Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Romania - Eastern Transylvania & the foothills of the eastern Carpathians

After visiting Dobrogea we headed back NW to visit some grassland habitats at the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians (800-1000m). Along the way we stopped here & there to have a quick scan of the butterfly fauna.

Lycaena dispar, males
In a lower valley (250m) still on the east side of the Carpathians.

Lycaena virgaureae, male
Higher up in the Carpathians (950m) this fiery beauty flew around. 

Nymphalis antiopa
Several seen and all very fresh early august.

Coenonympha glycerion
On lower grasslands, E of the Carpathians and in central Transylvania. All relatively fresh, I don't know if these are belated ones (as in the W part of its distribution this species flies in June - early July) or if this species has a second generation here.

Minois dryas
On the nicer grasslands one of the most common butterflies

Colias myrmidone, female

Colias myrmidone, male in flight showing the absence of pale veins in the dark band on the frontwing and showing the very slender dark band on the hindwing. The colour on the upperside is much brighter than in C. croceus giving it an almost fluorescent appearance in the field.

Colias myrmidone, male

Colias myrmidone, female

Colias myrmidone, female (L) & male (R) in flight. 
The large pale spots in the marginal band of the female are obvious and the male is showing absence of pale veins, slender black edging to hindwing with the impression of pale spots on the innerside of the black edging and fluorescent orange ground color.

My number one target for this trip was to see Colias myrmidone. This species has got a tremendous backfall during the last decades. Until the late nineties the distribution reached into the eastern part of Germany, the last observation there however was made in 2000. The species has disapeared as well out of Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and probably Bulgaria. The situation in Slowakia is unclear to me, could still be there but I have not seen any recent information. Also in Poland the situation is unclear, possibly still present in the east of the country. Romania seems to be the stronghold for the species in the EU and because of the big decrease in such a short period the species is listed as "Critically Endangered" on the EU27 red list. The reasons for the decrease are still a bit unclear but most probably changes in land management have a big hand in this. The species is dependent on thriving growth of the larval foodplant Chamaecytisus ratisbonensis and this plant grows mainly on grasslands on a specific point in succession in the beginning of afforestation. Intensification under the form of large scale mowing has a negative effect on the foodplant growth and abandonement leads to too much afforestation making other plants overgrowing the larval foodplant. Traditional mowing practices leaving parts of grasslands unmowed and extensive grazing practices are still common in some parts of Romania giving chances to C. myrmidone. And with the large decrease of the species in Europe some of the Romanian grasslands are now protected areas so lets hope this is enough to stop the further decrease of the species.

Habitat at the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians (900-1000m)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Romania - Dobrogea: plains, wetlands & oak forests

Dobrogea is the Romanian coastal region stretching from the Bulgarian to the Ukranian border. it is organised in a southern county Constanta & a northern county Tulcea. Both are named after their respective main city.
We visited some coastal plains, salt marshes and lower hills from the north of the county Constanta until just south of the Danube delta; we visited some old open oak forests and ajacent grasslands near Babadag & in the foothills of the Macin Mountains (<500m) and we visited the Danube delta so to make it easy I will divide the pictures in 3 parts: (1) plains, (2) oak forests & (3) Danube delta.


Papilio machaon, some hilltops near Enisala held nice amounts of hilltopping males of this species

Colias erate
A rather common species near the coast. Most of them were clearly lemon yellow (like these two, a fresh and an abraded male). Interestingly up to 20% of them (rough estimate) however held a variable amount of an orangeish tinge, fainter than in C. croceus. I caught one real orange one as well, to check in the hand, and that male looked phenotypically just like W-European C. croceus (including a clear androconial patch on the hindwing). There is some discussion whether these orangeish individuals are hybrids/intergrades between C. erate & C. croceus with some "non-believers" saying all can be explained by interspecific variation of both species (and indeed, on the Azores for example you have the whole range of C. croceus from pure orange to lemon yellow without any C. erate being in the next 5000km). The fact however that both species share COI mitochondrial DNA suggests that there is or has been at least some introgression between these two taxa. Also the amount of orangeish colored C. erate seems to be considerably higher in the western part of the distribution where the distribution overlaps with C. croceus, again suggesting hybridisation at some level. Hybridisation is not such a rare event in butterflies and has been described in a lot of species (up to 16% of European butterfly fauna is known to hybridise to some extent!), sometimes anekdotical but in some cases also on a higher, stable level (fe. in Papilio machaon/P. hospiton).

