TRIP REPORT, NORTHWEST GREECE AND CORFU, LATE MAY 2019
Having been greatly aided in our pre-trip research by several good friends and experts, David Dennis and I designed a three-centre journey from Thessaloniki westwards across the Provinces of Macedonia, Epirus to the isle of Corfu. We would be based near Kozani at Siatista, in Konitsa, and Paleokastritsa.
The superb motorway from Istanbul to Igoumenitsa led us from Thessaloniki past Kozani to the right turn for Siatista and our hotel for the next four nights.
Our first site was fairly close by at Skiti, a location given to us by Tristan and others, which we found easily enough. It had clearly deteriorated recently and a pretty disgusting tip dominated by rendered animal body parts – skins, cattle skulls and large bones – welcomed us but it was encouraging for butterflies! A tired Bavius Blue (Pseudophilotes bavius) was eagerly pursued and later on a pair of Black-veined Whites (Aporia crataegi) and a Yellow-banded Skipper (Pyrgus sidae) were the highlights on a hot and sunny morning notable also for the non-stop flight of several unidentifiable Orange-tips.
A short distance further to the east was another recommended site at Lygheri, also with a tip at its entrance but lacking the unpleasant rendering element. Lunch was our first priority despite being distracted by a lot of butterfly activity. This was the much preferred location of the two and during the hot afternoon we photographed more Bavius Blues, Chequered Blue (Scolitantides orion), a sole tired Dalmatian Ringlet (Proterebia afra), Eastern Wood White (Leptidea duponcheli), Lesser Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea trivia) and several other species.
On a cool and overcast morning we returned to Lygheri the next day arriving around 9am. Paliurus spinachristi covers the hillsides here, and elsewhere, but first brood Little Tiger Blues (Tarucus balkanicus) were not seen. The dull conditions were good for photography and more Bavius Blues, several in good condition, entered the camera.
The following day we drove in search of some ‘Tristan sites’ to the east of Kozani stopping opportunistically a couple of times on the rough road towards Kapnochori taking lunch at a prominent hairpin in lovely habitat but Eastern Greenish Black-tip (Euchloe penia)couldn’t be found. Afterwards we took the A29 to the Kaloneri junction in search of Iolas Blues (Iolana iolas) on the road to Galatini but failed to find any, and only one Colutea arborescens sporting bladders – in fact, we weren’t 100% convinced we were looking at the right plant as at least 3 bushy yellow-flowering shrubs competed for our attention, gorse, broom, and bladder senna! Probably around 1km along a rough and stony track running east-west north of Galatini village David found a mating pair of Gruner’s Orange-tips (Anthocharis gruneri) highlighting a small colony and also spotted a solitary Clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne) nectaring on thyme, whilst Dalmatian Ringlets led us a merry dance across the grassy karst hillside. This gave us a good end to an otherwise disappointing day with several target species’ flight periods already over.
The transit day eventually had us zig-zagging towards the Voidomatis river bridge and the Vikos Gorge with its wonderful pack-horse bridge. We took the left side upstream footpath joined by many Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria), and a few tantalising non-stop Orange-tips of indeterminate species. The river was bordered by old gnarled Plane trees, many of them with hollow hiding-place type trunks and the water ran a turquoise blue indicating its snow-melt origins. We returned to the bridge and explored the flowery meadows, a much better habitat and home to several large tortoises. A Southern Swallowtail (Papilio alexanor) was pursued relentlessly but without success, these things never stop!
Our hotel, at the river’s edge close to the famous pack-horse bridge, was a perfect base for another four-night stay.
Ano Pedina, south of Konitsa and one of the many Aghios Paraskevi sites accessed through very narrow and tight village streets became our next destination from where we walked to the chapel at the end of the track through some lovely habitat of evergreen oak, maple and other shrubbery interspersed with flowery strips, well-sheltered from any wind and possibly a remnant of monks’ horticulture. An Eastern Dappled White (Euchloe ausonia), Amanda’s Blue (Polyommatus amandus) and our only, very worn, Nettle-tree (Libythea celtis) were added to the tally even though there wasn’t much sun. A small Adder was risking death on the road until it was gently ushered to the verge by my boot.
At Monodendri we parked up just below the village finding the central square very busy, a Sunday café hot-spot, even a bit touristy. The main attraction here is the Moni Aghios Paraskevi chapel perched high above the deep and impressive eastern end of the Vikos Gorge. Several blues nectared and basked on the flowery bank, notably Turquoise Blue (Polyommatus dorylas) and Adonis Blues (Polyommatus bellargus).
Having taken the ferry from Igoumenitsa our base here was north-west of Corfu town in the coastal resort of Paleokastritsa where we met Dr Dan Danahar who would generously give us much of his time and lead us on incredibly narrow and twisting roads to a hillside site on Mount Pantokrator near Viglatouri north of Nisaki.
Although overcast, this was lovely habitat, and we quickly found Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) - subsequently disputed however, Balkan Marbled White (Melanargia larissa), Eastern Orange-tip larvae (Anthocharis damone), a Southern Swallowtail (Papilio alexanor), and latterly Ilex Hairstreak (Satyrium ilicis).
Dan introduced us to the proprietor of Fundana Villas close to Paleokastritsa who kindly agreed to let us wander the hotel grounds where at once a new species caught our eye, a Lattice Brown (Kirinia roxelana) in fine condition. We followed the path steadily downwards through rich and beautiful habitat deterred only by a succession of face-high spiders webs. Cleopatras (Gonepteryx cleopatra) were commonplace, all mint and inactive suggesting a mass emergence, to which were added Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Ilex Hairstreaks, Clouded Yellows (Colias crocea) and later on a single Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta) in constant flight, similarly a possible Southern Swallowtail, Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma), Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) and Balkan Marbled White.
A total of 68 butterfly species were identified during the trip and could have been greater had the season not been early. Konitsa offered the best scenery, particularly the stunning Vikos Gorge, and the number of species on Corfu was higher than expected.
This article was previously published in the Newsletter of the European Butterfly Group