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Europe

Apollo, France

Apollo, France

Here are two of the high altitude species which we saw during our stay in the French Pyrenees. The Apollo is widespread but tricky to photograph. We found the Gavarnie Blue in three areas, of which the best was the valley behind Lac des Gloriettes.

Other species of note included more former British or rare migrant species: Mazarine Blue, Bath White and Long-tailed Blue.

Last but not least, we also saw this Pyrenean Brook Salamander in water so clear that it could be photographed.

Gavarnie Blue in typical habitat

Gavarnie Blue in typical habitat

Pyrenean Brook Salamander

Pyrenean Brook Salamander

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Black-veined White, France

Black-veined White, France

A short break in the French Pyrenees has been blessed with fine, sunny weather. As a result we have identified over 50 species of butterfly in three days, ranging from former British butterflies like this Black-veined White, to those which are rare in Britain like the Queen of Spain Fritillary below, and local specialities like the Gavarnie Blue.

Around the meadows which provide habitat for butterflies, the birds include Red-backed Shrikes. Long may they remain.

Queen of Spain, France

Queen of Spain, France

Nettle-tree Butterfly, Mystra

Nettle-tree Butterfly, Mystra

During the last week of March in central and southern Greece we encountered a variety of butterflies from striking swallowtails to subtle skippers.

Amongst others, Large Wall Brown, Gruner’s Orange-tip, Eastern Dappled White, the stunning Grecian Copper, Camberwell Beauty and the extraordinary Nettle-tree Butterfly stand out.

It was also a good opportunity to brush up on the variation in Clouded Yellow.

Scarce Swallowtail, Greece

Scarce Swallowtail, Greece

Eastern Dappled White, Greece

Eastern Dappled White, Greece

Mallow Skipper, Greece

Mallow Skipper, Greece

Greek Algyroides, Mystra

Greek Algyroides, Mystra

During the past week in Greece we came across a few reptiles and amphibians. In addition to those shown here, they included Hermann’s Tortoise (in Athens) and Greek Rock Lizard.

The Algyroides seems to be quite shy – I have not recorded one before – but the others are all relatively conspicuous. I am certainly not an expert on any of these, so informed comments will be welcome.

More on the butterflies will follow in the next day or two.

Peloponnese Wall Lizard

Peloponnese Wall Lizard

Greek Marsh Frog, Tiryns

Greek Marsh Frog, Tiryns

Ring-billed Gull, Galway

Ring-billed Gull, Galway

During my journeys between Shannon and Sligo, I called in at Nimmo’s Pier, Galway, to pay my respects to the gulls.

On the way north, the highlights were an Iceland Gull and two Sandwich Terns. Two days later, in the same place at the same stage of the tide, there were three Ring-billed Gulls (two adults and a second winter).

Fortunately all the gulls I saw were relatively straightforward, so I wasn’t left with any more complex gene piles to ponder.

Iceland Gull, Galway

Iceland Gull, Galway

The scene in Sligo: look closely

The scene in Sligo: look closely

Where better to make pilgrimage on Valentine’s Day than the last resting place of W B Yeats? His lines from The Wild Swans at Coole are most apt:

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

My main reason for visiting Sligo was to see the Barnacle Geese and their accompanying canada geese. The taxonomy of canada geese has been vexed, so we should be cautious about the current orthodoxy which seems to be to label vagrant Greater as interior (Todd’s) and vagrant Lesser/Cackling as hutchinsii (Richardson’s). Nonetheless, however one looks at it, the two vagrant canada geese currently in Sligo are a Greater and a Lesser/Cackling which appear to be paired. It would be very interesting to track them to the breeding grounds: similar ‘pairings’ have been recorded previously, but I am not aware of any of these birds returning accompanied by apparently hybrid offspring.

My own experience suggests that two or three taxa of Greater and two of Lesser/Cackling have credentials as vagrants. Others might add more.

Yeats' grave at Drumcliff

Yeats’ grave at Drumcliff

Great Bustards, near Caceres

Great Bustards, near Caceres

Great Bustards in flight

Great Bustards in flight

Solar Farms are springing up on the Spanish steppes, but as yet large areas remain undeveloped.

During our day’s exploration we located an impressive 81 Great Bustards, nice flocks of both Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and numerous Calandra Larks, as well as wintering Hen Harriers and Merlins.

Butterflies included Clouded Yellows and several whites which on closer inspection proved to include Bath, Green-striped and Western Dappled. I suspect that butterfly flight seasons are beginning earlier in Spain as they are in the UK.

We stayed at Hotel rural Viña las Torres, which is an excellent base.

Green-striped White, Extremadura

Green-striped White, Extremadura

Western Dappled White, Extremadura

Western Dappled White, Extremadura