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Dupont's, Nettle-trees and Festoons, Spanish Triple. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jos   

Spanish Festoon


Primarily a short trip to Catalonia to search for Spanish Festoons, Nettle-tree Butterflies and other early season butterflies, the trip evolved a little to include a detour to seek Dupont's Lark, one of last of Europe's regular breeding birds that I had yet to see. With this in mind, travelling from 7-14 April 2017, the basic itinerary was a day on the Belchite Steppes for the Dupont's Lark, then a day in the Ebro Delta, then the remainder of the week in northern Catalonia, looking for the target butterflies.




Green-underside Blue




By the week's end, I had amassed a total of 45 species of butterfly, including both Spanish Festoon and Nettle-tree Butterfly, as well as a nice selection of other species including Provence Hairstreak, Black-eyed Blue, Panoptes Blue and Green-underside Blue.





In addition, though very much a secondary activity on this trip, I also recorded 155 species of bird, the highlights being the Dupont's Lark and a number of classic Spanish species such as Purple Swamphen, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Lesser Kestrel and Stone Curlew.


As little information is currently available to assist in the planning of a butterfly trip to this area, this report firstly details the localities visited, then provides a day-to-day account of key species seen and finally concludes with a full systematic list of all species seen. As this was a trip specifically targeting early season species, it is worth noting that a similar trip later in the year would provide a far higher diversity of species, albeit without several of the species recorded on this trip. This would especially be the case in the Pyrenean foothills, where a summer trip would greatly benefit from exploration of high altitude meadows (that were not visited on this trip). Details are not given for the Ebro Delta, as almost no butterflies were seen at this locality (though Provence Hairstreak and other species were seen in the dry hillsides to the immediate west of the delta).






Coordinates: El Planeron track: 41.36809, -0.63095

                      Butterfly area: 41.32211, -0.72015

Altitude: 255-370 meters.



A birding locality, the main species being Dupont's Lark on the La Planeron track, with Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stone Curlew, Lesser Kestrel and Griffon Vulture also seen, as well as Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Thekla & Crested Larks. Few butterflies noted on the dry steppe, but vegetated roadside verges in the area, particularly aside olive groves a few kilometres south-west, supported a number of species, including Swallowtail, Mallow Skipper and Spanish Brown Argus.





Coordinates: 42.05890, 3.00362

Altitude: 20 meters.

Spanish Brown Argus



Open riverine woodland, meander loops and grassland. Excellent site for Spanish Festoon and a number of other species, including Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Spanish Brown Argus, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Mallow Skipper.

Scop's Owl, Wryneck, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Woodlark and Crested Tit also here.







Coordinates: 42.05877, 3.12779

Altitude: 15-170 meters.




Limestone massive, with rich assortment of habitats including meadows and olive groves at lower altitudes, then scrub and open stony slopes higher up. Good access via a track leading to Santa Caterina hermitage – many butterflies seen from this track, including Province Hairstreak, Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Black-eyed Blue, Panoptes Blue, Green-underside Blue, Province Orange Tip and Southern White Admiral.



Meadows and olive groves immediately above Torres de Montgri also productive with species including Swallowtails, Clouded Yellows and Province Hairstreak. Birds included Woodlark, Firecrest and Crested Tit.




Coordinates: 42.27806, 2.90307

Altitude: 275 meters.

Garriga d Emporda




Heathland type habitat on limestone plateau, with scattered olive groves and some pines. Relatively sparse butterfly population, but some good species including Panoptes Blue, Long-tailed Blue, Berger's Clouded Yellow and Dingy Skipper.







Coordinates: 42.36252, 2.85839

Altitude: 110 meters.





Excellent meadows and riverine vegetation alongside a small stream. Numerous butterflies, including many Spanish Festoon, Swallowtail and Iberian Scarce Swallowtail, Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Black-eyed Blue, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Weaver's Fritillary. Habitat looks good for Nettle-tree Butterfly.







Coordinates: Tapis: 42.37988, 2.70154

                      Costoja: 42.36553, 2.65542

Altitude: 580-815 meters.





Meadows and woodland edge either side of the French-Spanish border. Camberwell Beauty, Iberian Scarce Swallowtail, Berger's Clouded Yellow and Queen of Spain Fritillary, plus numerous Brimstones, Wood Whites, Green Hairstreaks, etc.






