A mature male, member of the genus Sympetrum, found in a dry grassland, close to the coast of Marlera, on a beautiful summer day (29th of August). The temperature was close to 29°C, while the average for this period is around 26°C.
It was a slightly cloudy day in mid-May when I decided to visit the northern part of Istria (Croatia), between Mount Ucka (Fig. 1) and the mountainous plateau of Cicaria, which is an extension of the Dinaric Alps. The area is mostly uninhabited, wild and largely untouched. Flower-rich wheat meadows are dominant here; in the past they were (most probably) pastures. Today they provide habitats for bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, mammals, reptilians and so on. Among flowers, I recognized Polygala nicaensis, members of the genera Ajuga and Ranunculus, various orchid species and, of course, grasses. Among orchids, I found Orchis puprpurea (Fig. 1 and 2), Orchis tridentata (Fig. 3), the very common and widespread Orchis morio, the delicate Cephalanthera longifolia and the non-photosynthetic Neottia nidus-avis, which prefers shady places along the nearby deciduous woodland.
Given the altitude and the higher soil moisture level, the plant communities present here are the typical sub-mediterranean ones. Therefore, I had the pleasure to meet some butterfly species for the first time, one of those meriting a special attention: Everes alcetas (Fig. 4) or the Provencal short-tailed blue. It is a member of the Lycaenidae family which, although occuring sporadically, it is common across the central Europe.
In general, they feed on plants of the genus Medicago, Coronilla varia and Galega officinalis where they lay their eggs. They prefer bushy and sunny places but in Istria are very local and spotted by me only in this location.
One butterfly species that I encountered in the same area is the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia), a member of the Nymphalidae family (FIg. 5 and 6). This species is in decline in Europe, and is protected under law in the United Kingdom. However I managed to see them quite abundantly in many sites around Istria; perhaps because their habitat – the damp heathy grasslands – is still pretty intact in this region.
This is a widespread species, present in the central and southern Europe. However, it is very local and in Istria I found it only here. Larvae feed on members of the Aristolochia genus and in some areas, for instance in Hungary, it is restricted to only one Aristolochia species: the Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis). The wings are yellow, a bit paler in females, covered with a gaudy pattern of several black bands and spots, with a distinctive black sinuous line at the margin. On the edge of the hindwings there are several blue and red warning spots. The body is black, with red warning spots at the side.
At the tip of the Istrian peninsula (Croatia), there is a small peninsula called Cape Kamenjak (Rt Kamenjak), an area of immense beauty which is for good reasons under protection at the level of Protected Landscape. The rugged coastline creates small bays where pebbles and gravels are transported by the waves during windy days. However, most of the coast is rocky, and at the tip forms walls of up to 5m in height (Fig.1).
A stunning view can be seen from the highest point of the peninsula of about 60m, which is created by the crystal blue sea, and the 11 scattered small islands, in one of which dominates a picturesque lighthouse called Porer.
Fig. 2 Porer
Fig. 3 The rugged coastline and the crystal-blue sea
The mediterranean climate of Kamenjak creates the ideal condition for the developement of a rich flora community. In fact, in this small area there are about 500 plant species. Thypical vegetation that can be found here are dry grasslands combined with garrigue and macchia, a degradation stage of an once-existing mediterranean forest.
For nature lovers, spring is the best season to visit. The first flowers appear very early, since the very beginning of February where Croculs biflorus (Fig. 4) emerges first, followed by Romulea bulbocodium, both members of the Liliaceae family. About two weeks later, Ranunculus ficaria will emerge, a small Ranunculaceae with bright yellow flowers and flashy heart shaped leaves. Leaves of this blant ar eadible and vitamin C rich, and are better consumed before flowering; later on, nutrients are realesed for the blooming.
As the days become longer and warmer, more flowers come up. Among numerous yellow Taraxacum sp., the fuxia of Anemone hortensis (Fig. 5) brightens the meadows in April. A close up vew of the inner part of those flowers, formed by the stamens and blue anteras, attracts various insects and sometimes offers a temporary shelter for the nymph stage of green grasshoppers.
Spartium junceum (Fig. 11) and Erica arborea (Fig. 6 and 7) create a spectacular combination in May, when both are in full blossom. However, Erica shows its tiny beautiful flowers already in April.
Fig. 6 Erica arborea
Fig. 7 Erica arborea usually attended by various pollinators
Fig. 8 Cistus incanus
Fig. 9 Cistus monspeliensis
Fig. 10 Macchia with bushes of Cistus monspeliensis