120 species of butterflies have been recorded there and I am really grateful to Merche from http://waste.ideal.es/primeramariposas.htm who told me that July was a great time to look for butterflies there and she suggested a walk I should go on.
So on 4th July I got up early and drove for three hours from Alora to Hoya de la Mora. In winter this is a ski resort 2,550 metres up in the mountains. The road is blocked there, but if you want you can continue further up the mountains in a mini bus to over 3,100 metres.
The walk that had been suggested to me left the road at the barrier at Albergue Universitario and ran across the eastern slopes of the mountain to a stream called Borreguil de San Juan. The walk was only a couple of miles, but it took me three hours there and back because I spent most of my time watching butterflies!
Much of the landscape was very rocky with scree slopes and occasional green, damp areas. It was almost like walking through a giant rockery with the Alpine plants such as Sempervivum, Dianthus, Saxifrage and Gentian carpeting the ground.
Almost as soon as I set off an Apollo, Parnassius apollo nevadensis, landed on the slope above me. The subspecies occurring in the Sierra Nevada has orange markings within the ocelli, rather than the usual red. As the day warmed up I saw several of these big butterflies gliding up and down the hillsides, constantly on the move, and hardly ever landing.
I wasn’t able to identify most of the blues that I saw, until I looked at my pictures afterwards. Even then, I find it very difficult to differentiate between some species. I bought a great book about the butterflies of the Sierra Nevada “Las Mariposas Diurnas de Sierra Nevada”, which has detailed information about each species that lives there and a section on differentiating similar species. Unfortunately some of the characteristics mentioned in the book are not very apparent and the advice conflicts with information from other sources.
Both the Idas Blue, Plebejus idas, and the Silver-studded Blue, Plebejus argus, occur in the Sierra Nevada. The book says that for the Idas Blue the orange markings on the underside wings are more extensive and that the black spots have white rings round them. The fantastic Butterflies of Europe app says that the blue scales are more extensive on the hind wing of the Silver-studded Blue, but I have been told that this may not be the case in the Sierra Nevada! I have come to the conclusion, though, that those that I saw in this area were all Silver-studded Blues, but I would be happy to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise!
It was interesting that I could walk for 50 metres and see no butterflies and then come to an area where there were several flying around. It seemed that a subtle difference in habitat made a big difference in the number of butterflies.
This was the only Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, I saw that day.
I am pretty sure that the following pictures are all Escher’s Blue, Agrodiaetus escheri. These were the most common butterflies I saw high up in the mountains and they were mostly in areas around the prostrate Juniper scrub. They seem to have quite bold markings on the underside of the wings.
This Large Wall Brown, Lasiommata maera, flew across the path in front of me and kindly stopped for a picture. The form found in Sierra Nevada and much of the Iberian Peninsula is adrasta, which is lighter in colour with more extensive orange markings.
I descended a small path to a damp area with water running through it. Here I noticed the blues seemed a little smaller and lighter in colour. They turned out to be Nevada Blues, Polyommatus golgus.
As I continued down to the Rio de San Juan I was excited to see some orange butterflies. They were very flighty and difficult to approach and they turned out to be Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae. They seemed more orange than those in Scotland.
It was here that I briefly saw my first Purple-shot Copper, Lycaena alciphron. Later I was to see more of them near the Albergue Universitario where I got into trouble for taking pictures close to their military building. After I showed the soldier the pictures of butterflies I had been taking we parted on good terms!
On my return to the car I saw some Clouded Yellows. Most of them didn't stop, but I managed a distant picture of this one. Looking at the picture I thought that it was a Berger's Clouded Yellow, Coleas alfacariensis, given the lack of a dark border showing through on the hind wing. However, I have been told that it is standard Clouded Yellow, Coleas crocea.
After that, there was a bit of a Fritillary-fest. First a Heath Fritillary, Melitaea athalia.
Then a Niobe Fritillary, Argynnis niobe. The subspecies occurring in Sierra Nevada is altonevadensis, which is said to be smaller and more brightly coloured than the nominate form.
A Queen of Spain Fritillary, Issoria lathonia.
And finally a Cardinal Fritillary, Argynnis pandora seitzi, just as I was getting into the car.
Frustrating moment of the morning was having a Spanish Brassy Ringlet, Erebia Hispania, in the view finder only for it to be chased away by a blue just before I managed to take a picture!
Other butterflies seen that morning were a Bath White and Wall Brown.
After that I drove down the mountain and stopped a couple of times to check what was flying in different areas. I'll put those butterflies on a separate post.