Lycaena helle 4th June 2017. Doubs. France. The Violet Copper was top of my "most wanted" list of European butterflies for decades. I finally caught up with it in the bogs of eastern France, late spring 2017, in a damp meadow full of Bistort. It was flying in great numbers, and I was completely overwhelmed to be in amongst hundreds of these stunningly beautiful insects in a relatively small area of habitat. Both the males and females have amazingly coloured uppersides when they catch the light. In fine weather they are highly active. I had the pleasure of spending hours and hours with them, finding mating pairs, observing egg-laying, and on days when the weather in this part of France was poor, I managed to locate several new colonies by searching for eggs on the underside of Bistort leaves in promising looking habitat. A must-see species for the European butterfly enthusiast, and a defining moment in my travels; definitely a top five life experience!
Lycaena helle 2nd June 2017. Doubs. France. The gorgeous female of the species. This butterfly is confined to bogs and damp meadows where Bistort grows in abundance, usually in amongst scrub or in woodland clearings. It has a wide distrubution across central and northern Europe, but colonies are very rare and widely scattered. It is classified as endangered and is one of the rarest species on my life-list. Nevertheless, in good colonies such as the one where this female was photographed, it can occur in large numbers.
Hipparchia fidia 25th July 2014. Bonson. France. This was my first sighting of the Striped Grayling, and was due to a much appreciated tip-off from a bunch of butterfly enthusiasts with whom I had met up at a small hotel in the Maritime Alps. John Chapple and company had seen this butterfly on a roadside at a small village north of Nice, and kindly shared the site information with me. I visited the next day and was thrilled to capture this mint-fresh individual feasting on a pile of fox-scat. With its stunning underside pattern, this is one of my favourite grayling species. I have since seen it in better numbers in Spain. The photograph here was selected for inclusion in the 2015 European Butterfly Group calendar, a proud moment, seeing another one of my images make it into print!
Polyommatus damon 13th July 2012. Queyras. France. This mating pair was photographed in a flowery meadow not far from Chateau Queyras, in the Queyras Regional Natural Park, one of my favourite places in France. The meadow was alive with a huge range of blues, fritillaries, skippers and coppers. These two were posed nicely for the camera, showing off their distinctively white-striped undersides.
Pyrgus sidae 1st June 2019. Sainte-Baume. France. A local species of southern Europe, I have only ever seen two of this species. The first was some years ago during a holiday in Provence with my great friend and fellow enthusiast Bob Lambert. He found one in an overgrown vineyard. It was another eleven years before I saw another, this example here, photographed in dry grassland habitat near the Massif de Sainte-Baume in southern France. It is a large skipper, noticeably so in flight, and it was the size that caught my eye when this one flew up in front of me. This is the only European "grizzled skipper" with yellow markings on the underwing.
Brenthis hecate 1st June 2019. Sainte-Baume. France. A butterfly with a southern European distribution, quite localised in dry grassland habitats, usually in amongst light scrub or woodland, it took me quite a while to catch up with this species, thanks to a tip-off from a fellow butterfly enthusiast based in Marseilles (thanks Chris). A delightful beast, very orange in flight, I was most fortunate to spend time with a few dozen of these right at the beginning of their flight period, when they were lovely and fresh.
Plebejus argyrognomon 5th June 2018. Cote-d'Or. France. This is closely related to the Idas and the Silver-studded Blue, and is very similar in appearance, but more localised and with a mainly central-European distribution. I have only seen it in France. I found a small colony in a meadow in the north of the Dordogne back in 2002. This colony still survived until 2009 at least, but I didn't find it during a repeat visit in 2018. The female depicted here was photographed in the Cote-d'Or further east in France, in a region where it appears to be particularly plentiful. Indeed in this area I found that it far outnumbered Idas and Silver-studded Blues. The females have a strong tendency to produce beautiful blue forms, such as this one.
Plebejus argyrognomon 5th June 2018. Cote d'Or. France. The underside of this butterfly is quite beautiful in my opinion, and distinctive enough to help distinguish it from its close relatives. This is one of my favourite photo's from my trip to the Cote d'Or in France. A very fresh individual, showing the typical clean silvery-grey ground colour, with the orange sub-marginal markings extending all the way from the bottom of the hindwing to the top of the forewing. Sublime!
Pyrgus warrenensis 12th July 2017. Queyras. France. This is a very rare butterfly, found only at high altitude in a very restricted area of the alps, from eastern France, across Italy to Austria. Hard to find, this individual was one of several highlights during an arduous eight hour hike up into the mountains close to the French-Italian border. A very small "grizzled skipper" with highly subtle markings. Another unforgettable moment!
