SLOVENIA AND WESTERN HUNGARY, a fund raising trip organised by Mike Williams in the company of Safi, Lajos Nemeth and friends, August 2010

Saturday 31 July: outward leg

Collected David Dennis in good time to get to Stansted for the Easyjet flight to Ljubljana. The modern Hotel Kanin at Bovec was reached at 11.30pm after a 2-hour journey from the Club Kanu restaurant, some 15 minutes from the airport. Good to see Safi again amidst a group of old acquaintances – Bob, Tony, Neil, Maurice & Barbara, and Mike of course. Safi was joined by Lajos of Ecotours who also drove one of the vehicles.

 

Sunday 1 August: Mount Mangart

Up just after 8am welcomed by a cloudless blue sky. What else do you expect for Yorkshire Day?! The two minibuses departed at 9am for the 40-minute drive to the road summit of Mt Mangart at 2,060m. Parking was difficult due to the sheer number of cars etc littering the verges. What stunning limestone mountain views! Most of the morning was spent on the nearby hillsides chasing Lesser Mountain Ringlets (Erebia melanpus), wondering if we had Warren’s Skipper (Pyrgus warrenensis) or ‘just’ Dusky Grizzled Skippers (Pyrgus cacaliae), trying to keep track of Alpine Blues (Plebejus orbitulus) and being distracted by orange Shepherd’s Fritillaries (Boloria pales). Lunch was taken a short way down from the top, at the first hairpin, where Alpine Heath (Coenonympha gardetta), Clouded Yellow (Colias crocea form helice), and Mountain Argus (aka Northern Brown Argus) (Aricia artaxerxes) were flying.

 

Stop #3 wasn’t much further on: a steep grassy hillside was buzzing with erebias including Lorkovic’s Brassy Ringlet (Erebia calcaria), Yellow-spotted Ringlet (Erebia manto), and possible Bright-eyed Ringlet (Erebia oeme). No sooner had I remarked to a companion about how slippery the grass was than my feet went from under me and I fell to my right, down the slope, with my legs etc going right over my head and landing heavily on the small of my back, slipping further until I could stop. Instinct had ensured the safety of my camera! Bob gave me an immediate 5.9 but omitted any degree of difficulty! Apart from bruised buttocks and some scrapes on my back, I was OK. Just a good job this hadn’t happened where we first stopped this morning…

 

Somewhere near Strmec (not exactly sure because had nodded-off) alongside the river we made our last stop of the day. In much warmer conditions we encountered Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) and High Brown Fritillaries (Argynnis adippe), Swallowtail (Papilio machaon gorganus), Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus), Wood Whites (Leptidea sinapis), etc and stayed until the sun dipped below the mountain ridge. A Union beer back at the hotel wasn’t enough to keep David, Neil and I from walking to the nearby meadow that David had visited before breakfast to look for roosters. Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus) and Common Blues (Polyommatus icarus), plus Marbled Whites (Melanargia galathea) and Small Heaths (Coenonympha pamphilus) were all that we found.

 

Monday 2 August: Vrsic Pass > Bohinj

Back and buttocks were sore from yesterday’s fall but otherwise OK. Before we left, a Styrian Ringlet (Erebia styria) that had been found in the hotel lobby - !!! – the previous evening was prepared for photographs, having spent the night in Mike’s fridge and then duly chilled courtesy of Lawrie’s aerosol.

 

Lajos wanted to show us a rare lizard discovered and named by a Hungarian naturalist, Hovarth. At the man-made wall several were spotted basking in the morning sunshine. Of more interest to me was the Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma ssp. meridionalis) and what later turned-out to be the only Large Ringlet (Erebia euryale) seen on the whole trip – revised this to Arran Brown (Erebia ligea) (I think!). The first real butterfly stop was taken on the way to Vrsic on the recommendation of a local Bovec naturalist who said we’d find Apollo (Parnassius apollo) at this particular site. He was right. The uncut meadows below towering cliffs somewhere to the south of Trenta also produced a female Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) that flew down right in front of me to savour an invisible treat on roadside weeds, a solitary White Admiral (Limenitis camilla), Idas Blues (Plebejus idas), and Mountain Green-veined White (Artogeia byroniae), to name but a few. Sandwiches were prepared by Safi, Lajos, and Marti whilst the rest of us went hunting. Lunch was taken a bit further up the Pass at the stunning Supca viewpoint that had inspired Hemingway’s ‘A farewell to arms’.  A fantastic mottled sky attracted our cameras, as did Blue-spot Hairstreaks (Satyrium spini) nectaring on some umbellifers. Lunch was finished-off with a coffee at the 1,611m summit in strong sunshine where a Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa) made a high-speed circular inspection of the group before disappearing as suddenly as it had come. A Silky Ringlet (Erebia gorge) was photographed here. The café looked out across to the towering summit of Mount Mojstrovka (2,366) on which strings of tiny walkers could be seen against the skyline or across the screes.

