Euphydryas desfontaini© Teresa Farino
Moon Moths and Monkey Orchids
Our first-ever tour to Navarra, for fabulous Spanish Moon Moths, many unusual spring butterflies, a plethora of orchids and macro-photography opportunities galore
Pamplona is situated at the heart of a mosaic of semi-natural grasslands and maquis on calcareous marls, interspersed with extensively farmed cereal fields, copses of deciduous forest and pinewoods. Although it lies only 80 km from the Atlantic coast of Spain, with the Pyrenees just a stone’s throw to the north-east, this part of Navarra benefits from a warm, almost Mediterranean climate, giving rise to a unique assemblage of flora and fauna, quite unlike that found anywhere else in Spain.
Spanish Moon Moth Actias isabellae© Teresa Farino
Undoubtedly the most famous inhabitant of the region – and our prime target species – is the Spanish Moon Moth (Actias isabellae, formerly known as Graellsia isabellae), perhaps Spain’s most emblematic invertebrate. One of just a handful of European members of the Saturniidae, it occurs only in pinewoods in the western Alps and central and eastern Spain. As might be expected, our visit is timed to coincide with the peak flight period of these magnificent creatures in Navarra, and we shall locate them using light traps.
Southern Pine Hawkmoth
Hyloicus maurorum© Teresa Farino
Other moths of interest that have come to our lights at this time of year include Giant Peacock (Saturnia pyri), Small Lappet (Phyllodesma ilicifolia; nowadays extinct in the UK), The Javelin (Drymonia velitaris), Southern Pine Hawk-moth (Hyloicus maurorum) and geometrids such as The Many-lined (Costaconvexa polygrammata, also extinct in the UK), and Pale-banded Pine Carpet (Adalbertia castiliaria, another pine-feeding species found only in southern France and Spain).
Other species of note previously recorded in the valley include Pine-tree Lappet (Dendrolimus pini), Argentine Moth (Spatalia argentina), Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia), the endemic tiger moth Chelis arragonensis and the extremely rare and endangered Willowherb Hawk-moth (Proserpinus proserpina).
Costaconvexa polygrammata© Teresa Farino
Among the notable day-flying species here in May are White-collared Burnet (Zygaena lavandulae), Crowned Moth (Eurranthis plummistaria), Serrated Jewel (Athroolopha pennigeraria), The Four-spotted (Tyta luctuosa, pretty rare in the UK these days), the dinky little noctuid Omia cymbalariae and both Broad- and Narrow-Bordered Bee Hawk-moths (Hemaris fuciformis & H. tityus).
Hemaris fuciformis© Teresa Farino
The butterflies are equally beguiling in this part of Navarra, the undisputed highlight being several colonies of Spanish Fritillary (see image at the top of the page), essentially an Afro–Iberian endemic species with a few outlying colonies in southern France. Other species of interest here include Provence Orange Tip, Duke of Burgundy Fritillary and lycaenids such as Green-underside and Panoptes Blues, as well as good numbers of what we suspect to be Provence Chalk-hill Blue, given that they are on the wing in May. One short walk we undertake during the week should reward us with literally hundreds of Swallowtails, Scarce Swallowtails and Spanish Festoons.
Glaucopsyche alexis© Teresa Farino
Such a rich lepidopteran fauna is of course indicative of a diverse flora, with special mention going to a veritable ‘zoo’ of orchids in flower in May: Lizard, Monkey, Lady, Man, Lesser Butterfly, Woodcock, Early Spider and many more. The delightful Thalictrum tuberosum, Coris, Beautiful Flax, Meadow Clary, lemon-yellow Phlomis lychnitis, Blue Aphyllanthes and Grape-hyacinth provide a riot of colour on sunny slopes, while shady nooks are brightened by Yellow Pheasant’s-eye, Columbines and Dragon’s-teeth, and the diminutive scarlet Pheasant’s-eye grows in the margins of cultivated fields.
Monkey Orchid Orchis simia© Teresa Farino
Among the birds we might encounter in the grassland–scrub mosaic are Fan-tailed Warbler, Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike, Cuckoo, Spotless Starling and Cirl and Corn Buntings, with Iberian Woodpecker, Bonelli’s Warbler and Short-toed Treecreeper in more wooded habitats. On sunny days the skies above are rarely empty, with Griffon Vultures and Red and Black Kites the most commonplace raptors here.
Bardenas Reales© Teresa Farino
One day during the week we will venture south to the magnificent gypsum pseudosteppes and ‘badlands’ of the Bardenas Reales Biosphere Reserve. Against a stunning backdrop of eroded cliffs – home to breeding Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Eagle Owl, Alpine Swift and Black Wheatear – we shall endeavour to track down Spanish Marbled White, Southern Marbled Skipper and Western Dappled and Bath Whites, as well as day-flying moths such as the Iberian endemic geometrid Narraga catalaunica and the striking crambid Loxostege comptalis.
Narraga catalaunica© Teresa Farino
Birdwise, we should look out for Bee-eaters and Hoopoes at close quarters, Spectacled Warblers nesting in the low scrub, and a plethora of larks and pipits in more open areas, including Tawny Pipit and Calandra Lark; if we’re really lucky we might catch a glimpse of a Dupont’s Lark, of which around 400 pairs are known to breed here. Other species typical of the Bardenas Reales include Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, Stone Curlew and both Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, although the Little and Great Bustards that breed here are pretty scarce nowadays.
All the images on these pages were taken during a reccy trip to this part of Navarra in May 2016.
NB For the duration of the tour, you will be covered by Teresa's permits both to catch butterflies and trap moths (a legal requirement for Spain). All the Lepidoptera records we collect will be submitted to Zerynthia (the Spanish partner of Butterfly Conservation).
Yellow Pheasants-eye Adonis vernalis© Teresa Farino
Moon Moths and Monkey Orchids
Leader: Teresa Farino
2017 Dates: Mon. 22 – Sun. 28 May (7 days/6 nights)
Price: 1,230€, including half-board, en suite accommodation at Hotel Izaga, picnic lunches, minibus/4WD transport throughout, all entry fees and the services of Teresa Farino as leader. A single-room supplement of 130€ is applicable. Flights and travel insurance (obligatory) are the responsibility of the client.
Although the cost of the tour is given in euros, clients may pay in sterling, the exchange rate to be calculated at the time of payment using www.oanda.com
Pick-up details: For this tour, clients will be booking their flights independently. Teresa will be meeting the British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Bilbao, which gives us by far the most convenient flight times for these dates, as well as almost six full days in the field. Details are as follows:
22 May: BA0466
Departs London Heathrow at 08.25
Arrives Bilbao at 11.25
28 May: BA0469
Departs Bilbao at 19.40
Arrives London Heathrow at 20.30
Alternatively, those travelling to Navarra independently can arrange to meet the group at Hotel Izaga on the first evening.
Sombre Bee Orchid Ophrys fusca© Teresa Farino
If you wish to extend your visit in order to explore Spain further, please remember that if you require transport to the hotel you must arrange to be at Bilbao airport by 11.30 am at the latest on Monday 22 May.
Group size: maximum 8 persons.
Booking information: please contact Teresa Farino for further details and a booking form, or if you have any queries about this tour.
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