Summer in the Swiss Alps - June & July 2011
Our main holiday, actually our only holiday of 2011 was taken after Helen broke up from college. We had planned a three week camping trip to the Swiss Alps, staying in the Val díHerens. This trip report gives a summary of areas visited and sightings from each. Please hover your mouse curser over the pictures for picture titles.
On the evening of the 24th June I drove non-stop from Nottingham to Les Hauderes in the Val díHerens in the Swiss region of Valais, arriving at around five in the evening of the 25th June.
I decided to stay here, because when I was a young teenager my family camped in Evolene, slightly lower down the valley. I thought it would be interesting to see how the valley had fared over 30 plus years.
We picked our spot and pitched the tent and were having our first campsite meal at eight in the evening, approximately 24 hours after leaving Nottingham the day before.
The journey included the 90 minute ferry crossing, at a cost of £78 return and a couple of minor detours due to French road sign incidents. I didnít use the pay routes in France to save money and to take in some of the French scenery en route. However, on reaching the Swiss border we purchased a Swiss motorway pass for around £40 and sped along the Rhone valley at 120 kph.
We picked up Short-toed Eagle in France plus Buzzard and Black Kite along the Rhone Valley.
After pitching the tent we had a short walk along the River Borgne, a melt water river running the length of the valley. Along the far side of the river I found a single roosting Eros Blue and a Glanville Fritillary that was very small and worn. This was the only Glanville for the trip.
Along the river were Common Sandpiper, breeding Dipper and Grey Wagtails. Other common birds around the campsite included the mountain race of Willow Tit and nesting Fieldfare. Later in the holiday we saw Black Redstarts with young around the tents and caravans.
Iíll mention Molignon Campsite at this point which was well run by the friendly Hervť Rossier, who speaks excellent English. The amenities were modern and clean with plenty of showers, hot water and pot washing facilities. There was also a covered swimming pool that we didnít use and a lovely restaurant on site. I would definitely recommend the campsite. Most campers were Dutch along with a few other nationalities.
After a well deserved sleep and a flat lilo which Helen kindly volunteered to sleep on, we awoke before everyone else, had breakfast and headed off to meet our friend Guy Padfield who had kindly agreed to spend several days showing us some sites for butterflies. Guy has a vast knowledge of the local Swiss butterflies and was an invaluable aid during our stay. I cannot thank Guy enough for his help.
We travelled down the valley being overtaken by the mad locals on the very windy road to Sion. We met Guy at the train station at around 8-30 and nipped in for some provisions, mainly beer, then headed back up the valley to a spot by the river at around 800 metres altitude. We walked through dappled shade in a lightly wooded area and past some small meadows where a particular Fritillary breeds. Although we were probably past its main flight season Guy managed to find us a reasonably good specimen of Nickerlís Fritillary, the particular rarity of this area.
In the meadows along with this butterfly were many other species including Bergerís Clouded Yellow, Scarce Copper, Purple Shot Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, huge numbers of freshly emerged Great Sooty Satyrs, Heath Fritillary, Knapweed Fritillary, Marbled White, Green-veined White, Turquoise Blue, Amandaís Blue, Meleagerís Blue, Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Large Blue, Holly Blue, Oberthurís Grizzled Skipper, Large Skipper and Red Admiral.
Wow what a feast of butterflies. Guy had mentioned in our email correspondence that it was nothing like Britain and butterflies were everywhere. This was certainly true from our first experience.
We hadnít finished at this site yet. We walked along the riverside in the dappled shade finding Wood White and Apollo nectaring by the path. On the path itself were Purple Emperor and another target butterfly, Lesser Purple Emperor. Unfortunately the Lesser Purple Emperor didnít allow us to get too close. Along the paths were also White Admiral, Marbled Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Violet Fritillary, a worn Safflower Skipper, Carline Skipper and Small Skipper.
We took our fill of these wonderful insects including an Apollo that had a small beetle wandering around on its wings and headed back to the car. Guy mentioned it would be a good time to check for puddling Blues by the river.
Unfortunately we had lingered too long and the locals had arrived to play and picnic by the river. We did however, see a few Blues around the car parking area including Mazarine Blue, Provencal Short-tailed Blue and Small Blue, not to mention a Mountain Argus also known as the Northern Brown Argus, found here in a more southerly climate.
We clocked up around 39 species at the one site before heading off to a site in the next valley the Val díAnniviers.
The site in the Val díAnniviers was a little higher, well about twice as high at around 1800 metres above sea level. After parking up and inspecting some butterflies around the car park that included the likes of Sooty Copper, Purple-edged Copper, False Heath Fritillary, Almond-eyed Ringlet, and Chapmanís Blue, we headed off up what I thought to be a steep path alongside a mountain stream to a spot where the path crosses the stream. Along the way we saw Chequered Skippers, Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Alpine Heath.
By the time we reached the highest point of our walk I was suffering intensely in the heat and altitude and was struggling to walk up the hillside. Guy on the other hand was striding ahead with ease. This was the point where he became Guy ďThe Mountain GoatĒ Padfield.
Guy found our quarry an Asian Fritillary, another rarity of the area. He also found an Alpine Argus (Alpine Blue) for us and whilst walking back down the path to the car we were passed by a Mountain Alcon Blue. Guy found another on the hillside above the path but I was too worn out to go and look for it. Other species found higher up were Cranberry Blue, Alpine Grayling and Blind Ringlet.
Back at the car Guy suddenly rushed off net in hand to capture a smallish butterfly with a pale stripe on the underside of the hind wing. He was extremely pleased to have found a Silvery Argus. It was released and Guy jumped in to photograph the butterfly. I waited patiently and as he finished it promptly flew off and couldnít be found. Guy had a guilt complex about this for the next three weeks. I did find another later in the holiday. Not the beautiful silvery blue coloured male that he found but a dull brown female. I did get some video footage of the species though. No need to feel guilty Guy and you found it anyway.