Lopinga achine 4th June 2018. Cote d'Or. France. This species has what is surely one of the most dramatic underside patterns amongst the European "browns". I first found it back in 2002. A couple of individuals were flying along a shady woodland ride up in the mountains of the French Alps, not far from Annecy, in late July. At the time I hadn't yet converted to digital media, and I struggled to get anywhere near the butterflies with my old SLR camera. It was to be a long time until I would see it again, but fast forward to early June 2018 and I encountered it by the dozens in the Cote d'Or. It was common in many woodland settings, along rides and wood edges, but still proved to be quite hard to photograph, tending to land mainly out of reach up in the trees. But it does appear to be attracted to cars. Several individuals appeared whenever I parked up my hire car close to a woodland edge and appeared fascinated by the car tyres and bodywork! I also saw several down on fox scat, another apparent attractant. The species is sadly declining across much of its range in central Europe.
Tufted Marbled Skipper
Carcharodus flocciferus 14th July 2004. Col de Puymorens. France. This is an old photograph from back in 2004, taken with my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4500. It is of the first Tufted Marbled Skipper that I ever saw, quite high up in the French Pyrenees. It is said to be very local, but since my first sighting I have seen it since during many of my trips to the alps of south-east France. Although the text books have it as flying at a wide range of altitudes, most common below 400m, my experience is that it is much more likely to be found higher up in the mountains, particularly above 1500m. It is quite a chunky skipper, especially the female (pictured here).
Lycaena tityrus 24th July 2016. Maritime Alps. France. A common and widespread butterfly across much of central and southern Europe, I find it pretty much everywhere that I go in France, although for some reason it seems to be very sparse in the far south of Var and the Bouches-du-Rhone. One of the aims of my attempts at butterfly photography is to capture images of individuals that are as fresh and undamaged as possible, and they don't come much fresher than this! I was very happy when this image was selected for inclusion in the 2017 European Butterfly Group calendar. Some photographers would consider this photo to be much too heavily cropped, but I like to get up close and personal with my subjects, especially when they are looking as good as this.
Lycaena tityrus 1st August 2004. South Brittany. France. This is a lovely fresh female, showing off her copper-orange finery to good effect! Many of the female Sooty Coppers that I have seen in France over the years look nothing like this one. They have been much darker examples, lacking the orange markings, being of the dark form "subalpinus", which occurs at high altitude, where I have spent time on many of my butterflying trips. The orange form occurs at lower altitudes, although I have found both forms flying close together on rare occasions, around 1500m above sea level. This particular photograph was taken on my father's land in the Morbihan. Sadly his health deteriorated and he had to sell up some years ago and move back to the UK, but this image is a lovely memory of happy days gone by.
Parnassius corybas 11th July 2012. Queyras. France. The Small Apollo was high up on the target list of species for an epic eight-night trip that I made in the company of Bob L, back in July 2012. We travelled from Nice to the Queyras and back, and both picked up a good number of life-ticks! This species was one of them, photographed along a streamside bordered with yellow saxifrage, the larval foodplant. This female clearly shows the features that distinguish it from the much commoner Apollo, namely the red spots near the leading edge of the forewing, and the white antennae shaft ringed with black markings. I have only ever found this species close to running water. The males in particular have a tendency to fly relentlessly, rarely sitting still. It is quite localised across the central alps of Europe.
Parnassius apollo 22nd July 2015. Maritime Alps. France. A huge, spectacular and iconic butterfly, no-one would ever forget their first encounter with this majestic beast! I first saw it way back in 2002, in the Haute Savoie. It has a powerful yet graceful flight, often visits nectar and is capable of soaring away rapidly across mountainsides. Classified as "near-threatened" on a European scale, it is local but widespread in the mountains of central and southern Europe, and north to Fennoscandia. I have found it to be rather common in the Maritime Alps. This particular individual was photographed trying to get warm, at 2800m above sea level, on the border between the Alpes-Maritimes and the Alpes de Haute Provence
Aricia nicias 10th July 2017. Col de Vars. France. This is a delightful butterfly. The males are very attractively patterned with their wide, dark wing-borders. It has a curiously disjointed distribution in Europe, being found locally at altitude in the western Alps, eastern Pyrenees, and at low altitude in Fennoscandia. Several books on European butterflies suggest that the maximum altitude reached by this species is 2300m, but I have seen it regularly at a site close to the French/Italian border at over 2700m above sea level.
Cupido argiades 1st August 2004. South Brittany. France. This is another photograph taken on my father's land in south Brittany back in 2004, using my Nikon Coolpix 4500. I have seen plenty of Short-tailed Blues over the years, in Brittany, in the Dordogne, and in the mountains of northern Spain, but I have never photographed one as perfectly fresh as this before or since! A small and delicate looking beauty, but quite fast in flight and very territorial; the males are always ready for a fight!
