Butterflying in Provence: the rocky hills above Les Baux – 12th May

Les Baux de Provence had been a superb place to visit in winter (see here). But today I hurried past the high season tourist trap’s overflowing car parks and jostling coaches disgorging visitors, into the limestone hills just to the north. Here in May 2012, possibly while hoping to see passing raptors, I had first come across Provence Chalkhill Blue and had no idea what these delicate charmers were. My access point then has been blocked off with boulders and deterring signs but the next stopping place was just a little further on.

les baux.1627 from north

Les Baux de Provence from the north

From here (N43° 45.114′ E4° 47.481) a track penetrated the rocky, wild flower rich landscape that faces the bastion of the fortress village (pictured above) across a steep-sided valley. Butterflies soon began to cross my path as I walked in here. I realised the browns were all Walls of which there were many, and both Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail would flop by at intervals then go on their way in the sunshine. It was perfect butterfly weather and habitat.

The Provence Chalkhill Blue here were offering nice open wing poses (below left), revealing a slightly subtler toning compared to their British equivalents. Then the mystery was solved of the tiny blues I had seen a few times already this week, as one little beauty (below right) allowed a close approach. This was at last a life list addition for the trip, or sort of because Baton Blue is one of three very difficult to distinguish species.

I encountered one of these, which I took to be Panoptes Blue in the Algarve hills several times in May 2014. Then an on-line respondent to my trip report offered a tutorial on comparative ID. The confusion species is apparently False Baton Blue whose range is also limited to the Iberian peninsula. But according to Collins Baton Blue is the one found in France, so I’m ticking it and reverting my previous sightings to Panoptes.

I next drove on another 5km following a winding descent that seemed to be popular with the lycra-clad kamikaze brigade, and so required some care. At a point N43° 45.714″ E4° 47.677′ a forest trail led off to one side into a wooded valley that it soon became clear was superb butterfly country. Amongst the first to speed past were the trip’s first Berger’s Clouded Yellow but whenever seen these always did just that. They are very fast fliers and not inclined to settle.

provencal fritillary.1612 les baux

Provençal Fritillary

A short distance along the trail there were both Glanville and Provençal Fritillary, and this week’s first significant showing of Skippers: Grizzled and Mallow. Then a Southern White Admiral glided onto some Euphorbia before posing even more nicely against a green backdrop. The British equivalent is never so co-operative back home in Bernwood Forest, Bucks where in five years I have yet to capture a truly satisfying image of one. These south European stunners (pictured below, left) are possibly my butterfly of this trip, the fresh ones having an almost metallic quality as they soak up sunlight open winged, Several were seen here today.

Further along still I began to see male Provence Orange Tip (pictured above, right) and eventually managed slightly better record shots than two days earlier. I continued for some distance up into the hills enjoying butterflies all along the trail, then the sun went in so there was no repeat experience on the return walk. Now only the ever plentiful Wall Brown remained active, then as the greyness intensified even they were no longer to be seen. Back at the car rain set in and this best butterfly day of the week was over.

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