Some familiar butterflies were spotted whilst listening to the Jays and Nutcrackers calling from the Arolla Pines. These were Orange Tip, Dingy Skipper and Small Copper.
At this point I gave up counting the number of species we had seen and was just enjoying the whole experience. I still havenít counted up the total number of species we saw but will add the total to the end of this report.
On Monday the 27th June we met up again with Guy at the station in Sion and headed off towards the Italian border via the Simplon Pass. On the way we stopped off at a site known to Guy to look for a couple of species. We didnít find one, the Dusky Meadow Brown but the other, Mountain Zephyr Blue was located. A female posing on what may have been its caterpillarís food plant. Whilst watching this pristine little butterfly two larger specimens approached us in the form of Lesser Woodland Grayling on the road and a Black-veined White that alighted in a tree close by.
We headed up to the highest point along the road and parked the car up.
Beside the car park were some puddling butterflies including Purple-edged Copper, Idas Blue and an extremely aberrant Mazarine Blue. The upperside was completely normal buts its underside had huge smudged black spots.
We had a walk up to higher ground finding many more new species along the way. These included some commoner species such as Scarce Copper, Mountain Ringlet and Darwinís Heath plus many more mountain species including Peak White, Mountain and Moorland Clouded Yellow, Large Wall Brown, Escherís Blue, Marsh Fritillary, Shepherdís Fritillary, Grisonís Fritillary, Red-underwing Skipper, Damon Blue and Glandon Blue.
Of the two Clouded Yellows, the Moorland seemed to prefer the lower slopes with Mountain mainly being higher up. One Mountain Clouded Yellow male we found had very recently emerged and was extremely soft and wobbly as it pumped up its wings. It shared the day with Helen for its birthday. The Marsh Fritillaries were of the form debilis the mountain form of Marsh Fritillary. Grisonís Fritillary was overall more orange than the Heath Fritillaries and had a mark in S1 of the forewing that reminded me of a fish with bones head and tail left. That could just be me though.
We found a spot where Geranium Argus were puddling with Glandon Blue and Cranberry Blues and passing one particularly marshy area Guy spotted a female Cynthiaís Fritillary.
By now my legs were spent again and Guy headed off at another spot to look for Ringlets whilst Helen and I ambled along at snailís pace taking in the scenery and more Apolloís plus a Marbled Ringlet amongst the numerous other species. At one point we sat down for a drink and watched a pair of Darwinís Heaths either battling with each other or one was a female fending off an amorous male, Iím not sure which and I was too tired to ask them.
Guy eventually came down the mountainside having found himself some interesting Ringlets although not one he was specifically looking for and we headed back to our tent for some tea and rest.
The Simplon Pass was not only great for butterflies and spectacular scenery but held an interesting array of alpine plants.
This was our last trip out with Guy for a couple of days and as usual we met at Sion train station before heading east along the motorway. The first stop was at a low altitude spot where we walked along the River Vispa. Here we found the irresistible Apollo nectaring along the side of the path. At certain points there were hundreds of flowers and nectaring amongst them were Small White, Southern Small White and Bath White along with Ilex Hairstreak, my only Clouded Yellow of the trip, Marbled Fritillary, Meleagerís Blue and a Marbled Skipper.
We walked further along the riverside in both directions finding Purple Hairstreak, Lesser Woodland Grayling, Scarce Swallowtail, Long-tailed Blue (a female and the only one of the trip), Brimstone, Provencal Short-tailed Blue, Adonis Blue, Holly Blue and a brief view of a Southern White Admiral as it flew off from a puddle on the path. The only bird of note in the area was a singing Western Bonelliís Warbler.
As it began to warm up to well above scorching we headed up the Saastal to the alpine highlands.
The weather was much more comfortable up in the mountains at above 2000 metres as we walked to a particular high point, finding along the way; Small Apollo, Peak White, neither of which were prepared to settle, Mountain Clouded Yellow, Swiss Brassy Ringlet, Silky Ringlet, Dewy Ringlet, Mnestraís Ringlet, Grisonís Fritillary, Eros Blue, Idas Blue and Dusky Grizzled Skipper.
These species were all fantastic but paled in comparison to what we had come to see, Cynthiaís Fritillary. Although we had seen an orange and brown female the previous day this was nothing compared to the striking appearance of the orange chocolate and white males. We had trouble locating this butterfly to start with but eventually found up to 4 maleís hill topping and attacking anything that ventured into their territory. This was definitely one of my highlights of the holiday.
Whilst walking back down to the car we heard the unmistakeable calls of Alpine Chough which we found on a high cliff face along with a bird whoís call had kept me guessing as to its identity for some time. The bird was a singing Alpine Accentor.
This was our first day out alone without Guy and his invaluable knowledge, so we decided to stay local. The weather was undecided with intermittent bouts of rain. We headed off towards Arolla in sunshine and made the most of it having a walk through the Arolla Pines just emerging above the tree line before the clouds descended. We rushed back to the car just in time before the rain came down.
Whilst the sun was shining we clocked up a few mountain species of butterflies including Mazarine Blue, Amanda's Blue, Alpine Heath, Swiss Brassy Ringlet, Blind Ringlet, Mnestraís Ringlet, Lesser Mountain Ringlet, Almond-eyed Ringlet and two not previously seen before, Eriphyle Ringlet and Bright-eyed Ringlet. Other species included Shepherdís Fritillary and Dark Green Fritillary. Most of the butterflies were easier to photograph and film under the clouds as they were prepared to sit in the cooler air. It did make them more difficult to find though.