Lycaena dispar in coastal marshes

Oak forests near Babadag and the foothills of Macin Mountains

Habitat at the foothills of Macin mountains

Argynnis pandora, male

Hipparchia syriaca
A check of the Juliën organ in the field with 20x magnification showed this male having 7 broad & stout lamella confirming the ID.

Kirinia roxelana
A pleasant surprise, easily 10+ spotted on one morning in Macin Mountains. In the literature I checked beforehand this species was mentioned for N Dobrogea but the mentions were very few and only for Babadag forest. Aparently recently it appears to be a bit more widespread in Babadag & Macin Mountains.

Lycaena thersamon, underside

Lycaena thersamon, female

Lycaena thersamon, male
Widespread in Macin mountains with easily 50+ seen

Polyommatus admetus, female, recently only known from N Dobrogea in Romania

Danube delta

We mainly visited this area for birdwatching & to enjoy the amazing landscapes but still got some nice butterfly sightings.

Apatura metis 
I have been searching for this species a few years ago without succes (see this older post) but this time I could see and enjoy the real deal!

Heteropterus morpheus
Remarkably fresh early august, I only know the Dutch populations and these start to fly end of june - early july. In the Danube delta, more or less at sea level, it seems like this species is on the wing a month later than in the Netherlands!

More on the eastern Carpathians in a next thread.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Romania - Southern Transylvania & Southern Carpathians

Southern Transylvania

The region between Sibiu & Sighisoara holds a series of north-south directed valleys in a hilly landscape with extensive grasslands in the lower parts of the valleys and forests on the hilltops. We visited 2 of those valleys, one near Biertan and one just SW of Sighisoara.

Iphiclides podalirius

Hamearis lucina, having a second generation in central Europe, unlike in western Europe where this is mainly a spring species.

Lycaena tityrus

Phengaris arion

Phengaris teleius on the larval foodplant Sanguisorba officinalis

Plebejus argus

Neptis sappho, much more common than Neptis rivularis (see previous post) but this species has 2 generations while N. rivularis only has one. During our trip we were probably largely too late for N. rivularis, except for the ones flying at higher elevations.

Argynnis adippe, a nice variation of the cleodoxa colour morph with the submarginal band accentuated.

Star of this part is Argynnis laodice, photography wasn't easy however as the favorite way to spend  time of these Argynnis species is to attack any other Argynnis (here A. laodice is attacked by A. adippe). So when you saw one landing on these big Telekia flowers mostly you had some 10 seconds before it was chased away... and A. laodice was outnumbered by A. paphia & A. adippe.

Argynnis laodice

Southern Carpathians
We visited two of the several southern Carpathian mountain chains. In the Făgăraş Mountains I searched for butterflies on the southern slopes between 1550m & 1950m. In Bucegi Mountains between 1400m & 2000m. Unlike the Alps the Carpathians are rather poor in butterlfy diversity and on a day high up in the mountains it was not rare to come back with a species list of only 10-15 butterfly species.

Boloria pales carpathomeridionalis, the most fun about this subspecies is that Boloria napaea is absent in the Carpathians so there is no determination issue. Several seen in Bucegi mountains.

 Erebia epiphron transsylvanica, by far the most common butterfly on the grasslands high in the Carpathians, both in the Făgăraş Mountains as in the Bucegi Mountains. 