7. OIX

Coordinates: Slopes: 42.28130, 2.52556

                      Stream: 42.26965, 2.52988

Altitude: 395-690 meters.







Very good area in the Pyrenean foothills. Two main areas for butterflies:

a. Stony slopes above the village - excellent with species including Iberian Scarce Swallowtail, Berger's Clouded Yellow, Black-eyed Blue, Green-underside Blue, Adonis Blue, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Weaver's Fritillary, Marbled Fritillary and Grizzled Skipper.


b. Small stream with path through narrow line of riverine woodland – highlight Nettle-tree Butterfly, plus puddling Iberian Scarce Swallowtails, Black-eyed Blues, Green-underside Blues, Panoptes Blues and Dingy Skipper.












42.28731, 2.62078

Altitude: 940 meters.






High meadow and extensive low woodland, accessed via a long rocky track from the village of Sadernes. Amongst the butterflies, many Brimstones and one Nettle-tree Butterfly, but overall not very productive.








Coordinates: 42.21272, 3.09153

Altitude: 0.5 meters.





Primarily visited for birds and early in the morning before many butterflies active, only species seen Large White, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral. Good for birds however with Squacco, Purple and Night Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets, many White Storks, numerous passage Wood Sandpipers, etc, etc.







Coordinates: 41.31263, 2.11612

Altitude: 3 meters.

Short stop prior to depature from Barcelona airport. Primarily a birding location, but numerous Speckled Woods and Small Whites present, plus a few other species including Swallowtail, Red Admiral and Painted Lady.





7 April. Arrival in Barcelona.

Late afternoon flight to Spain, arriving early evening to warm sunshine. Picked up a car and drove a few kilometres south to accommodation in Vilanova i la Geltrú. Unidentified bats hawking in the twilight. Few hours relaxing, then a little after 3.00 am, set out for the three hour drive to Belchite.



8 April. Belchite.


An hour before dawn, barely a degree above freezing on the legendary El Planeron track, steppe vanishing into the darkness either side. Evocative songs of Dupont's Larks already echoing out, one at very close quarters, a wonderful backdrop to roll back the car seat and have a short snooze.




Closer to 7.00 am, light trickles across the landscape, Lesser Short-toed Larks and Calandra Larks join the dawn chorus. Began scanning the semi-twilight for the closest of the Dupont's Larks, this individual though falling silent as the light builds. No luck, the bird is not showing.


Corn Bunting


Moved a few hundred metres, more Dupont's Larks singing, though also rather intermittent. Crested Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks and Calandra Larks also singing and showing, plus Corn Buntings. No visual on any of the Dupont's Larks. Bubbling calls as Black-bellied Sandgrouse pass over, a Marsh Harrier sweeps over the southern horizon. Sun climbs and I fear my critical dawn window for the Dupont's Lark might be closing for the day, none are now singing and none are showing.



A solitary Stone Curlew stalks across open land, more Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying over. Sun rising, I began to resign myself for a long haul on the Dupont's Larks, but decided to return to my original site some hundreds of metres back. Dupont's Lark singing again! And there, as prominent as could be, the bird sitting atop a scrubby bush and singing in the bright sunlight. A weird looking species, almost like the body of a lark with the head of a chunky pipit stuck on an extended neck! And there it stayed, singing and showing near continuously for a full hour from 9.30 am, occasionally shifting from bush to bush but rarely disappearing for more than a few minutes.


Duponts Lark

Duponts Lark


I now had the rest of the day to explore the general area and to divert some attention to butterflies. Back towards the main road, a Little Owl and a pair of fine Lesser Kestrels graced a tumbled down farmhouse, while a meander through an area of low hills and rocky outcrops added both Short-toed Lark and Thekla Lark to the day's growing lark list. Also visited the bombed out ruins of Belchite town, Blue Rock Thrush the most impressive inhabitant today, along with huge numbers of chattering House Sparrows. Here too my first butterfly of the day, a Small White fluttering by.


Mallow Skipper




In this arid landscape however, a land largely devoid of flowers and significant greenery, butterflies seemed initially thin on the ground. It was only as the temperature finally cruised past a decent 18 C that a few butterflies took to the wing. Best areas were the verges on the local road a little to the south-west of the El Planeron track, especially where it passed through a few orchard groves. Here I finally stumbled across an assortment of species, Small Whites, Bath Western Dappled WhiteWhites and Western Dappled Whites predominating, but also quite a few Clouded Yellows, Spanish Brown Argus and Common Blues. Also one Swallowtail, one Mallow Skipper and a couple of Wall Browns. A bit below what I expecting though – a grand total of nine species and perhaps 110 individual butterflies. Only hoped it would get better on the coast.