We sat out the rain in the car watching a few birds around the car park. Bullfinches sang from the pines and a family party of the mountain race of Willow Tit passed by. A Fieldfare was carrying beak loads of food to feed its young, Nutcrackers, Short-toed Treecreeper and Redpolls called from the pines, whilst Peregrine, Crag Martin and Alpine Chough were seen overhead. Not bad for a rainy day.
Another day of intermittent weather was forecast. Therefore, we headed for areas where we wouldnít be too far from the car. Our first port of call was the Feschelbach Gorge, a spot known to be a breeding site for Wallcreeper, a bird I have looked for on several occasions but never seen.
We arrived at the gorge and parked in a lay-by and headed out onto the road bridge, binoculars in hand, hoping for success. The birds are apparently normally seen flying and feeding down at the bottom of the gorge above the stream about 200 feet below the bridges. We spent a good 2 hours searching from the vantage point of both bridges but not a Wallcreeper to be seen. There were two families of Kestrels nesting in the gorge and I had my suspicions about their taste for Wallcreepers. There was a small side gorge that went off from the main gorge which may have held the birds but after trying at the gorge three times that day we saw not a sign or even a splash of red, grey and black. Very disappointing.
In between the non Wallcreeper episodes we had a walk in the woods near Susten where we found Carline Skipper and Lesser Marbled Fritillary and a Red Helleborine.
After a drive up to Leukerbad north of the Rhone we stopped beside the road to look at some puddling butterflies and found more Carline Skippers, False Heath Fritillaries and several Damon Blues in fresh condition.
Further along the road we had a short woodland walk where we managed to locate Large Wall Brown, Scarce Copper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Titania's Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and Amandaís Blue.
We returned to the campsite via the spot beside the river Borgne to find a Baton Blue puddling with Escherís, Chalkhill and Common Blue. On a grassy bank at the edge of a field, a Wood White caught my eye. It turned out to be Realís Wood White. A Common Wall Lizard was found basking beside one of the small wooden bridges that crossed the river.
Another partially successful day in Valais. Shame about the Wallcreepers.
On the 1st of July we met up with Guy close to his home in the canton of Vaud and had a walk in some local woods looking for the shy Woodland Brown. We were there a little too early as the woodland had not really warmed up and we didnít manage to see any Woodland Browns but were rewarded with Purple Emperor and White-letter Hairstreak that both landed on the path. We also saw Arran Brown and Marbled Fritillary in the woods.
We headed off towards the Bernese Oberland to a spot Guy new for a real treat, Dusky Large Blue. We found the hay meadow and began searching very carefully for the butterflies. However, as soon as we ventured off the path a lady appeared and proceeded to give us a huge telling off for being in the meadow, even though we had followed a path that was already there. We gave up and headed back to the car to walk along the roadside. We found Silver-studded Blue, Lesser Marbled Fritillary and Helen found a gorgeous Titaniaís Fritillary.
She then exclaimed ďare these what weíre looking forĒ and pointed to a mating pair of Dusky Large Blues sat on a Greater Burnet Flower right beside the car, brilliant.
The next site was even more difficult, it was a small meadow at the back of a new housing estate in a village or town I donít even remember the name of. We arrive and parked in the drive of a house and Guy politely knocked on the door to enquire if it was ok to leave the car there. As no one answered we assumed the house was unoccupied before we entered the field. It was overgrown with long grasses and contained plenty of Greater Burnet an essential item for either Dusky or Scarce Large Blue as it their caterpillarís food plant. Both butterflies spend their time sat on top of the flowers of this plant and Dusky Large Blue never really settles on anything else.
We eventually tracked down another pair of mating Large Blue butterflies. This time Scarce Large Blue of which there were several in the field. Incredible good fortune to find mating pairs of two such rare butterflies.
We had a short walk around the estate finding more Titaniaís Fritillary or Tit Frit as they are known to Guy and a male Mountain Green-veined White. Luckily this was alongside a Green-veined White allowing the differences to be noted. It is the female of this species that is extremely heavily marked and easier to separate from Green-veined White.
The next stop was again at a site I donít remember the name of. We stopped in a parking lot and ventured onto some marshy ground between pine trees and found our quarry virtually immediately. This was a small fritillary, the Cranberry Fritillary. There were around three males and a single female on this side of the road plus a couple of Arran Browns basking in the sunshine.
On the other side of the road were much higher numbers of Cranberry Fritillaries including one individual that sat with its wings closed allowing us a close inspection of the lovely underside of this butterfly.
The final stop of the day was at a lake up in the mountains of the Bernese Oberland. This was a beautiful spot with hay meadows around the lake full of Greater Burnet. On many of the Burnet flowers were perched Dusky and Scarce Large Blues.
Some of the Scarce Large Blues sat with their wings open. However, we were told that Dusky Large Blues never sit on anything other than Greater Burnet, the larval foodplant and they never open their wings. I was quite astonished then, to find a female Dusky Large Blue sitting on a Meadowsweet leaf with its wings open.
We even managed to find a Large Blue sitting atop of a Greater Burnet flower making a full set of Large Blues on Greater Burnet.
On the walk back to the car a spanking Chequered Skipper sat on a thistle beside the river, making for an irresistible photo opportunity.
I was going to add that this was the end to another great day but we didnít have any days that werenít great, so just take it as read that we had a great day, every day.
After visiting several places with Guy, we decided to revisit a few and spend a whole day at each photographing and filming the wildlife at each location. On the 2nd July we went back to the site in the Val díAnniviers to see if I could walk up the hillside with any more ease than the first time. I could. Even with my several kilos of filming equipment I managed to walk uphill with much more ease.
We saw many of the same species as on our initial visit including mountain Green-veined White, four ringlet species, Large and Northern Wall Brown, Small and Alpine Heath and many Blues. We found two new fritillaries for the holiday. These were Niobe Fritillary that posed nicely on the path for us and Queen of Spain Fritillary which wouldnít pose for us at all.
