BUTTERFLIES OF MACEDONIA

Macedonia is largely unknown but an extremely rich butterfly destination. A landlocked country nestled amidst mountains has varied habitats of which we explore the best samples.

Besides good weather we also need to come in the right season to find most of the species listed below. Low-lying areas will be already desiccated by summer sun while mountains should look fresh and provide much nectar to the myriad of butterflies.

Although we eventually make a circle round this small country we will spend most of the time in the southwest where the spectacularly diverse mountains are found.

Butterflies are everywhere in Macedonia and all along our route there is almost a continuous butterfly habitat. This is why no stop can be disappointing and it is on us how many species we can yield.

It is hard to choose the best species out of more than 200 that have been recorded so far. Perhaps Grey Asian and Macedonian Grayling, Grecian Copper, Bavius and Little Tiger Blue, Krueper´s Small White, Balkan Clouded Yellow, Russian Heath, Balkan Marbled White or Lattice Brown.

A total of 100+ species are expected on this tour. Your guide Dime Melovski is young and enthusiastic butterfly expert who has traveled all around the country to confirm the old butterfly records and fill the gaps in the less surveyed regions.

 

Fact File

  • 8 days | 3 hotels
  • season: mid June to mid July
  • ground cost: tba | single room: tba
  • guide: Dime Melovski
  • airport: Skopje
  • group size: 6 - 16


Itinerary in brief


  • D1 Arrival to Skopje, overnight Veles (1hr)
  • D2 Babuna gorge and Vardar river valley, overnight Veles
  • D3 Transfer to Prilep, Pletvar massif, overnight Prilep (2hrs)
  • D4 Mariovo region, overnight Prilep
  • D5 Pelister NP, overnight Ohrid (3hrs)
  • D6 Galichica NP, overnight Ohrid
  • D7 Galichica NP, overnight Ohrid
  • D8 Departure from Skopje (3,5hrs)


Itinerary


DAY 1 Arrival to Skopje

We transfer ourselves to Veles town after arrival to Alexander The Great airport which will take about one hour. In case of an early landing we will be able to stop en route. Veles is set at Vardar river and encompassed with bare limestone hills. There is a small reservoir some 6 miles from Veles where we will in all likelihood stay, a good place for butterflies and dragonflies like Bladetail, Ornate Bluet, Lesser Emperor or Broad Scarlet.

DAY 2 Babuna gorge and Vardar river valley

A short walk from a village where Bosnian muslims are settled since Tito´s communist regime prevented them from emigrating to Greece. Neighbouring areas are well grazed. Varied habitats include dry limestone hills, fields, narrow river valley and Babuna gorge created by Babuna river.

Butterflies likely to be found are Oriental and Tufted Marbled Skipper, Oberthur´s Grizzled Skipper, Lesser Fiery and Grecian Copper, Little Tiger, Zephyr, Anomalous, Chapman´s, Meleager´s and Iolas Blue, Lesser Purple Emperor, Southern Comma, Marbled and Twin-spot Fritillary or graylings that could be represented by Great Banded, White Banded, Delattin´s and Southern Grayling.

Many of the butterflies could be seen later and we should focus on those that are more special for this dry and warm area like Krueper´s Small White, Inky Skipper, Bavius Blue or Freyer´s Grayling. A late Southern and Eastern Festoon can be found as well as the second generation of butterflies that appear in early spring like Mountain and Southern Small White.

Wider village environs including scenic Veles gorge around Vardar river are rich in birds too. We can look out for an Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Black-headed and Cirl Bunting, Red-rumped Swallow or Woodchat Shrike.

DAY 3 Pletvar massif

We set on our way southwest in the morning. After a brief stop at Stobi, ancient ruins of Paeonian town with beautiful mosaics, we continue to Prilep where we sleep two nights.

Another break can be slopes above Raec river where some interesting species fly. Iolas Blue should be easy and we may find a Southern White Admiral, Yellow-banded Skipper or Osiris Blue. A few orchids could be surviving there in blossom.

Our main goal today is limestone Pletvar masiff. One of the local specialties here is the Speckled Wood. This also indicates that species with northern ditribution are often rare in Macedonia. However, the real treat for us should be the only country´s endemic – Macedonian Grayling.

We start our exploration at a Marble quarry where there is a typical limestone flora on pastures with solitary trees. Local flowers are in its best in late May. A few will be still in blossom which, like in other places, will make it easier for us to find butterflies.

Later we will be parked at 3000 feet. Being so high up we still have a chance to see some early spring species like Eastern Greenish Black-tip.

More regular butterflies of mid summer are Mountain and Krueper´s Small White, Lesser Fiery Copper, Eastern Short-tailed, Alcon, Damon, Anomalous, Amanda´s and Turquoise Blue, Cardinal, Marbled, Twin-spot and Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Southern White Admiral, Balkan Marbled White, White-banded, Southern, and Great Banded Grayling, Great Sooty Satyr, The Hermit, Eastern Large Heath, Hungarian, Lulworth, Tufted Marbled, Oberthur´s Grizzled and Sandy Grizzled Skipper.

DAY 4 Mariovo region

Today we drive out of Prilep to visit hills and mountains of Mariovo. We will be passing one or two traditional Macedonian stone villages that are now partly in ruins. This region forgotten in the past is still not much explored. Journey itself is very scenic and we will certainly see many birds during the day. Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrikes, Short-toed Eagle, Griffon or Egyptian Vulture, Rock and Blue Rock Thrush, Sombre Tit, Rock and Ortolan Bunting or Rock Partridge are all breeding in the area.

