Above the dark green, ancient sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) woodland near Livari, the hay is neatly stacked in the corner of a small field with a protective plastic sheet, like a skull cap, and weighted with old tyres and water-filled plastic bottles. The crops in the field, onions, potatoes and courgette, are all well advanced and an old man tends them. A tall purple mullein (Verbascum phoeniceum) stands against an old stone wall.
Freshly stacked hay and purple mullein.
The footpath takes us past a few houses that comprise Gornji Briska and along a flat path at the base of a hill slope covered in a large patch of yellow Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) and then bright blue wild sage (Salvia officinalis).
Hill covered in wild sage, pomegranate and hornbeam.
There is much bladder senna (Colutea arborescens) here as there is on most of the low hills around Lake Skadar and there are a number of Iolas blues (Iolana iolas) including a female, perhaps egg laying, and a male trying to attract her attention. There are also yellow-banded (Pyrgus sidae), mallow (Carcharodus alceae) and other grizzled skipper species. A noticeably small one with distinctive deep red base colour may be orbed red underwing skipper (Spialia orbifer) and the other perhaps Obethur’s grizzled skipper (Pyrgus armoricanus) with its lack of markings on the hindwing. The much easier to identify meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) and small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) are both common now; the former is like a playful child as it always seems to be in the way and trips along the path in front of us.
Female Iolas blue on bladder senna.
Mating pair of yellow-banded skippers.
Mallow skipper on Jerusalem sage.
Two as yet unidentified grizzled skipper species; the reddish one on the left maybe orbed red underwing skipper and the other Obethur’s grizzled skipper.
The woods on these lower slopes are dominated by a scrub woodland of hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and field maple (Acer campestre) with pomegranate (Punica granatum), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Jerusalem thorn (Paliurus spina-christi), which is now a soft yellow as it is flowering, and other shrubs. Nightingales still sing, as do blackbirds; the song is perhaps richest in the late afternoon of a still, sunny day. A Bertoloni’s bee orchid (Ophrys bertolonii) is by the path as is Orchis coriophora.
Bertoloni’s bee orchid and Orchis coriophora.
Further up is a small glade above a stone wall filled with wildflowers including a dozen or so beautiful greater butterfly orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) and an equally beautiful but less exotic, large geranium species that becomes common in the understory between 600 m and 950 m.
Greater butterfly orchid.
Beautiful geranium species as though pictured in a herbaceous border.
As the woodland becomes dense with small glades catching the sun, a pearly heath (Coenonympha arcania) dances up to perch in the trees. The behaviour is different from other butterflies and this species is hard to track as it flits through the trees to settle again. The markings are very different from small heath with its single white-centred black spot and dull orange surround; these have a hindwing with an irregular white stripe laced with little shooting targets, comprising a white centre and then concentric black and orange outer rings.
Pearly heath on field maple.
Up the slope, the woodland opens into a small glade where a dozen black-veined whites (Aporia crataegi) dance and settle and dance again. Here wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) is common and, as we ascend, the bushes are less advanced and are flowering. Also here is large skipper (Ochlodes venatus) and perhaps the ordinary grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae), but the diversity of skipper species with their differing arrays of spots is now totally confusing. A rock partridge is never confusing as it bolts across the hillside with a clatter of wings. Earlier, one was clucking like an agitated hen from deep within the woodland and they may have young with them now. A buzzard circles lazily across the sky.
A pretty flower-filled glade and another heath butterfly, this is, I think, a Balkan or oriental heath (Coenonympha orientalis); it settles on a juniper bush having been disturbed from the flowers. This has no outer orange ring on its targets, which are all on the outer side of the white stripe. This is a rare and local species and I am not sure Rumija is within the known range but the habitat and altitude (925 m) fit well with the data. Here as well is a late Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) on abundant, light blue Veronica austriaca. Also a Cerastium, probably Cerastium tomentosum, creates small white pockets of colour.
The pretty flower-filled glade at 925 m a.s.l.
Balkan heath resting on juniper; this is a rare endemic within southeast Europe and an interesting find.
I think this is Cerastium tomentosum.
There are other plants including a tall and distinctive white flower that appears at 800 m under the oak, ash and hornbeam woodland and an elegant blue cornflower, I think mountain cornflower (Centaurea montana). There is a yellow rock-rose species and an elegant Ranunculus as well. I will run them down later.
A tall and distinctive white flower and a tall and equally distinctive Ranunculus species but both as yet unidentified.
Eastern baton blue butterfly.
The hornbeam gives way to manna ash (Fraxinus ornus) and oak species (Quercus sp.) and then beech (Fagus sylvatica) dominates at around 950 m.
Pristine beech woodland on the north face of Rumija mountain between 950 m and 1250 m above sea level.
Here the slope is steep. There is a lovely patch of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and occasional bird’s nest orchids (Neottia nidus-avis). A black woodpecker calls and lumbers clumsily across the hillside. A robins sings from a dead branch with a song that is very different to the garden birds of England. A blue tit waits for us to pass before taking a beakful of caterpillars to its nest. An orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines) is for once obliging and settles on deep purple, honesty (Lunaria annua), and perhaps less active because the clouds are over and the temperature cools.
Solomon’s seal and bird’s nest orchid.
Orange tip on honesty and an interesting yellow aster under the beech.
The beech is steep and hard going but at around 1250 m give way to alpine grasslands that cover the rolling tops of the mountains. There are beech hangers on the sheltered and damper slopes. Here are more Glanville fritillaries on Veronica austriaca and a blue butterfly probably common blue (Polyommatus icarus). Orchids dot the ground; monkey (Orchis simia), burnt-tip (Neotinea ustulata), toothed (Neotinea tridentata) and elder-flowered (Dactylorhiza sambucina). There is a lovely pink clover, I think alpine clover (Trifolium alpestre), and wild yellow tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) is just going over. We look up at the summit which is another 300 m up and at least twice that across; we turn back down the twisting path using the changing weather as a useful and usable excuse.
Wild yellow tulip and alpine clover.
Toothed orchid on the upland grassland with beech hangers behind.
The view across Lake Skadar to Albania in late afternoon light.