 

Dropped down through Kranjska Gora skirting the Julian Alps to the north and taking the road east towards Bled. Nodded-off along this stretch until awoken when we stopped at a raised acid bog. Fascinating domed phenomenon, like a bouncy wet-oozing sponge, with specialist plants and dragonflies but little in the way of butterflies. A second bog was examined shortly afterwards but I wandered into the wood across the road and found a pair of Scarce Coppers (Lycaena virgaureae) nectaring on solidago in a very unusual setting. Mike had cheezed-off David by swooping to net a Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) that he’d been on his way to photograph – ‘what was the point of netting it?’ was the gist of David’s annoyance, and I agreed with him. I was asleep again through Bled and woke a few kilometers before Stara Fuzina at the eastern end of Lake Bohinj. These small towns are immaculate with their neat log stacks and characteristic racks used for drying hay. Pretty much as I remembered it from 2003 with Alan, though the Hotel Belvedere was no longer signposted. The Hotel Zlatorog was reached around 5.45pm in Ukanc – a very smart Swiss-style building that Tito had visited, apparently. Dinner was taken buffet-style al fresco at the hotel to the accompaniment of an excellent oompah band and a female singer with an OK voice performing folk songs. Fortunately they stopped at 10.45 sharp! 

 

Tuesday 3 August: Suha Valley

I joined David at 7am to go a-lookin’ for roosters. The ground was soaking wet after night rain and mist hung in the valley: mozzies hadn’t yet gone to bed. A dew-spangled Common Blue and female Sooty Copper made lovely studies and a Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) was spotted on the way back from the nearby meadows. Set-off at 9am for the short journey through Stara Fuzina northwards to the Suha Valley on a grey, humid, and sunless morning. Stopped at the lakeside en route to take photos of the mountains reflected perfectly in the still water. The original plan had been to take the cable car up Vogel but the weather made this a non-starter.

 

The damp, lush, ungrazed meadows were alive with butterflies – dark forms of Marbled White, Dark Green, High Brown and Silver-washed Fritillaries commonplace. The latter were abundant with several adults on the flat heads of umbellifers and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) – at one point there must have been in excess of 60/80 within a simple 180º radius! (A paphia f. valezina) was also there – what a sumptuous butterfly this is. Lajos found a Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine), a very old tired specimen on its last legs, but this was a new species for several of us and was furiously photographed. On the walk back to the minibuses Barbara and the small advance party glimpsed a Poplar Admiral (Limenitis populi), as it turned-out the only one to be seen on the entire trip. This had been a fantastic morning.

 

Due to the weather, lunch had been booked at a restaurant adjacent to our hotel and a full meal of soup, trout, and a pudding was more than I’d bargained for. Afterwards, we drove back along the lakeside through Bohinjska Bistrica taking the Sorica road south. Our destination was a hillside high up at a WW1 observation post overlooking the railway and road in the deep Podbrdo valley. Views back across Bohinj towards Triglav would have been stunning on a better day. The lack of sun and stiff breeze were not conducive to lepidoptera and it was as we were beginning to pack-up that Lajos (again) captured a Water Ringlet (Erebia pronoe). Tony confirmed that it was ‘not your usual Scotch Argus’ and a Pythonesque photo session ensued with all taking turns, Lawrie on freeze duty again, bums in the air, Swiss Army Knife scissors doing 'gardening' overtime, and much mirth. The video should be a laugh (but probably embarrassing too). Reached the hotel just after 6pm after a good day. Another Lasko beer, toasted with the call of ‘Zlatorog’ (meaning mountain rodent) preceded a shower, and dinner at 7.30pm back in the nearby fish restaurant. 

