eco
TOURS-EASTERN-EUROPE
Natural Leaders in Western Palearctic


Slovakia is a small country that comprises large proportion of West Carpathian mountains, the backbone of Eastern Europe that curves east and then south in an arc through Ukraine to Romania. Lowlands and hills along the southern border already belong to the warm region of Pannonia.

This wild country with rugged mountainous heart in the middle offers a wonderful diversity of limestone meadows, high mountains, pristine beech and conifer forests, and wetlands rich in butterflies and other wildlife. We travel from the White Carpathians in the west, along the borders of the Czech Republic, through the mountains, and up to alpine regions of the Tatras, finishing on sun dried southern slopes of the Slovak Karst.

High mountains provide beautiful scenery with alpine flowers in their best while hilly areas along the Czech-Slovak border offer gentle walks in varied man-managed landscape and many butterflies hovering above meadows. Slovak Karst can recall days when butterflies where common everywhere in this region. Such a wide range of habitats offers the naturalist a quite exceptional variety of wildlife to enjoy.

We offer 2 tours with different timings and different route as well. The June Butterfly Special is during end of May, beginning of June, visiting Low & High Tatras, Muran Plateau & Slovak Karst and a bit of Hungary possible as well, while the other one is the July Slovakia Butterflies & Moth Tour, which starts at Western Slovakia in the White Carpathians, continues in the Tatras and finishing in the Slovak Karst.

 

JUNE BUTTERFLY SPECIAL

 

Introduction

A special trip to see handful of disappearing butterflies in the beginning of June. Scarce Heath, Fentons Wood White or Scarce Fritillary will be the most sought-after ones.

This tour aims at several attractive butterflies. Most of them cannot be seen in July and some stand very high on many personal lists as attractive and fast disappearing species. Pleasant weather, gorgeous landscapes and short distances should be other features of this early season holiday. Brief journey takes us from the foots of high Carpathians south to the hills of Pannonia.

This is also an excellent season for flowers with almost certain Lady's Slipper Orchid and we are likely to spot some special birds like Lesser Spotted Eagle or Nutcracker. Since the longest driving distance is only two hours we will ultimately use our time in this rather unknown and unspoilt country full of green carpets of forests and meadows.

Fact File

  • Slovakia
  • 7 days | 3 hotels
  • season: late May and early June
  • airport: Kosice, Slovakia or Krakow, Poland
  • group size: 6-14


Itinerary in brief

  • Day 1 Arrival to Kosice, Slovakia (alternatively Krakow, Poland)
  • Day 2 The Low and High Tatras
  • Day 3 - 4 Transfer via Muran plateau, Cerova uplands
  • Day 5 - 6 Slovak Karst two full days
  • Day 7 Departure


Itinerary

 

Day 1 ARRIVAL TO KOSICE or CRACOW

Arrival to the airport and transfer to the northern foothills of Low Tatras for 2 nights.

Day 2 LOW AND HIGH TATRAS

Foothills of the Low and High Tatras do not host stunning numbers of butterflies in early June. Two of them though are among the rarest of the region. Fenton's Wood White has there a strong population surviving in an unusual habitat of spruce forest clearings. Small mires below the High Tatras are the right place for Scarce Heath that has vanished from most of Central Europe. Other species likely to be seen are Woodland Ringlet, Mazarine Blue, Chequered Skipper or Mountain Green-veined White.

Flowers and birds should include Marsh Lousewort and Jacob´s Ladder, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Rosefinch, River Warbler, Corn Crake, Ring Ouzel, Nutcracker and hopefully some woodpeckers, especially the Three-toed and Black.

Day 3 TRANSFER TO CEROVA

Rather scenic drive through vast and little inhabited forests of central Slovakia will be interrupted at northern edge of Muran plateau. There we take appr. one hour walk (one mile in total) and will search in particular for Northern Wall Brown and Lady's Slipper. Flowers will abound and species like Alpine Rose, One-flowered Wintergreen or larkspur Aconitum moldavicum are just a few to mention. After this break we continue to Cerova uplands where we stay 2 nights.

Day 4 CEROVA UPLANDS

Rather hidden at the southern Slovakian border the Cerova uplands is a hilly area of forests, pastures and disused grassland. Hairy Flax, Bee-eaters, Barred Warblers, Syrian Woodpeckers or Red-backed Shrikes are all common as well as many butterflies. Our primary targets will be Common Glider and Scarce Fritillary. Others should include Lesser Fiery Copper, Osiris Blue, Spotted Fritillary and Eastern Short-tailed Blue. We also plan to visit nice castle ruin overlooking adjacent Hungarian territory. Later in the afternoon we head for the last base of the holiday where we arrive in teo hours just before dinner.

