Viroinval, June 2024

Photos from a very rainy week in the Belgian Ardennes, looking for butterflies.


7/8/20244 min read

Halfway through June I had some paid time off that I had to use before the end of the month, so I figured I'd use these days for a bit of photography somewhat close to home. After having gone to the Eifel a few times now, I decided to try my luck in a new region, Viroinval, in the Belgian Ardennes. Targets were mainly butterflies, with a few dragonfly targets and as always a few herps and birds sprinkled in. The weather wasn't on my side and I had many rainy days, getting soaked through several times. Evenings were mostly dry however and in between the rain showers the butterflies were even somewhat active, seemingly adapted to the wet weather. In the end a surprising amount of butterfly diversity was seen, with 27 species, 3 of which were new to me. Starting of the trip I arrived early on Monday afternoon, for an hour of sunshine before the clouds pulled in and the heavens broke loose. A few good butterfly species, many of which rare (or absent) in the Netherlands and a large group of boar were some of the first sightings, but few pictures to be had. The best pictures of white admiral (Limenitis camilla) were taken this afternoon, although I can't say I was thoroughly impressed. A decent evening provided some more shots, finding my first ever Ophrys holosericea, no nice individuals sadly enough.

Day 2 started off cloudy, but before long the heavens opened up and it took until well into the afternoon to start drizzling instead of pouring. The morning I had a long walk through the forest, while the slightly drier afternoon was spent in some meadows, in hopes of finding some butterflies. Some succes was had, mainly with black-veined whites (Aporia crataegi), which to my surprise were flying around despite the drizzle. Closing off the day, I visited a nesting site for eagle owls (Bubo bubo), finding a chick and an adult fairly easily. Day 3 started off dry and going into the afternoon I even got a little sunshine. Several cool sightings, including a lesser stag beetle in the beautiful Fondry-des-Chiens and decent butterfly numbers thanks to the sporadic sunshine. While walking through a beautiful small meadow among the tranquil cooing of Eurasian turtle doves, I found my first lifer butterfly, my first ever marbled fritillary (Brenthis ino). A rather fresh and cooperative individual (thanks to sun dissapearing again). That evening the sun broke out again and I got my favorite images of the trip, of a pair of black-veined whites perched on their sleeping spot together. Throughout the day, several orchid shots were taken, my favorites being included here.

Day 4 started of rainy, checking some bogs for cranberry fritillaries and small pearl-bordered fritillaries, with nothing but wet socks to show for it. That afternoon I unsuccesfully checked my baited spots again, and visited a quarry where I photographed pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and a few cold wet butterflies, including pearly heath (Coenonympha arcania) and false heath fritillary (Melitaea diamina), I also found 2 smooth snakes here, but no shots of either individual. The rainy blues retreating as my camera storage started to fill up, I fell asleep before getting a chance to look for fire salamanders. Day 5 started off with plenty of rain again, so more hiking around the woods, getting some nice woodland pictures and finding a large group of extremely smelly wild boar (Sus scrofa), getting a few pictures of the group before they darted off. Desperation started to strike and I even photographed some abandoned buildings, with shots nice enough to show here ;). More boar in the pouring rain, crossing the path with several piglets, the rain making for some nice background diffusion. Also a beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) in the pouring rain.

Day 6 was rainy again, mostly spent resting my legs, as the forecast for the next day was very promising. As the afternoon approached, the rain slowed to a drizzle and I decided to get out again, finding a smooth snake so desperate to get some warmth that it was out basking in the mild rain! Some nice pictures this time, before leaving it alone to continue it's "sunning". Another lifer butterfly was seen (black hairstreak, Satyrium pruni), but no pictures worth showing. Day 7 I left the apartment I was staying at well before sunrise, headed off to a small meadow. Finally some sunshine and a stunning sunset, I managed to find a few dew covered butterflies with a lot of effort, going for an already explored meadow might have been better in hind sight, but I got some pictures that I had in mind before leaving, so I shouldn't complain. Then one more attempt at the spot I baited earlier this week, this time finally with success, finding a stunning poplar admiral (Limenitis populi). The spot was rather busy however and the light harsh and ugly, so after some proof of concept shots I hiked off. I decided to spend the rest of the sunny day looking for golden-ringed dragonflies (Cordulegaster boltonii) at a small river. Finding several individuals was easy enough, but they stayed in the worst looking piece of habitat and refused to sit still except in the horribly harsh light. As the day went on, I decided to head home, feeling tired but satisfied, especially considering the weather. A slight taste of disappointment hung on my lips because of the dragonfly, but as I approached my car that was about to seriously change. From the treetops a large butterfly came spiraling down, my first thought was a purple emperor, so I quickly unpacked the camera again. As it sank lower I quickly realised I was far luckier than I thought, as a stunning poplar admiral was landing on the parking lot to drink minerals. This was how I imagined my meeting with this species (aside from the rushing motorcycles on the road ;)). With some patience it came down several times and I got a few decent images, even being able to make some shade for some softer light. With the best encore possible in the bag, I drove home, arriving around dinnertime for a few beers, a barbecue and a seriously good nights sleep. 

All in all, despite bad weather, a very serious collection of pictures, that may need a bit of thinning out for this blog at some point in the (near) future). Viroinval is a beautiful region worth returning to, maybe with some sunnier weather. Something inside me longs for the Eifel though, so it may be a while before I return, who knows :). I closed the trip off with 1, maybe 2 portfolio shots, and 4, maybe 5 calendar candidates, so no complaining from my side.