 

Wednesday 4 August: Bled, and transit south to the Karst

Time pre-breakfast to photo a slightly aberrant Chalkhill Blue that David had found behind the hotel. Checked-out and away by 9am we headed for Bled to make a cultural visit. Didn’t really want to do this but the poor weather had once again knocked the Vogel cable car on the head. So we parked-up at the eastern end of the lake and wandered a bit taking photos and a group shot. Certainly is a pleasant town… Retraced our route to Bohinjska Bistrica and turned south not stopping until we arrived at the Soriska Planina ski station. The ski slopes were pretty quiet – the sun wasn’t much in evidence – but Water Ringlets flew as did a spectacularly yellow Mountain Green-veined White. We ate our breadroll lunch sitting on the steps of a cabin near the café then nipped-in for a coffee.

 

The first stop after lunch was at Kneskeravne near Tolmin on the southern side of the Julian Alps in a deep river valley, heavily wooded. The sun was now patchy. Lajos and Safi were hoping we’d see Hungarian Glider (Neptis rivularis) and, indeed, one was spotted (but not by David and me who had gone off in the opposite direction to be rewarded with a lovely Chequered Blue (Scolitantides orion). After a further couple of hours driving around 6pm, we reached the next hotel between Cerknica and Postojna at Rakov Skojan. This modern-looking hotel deep in the forest offered comfortable accommodation in postage-stamp sized rooms.

Thursday 5 August: Podgorski Hills

Ventured out alone on a cloudy morning to explore the woods surrounding the hotel. Strolled down to the stream and found cut meadows containing no visible butterflies. Today’s plan had been to visit Mt Nanos but the cloud sitting atop of it called for another location. So Lajos took us to the southern extremity of Slovenia’s Karst region to the rolling Podgorski Hills. Our first stop was fantastic – blue eryngiums and spurges dotted the grasslands and the first butterflies to greet us were False Graylings (Arethusana arethusa). But even better were the Meleager’s Blues (Polyommatus daphnis), especially the females, whose colour scheme seemed tailor-made for the eryngiums making for some stunning photos. Chapman’s Blues (Polyommatus thersites) were also flying and some of the undersides were strikingly aberrant. The sun remained hidden for most of the morning.

 

We moved down to a limestone overhang near Crnotice for lunch and were immediately met by Woodland Graylings (Hipparchia fagi), a Silver-washed Fritillary, Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus), and Great-banded Grayling (Brintesia circe), the latter three nectaring on Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus) (found some of this fantastic nectar source at last!). After lunch we parked on the hilltop overlooking Koper on the coast with dark clouds covering the Italian coast beyond. Despite poor weather, we found Silver-washed Fritillaries, including another valezina, plus High Brown, Dark Green, Spotted, and Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia); a Small Blue (Cupido minimus) and Ilex Hairstreak (Satyrium ilicis) fed on Hemp Agrimony and a tatty Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) dropped in too. On the track back to the ‘cars’ a decrepit Great Sooty Satyr (Satyrus ferula) posed on the grit probably soon to have its life ended by the heavy storm that was tracking our way across the Adriatic. The rain started as soon as we got underway bumping down the long rough track to a tarmac road somewhere in the vicinity of Illirska Bistrica where we dashed into a café for some warming coffee.

Friday 6 August: Mount Nanos

Woke to grey skies, though the morning was dry and calm. With the sun breaking through after breakfast another attempt at Mt Nanos was planned. We zig-zagged up the scarp (reminiscent of ascending to Horton Plains in Sri Lanka but on a smaller scale) eventually stopping below the summit at a grassy, flowery plateau. The vehicles went on ahead to where would be our lunch stop. Scotch Argus, abundant Alcon Blue (Phengaris alcon) eggs on Cross-leaved Gentians (Gentiana cruciata), both Swallowtails, Spotted Fritillaries, Wood Whites and Chestnut Heaths (Coenonympha glycerion) interrupted our walk. But the sun disappeared soon after our arrival and the breeze gained in strength through the morning. Lunch was taken sitting on the grass bank at the trackside. Rain started as we drove to the summit now shrouded in low cloud and the breeze had become a stiff, cold wind. My kagool doubled as a body warmer as we dashed into the café by the radio masts for a coffee and a slice of strudel. Had a sort of wet Lake District feel to things! Being so close to normally stunning views we braved the elements and walked to the ridge overlooking the Adriatic and took some photos anyway.