Day 5 and 6 SLOVAK KARST

This largest karst area of Central Europe still hosts large numbers of butterflies. It is here where we should do the greater part of our trip list visiting several well accessible sites across the National park.

Day walk on Zadiel plateau will be scenic and apart from butterflies many superb flowers will be found. A few examples are endemic Turna Golden Drop, Bladder Milk-vetch, Austrian Dragonhead or Alpine Aster. Hungarian Glider is rather numerous species on hillsides. Masses of Clouded Apollo are sometimes present and other butterflies likely to be encountered are Purple-shot Copper, Chequered Blue, Camberwell Beauty, Large Tortoiseshell, Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Eastern Baton Blue or Black Hairstreak.

The other day we will visit two sites at Hungarian border where we hope to see first Woodland Browns of the season whereas Knapweed Fritillary and Large Blue should be in full swing. Two attractive species that are less certain because of season but otherwise widespread are Large Copper and Poplar Admiral. Slovak Karst is also a great place to look for Imperial Eagle, Rock Bunting and Souslik.

Day 7 TRANSFER TO AIRPORT

Today we will slowly move northeast through the Slovak Ore mountains, the largest mountain range in Slovakia. It is largely wooded but from times nice valleys open in front of us. In one such farming area we will try to find the targets of the day, the ever rarer Cranberry Fritillary and Cranberry Blue. We may also have another chance of seeing Osiris Blue or Purple-edged Copper.

A few nice flowers should please us on the way like the endemic Erysimum wittmanii, Bird's-eye Primrose, Alpine Clematis or buttercup Ranunculus platanifolius.

Later we reach the airport in Poprad for homeward flight.

Included: accommodation (all rooms en suite), full board (picnics or packed lunches), transportation airport to airport, local guide, entrance fees.

Not included: air fare, personal insurance, all drinks (paid only breakfast drinks and water on the bus), etc.

Flights: Best to Poprad in north Slovakia or Kosice in east Slovakia. Czech airlines fly from Stansted to Kosice via Prague, there used to be a flight from Manchester to Kosice as well. Cracow and Budapest are much further from hotels but there is usually a chance to fly there cheaply.

Weather: Early June is typically a very pleasant season in Slovakia with sporadic showers. It is never hot in the mountaineous regions, warm to hot (around 30 Centigrades) in the hilly areas in the south.

Walking: We tend to be slow to very slow and terrain is easy to moderate. Circular day walk in Slovak Karst is the longest one – appr. 5 miles, ascent over 1000 ft. and descent to the starting point. There is an easier option to this longer walk. Other walks are on average 0,5 to 1 mile long. Photographers slow down pace of the group regularly.

Guides:

Lukas Spitzer (32) made his grade on butterflies and leads a research on Large Blue and Niobe Fritillary in his area which is western Carpathian mountains. He has concluded his PhD. studies recently and besides his regular occupation in a museum he also works for Czech Academy of Sciences. Lukas guided butterfly tours for Naturetrek and travelled extensivelly to Altai, Africa, Balkans and eastern Europe.

Martin Hrouzek (40), full time wildlife guide and tour leader. Martin designed this holiday to pick up some of the rarest species of this region while they are still here. Besides guiding he works for an NGO and scouts new butterfly destinations across eastern Europe. He has led or co-led over 60 wildlife holidays during past 16 years.

Moth trapping: If there will be an interest among participants the group the leader will carry a moth trap. It should work well in Slovak Karst and in the Tatras where hotels are located in a forested valley or village below Tatras. 

 

BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS OF SLOVAKIA - July

Introduction

The tour visits some of the best butterfly areas in the country, looking at the wealth of flowers that we shall encounter on the way, and not ignoring the bird life either. Here together with some birds and plants are blended many of the large and most beautiful butterfly species of the Continent. We will search for the Danube Clouded Yellow that has almost disappeared from the whole region and much sought-after Scarce and Dusky Large Blues will be high on our list complemented by gliders, fritillaries or emperors. Summer time before harvesting crops is always an idyllic season in Central Europe.

90 to 100 species of butterflies are expected on the tour. 