We searched through all the Geranium Argus butterflies perched up on the Wood Cranesbills but no matter how many we looked at none materialised into a Silvery Argus. Guy, feel the guilt.
Now weíd been here over a week and new butterflies were not so easy to find. We were getting better views of those we had already seen plus film and photos of some not filmed or photographed before.
On the 3rd July we again stayed local with a trip down by the river with many common species including Common Blue. There were a few more interesting species like Lesser Purple Emperor that just wouldnít sit and be filmed. Thatíll be one for another year as I never did get any decent film of this butterfly. We also saw another Nickerlís Fritillary plus Silver-washed Fritillary, Knapweed Fritillary, Swallowtail, Essex Skipper and our first brightly coloured male Spotted Fritillary.
On the paths were Grayling, several Blues including Damon Blue and White Admiral. Amongst the roadside flowers we found Violet Fritillary again (also known as Weaverís Fritillary) and Bergerís Clouded Yellow. At one point a huge butterfly cast its shadow over us as it flew over our heads. It could have been a Poplar Admiral or just a female Purple Emperor but it wasnít staying around to let us find out.
As the day heated up we headed off up into the mountains around Arolla. We decided to have a walk in the direction of one of the glaciers even though we never got really close, we did walk far enough to run out of butterflies when we found ourselves in a barren area that seemed to be frequented by Mountain Burnet Moths alone, plus some interesting mountain flowers.
A little lower down we did find several mountain species such as Apollo, Peak White, Mountain Green-veined White, Mountain Clouded Yellow, three Copper species and several Blues including a fly by Mountain Alcon Blue. A species that just didnít want to stop.
The first of many Silver-spotted Skippers were seen along the path, mingling with the numerous ringlet species.
Two birds of note were a Goshawk lower down the valley and another accipiter, a Sparrowhawk that dashed across the road in typical Sparrowhawk fashion.
On the 4th we ventured up the Simplon Pass on our own in the hope of finding some more interesting mountain species. We found many of the same as on our previous visit which were all a joy to see. I noticed a few Dragonflies zooming around the heights but nothing stopped to be identified. The mountains pools contained plenty of tadpoles and a ferocious looking Great Diving Beetle larva. At one point an adult frog startled us when it jumped across the path.
We spent several hours sitting beside a couple of mountain streams watching the fritillaries and ringlets. Mountain Fritillary was a new species for the trip and we found a couple of the violet and blue/green females which were amazingly beautiful when they caught the light in the right direction. We found a pair of mating Shepherdís Fritillaries and two pairs of coupled Mountain Fritillaries. Seeing the females helped clinch the IDís as Iím hopeless at differentiating between Mountain and Shepherdís males unless they are very obvious and many arenít.
I did find a smallish blue butterfly that appeared very much like a worn Osiris Blue but it wouldnít be filmed or photographed so it goes down as a maybe.
As we were camped beside a mountain stream and there were plenty of local walks we decided to leave the car at the tent on the 5th and walked from Les Hauderes towards Evolene along the Borgne then up into the mountains where we ventured upon several wooded glades full of butterflies and Martagon Lillies. We stumbled across a lake high up on the hillside. I planned to spend a few hours beside the lake watching the butterflies, looking at the flowers like Burnt Orchid and the Alpine Salamanders in the lake. I even found a Small Apollo that was sitting on flowers posing for its photo.
Then reality sank in. The Small Apollo headed lakeside and suddenly disappeared, only to be rediscovered in the mouth of a frog at the point when around 40 school children descended on the lake to ruin the peaceful scene and go paddling amongst the Salamanders. Oh well time to move on.
We headed back to the woodland glades to sit amongst the flowers and butterflies, for a while anyway until the hoards descended down the same path and decided to stop in our spot for refreshments and path side toiletries.
The day was entertaining but could have been more peaceful without the kids. We saw 8 species of skipper, 2 Apolloís, 6 species of White including Large White, 3 coppers, 10 blues , 10 Fritillary species plus Browns, Ringlets and even a Painted Lady up by the lake.
Birds of interest included Whinchat and Nutcracker and we spotted a Red Squirrel of the black form hiding amongst the Arolla Pines.
The 6th was another hot day that was therefore spent high up in the mountains avoiding the heat and most of the other people. We wandered around the heights of the Saastal highlands looking at mountain plants including Alpenrose and many mountain butterflies including what I thought to be Alpine Grizzled Skipper. This was a very worn specimen found nectaring over the edge of a high drop which I managed to film. Well its upperside anyway. I would have needed climbing rope and crampons to get an underside shot.
In one area we found a rather worn male Cynthiaís Fritillary plus another slightly better specimen. Iím glad we found these butterflies earlier in the holiday to catch these butterflies at their best. There were quite a few Dusky Grizzled Skippers about and I even managed some film footage of them. What was even more amazing was to film the most difficult ringlet of all, Dewy Ringlet. These guys go and hide even when they hear that youíre on the mountain, so finding one that would sit and nectar whilst I filmed it was brilliant. Iím guessing it must have been completely deaf and hadnít heard we were there. No photos I'm afraid though.
On our way back down to where the car was parked we were scared half to death by a Marmot that decided to blast out its warning whistle more or less right next to us on a steep path. I almost messed myself whilst Helen laughed her head off.
We then found another big male Marmot that sat lounging on a rock. Helen stayed on the path whilst I sneaked a bit closer behind a scree slope. When I popped up over the top he just sat there nonchalantly on his rock watching me, thinking, I can run a lot faster than that extremely unfit English fella over there. We noticed several other Marmots feeding on the mountainsides on the walk back down. I assume they probably only come out early morning and evening when there are less folks about.
As we reached a tunnel through the rocks I heard the same song we heard on our last visit here. I then noticed a family party of Alpine Accentors moving along the rock face at the side of the tunnel. We headed on through the tunnel thinking we wouldnít see them again.
