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Butterflies of the French Alps: Mercantour & Queyras

Butterflies of the French Alps: Mercantour & Queyras


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A chance to visit and explore some of the best butterfly hotspots in the French Alps!

This is a 2 centre butterflying holiday, set amidst magnificent scenery in an unspoilt part of France, where there is a richness of butterflies – both in terms of species diversity and the numbers of butterflies themselves.

The Mercantour National Park is one of the richest butterfly regions in Europe, with over 150 species recorded from the immediate locality. It is also home to over 2,000 species of flowering plants, 400 of which are endemic to the region. They include the iconic Martagon Lily (Lilium martagon) and a number of species of Houseleek (Sempervivum) and Gentian (Gentiana).

In the Mercantour we will stay for three nights in a lovely small hamlet, surrounded by rich butterfly habitat. In mid-July the species diversity is at its peak and it is quite possible to see over 40 species within a short walk from the hotel (our group in 2014 saw 63 species there on the first day!). The location provides access to the Tinée valley and eastwards to the Valdeblore region and onward to the Vésubie valley. We shall be visiting a number of species “hot-spots” from this base, ranging in altitudes of 900m to 2,000m and beyond 2,300m. We will also visit the higher reaches of the Tinée valley which leads ultimately to the Col de la Bonnette, the highest road pass in Europe at just over 2,800m.

The Queyras Regional Nature Park is located in the French Hautes-Alpe in the southern Alps, close to the Italian border, ringed by 3,000m jagged peaks. It is France as it used to be: uncrowded, untouristy and welcoming. Its remoteness has helped to keep it unspoilt and preserve a sense of undisturbed natural beauty. The butterflies here are as abundant as the scenery is spectacular! In 2017 we recorded over 130 species in a week.

During our four day stay we will visit various habitats between 1,300 and 2,700m to enjoy the high diversity of mountain butterflies. Dry grasslands are home of Great Sooty Satyr, Osiris Blue, Mountain Alcon Blue, Escher’s Blue, Turquoise Blue. Woodland clearings and margins host Silvery Argus, Titania Fritillary, Purple Emperor, Large Ringlet etc. Subalpine meadows are full of flowers visited by Apollo, Mountain Clouded Yellow, Mountain Dappled White, Niobe Fritillary and Chestnut Heath. Higher up, alpine grasslands will be explored for Warren’s and Dusky Grizzled Skippers, Small Apollo, Mountain and Shepherd’s Fritillaries, Cynthia’s Fritillary and many species of Ringlets, whilst screes have a specialized fauna with Sooty and Silky Ringlets and the uncommon Alpine Grayling.

Walking will vary from easy short walks on flat tracks, medium-length walks (200-300m upwards) and possibly a longer walk with 700m upwards to find some high altitude species such as Cranberry Blue and Moorland Clouded Yellow.

Some of the places we will visit include a Valley around Ristolas for a gentle walk to enjoy subalpine butterflies and flowers, Belvédère du Viso, where a broad track goes through extensive meadows. On the track itself mud-puddling can be excellent with many Blues and Skippers easy to observe and to photograph. Other spots include Lac Egorgéou: a group of lakes at 2,400-2,500m famous for scarce plants and uncommon alpine butterflies and Col d’Agniel: on the border with Italy, one of the highest road in the Alps (2,744 m) and with good access to high mountain butterflies and flowers. We may also visit Abriès for meadows in the valley and a dry south-facing slope just above.

This promises to be a fantastic and very popular tour – we recommend booking early to avoid disappointment!




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