Fact File

  • Slovakia
  • 9 days | 3 hotels
  • season: 10 - 30 July
  • ground cost: tba | single room: tba
  • guide: Lukas Spitzer
  • airport: Bratislava, Slovakia
  • group size: 4-14


Itinerary in brief

  • D1 Arrival to Bratislava airport
  • D2 White Carpathians
  • D3 White Carpathians
  • D4 Transfer to Tatras
  • D5 The High Tatras
  • D6 Slovak Karst
  • D7 Slovak Karst
  • D8 Departure


Accommadation

  • Three-star hotels with all rooms en suite.
  • All hotels are equipped with double or twin bedded rooms with all facilities. Where possible we sleep outside urban areas in medium-sized hotels. Food is good and local beer probably the cheapest in Europe.


Included

  • The price per person includes ground transportation, accommodation on a full-board basis, local taxes, and the services of the leaders.
  • The price excludes holiday insurance, optional tips to the driver and local guides, drinks (bottled water on the bus and breakfast drinks are covered), and other personal expenses.


Moth trapping

We can run our moth trap at every hotel. They are set at various elevation of 200, 600 and 1000 meters and promise wealth of different species at each place.



Walking

Sites of interest are meadows or pastures typically with an easy access and easy to moderate terrain. For the two longer walks in the Tatras and Slovak Karst (7 and 5 miles) please see the itinerary. There are easy options for people with walking difficulties. Please report your limitations before the tour starts.



Weather

Temperatures can reach 35°C in mid summer, typically oscillate around 30, short periods of (sometimes heavy) rain are not unusual. Tatras are much colder and temperatures hardly ever exceed 25°C. It is rarely too windy in summer and weather forecast is (perhaps due to small size of countries) rather reliable.



Itinerary

Day 1 ARRIVAL

The tour starts in Bratislava. We take an early scheduled flight from London to Bratislava and drive to the White Carpathians, a hilly range that extends along the Czech/Slovak border and reaches only 1,000 m.

We will have enough time to visit an extensive area of sand dunes, which is now a NATO training base, and is accessible by permit only. This fact has helped several species to survive in large numbers. Military vehicles simulate large scale ground disturbance management. Surprising number of butterflies benefit from the military presence. Ilex Hairstreak, Large Blue, Spotted Fritillary, Rock Grayling, Oriental Meadow Brown and Dusky Meadow Brown are all common in the area.

After dinner, if the weather is good, we will try to run the moth trap just outside our room windows. Species likely to be trapped are Orache, Rosy and Scarce Footman or hawk moths.

Walk: 1 mile, Drive: 110 miles

Days 2-3 WHITE CARPATHIANS and VAH RIVER VALLEY

These mountains extend along the Czech/Slovak border and reach only 3000 ft. We will sleep on the Czech side in a small and modest hotel. A pre-breakfast walk should prove an ideal time for photography with a number of grassy areas close to the hotel where several interesting species occur such as Large, Purple-edged and Scarce Copper.

After breakfast we will enjoy the wooded hilly country of White Carpathians, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Here extensive flowery meadows dotted with solitary trees and clusters of bushes provide diverse habitat for many butterflies. We will head for the larger reserves south from our base where host plants are best preserved. We expect a late Twin-spot Fritillary, mainly June-flying species living here on its north-western edge of distribution. Also Lesser Marbled Fritillary and Black Hairstreak have healthy populations in protected areas as well as Large Chequered Skipper. They should be accompanied with High Brown Fritillary, Blue-spot and Purple Hairstreak, Eastern Short-tailed and Chapman´s Blue, Scarce Copper, Heath and Nickerl's Fritillaries.

The real target of the day will be two of the rare blues – Dusky and Scarce Large Blue. The latter is more numerous on dry meadows with burnets. Common day-flying moths are Nine-spotted (Syntomis phegea), Clouded Buff (Diacrisia sanio) and Wood Tiger (Parasemia plantaginis).

Foothills of White Carpathians will be also explored. Alcon Blue is locally abundant but it may be too late for it. Large Copper has recently spread to virtually every corner. Meleager's Blue will be showing off and Purple and Lesser Purple Emperors will be hopefully found on the ground.

At this time most breeding birds are hard to find. Typical species are Corn Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Black Redstart, Barred, Icterine and River Warblers, elusive Black Stork or Black Woodpecker are fairly numerous breeders here.