Erebia euryale syrmia. Commonly present on grasslands near the pine forest zone. The look-a-like Erebia ligea was present at a lot of locations as well but mostly a bit lower, on open places in the forest zone.

Erebia manto trajanus, only one very fresh male seen at the Făgăraş Mountains, suggesting that due to the harsh Eastern European winter the flight period of this species had only just begun at the end of july (30/07/2017). Unfortunately this male wasn't very happy with me trying to get it on camera, flying uphill very fast after this one record shot...

Erebia pronoe regalis, several seen on the higher slopes of Bucegi Mountains (1700-2000m).

Erebia sudetica radnaensis at the Făgăraş Mountains. This subspecies has only very faint eyespots on the upperside, they just fall in the folds of the veins so almost seem absent. The same remark as with Erebia manto, only one fresh male seen so probably only the very beginning of the flight period. More information on this species in Romania can be found here.

From the mountains to the plains and marshes in the next episode!

Romania 2017 - Introduction

Last month I travelled through Romania, a country I already wanted to visit for a long time. We entered the country the 25th of july & left it again on 12th of august.
Except for the first & the last day we had splendid weather, at some days even too hot to watch butterflies on a comfortable way. The bad weather on first & last day were a bit pitty as that were the days we passed the region around Cluj-Napoca and there were some locations in that neighbourhood I wanted to visit. Luckily I didn't really miss a big target species because of that. Time was not only spent on butterflies on this trip, I also looked a bit at birds & dragonflies.

We went by car from Belgium entering Romania from the west near Oradea. The locations we visited can be resumed in the folowing 8 points:

1) Turda gorge & Piatra Secuiului (Eastern slopes of Apuseni Mountains)
Calcareous hills & rocky outcrops between 700m-1200m

2) Southern Transylvania
Lower hills with lots of extensive grasslands & decideous forest

3) Fagarasan Mountains (Southern Carpathians)
High mountains up to 2500m

4) Bucegi Mountains (Southern Carpathians)
High mountains up to 2500m

5) Plains S of Danube
Low coastal plains, mainly visited to see dragonflies & birds but with some interesting butterfly sightings

6) Danube delta
Marsh land with canals, lakes, willow forests

7) Babadag forest & Macin mountains
Low mountains with dry oak forests

8) Foothills of the eastern Carpathians
Extensive grasslands 700-1000m

So let's kick off this small report with some pics

1) Turda gorge & Piatra Secuiului
Turda gorge is a pretty spectacular 300m deep gorge but from a butterfly point of view especially the plains up the gorge are interesting.

Habitat in Turda

Hesperia comma is common in large parts of Romania, very different from the Western part of the distribution where this species is on many locations threatened.

Dark Hipparchia's are easy in Romania, in Transylvania & the foothills of the Carpathians only Hipparchia fagi is present, in Dobrodgea probably only Hipparchia syriaca is present. This is Hipparchia fagi.

Iphiclides podalirius, although common in large parts of southern Europe, always a pleasure to see

As this one seems to have a discocellular vein, closing down the middle cell, this should be Melitaea trivia. Opinions welcome.

Polyommatus dorylas, male, rather common in this part of Romania

Pseudophilotes vicrama

We visited Piatra Secuiului to see the local Erebia melas. I saw a few of them flying and a single one shortly visiting some flowers but the habitat with very steep calcareous rocks didn't allow taking pictures, although I tried... In the neighbourhood however I did make a good set of pictures, definetely a blues paradise!


Neptis rivularis, only a few seen during the trip and mostly higher up (this one at approx 1000m)

Polyommatus daphnis, male

Polyommatus daphnis, female

Polyommatus daphnis, female, one of the most marvelous species of blues

Polyommatus dorylas, male

Polyommatus thersites, male. Underside & upperside of the same individual, notice the hairy basal half of upper front wing. The hairy androconial scales are the single best feature to differentiate this species from Polyommatus icarus.

Cupido decoloratus, male

Cupido osiris, male

More on Transylvania in the next episode!