Having seen Dupont's Lark, my main target, I decided to quite the steppes and return to the coast, heading towards the Ebro Delta for the next day. Griffon Vultures circling as I departed. Stopped at a random roadside valley near Lleida en route back – lots of the same species of butterflies, plus Painted Lady and a rather nice Iberian Scarce Swallowtail. Back at the coast, returned to the hotel in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Monk Parakeets on the seafront, Crested Tit in small trees in the main shopping street, Alpine Swifts overhead.



9 April. Ebro Delta.


I had thought the Ebro Delta might be a land of lush green area, perhaps meadows full of flowers and associated butterflies. How wrong I was! Bar the actual wetlands, the entire delta was quite a hot dry place, very few flowers bordering verges or indeed anywhere else.


Audouins Gull


From a bird angle, the lagoons and marshes were everything you'd expect from one of Spain's premier wetland localities - large breeding colonies of Audouin's Gulls, small flocks of Slender-billed Gulls, a few Gull-billed Terns, hordes of Glossy Ibises, a good assortment of herons, including Night Heron, Squacco Heron and Purple Heron, plus Greater Flamingoes, abundant Purple Swamphens, a few Collared Pratincoles and much more. In total, I saw a grand total of 79 species of bird.




As for butterflies however, it was a bit of a wash-out. A mere two species and just five individuals noted – two Red Admirals, the remainders Small Whites!


Provence Hairstreak


Attempting the remedy the lack of butterflies, next stops were in the lightly forested slopes west of the delta. Still pretty poor for butterflies, but after quite a bit of meandering, I finally hit a purple patch – first an exquisite Provence Hairstreak, a new species for me, then a nice selection of added extras in a single meadow, perhaps 70 or so butterflies in all, 12 Swallowtails heading the cast, Western Dappled Whites, Mallow Skipper and Wall Brown amongst the rest.



Nice end to the day, but still only nine species this day, sincerely hoped things would improve as I moved north into northern Cataonia in the coming days.



10 April. Jaffre & Montgri.


A shift of location this day, moving 250 km north of the Ebro Delta to the Girona region. And with the kilometres rolling by, so the landscape became ever greener and ever better for butterflies.


First stop this day was in a quite splendid setting near the small town of Jaffre, an area of open alluvial forest, ox bows and meadow patches in a meander of the Ter River. Had identified this area via satellite maps, but had high hopes that it might produce Spanish Festoon, my main target of the trip. Got there a little before 10 a.m., a warm sun already taking the temperature up over the 16 C mark, Cetti's Warblers in the rank stuff, Wryneck and Golden Oriole singing from the pines, the plaintive calls of a Scops Owl also gently floating across. A couple of Hoopoes flopped up from sandy tracks, two Bee-eaters adorned a snag above an old meander loop.


Spanish Festoon


No butterflies flying on arrival, but it took all of five minutes to find my first ...and what a corker it was, exactly what I was looking for, a superb Spanish Festoon sunning on a flower stalk! And then I found another! All too soon, as the temperature continued its upward path, more and more butterflies began to appear, amongst them plentiful Spanish Brown Arguses and Common Blues, a couple of dozen Green Hairstreaks, the occasional Clouded Yellow, a dozen Small Heaths and a Queen of Spain Fritillary.


Small Copper



Also added my only Small Copper of the trip, plus both Large and Small Whites, a Red Admiral and a couple of Painted Ladies. Best of the lot however, loads of Spanish Festoons, at least 30 in all, mostly preferring slightly damper areas with flowers. Truly nice. And as a perfect compliment, several Swallowtails and quite a few vivid Cleopatras too.




Spotless Starlings, Crested Tits and Wood Larks also present, it was really a pleasant couple of hours here. Early afternoon I finally departed, driving a half hour or so to the beachside Gola del Ter, my base for the next few days. Dumped my stuff in accommodation and backtracked a little to Montgri, an impressive limestone massive that towers above the town of Torroella de Montgrí.


To be continued...


Last Updated ( Sunday, 23 April 2017 )