 

With prospects for the afternoon now looking pretty bleak Lajos reckoned we’d like to see the Lipi horses: smart white painted fence around the zoo-like enclosure containing some white and brown horses. Pushed on to a famous massive sink hole where Dryads (Minois dryad) a-plenty flew into the grass in what was a relatively small area. Finally, in light rain, we drove into Trieste for a beer and dinner walking initially onto the old jetty protruding from the grand façade of nineteenth century hotels etc. Passed through a couple of small squares before reaching our pavement pizza restaurant. A jolly time as the rain fell again. David read his “Sooty Satyr just sat ‘ere” poem to much acclaim with the entertaining backdrop of the ‘DICK’ store. All very juvenile, but none the worse for that! 

 

Saturday 7 August: Cerknica > Ljubljana > Orseg

In fair weather checked-out of the hotel heading for the hills overlooking the Cerknica polje stopping at a high point somewhere above Otok. The grass was wet and mist hung in the valleys. Butterflies included Blue-spot Hairstreak, Dark Green and Lesser Marbled Fritillaries (Brenthis ino), and Great-banded Graylings behaving just like Poplar Admirals high in the aspens. The sun was intermittent as we stopped for a quick coffee at the woodland café. The next stop for lunch was a flowery slope cleared in the forest where Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), Clouded Yellow, and an Alcon Blue were found along with Weaver’s Fritillary (Boloria dia) and Dark Green Fritillaries. Finally, the last butterfly stop on this leg of the trip was down by the river where Purple-edged Copper (Lycaena hippothoe) and Sooty Coppers were found enjoying the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) accompanied by Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) and Chestnut Heaths, and horseflies. Marti was collectively thanked for his careful driving before we set-off for the airport to drop off all but Tony, David, Martin and me. Lajos took one of the vehicles and Marti continued as our driver with Safi on navigation duty. This was done around 5pm and within half an hour or so the rump had stopped at a filling station for a cup of machine lemon tea (yuk) and to buy some provisions for the journey into Hungary.

 

Around 8pm with stork nests lining the road we stopped at a restaurant in the Orseg – no border controls at Hodos – and sampled our first heavy Hungarian food – deep fried mushrooms, some kind of stew, followed by a pizza-like dessert smeared with plum jam. Could only manage about a quarter of it. Mists filled the dips in the road as we arrived at our final hotel in Kondorfa around 10.30pm. 

 

Sunday 8 August: into Hungary and the Orseg

We went out early on a sunny morning down to the stream and entered the soaking wet meadows. Even at this early hour there were several fine species about – Dusky Large Blue (Phengaris nausithous) and Scarce Large Blue (Phengaris teleius), a solitary Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) , Dryads sunning themselves on the rampant solidago, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Sooty Copper, Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina), Small Heath and Common Blue. Not bad before breakfast!

 

Stop 1 today was in the Orseg Trust town of Kercaszomor where we parked near the mayor’s house and walked up into Safi’s meadow. There was much activity and vehicle checking as we passed along the road due to the imminent visit of the country’s President (who apparently looks like me: Marti addressed me as El Presidente from this point on!). A perimeter walk in hot sun revealed Common, Idas and Short-tailed Blues (Cupido argiades) (the latter males were sods to photograph), Weavers Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene), Knapweed Fritillary (Melitaea phoebe), Dark Green and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Large and Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae), Small and Chestnut Heaths, Purple Hairstreaks (Favonius quercus) flying high, and Great-banded Graylings. A minute second brood Nickerl’s Fritillary (Melitaea aurelia) was found savouring the juices of a crushed Roman snail. We took our bread roll lunch by the car in the shade of a large beech tree where David spotted a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) which I quickly verified. Too quickly, as it happened, because it was actually a very small female Large Copper (Lycaena dispar) – oops! A yellow crab spider camouflaged in the solidago had caught a Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) by the head.

 

A second meadow just across the road was visited after lunch alive with Dusky and Scarce Large Blues on the sanguisorba revealing their uppersides momentarily after egg-laying: this was very predictable behaviour, essential knowledge for the photographer. Tony saw a Map (Araschnia levana) and Safi pointed-out a Purple Hairstreak on a flower head but it was too quick for me and flew off although a living Brown Hairstreak was much more accommodating. A procession of tractors clattered down the road towards the town where Safi was now to take us to enjoy the mushroom collecting feast. A folk band and traditional ‘dairy maid’ dancers were in full swing and the food queue hardly moved. None of us, apart from Safi, were particularly hungry and I think we disappointed him by not tucking-in. After a while we crossed the road and had a beer on a balcony in the shade overlooking the show ground.