However, as we came out into the light at the far end of the tunnel the birds were right beside us on the rocks. Some mad scrambling with the video camera paid off with some close footage of these birds. As we left to pack the gear into the car a fluffy Black redstart chick put in an appearance.
A few other birds were noted flying around the cliffs including Raven, Alpine Chough and Crag Martin.
The weather forecast was fairly dismal for the 7th and we decided to stay out of the mountains and hopefully avoid the worst of the weather with thunder storms being forecast.
We started the day by walking along the path by the River Vispa looking for lowland species. Amongst 7 skipper species we found Red-underwing Skipper and Mallow Skipper.
Several Apollo were nectaring by the river, one of which had a red spot on the upper forewing making me think immediately it was a Small Apollo. However, I have since been informed it is more likely to be an aberrant Apollo. Cíest la vie.
There was a huge increase in numbers of Scarce Swallowtails in the area and the 2 or 3 buddleias were covered in them plus the odd Common Swallowtail and Apollo. There were even a Wall and Lesser Woodland Grayling making the most of the nectar rich plants.
We again found a Purple Hairstreak puddling by the path but the Ilex Hairstreaks had all but gone. One extremely worn individual was seen nectaring close to the path. There were a few Spotted Fritillaries on the ground and a single very fresh looking Queen of Spain Fritillary had set up territory and was defending it against all comers. It gave some stunning views as it perched up high surveying its territory.
Amongst the usual suspects was our second Brimstone of the trip, two fighting Southern White Admirals and a definite Dusky Meadow Brown.
The weather worsened a little and we headed for Leukerfeld, an area of ponds beside an industrial estate in the Rhone Valley. We had a pleasant walk around but the wind had picked up making insect watching very difficult. We found a few White-legged Damselflies and a Blue-tailed Damselfly. From the hide we spotted a couple of Kingfishers and heard a Reed Warbler but the highlight of the area was a pair of nesting Bee Eaters which we watched hawking for insects and taking them to feed to their young. Unfortunately the nest hole was behind a large bush so we couldnít see too much there. Along the route we also spotted a Hoopoe, probably when we paid another visit to the Wallcreeper site and dipped again.
On the return journey to the campsite we visited the Marais de Grone where there is another hide that is accessed from the main cycle track along the riverside. We spent some time in the hide dodging a couple of heavy rain showers. There were a few Herons, Mallard and 2 or 3 Kingfishers but not much else. Some huge Carp amused the local kids who stopped off for a look but we didnít see any sign of the animals we hoped might put in an appearance, the local Beavers. These have been introduced to the area but I wouldnít really expect to have seen them as they are generally nocturnal.
We headed back to the car sheltering under the trees as a heavy storm hit the valley.
The weather appeared to be more favourable on the 8th so we decided to head off into the mountains. We drove the short distance from Les Hauderes to the end of the road through La Forclaz. Just after La Forclaz we surprised a pair of Red-backed Shrikes by the roadside before reaching the end of the driveable section of the road. We then began the walk along one of the tracks up towards the Ferpecle Glacier. We headed up fairly early and were out on the mountainside on our own at around 8 in the morning in the hope of seeing some signs of mammals before more walkers arrived on the mountain.
We were in luck. As we walked in the shadow of the mountains I noticed a movement above us probably 200 metres away. It was a grazing male Chamois. It looked up as Iím sure it knew we were there, probably way before I noticed it, then put its head back down and carried on grazing. After watching and filming it for at least 20 minutes whilst it grazed and groomed itself, it suddenly raised its head and stared at something in the distance. It was then I saw the second Chamois, possibly a smaller immature male or a female. The second Chamois made a sudden dash towards us down the mountainside with the larger male in hot pursuit. I picked up my camera gear and ran in the hope of cutting the pair off as they headed for a point lower down on the path we were on. The unfit Englishman was no match for a couple of Chamois in their prime. We never saw either of them again. They disappeared into thin air.
There were some interesting alpine plants and a good number of mountain butterflies along the walk including a very obliging Peak White that perched up for a while to warm up in the morning sunshine. On the way back down we also managed to find a male Small Apollo with red in the correct position on its forewing confirming its identity.
Birds of interest along the way included Western Bonelliís Warbler, Black Redstart, Nutcracker and Crested Tit.
On the 9th with another fair weather forecast we decided to try another local walk from Eison on the eastern side of the valley up as far as the Lona Pass.
The start was very arduous due to the steep incline which had us resting at regular intervals and we didnít see a great deal through the first fields and past many small mountainside houses.
Once we entered onto some pasture land and stopped to watch the local Nutcrackers warning some overhead Ravens we began to see more butterflies including Swiss Brassy Ringlet and a Queen of Spain Fritillary.
Further up along the walk we were in alpine meadows bisected by fast flowing alpine streams. It was around these that many butterflies were observed. There were several skipper species including Olive and Red-underwing. A female Small Apollo floated by, stopping only briefly as did the Moorland Clouded Yellows. The occasional Mountain Clouded Yellow and Peak White whizzed by in search of a mate or the perfect nectar source. The Ringlets were their usual difficult selves never settling for quite long enough to get an ID or film them. We did note Lesser Mountain, Mountain (Small Mountain), Blind, Mnestraís and Swiss Brassy Ringlets at most stopping points.
On the path we spotted three large fritillaries feeding on something left by someoneís pooch. Two were very fresh looking Dark Green Fritillaries and the third an even fresher Niobe Fritillary. They shared their prize with a couple of large looking bugs and a grasshopper.
On entering the Lona Pass I noticed some scats on an area of ground where the vegetation had been scratched away by the animals in question. The scats looked of canine origin and contained a lot of fur. Iím not sure what I was thinking but Wolf certainly crossed my mind, especially with the large boulder scree above us that looked to have many caves and hiding places. Weíll never know. At this point a grey furry shaped moved amongst the boulders above us but the adrenaline soon slowed down when we saw it was none other than a big male Marmot out for a stroll.
