Around Sournia on the edge of the Pyrénées-Orientales

1st June 2023

From the impressive Château de Puilaurens that commands the Boulzane valley, the minor road runs south and then east over the Col d’Aussières leaving the Aude and running down into the Pyrénées-Orientales. At Rabouillet, a large family of all ages is moving their cattle up the hill to the mountain pastures; it’s noisy and entertaining for all concerned and is a traditional annual outing in early summer known all over the Pyrenees as transhumance.

Near Sournia the many abandoned fields are part-grazed and scrub-filled and full of flowers. Here the butterflies are diverse, many of which are nectaring on the last of the clover. To the south of Sournia, we meet a beekeeper who by chance is also an expert on hoverflies and other insects; he explains that the south facing escarpment above the small town is the place for Spanish Fritillary Euphydryas desfontainii; a stunningly rich and bright species. The image below is the reddest marsh fritillary I have ever found but sadly, I don’t think it is anything other that Euphydryas aurinia. The season ends in late May for E. desfontainii so I will have to try another year. This is also the annual interesting battle to identify all the closely-related Melitaea fritillary species, not to mention the Polyommatus blues,where every black dot on the underside counts!

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