Local meadows rank amongst the richest in Central Europe. Mid July is a late season but we hope to admire Martagon and Orange Lilies (Lilium martagon et bulbiferum), Branched St. Bernard´s Lily (Anthericum ramosum), Yellow Flax (Linum flavum), mulleins, Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata), Gladiolus imbricatus, Wolfsbane (Aconitum vulparia), European Michelmas Daisy (Aster amellus), Cyanus triumfettii, Large Self-heal (Prunella grandiflora), Mountain Germander (Teucrium montanum), scabious Scabiosa ochroleuca, Dense-flowered Orchid (Gymnadenia densiflora), Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) or Crested Cow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum).

We will head east to Slovakia the other day and visit an attractive locality - the well-drained Tematinske Hills. These dolomite hills host good number of species that can be easily inspected from a paved road. We should be looking for Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Lesser Purple Emperor and Polyommatus slovacus, former split from Chalk-hill Blue now regarded as a two generation form of the latter. The walk is very mild and we will be able to focus on other local butterflies including Woodland Grayling, Sloe Hairstreak, Turquoise Blue and Lulworth Skipper.

Many flowers growing on the limestone soil will already in seeds but we should come across the endemic pink (Dianthus lumnitzeri), Hen-and-chickens Houseleek (Jovibarba sobolifera) and the attractive vetch (Astragalus onobrychis). Additionally, on dikes along the River Vah, we will try to use pheromones to lure some of the local clearwings, the Dusky Clearwing being the most interesting of them.

Latter in the day we will explore an area where the endangered Danube Clouded Yellow still survives. Search for this handsome species extinct in all neighbouring countries will conclude the day.

Walks: 1-2 miles each day, Drive: 50 miles each day

Day 4 TRANSFER TO TATRAS

Our first stop of the day will be at steep limestone cliff in NE White Carpathians that can be reached by bus. No climbing is needed as the road cuts the cliff. Here we should be rewarded by sightings of Apollos flying gracefully above meadows. This place also has a population of Mountain Green-veined White which together with Large Blue, Eastern Baton Blue and Geranium Argus we will hope to locate.

After some driving we approach the Chocske hills and make a break for lunch and also a brief excursion. Former village pasture usually hosts some nice flowers and butterflies ranging from Turquoise Blue to Red Underwing Skipper.

Walk: 2 miles, Drive: 200 miles

Day 5 THE HIGH TATRAS

We will make our way up into the High Tatras Mountains National Park. The park includes the largest peaks in the Carpathian Range, some as high as 8000 feet (2650 metres), and embraces a wide diversity of habitats including jagged granite and limestone pinnacles, alpine meadows, over 100 glacial lakes and vast expanses of spruce and mixed forest. Our explorations here will take us high up into the alpine zone.

For the next two nights we will be based in the village of Zdiar, an opportunity to explore the peaceful mountain meadows and conifer forests that are backed by the towering and jagged limestone peaks of the Belanske Tatras range.

We will set on our whole day excursion at around 8AM. We start some 5 miles from our base and ascent from 1000m up to saddles in the Belanske Tatras (1750m and 1825m). Our planned journey is around 7-8 miles long. There will be a lot to see from the very beginning and, of course, it will be possible to walk at your own pace or return back at any point. The walking is not too strenuous. At the beginning we will explore small valley of a mountain stream with Dippers in it and Common Rosefinches along the trail. Later we reach our first meadow and then through the mountain forest to the alpine zone.

This is the best time of the year for alpine flowers of this region. We can find many mid summer species such as Mountain Lentil (Astragalus penduliflorus), Pallid Milk-vetch (Astragalus frigidus), Alpine Milk-vetch (Astragalus alpinus), Austrian Milk-vetch (Astragalus austriacus) and Norwegian Milk-vetch (Astragalus norvegicus), Silky Milk-vetch (Oxytropis halleri), Yellow Milk-vetch (Oxytropis campestris) and Oxytropis carpatica, Glacier Pink (Dianthus glacialis) and Dianthus superbus, Styrian Gentian (Gentiana frigida) and Gentianella lutescens, Delphinium oxysepalum, Aconitum firmum, Linum extraaxillare, Alpine Pansy (Viola alpina), Edelweis (Leontopodium alpinum), Malaxis monophyllos, and False Orchid (Chamorchis alpina). Above the tree-line, we will also search the meadows for Spotted Gentian (Gentiana punctata), Alpine Bellflower (Campanula alpina), Campanula tatrae and Fairy´s Thimble (Campanula cochleariifolia). It is very probable that we will observe very endangered Tatra race of the Chamois living their precarious existence on the mountain crags.