We took a less strenuous route back down stopping off at a covered BBQ area when it rained for a short while. In the long grass close to the covered area were numerous Almond-eyed Ringlets and Dark Green Fritillaries. As I was filming the ringlets a black and yellow insect buzzed past me and landed on a grass stem. Wow, something Iíd been hoping to see all holiday, an Ascalaphid, almost like a cross between a dragonfly, a butterfly and a lacewing. It even sat on my hand for a bit while Helen photographed it. After a short while it buzzed off and we continued back down to the road and the car.
We stopped off on the road in a lay-by in some woods on seeing a very large dark Ringlet. It appeared to be a Water Ringlet but didnít stay close enough to be photographed or filmed.
We spent the morning of the 10th above some vineyards close to Martigny in the Rhone Valley scrabbling around the steep hillsides. Here we found two species of dragonfly. One I identified as a Black-tailed Skimmer the other is still a work in progress. On the hillside we found a couple of Fritillaries that I suspected were possibly Provencal Fritillary. One was an extremely worn old female the other slightly fresher. Having received help with their identification, both have turned out to be Heath Fritillary.
We identified Southern Small White nectaring on Paniculate Knapweed and found our first female Spotted Fritillary, what a cracker but no photo. We obtained photos of males only. I did manage some film of the females though.
After a fairly lengthy walk we headed back to the woods in Vaud in the hope of finding Woodland Brown. We walked through the woods finding several common butterfly species such as Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and our first Peacock of the holiday.
The first Woodland Brown was high up in a tree whilst the second, an extremely worn individual was lower down but much less photogenic. Finally a third individual appeared low down and was in reasonable condition. This was the point when it began to rain so we rushed back to the car.
On reaching the car a huge dark butterfly launched off the roof and headed for a nearby tree where it sat quivering its wings in the rain. It was a Great Banded Grayling showing its upper wing surface. Needless to say my camera got wet filming the action.
We sat in the car until the rain stopped and just as we got out of the car an even larger butterfly floated past and continued on through the woods. Iím certain it was a Poplar Admiral. We had another short walk but all of the Woodland Browns had disappeared in the rain. We found a few basking Common Wall Lizards and I almost trod on a snake that quickly shot into the undergrowth. I have no idea what species it was.
We left the woods and headed for the high ground stopping at a roadside parking spot looking across at Les Diablerets Mountains. This was Ringlet heaven but ID hell for me.
Most of the ringlets were sat around in wet conditions. It was easy to view their undersides, but as the sun came out only very briefly, their uppersides were kept hidden most of the time. Iím certain we saw Lesser Mountain Ringlet, Almond-eyed Ringlet, Arran Brown plus one new species that was Yellow-spotted Ringlet and our second Bright-eyed Ringlet. These were all found by the side of the road.
Whilst in the Rhone Valley several birds of prey were sighted including Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Goshawk and Honey Buzzard. Whilst in and around the vineyards we saw a few Rock Buntings including a male with a beak full of food for its young.
On the 11th we decided to continue where we left off the previous day and headed back into the mountains of Vaud. Here we had a walk through the fantastic scenery looking at many more Ringlets.
The additional species seen were Arran Brown, Large Ringlet, Eriphyle Ringlet, Mountain Ringlet and Common Brassy Ringlet of which we found only two. We also found a second Bright-eyed Ringlet distinguished from Woodland Ringlet by the black underside to the antennal tips. This specimen was much less photogenic than the fresh example found the previous day.There were also a few Chalkhill Blues a female Adonis Blue and numerous Titania's Fritillaries.
Whilst walking we spotted a Red Fox which was very pale almost white in colour, we found a White-faced Darter Dragonfly sat on a rubbish bin, several Purple Gentians and there were decent numbers of Alpine Chough calling out their electric cries overhead.
The last stop of the day was the lake in the Bernese Oberland we had visited with Guy. There were still quite a few Scarce and Dusky Large Blues in evidence but most were becoming worn and faded.
At one point round the lake Helen attracted a very friendly Large Ringlet that insisted on landing on her neck and elbow. Along with the Scarce and Dusky Large Blues were a lot of Ringlets sitting on top of the Greater Burnet flowers. As it was getting late we left for the 2 hour trip back to the campsite for a late supper that night.
We were to meet up with the UKButterflies group at the Simplon Pass on 12th but headed out fairly early to look for Marbled Ringlets along the pass before meeting up with them.
We found our first Marbled Ringlet at around 9 in the morning before the sun hit the side of the mountain we were searching on. The butterfly began warming up and allowed us good views and photography opportunities before flying up into a tree.
We watched a female Apollo with only one antenna feeding up in the morning gloom alongside Idas Blues and Geranium Argus. On walking back to the car we found a couple more Marbled Fritillaries basking in the early morning sun which had now progressed onto our side of the mountain.
At around 11-30 we met up with Guy and the UKButterflies folks and headed off up the mountainside to find all the usual mountain species including the two Clouded Yellows and several Fritillaries. Several coupled pairs were found and photographed along with Cranberry Blue, of particular interest to Pete ďThe MarmotĒ Eeles (not sure where that came from).
At our highest point Guy identified Large Grizzled Skipper for me as this was a species I had yet to film. The species was duly recorded and filmed before heading back down the mountain, where we missed a beautiful Small Apollo found by Chris Manley.
One other species we saw shouted out by Guy as it motored past was a Green Hairstreak.
The weather forecast for the 13th, unlucky for us was pretty abysmal so we decided to spend some time at the Feschelbach Gorge looking for Wallcreeper as we had made four previous attempts at this spot and been unlucky.
