Hungarian Butterflies

As the summer winds down here in the U.S., I’ve started thinking about next year’s travel and where I might like to explore some butterflies abroad.  Europe is very attractive to me, and I’ve spent virtually no time there lepping — seems I almost always end up going in the cold months, or for such trips for work to attend conferences or meetings.  So I was thrilled to run across the trip report from NatureTrek’s June 2009 butterfly trip to Hungary, held last June 16-23.

After collecting everyone at Ferihgy Airport in Budapest, the tour headed to Aggtelek in the northeast corner of Hungary along the Slovak border and within the Aggtelek National Park.  Despite the cool, damp spring in Hungary (similar to what we experienced here in the Eastern United States in 2009), by mid-June temperatures seemed to have moderated and the upland wildflower habitats seemed to have plenty of nectar sources available.  The first day total of 61 was impressive in a country that counts a total lep fauna of only 170-odd species.  The day’s tally included Wood White and Berger’s Clouded Yellows, as well as Grizzled, Oberthurs’s and Safflower skippers. The afternoon was most productive, the trip report notes:

“Of fritillaries, there were: High Brown, Dark Green, Silver-washed, Marbled and Lesser Marbled, whilst blues were represented by diminutive Short-tailed, Eastern Short-tailed and Small (or Little) Blues.  Among plentiful Common Blues was our only Turquoise Blue of the trip. Both Scarce and Large Coppers provided splashes of vivid orange among a sea of colours…”

The next day featured great numbers of puddling butterflies near Josfavo:

“Among clouds of butterflies imbibing vital salts and other nutrients from the banks of a muddy stream and horse dung littering the turf, were various families separated into their associated groupings.  Fritillary clumps contained hundreds of Dark Greens, also High Browns including several of the form cleodoxa with only a bland brown under hindwing, also small numbers of Silver-washed.  Drifts of blues contained mainly Common and Silver-studded and a few Mazarine and Adonis.  Groups of whites were mainly Small.  Lesser numbers of other kinds were also involved. This obviously important and commonly occurring phenomenon, found over much of Europe, is basically unknown in the UK – so too in Scandinavia and Finland for example – an intriguing scientific conundrum…However wonderful and difficult to adequately describe in prose, this truly special gathering proved to be, it was
by no means our only star attraction as other species here only included both Hungarian and Common Glider, similar White Admiral, several Lesser Purple Emperors, three Poplar Admirals and several Large Tortoiseshells!”

Weather turned very hot at mid-trip (33 degrees C.), but since the day was spent mostly in transit to Noszvaj the warmth wasn’t too oppressive in the field, and the group picked up Lesser Purple Emperors, a single Purple Emperor, and Queen of Spain Fritillaries.

Lesser Purple Emperor| credit Kars Veling for

Lesser Purple Emperor| credit Kars Veling for

Poor weather (heavy or intermittent rain and clouds) plagued the last three days of the trip, but the tour eked out one good morning for their guide, noted Hungarian lepidopterist Szabolcs Safian, to help with field ID’s on the notoriously tricky fritillaries Heath, Nickerl’s, and Assman’s before the weather turned for good.  The cloudy, cool conditions that slowed down the butterflies that afternoon actually made observing these difficult species easier to separate.

One of the nice things I’ve heard about the Naturetrek trips is that they focus on broad exposure to natural history, and the guides were able to deftly switch from butterflies to birding, which also seems to be extraordinary in this region of Hungary.  The group picked up a great selection of woodpeckers — Grey-headed, Green, Syrian, Great, Lesser and Middle Spotted — as well as Cuckoo, Honey Buzzards, Rock Bunting, and Hobby as they spent the next three days focusing on avifauna.

The next-to-last day finally gave up a warm, sunny afternoon that allowed the group to travel to high elevations (900m) in the high plateau region to see some of the target species of the trip:  Woodland Ringlet, Clouded Apollo, and Purple-edged Copper — all very desirable species that are rare and local in Hungary.

The final trip list ended up at about 90 species despite the weather, of about 100 species that reasonably could be expected in that area at that time of year.  Sounds like a perfect excursion to me, and I’m now looking over the 2010 Europe trips for a chance to see some European species myself.

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