Iphiclides podalirius 28th June 2017. Dordogne. France. As a young child I used to fantasize about seeing one of these exotic beasts in real life. They existed only on the pages of books and in my imagination. So it is ironic that I have now seen thousands of them over the past few decades. The name "Scarce" Swallowtail is wholly inappropriate, as this beauty is widespread and common through much of central and southern Europe, from spring through to autumn. It usually considerably outnumbers the Swallowtail in most places where I find it. Very graceful in flight, this species often glides, kite-like, with wings half open, riding thermals or just drifting up and down slopes or across flower-rich meadows. This is a fairly fresh individual - those spectacular tails soon become damaged or lost after a few days.
Euphydryas maturna 30th May 2018. Cote d'Or. France. Here is a butterfly that is sadly in rapid decline in western Europe. I caught up with it in the Burgundy region of France, in one of its last French strongholds. It is a stunningly coloured and patterned butterfly, my second-favourite European fritillary. The males are fond of coming down to gravel or stone tracks to pick up salts and minerals, and are very approachable when so engaged. I had the thrill of having six males down at the same time at one locality that I visited, but elsewhere I only found rare singletons. Against the backdrop of its sad decline, there was good news a few years back when hitherto unknown relic populations were discovered in the Piedmont Alps of north-west Italy.
Coenonympha hero 3rd June 2017. Doubs. France. This is another species that is sadly in rapid decline, found very locally in central and northern Europe in damp wetland habitats. One of the rarest butterflies in France, it was nevertheless flying in good numbers at a site that I visited in early June 2017. This photograph is of a lovely fresh female, settled low down in the grassy vegetation of its habitat, in amongst the dew. The males are much darker, noticeably so in flight, and rarely settle, making them frustrating subjects for photography. One of the rarest butterflies that I have ever seen, the two days that I spent in the company of the Scarce Heath were very special days; unforgettable!
Northern Wall Brown
Lasiommata petropolitana 3rd June 2019. Maritime Alps. France. Although the Northern Wall Brown is quite widespread in the alps of south-east France, it is a species that I had somehow all but overlooked for a number of years. Roger G kindly tipped me off as to a good area where I should be able to find it, and I spent a couple of days there in 2019. I found it along several grassy, rocky tracks leading through woodland, with several dozen flying at the best site, but the adults were difficult to approach for photography, rarely settling still. I did eventually manage a few shots, of which this underside is my favourite.
Lycaena virgaureae 22nd July 2014. Maritime Alps. France. I have seen many male Scarce Coppers over the years, particularly in the alps of south-east France where this species is widespread and frequent. The males are fast, brash butterflies, always ready for a fight, and appear on the wing as a flash of metallic bright copper orange. The females are much more inconspicuous, tending to keep out of the way. I usually see them in smaller numbers than the males, but they are equally beautiful, if not more so. On one memorable occasion I found around thirty of them on a large clump of flowering mint. This was in August in the Mercantour, France, when the hot summer weather had scorched the grassland habitat, and the females were gathering on the only source of nectar in the area, mint growing by a damp flush down the side of a mountain.
Coenonympha arcania 5th June 2018. Cote d'Or. France. This is a very common butterfly across much of central Europe, in grassy habitats often in amongst scrub and woodland. Very attractive when fresh, I have found in in many parts of France, but never in such numbers as in the Burgundy region in early June, when it was one of the most numerous species on the wing.
Lycaena alciphron 10th July 2017. Ubaye valley. France. This is another stunning butterfly with a metallic copper colour. The male, as shown here, has a degree of purple sheen to the upperwings. As with all of the coppers, males are very territorial and pugnacious, and soon get worn from territorial dog-fights with other butterflies. This one was particularly fresh and posed admirably for me. I couldn't resist taking his portrait!
Polyommatus daphnis 21st July 2015. Maritime Alps. France. My favourite of the European blues, I first saw Meleager's on a trip to the Maritime Alps with Bob L back in 2011. We found a male along the roadside when driving through the Gorge du Cians, and a further male and female in a meadow further south, but I only managed a few underside shots, and a rather poor photo of a male upperside. For the next few years I searched for it again in the same area, but it wasn't until 2015, during a few days spent in the company of John C and Kate, that I finally got an upperside shot of the female. This individual has some wear to its forewing edges, but nevertheless shows exactly why it is my favourite blue species: the scalloped hingwing edge, the whiteish marginal markings; the contrasting dazzling shades of blue, that prominent discal spot. Just pure eye-candy! Photographed at around 1000m above sea level at a well-known hotspot for this and other species.