On the way up the small winding road to the gorge we heard a Green type woodpecker call and then a large woodpecker darted across the road in front of us. It wasnít green at all, just black with a touch of red. The car screeched to a halt and I jumped out but couldnít locate the bird in the large pine wood below the road. Wow that was lucky, a Black Woodpecker.
We arrived at the gorge and as it hadnít begun to rain we headed up to the higher foot bridge, supposedly the best place to see Wallcreeper from, even though we hadnít had any luck before.
After a couple of minutes I heard an unfamiliar fluty whistling call and remarked to Helen I imagine thatís what Wallcreeper sounds like. On saying that Helen excitedly shouted, ďI can see oneĒ. ďWhereĒ I exclaimed. ďOver there right opposite us on the cliff wallĒ, came the reply. They werenít in the bottom of the gorge but much closer, a youngster being fed by an adult. The young bird looked fairly recently fledged and kept up a high pitched call to the adult. The adult responded with the weird fluty whistle as it was collecting insects from crevices in the cliff.The following pictures are video grabs as the weather was too dismal for taking photographs.
They were even close enough for me to film after I ran back to the car to get my video camera out. It was the quickest ever removal and set up of my gear in the two year history of my filming exploits. We watched the birds for the short whilst they stayed in view, then it began to rain so we headed back to the car. When the rain stopped the birds had completely disappeared with no sign or sound of them. We tried again later in the day but without success again.
We drove around the area birding from the car and saw Honey Buzzard, Crag Martin and Rock Bunting to add to the list but not much else. We had an early retirement due to rain stopping play and spent some time playing cards in the tent.
With an improvement in the weather we headed east along the Rhone valley as far as the river Vispa where we had a walk along its banks and up the hillside into the vineyards. There were numerous butterflies about including what I suspect was a Provencal Fritillary that remained un-photographed, several male Spotted Fritillaries and a female Lulworth Skipper that was new for the holiday.
Whilst searching for butterflies Helen spotted a Mantid climbing in a bush and later we found several insects nectaring on umbelifers, including a colourful Jewel Beetle and a couple of Tumbling Flower Beetles, so named due to their habit of tumbling out of harms way.
After we had a good morning walk we headed up along the valley into the mountains to where the trees began to thin out leaving more open areas for the sun to get into. On extracting ourselves from the car I noticed something moving fairly high up on the hillside above us. Our second male Chamois of the holiday was feeding by itself. We watched it for some time trying to shelter my video camera from the wind to obtain some footage without the shaking effect of the wind. I eventually sat on the floor behind the car to stop wind movement on the camera.
Eventually we headed off for a walk alongside the river Vispa again. We found plenty of butterflies sheltering in the grasses. It was cool as the sun had slipped behind the clouds which were getting lower by the minute.
Whilst walking we found Geranium Argus, Chalkhill Blue, Small and Essex Skipper, Idas Blue, Silver-spotted Skipper , Alpine Heath and a few Ringlets hiding deep in the grass.
I looked closely at an Argus sitting in the grass and noticed the white streak on the underside of the hindwing was broader and longer than on the nearby Geranium Argus. Great Iíd found a Silvery Argus. Unfortunately it wasnít a male as it had an all brown upper surface to its wings and it wouldnít open its wings to be filmed. I eventually let it walk onto my hand where it immediately opened up its wings for Helen to take a photo. I placed it back onto a flower to obtain some film footage. As soon as it left my hand it closed up its wings not to be opened again in the gloomy light conditions.
Whilst walking we did manage to find our first Edelweiss of the holiday although I knew there were lots more further up the road that we went and had a look at before heading back down the valley out of the clouds.
As we headed down the mountain I stopped to film some of the local large black fighting cows. These beasts are enormous for girls, looking like they would murder any of the bulls we have in Britain. However, I never saw even a single dirty glance from any one of them and they all seemed to get on with each other very well.
Whilst watching the cows I heard the familiar whistle of a Marmot and noticed a little head peeping out of a burrow at me from only 10 feet away. I stayed extremely quiet until my little furry friend lost his fear and came right out of his burrow to have a better look at me. In another burrow entrance close by a female sat quietly whilst her youngster played with her fur. It was a beautiful scene. Shame Helen had stayed in the car.
When I told her she insisted we moved the car so she could photograph the Marmots. I duly moved the car and eventually the lady Marmot popped up had a stretch and a walk around for her photos to be taken before we left and headed back to the campsite.
The 15th was a sad day for us both as it was our last full day in the mountains of Valais. For this reason we decided to stay local and headed off to the Grande Dixance Dam to have a look at the enormous structure and find some mountain birds.
We had visited the dam earlier in the week but the clouds on that particular day were so low it was not possible to see the dam even from the car park which sits directly at the foot of the huge dam wall which is incidentally the highest gravity fed dam in the world.
We reached the car park finding only one other car. We parked up and began the tedious walk up the path to reach the top of the barrage. We initially reached the hotel and its car park where, two Alpine Choughs were scavenging crumbs to feed their youngsters perched on the roof of the hotel.
We left the hotel and continued the difficult climb up to the barrage. On reaching a flat area close to the top of the dam wall we rested amongst the clouds and noticed a family of Black Redstarts on a cliff wall above us. There was also an Alpine accentor up there with them and on the scree slope just above us were two Snowfinches searching for insects to feed to their young. The nest was in a broken pipe set in the wall of the cable car building. These birds looked much better in the natural surroundings of the scree slope. However, on the barrage itself were more Snowfinches nipping in around peopleís feet looking for titbits of food left by visitors. These birds were extremely approachable.
We left the barrage and proceeded upwards to a building on the hillside where we found several Marmots, Twite (I think), Meadow Pipit, Alpine Chough feeding on the mountainsides in small flocks and more Alpine Accentors. We decided on a short circular walk and came back down a small winding path to view the Black Redstart family.