 

The last stop of the day was in a reclaimed meadow where scrub clearance a couple of years earlier had transformed the habitat into a wet flower-rich meadow once again. The Phengaris blues were there as was Large Copper, Large Chequered Skipper (Heteropterus morpheus), Tufted Marbled Skipper (Carcharodus flocciferus), Alcon Blue etc. By now quite weary after a great day in the field we arrived back at our hotel around 6pm. 

 

Monday 9 August: more Orseg

The day started overcast turning to steady rain after breakfast so we made for the National Park Centre in Oriszentpeter to pass some time, leaving around 9.45. This is a good facility with cabinets displaying scores of fungi both edible and poisonous. With the rain now having stopped, Safi took us to a pine plantation on raised sandy ridge where heather grew – unusual to see it here. Still 99.9% sunless our walk along the forest rides were pretty quiet but did produce our first Ringlet of the entire trip and another Large Chequered Skipper.

 

We lunched outside at a local Folk Museum (a bit like the Ryedale Museum at Hutton-le-Hole) and had goulash soup followed by a pumpkin and poppy seed sweet. In a small adjacent field David located a basking Large Chequered Skipper but I was too slow to get in there and see it.

 

Still overcast as we headed east to visit a privately-owned traditionally managed farm near Orfalu but hot sunshine greeted us on arrival. Large Coppers, Maps, and a solitary tatty Common Glider (Neptis sappho) were seen here along with Silver-spotted Skippers Hesperia comma) and others. Arriving back at the hotel early at 5.15pm Tony joined David and I to revisit the fields by the stream for 90 minutes or so where several Maps dashed about in the company of Phengaris blues, a Duke of Burgundy, Large Coppers etc. Orange ‘Spanish slugs’ were everywhere, a real nuisance. Sopronis on the terrace, shower, and dinner at 7.30 followed the usual pattern. Tried plum and then pear brandies as night-cap.

Tuesday 10 August: more Orseg again

Safi took us to a sandy area in the eastern end of the Orseg where a Small Copper was the first butterfly to greet us. At Szoce we walked into a wet wood and found Common Glider (Safi knew they’d be there) around false acacia, the larval foodplant. Photo opportunities were taken in the absence of sunshine negating the efforts made yesterday at Orfalu. I also saw a pair of Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) bringing up my 100th species!! (Everybody else had seen the species on many occasions). At Szoce the valley bottom is a very wet peat bog and a boardwalk extends across the valley floor and we walked the length of it before jumping down onto the turf (dry-ish time of year). We lunched here by the derelict house amused by David’s bum in the air engrossed tracking of a Common Glider.

 

The afternoon site was at the far western end of the Orseg and we were able to stand with a foot in Hungary and the other one in Slovenia. Safi gave us a tour of a target piece of land being an overgrown stretch of damp meadow crying out for sympathetic management. The Phengaris were here as was a Duke and a Brown Hairstreak plus five fritillaries. A solitary Marbled White was disturbed in the grass, the first seen by our group in Hungary. To see this site and hear Safi’s plans for it really brought home the importance of what he’s trying to do. This is particularly important as large-scale maize crops are now transforming the landscape  encouraged by generous EU subsidies…

 

The hotel was reached at 4.30 with plenty of time for a Soproni before dinner. This was followed by a moth trapping evening at the Trust house. Local hooch and delicious cheesy scones were served up by Marti and the highlight at the sheet was the introduced giant Japanese Silkmoth (Antheraea yamamai). 

 

Wednesday 11 August: heading home

Breakfast was set for us upstairs as around 50 Austrian women on a kind of hen party had taken over downstairs. Interesting to see many of them hitting the beer so early in the day. Our final stop was a south-facing traditionally managed meadow not far from the hotel but it didn’t yield any new species – but it was, nevertheless, a lovely spot.

 

Safi was dropped-off at the Trust house and we all said our farewells. Marti then drove us to Graz for the afternoon Ryanair flight home.