbling spot which commands a beautiful view of the town below and the planting of nectar rich plants as well as the wildflowers among the grass meant that there were many butterflies to be seen. On the way up, we checked many Fennel plants for Swallowtail caterpillars but were disappointed not to find any. We did see Balkan Marbled White and one of our guests found a Ripart’s Anomalous Blue too.

 

 

A number of Great Banded Graylings were flying around the memorial and on the flowers there Common Blue, Grecian Copper, Eastern Bath White, Meadow Brown and Oriental Meadow Brown were noted among others. We took a gentle return journey and had time to change before dinner.

In the interim, at the request of our guests my co-leader Dan also gave a short talk about his involvement in establishing Corfu Butterfly Conservation, the work they do and some of the species that occur on the island. Later in the evening we visited a lovely restaurant called Grand Chalet which was a short drive back down the mountain. It has fantastic views over the gorge below and we were treated to a delicious meal there as we watched the sun go down.

Our final full day in Greece dawned bright once more and  we set off uphill once again. Our first stop for the day was on the far side of the mountain where a track carved its way through some rough meadows and scrubby woodland. On exiting the vehicles, several tall Illyrian Cotton Thistles standing nearby drew our eye as their broad purple flowerhead were covered in butterflies and other insects. Rose Chafers and Bumblebees butted shoulders with Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns and Brimstones.

 

Clouded Yellow on a Cotton Thistle

 

Wandering on up a gentle slope, we came to a more open area where Juniper bushes studded a rocky meadow. Several different Burnet Moths were seen here including the Billowing Burnet and Crepuscular Burnet.

 

Crepuscular Burnet

 

Billowing Burnet

 

A Balkan Lizard Orchid was also found and admired by the group. Without realising it, I managed to capture a bee that was coming to pollinate the flower in my photograph!

 

Balkan Lizard Orchid

 

A short way further on, a lovely male Meleager’s Blue was spotted.

 

Male Meleager’s Blue

 

Nearing a bend in the track, a Cardinal was spotted briefly by a guest but seemed to then vanish into thin air as butterflies seem able. Just beyond, a thicket of enormous Cotton Thistles sported Brimstones, Clouded Yellows and Cleopatras galore plus Violet Carpenter Bees and a whole host of other invertebrates. Several Greek Goldenring Dragonflies were seen darting about and one or two even settled for photographs.

 

Greek Goldenring Dragonfly

 

A female Ruddy Darter was also noted along with Turquoise Blue, Silver Washed Fritillary, Ilex Hairstreak and Balkan Marbled White.

 

Female Ruddy Darter

 

On our return walk down the track, the Cardinal was spotted once more and this time obliged us by allowing the majority of the group to see it, albeit rather briefly before it settled in the shade of a Kermes Oak. It transpired later in the day that two of our guests had independently photographed Persian Skipper here too.

 

Cardinal

 

Moving on, we made our way through a pretty little village in the valley below to a forest glade. This involved a rather bumpy track and we eventually abandoned the vehicles to walk the final few hundred metres as the track disintegrated further. We had our lunch here before exploring further and our efforts were soon rewarded with a flowery meadow where Adonis Blue and Queen of Spain Fritillary were joined by Southern Small White, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and several other familiar species. Dusky Skipper was added to the list here and further up in the woodland, Dan was able to show us a beautiful pristine male Dark Green Fritillary. Dingy Skipper, Wood White ad Essex Skipper were noted too. I picked wild strawberries for the group and we admired some particularly enormous Common Spotted Orchids growing on the riverbank as well as Red Helleborines in the shade alongside the track. A happy couple of hours were spent pottering around this lovely spot, ending with a group photo beneath the trees before we headed back the way we had come.

We made a short but productive impromptu stop beside the river on our way back where a large patch of Danewort was in  full flower. Once again we found it to be a magnet for insects and there were plenty of lovely butterflies to enjoy including Green Hairstreak, Spotted Fritillary, Ilex and Sloe Hairstreaks, Lang’s Short Tailed Blue and a particularly fine Sooty Copper.

 

Spotted Fritillary

 

Sooty Copper

 

A guest came across a Berger’s Clouded Yellow on the far side of the road but it wasn’t keen to stay put for a photograph. A pale Helice form of the female Clouded Yellow was a little more obliging.

 

Helice form female Clouded Yellow

 

We made another stop on our way back up Mount Chelmos at a rough track where we would look once more for our own Chelmos Blue. A guest spotted a beautiful red Dianthus just as we got out of the vans and we saw more of it as we climbed the track. There were Mallow Skipper and Southern Grizzled Skipper flitting along in front of us as we ambled uphill. Reaching a flowery patch on a bend where the track widened, we came across Mullein moth caterpillars on a Figwort and a lovely Golden Bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle.

 

Mullein moth caterpillar

 

Common Blue and Riparts Anomalous Blue were noted and a beautiful green Balkan Wall Lizard was spotted on the rocks before it darted into some undergrowth. One of our guests made her way to a steep meadow above us and photographed a Great Sooty Satyr to add to our list before we returned to the vans.

Our final stop was another at the memorial above Kalavryta. Those who had not been before were keen to do so   on hearing of our previous excursion and those who had were happy to return. We spent a short while photographing a great many Grecian Coppers and Oriental Meadow Browns among other butterflies and a Ruby Tailed Wasp provided an added pop of colour.

 

Oriental Meadow Brown

 

Ruby-tailed Wasp

 

We returned for our final evening together to the local restaurant we had so enjoyed a couple of nights earlier and had another fantastic meal.

Another bright morning heralded the end of our trip and we bid farewell to Kalavryta  and Mount Chelmos soon after breakfast so as to get on the road in good time. We made only the one stop on our way to the airport, calling in at the impressive Corinth Canal to admire the beauty of this incredible feat of engineering and stock up on refreshments in a local cafe. We were happy to watch a family of Lesser Kestrels swooping over the top of the canal but our rest was brief as we had planes to catch.   

We dropped the group at the entrance to Athens airport before returning the vehicles and having hoped to see them all inside for a farewell, I was sad to be departing from a different set of gates as I headed off to France while the others returned home…that’s for another post though! It had been a wonderful week with our final tally of butterfly species coming to an impressive 99 – beating the all time high – and a wealth of lovely flowers and other vertebrate and invertebrate species seen too.

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