As the cloud began to lift we wandered off around the reservoir to look for any butterflies that were taking advantage of the morning sunshine. There were plenty about, mainly Ringlets including Lesser Mountain, Mnestraís, Blind and Swiss Brassy. We also found our second Alpine Grayling of the holiday as it zoomed past stopping briefly for its identification to be confirmed.
We found one female ringlet that was very dark on its upperside with no spotting in the orange patches on the forewing. I hoped we had found something unusual but it has since been identified as an aberrant female Swiss Brassy Ringlet lacking any spotting.
The next find was also unusual. It was a large ringlet with chequered edges to the wings and from the upperside appeared to be a Marbled Ringlet. However, the underside was very light coloured looking to all intensive purposes like a Swiss Brassy Ringlet. I think it was a very pale Marbled Ringlet. There was another close by with a much darker underside that was also identified as a Marbled Ringlet.
We eventually dragged ourselves away as we had plans to visit two more sites on this last day. On the way back down to the car we found two more Marbled Ringlets on a sheer cliff wall near to the car park.
Our penultimate stop was down by the river in the Val díHerens where we found plenty of common butterflies. I was hoping for some film footage of Bergerís Clouded Yellow, Lesser Purple Emperor and Violet Fritillary. All three species were seen but none for sufficient time or close enough to capture on film unfortunately. Something to look forward to another year.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around watching species such as Lulworth Skipper, Dusky Meadow Brown, Spotted Fritillary and Realís Wood White. We enjoyed watching the blues and differentiating between Escherís, Chapmanís and Common Blue. We also found what I suspect was a female Escherís Blue egg laying at the roadside.
After a thoroughly enjoyable early afternoon we left the locals as they took their kids to play in the melt water river by the signs that state what a dangerous activity this is, as the hydro-electric dams can be released at any time allowing huge torrents of water down the river, which would certainly have swept several children away with their parents that particular day.
Our final walk of the holiday was taken in the mountains above Arolla where I hoped to be able to film Nutcracker. These birds had been present around us every day whilst we had been up in the mountains in the valley. They had not stopped and posed for stardom though. They preferred to hide amongst the Arolla Pines taunting us with their grating crow like calls.
We found all the usual mountain butterflies including Mountain and Shepherdís Fritillary, Titaniaís Fritillary, Mountain Clouded Yellow, Silver-spotted Skipper and a very obliging Peak White that settled down close to a very turbid melt water stream rushing down from a glacier higher up in the mountains.
As we wandered back through the beginning of the tree line we heard the taunting calls of the Nutcrackers again but, wait a minute, was that a Nutcracker sat out in full view on top of an Arolla Pine. Out came the camera as the bird called then proceeded to attempt to remove a pellet or pine seed that had lodged in its throat. I managed a couple of clips before it flew off and did its disappearing trick back in amongst the pine needles.
It was beginning to cool down and most of the butterflies were finding roosting spots for the night including a Titaniaís Fritillary and a Grisonís Fritillary that had decided to share the same plant for a roost site.
We finally headed back through the woods listening to the Nutcrackers disturbed only by the shouts of enjoyment as some climbers headed back down from above us. So ended the final day of a great holiday.
Early on Saturday morning we packed the tent which was covered in dew and were on the road heading for home by around 9 o clock. Two major detours on the return journey, one in Switzerland and one in France. The former my fault for not reading the road signs correctly, the latter I just put down to french road signs. If youíre following road signs stating the name of a town and you arrive at a traffic island that states Toutes directions and Autres directions which would you follow. Apparently neither, the direction we wanted was the other exit from the island. Of course you would have taken the exit with no sign that must be obvious. Much language was uttered from the little Nissan Micra that had taken us from Nottingham to Les Hauderes and back with a full load and 108,000 miles on the clock.
Back in England after catching the ferry that was 30 minutes late and managing to get flashed by a speed camera heading out of Dover, we headed up the three motorways back to Nottingham arriving home at around 4 o clock in the morning.
This holiday was immensely enjoyable; camping in an area where I stayed as a child, revisiting some of the places I went to, over 30 years ago. Spending time exploring new areas with the help of our friend Guy Padfield who I must thank for being very patient waiting for me to drag my gear up every hill we encountered, for his patience in helping us to find and identify the many species we encountered and for his enjoyable company.
In the French and German speaking areas the people we met in the mountains were all extremely friendly and wanted to know what I was doing with my large camera, even though I didnít understand most of them.
The Val díHerens was still a quiet mountain valley. Admittedly there were more buildings and a better road but it was still fairly quiet and unspoilt. I would love to re-visit the area in spring to find some of the earlier flying butterflies.
The following is a list of the 145 species of butterflies seen whilst in Switzerland:
Dingy Skipper |
Large Grizzled Skipper
Oberthur's Grizzled Skipper
Dusky Grizzled Skipper
Alpine Grizzled Skipper
Real's Wood White
Mountain Green-veined White
Southern Small White
Moorland Clouded Yellow
Berger's Clouded Yellow
Mountain Clouded Yellow
Purple Shot Copper
Provencal Short-tailed Blue
Scarce Large Blue
Dusky Large Blue
Mountain Alcon Blue
Alpine Zephyr Blue
Northern Brown Argus
Dark Green Fritillary
High Brown Fritillary
Queen of Spain Fritillary
Lesser Marbled Fritillary
Violet (Weaver's) Fritillary
Marsh Fritillary (Mountain Form)
False Heath Fritillary
Southern White Admiral
Lesser Purple Emperor
Large Wall Brown
Northern Wall Brown
Dusky Meadow Brown
Lesser Mountain Ringlet
Small Mountain Ringlet
Swiss Brassy Ringlet
Common Brassy Ringlet
Great Sooty Satyr
Great Banded Grayling
Lesser Woodland Grayling