In mid July it is the right time for the high altitude butterflies. We will have a good chance of finding both Blind, Dewy and Mountain Ringlets, Shepherd´s Fritillary and Mountain Green-veined White plus nominate race of Purple-shot Copper and perhaps Water or Silky Ringlet.

As we will descend from the saddle to the forests at lower altitude we can hope to see many other flowers like Large Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora), Sudeten Violet (Viola sudetica), Marsh Felwort (Swertia perennis), or Alpine Clematis (Clematis alpina) and Chequered Skipper that disappears in June at lower elevations. After a full day of exploration of this spectacular region we will return to our hotel for second night.

Birds possible to see are Nutcracker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Crossbill and Goshawk. Golden Eagles often soaring over the crags looking for Marmots whilst at ground level we may find Water Pipits perched low above the ground.

We will spend our second morning in the Tatras at lower elevation. A brief excursion will take us to meadows and mires where several butterflies thrive. We hope to see Arran Brown, False Heath, Pearl-bordered and Cranberry Fritillaries. Flower highlight of this habitat will be king of the local heathland, the magnificent Moor King Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum. Lesser Spotted Eagle could be nice bonus before we give farewell to the Tatras. We then continue to Slovak Karst.

Days 6-7 SLOVAK KARST

This day we have to transfer ourselves to the last base in Slovak Karst (2hours).

We now travel south to the Slovak Karst, which is an open landscape of seven large limestone plateaux steeply rising from broad valleys, mainly covered with woodlands, forest-steppe and diminishing pastures. It is a dry, sunny region, and the outstanding plant community here displays a correspondingly eastern quality, while the butterflies are more typical of regions further south with few but exceptions from the east.

Our hotel is found 5 minute walk from a nature reserve and has grassland just outside. Many insects are attracted by the light of terrace bulbs and we can expect dozens of moths coming into our trap on a good night.

The Slovak Karst was formerly less wooded than today but still provides good conditions for many species, some of which prefer light forests and forest fringes. We will be looking for Scotch Argus, Woodland and Great Banded Grayling, Large Tortoiseshell, Camberwell Beauty, White Admiral and Common and Hungarian Gliders as they hawk gracefully along the woodland edges. Adonis, Large, Eastern Baton, Chequered, Little and Idas Blue, Purple-shot Copper, Dryad, Large Grizzled Skipper and a host of fritillaries including Silver-washed, Niobe and Lesser Spotted rather prefer more open habitats. We have recorded 60 species in Slovak Karst on one July afternoon. Butterflies often gather in large numbers on a moist ground in summer heat and we hope to witness this phenomenon.

On one day, we will walk up through a deeply cut valley, with beech forest and forest-steppe which are typical of this area, slowly climbing to the large plateau from where we will spend the rest of the day slowly descending towards our coach.

Slovak Karst holds outstanding flora. Many flowers are out much earlier in the season but they can be still in flower like Turna Golden Drop (Onosma tornense), local endemic that comes to full blossom in mid June. A host of other colourful and localised species will include Pannonicum Thyme (Thymus pannonicus), Onosma visianii, Asyneuma canescens, Cyanus triumfetti, Yellow Monkshood (Aconitum anthora), Hairy Flax (Linum hirsutum), Erysimum pallidiflorum, endemic Campanula xylocarpa and Carpathian Bell (Campanula carpatica).

Birds here can include occasional Imperial Eagle and Saker drifting over the slopes. Dipper, Red-backed Shrike, Barred and Marsh Warbler, Rock Bunting, Crested Lark, Wryneck, Grey-headed and Syrian Woodpecker, Hawfinch and Golden Oriole all occur in wider environs of our hotel.

Day 8 DEPARTURE

We transfer to the airport at Bratislava for an afternoon homeward flight. Journey back takes about 5 hours and we will do only short comfort stops.

Highlights

Scarce Fritillary

Northern Wall Brown

Fenton´s Wood White

Scarce Heath

Common and Hungarian Glider

Woodland Brown

Chequered Blue

Lady´s Slipper Orchid

Turna Golden Drop

various moths and clearwings

alpine flowers

Apollo

Danube Clouded Yellow

Large Copper

Geranium Argus

Alcon Blue

Dusky Large Blue

Scarce Large Blue

Meleager´s Blue

Hungarian Glider

Pallas´s Fritillary

Shepherd´s Fritillary

Nickerl´s and Lesser Spotted Fritillary

Woodland and Rock Grayling

Oriental Meadow Brown

Large Chequered Skipper