We should also visit an old village with slate-roofed houses where only two families and an orthodox priest live. We hope to meet local honey producer who can show us round his hives and offer us the pristine honey to taste or buy. However, our main goal will be the vast pastures and small limestone area at monastery of St. Ilja. Grazing has much declined all through Macedonia but the country is still better managed than most of the eastern Europe.

As for the butterflies we should have not too high expectations. This means that the likely species are only a few, namely Nettle-tree Butterfly, Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Eastern Wood White, Eastern Dappled White, Eastern Baton and Chequered Blue. We will see what turns up, the last visit has yielded over 60 species.

DAY 5 Pelister NP

Pelister NP (or Baba mts.) is an impressive mountain range that stretches between Macedonia and Greece. The high alpine meadows cover extensive areas largely on Macedonian side. The highest peak of Pelister (from ancient Greek peristera, pigeon) reaches almost 8000 feet. Baba mountains overlook the city of Bitola. They are the watershed of the region, rivers flow towards the Adriatic or the Aegean sea. Locally common Molika Pine (Pinus peuce) is found only on a few mountain ranges in the Balkans. Interestingly, Pelister is one of the southernmost ranges in the Balkans with an alpine character. It is made of granit and magmatic rocks.

We drive up by an off road car to reach the flatter grassy areas on mountain tops.

Pelister has a few butterflies that are difficult to find elsewhere in Macedonia. These include Balkan Clouded Yellow, Balkan Fritillary, Black and Ottoman Brassy Ringlet or Grecian Grayling. Being in the mountain we should not miss some of the ringlets found there like Arran Brown, Mountain, Ottoman Brassy, Large and Woodland Ringlet. Surprisingly, Marsh Fritillary flies high above the treeline together with more expected species like Esper´s Marbled White, Eros Blue, Balkan Copper, Mountain and Blue Argus.

Our exploration can be enhanced by far views and sightings of the high mountain birds with Alpine Accentor and not too likely Short-eared Lark being the best examples. A Golden Eagle or Water Pipit can be round while Nutcrackers are common in the forest belt. Lower below the treeline fly many commoner mountain butterflies that include Clouded Apollo, Black-veined White, Large, Turquoise and Adonis Blue, Marbled and High Brown Fritillary, Northern Wall Brown, Camberwell Beauty, Large Tortoiseshell, Gatekeeper, Russian Heath, Large Grizzled, Hungarian, Mallow and Tufted Marbled Skipper. With luck, we can also encounter here Poplar Admiral and Balkan Marbled White. Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell has been recorded at Pelister by Dime your guide. Late in the afternoon there will be time to move to our base at Ohrid lake for the last 3 nights.

DAY 6-7 Galicica plateau

Ohrid town near which is located our hotel is listed in UNESCO World Heritage. Set on a promontory at Ohrid lake it boasts history two milleniums old. St. Clement and St. Naum lived here preceded by Romans and followed by Ottoman Turks. Thus you can admire a fortress, amphitheatre, orthodox churches and mosques with minarets all in one small area.

The real conclusion of the tour will be high elevated Galicica plateau (read Galitchitsa), another National Park. It is set between two of the oldest European lakes – Ohrid and Prespa. Like at Pelister on previous day we should find the meadows at 5000 feet still blooming and full of life.

The massif of Galicica borders to the two biggest natural lakes in the Balkans - Ohrid and Prespa lakes. The highest point on the territory of Macedonia is Magaro (2254m). The vast chain of Balkan mountain limestone plateaux that stretches all through the former Yugoslavia reaches its southern limits here.

We will be exploring wooded slopes along the winding road and the other day large grassy areas on the plateau. Galicica has some nice woodlands and plenty of limestobe rocks and pavements. As one of the handful places in Europe it has a population of Grey Asian Grayling. Both Eastern and Gruner´s Orange Tip are present but we may be too late in the season to see the imagoes. Rock Bunting, Rock Thrush and Rock Partridge are numerous breeders but they are often difficult to see.

The butterfly list could be really impressive and containing many highlights. Naturally, they don´t fly in the same season and we hope to be lucky to see most of them.

Apollo and Clouded Apollo, Eastern Festoon, Black-veined White, Powdered Brimstone, Eastern Wood White, Ilex Hairstreak, Balkan and Lesser Fiery Copper, Alcon, Osiris, Eastern Short-tailed and Provencal Short-tailed Blue, Chequered, Zephyr, Tuquoise, Eros, Meleager´s, Escher´s, Damon and Anomalous Blue, Grecian Anomalous and Ripart´s Anomalous Blue, Blue and Geranium Argus, Marsh, Freyer´s, Twin-spot and Balkan Fritillary, Esper´s Marbled and Balkan Marbled White, Freyer´s, Woodland, Eastern Rock, White-banded and Delattin´s Grayling, The Hermit, Great Sooty Satyr, Dusky Meadow and Oriental Meadow Brown, Black and Bright-eyed Ringlet, Eastern Large Heath, Northern Wall Brown, Lattice Brown and Lesser Lattice Brown, Lulworth, Persian, Sandy Grizzled, Oriental Marbled and Yellow-banded Skipper.

DAY 8 Departure

Time to say goodbye to this literally unspoilt corner of the Balkans. We will drive through the largely wooded western part of Macedonia with many minarets along the road. It is inhabited by ethnic Albanians who are renowned for being great shepherd´s of the mountains. Good for the future of Macedonian butterflies and we may pay a visit there next time.

 

Highlights

Balkan landscapes

unspoilt nature

Pseudochazara graylings

Krueper´s Small White

Balkan Clouded Yellow

Grecian and Lesser Fiery Copper

Blue Argus

Russian and Eastern Large Heath

Lattice and Lesser Lattice Brown

Yellow-banded Skipper