Orchids, butterflies and Three-toed Woodpecker nearby Auronzo di Cadore

Auronzo di Cadore, in the northern part of the Dolomites, is one of the most northern municipalities of Veneto (Belluno province), being on the border with the Val Pusteria (Bolzano province). Even if it lies at an altitude of only 866 m, the habitats around are definitely alpine, with extended woodlands of Spruces, Larches and Dwarf Pines.

Conifer forests
Conifer forests

The Ansiei river passes through the valley replenishing the attractive artificial lake of Santa Caterina, that characterizes the basin of Auronzo di Cadore.

Auronzo di Cadore and Santa Caterina lake
Auronzo di Cadore and Santa Caterina lake
Santa Caterina lake
Santa Caterina lake

All around spread the dolomitic massifs of Marmarole (2,932 m) and Sexten Dolomites (=Dolomiti di Sesto) with the outstanding Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2,999 m), Cima Bagni (2,983m) and Croda dei Toni (3,094 m).

Marmarole (2,932 m)
Marmarole (2,932 m)
Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2,999 m)
Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2,999 m)
Cima Bagni (2,983m)
Cima di Ligonto (2,794 m)

The human presence in the area is particularly old, with many evidences of roman populations, while the little Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria is one of the most ancient buildings, survived from XVI century.

Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria
Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria

I spent two different days in the area of Auronzo di Cadore at the end of July, exploring the rich woodland areas and visiting, thanks to the very kind Roberto Zanette, some interesting orchid sites along the Ansiei valley.

Even if the best time was gone, there were still a lot of gorgeous species of flowers in full bloom, including Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis), Lax Cinquefoil (Potentilla caulescens), Star Gentian (Gentiana cruciata), Large-flowered Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis speciosa), Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), Glutinous Sage (Salvia glutinosa) and many more.

Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis)
Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis)
Lax cinquefoil (Potentilla caulescens)
Lax cinquefoil (Potentilla caulescens)
Star Gentian (Gentiana cruciata)
Star Gentian (Gentiana cruciata)
Large-flowered Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis speciosa)
Large-flowered Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis speciosa)
Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Glutinous Sage (Salvia glutinosa)
Glutinous Sage (Salvia glutinosa)
Bellflower sp. (Campanula sp.)
Giant Bellflower (Campanula cf. latifolia)

Unfortunatelly many of the orchids, like Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra), Bird-nest (Neottia nidus-avis) and White Adder’s Mouth (Malaxis monophyllos), were already with fruits.

Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza trifida)
Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza trifida)
White Adder's Mouth Orchid (Malaxis monophyllos)
White Adder’s Mouth Orchid (Malaxis monophyllos)

Some other orchids were with their last flowers: Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata), Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia odoratissima) and Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens).

Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia odoratissima)
Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia odoratissima)
Creeping Lady's-tresses (Goodyera repens)
Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens)
Creeping Lady's-tresses (Goodyera repens)
Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens)

The woodland was rich in funny presences like colourful beetles and the misterious Dutchman’s pipe (Monotropa hypopitys)…

Oreina cacaliae
Oreina cacaliae
Dutchman's pipe (Monotropa hypopitys)
Dutchman’s pipe (Monotropa hypopitys)

..but also amanzing fungi: Penny Bun (Boletus edulis), Charcoal Burner (Russula  cf. cyanoxantha), Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina), Coral Mushroom (Ramaria sp.), Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) and the stunning Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)
Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)
Charcoal Burner (Russula  cf. cyanoxantha)
Charcoal Burner (Russula  cf. cyanoxantha)
Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina)
Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina)
Coral Mushroom (Ramaria sp.)
Coral Mushroom (Ramaria sp.)
Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

The forest is home of quite a few interesting birds, but July wasn’t the best time of year for birdwatching, as usual, so I spotted of interesting just: Honey Buzzard, Black Woodpecker, Craig Martin, Crested and Willow Tit, Common Treecreeper, Crossbill, Bullfinch and, first of all, a gorgeous male of Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus). It’s a rare species in Italy, with only 100-250 breeding pairs , 10-20 of which in  the Belluno province (according to “Ornitologia Italiana, vol. 4”, Brichetti & Fracasso, 2007).

Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus)
Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus)
Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus)
Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus)

Much more rich was the enthomofauna, with beautiful Six-spot (Zygaena filipendulae), and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets (Zygaena lonicerae)…

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)
Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae)
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae)

…but expecially butterflies, with some outstanding ones like Dark-veined White (Pieris bryoniae), Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera), Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine), White Admiral (Limenitis camilla), High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe), Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops), Arran Brown (Erebia ligea), Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus),…

Dark-veined White (Pieris bryoniae)
Dark-veined White (Pieris bryoniae)
Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)
Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)
Woodland (Lopinga achine)
Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine)
White Admiral (Limenitis camilla)
White Admiral (Limenitis camilla)
High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe)
High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe)
Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)
Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)
Arran Brown (Erebia ligea)
Arran Brown (Erebia ligea)
Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)
Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)

…and the commonest of all, Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), with its amazing green form vallesina.

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia f. vallesina)
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia f. vallesina)
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia f. vallesina)
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia f. vallesina)

Ending the post, I can’t finish without showing the full blooming orchids I had, starting from helleborines: Dark Red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens) and Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine).

Dark Red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens)
Dark Red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens)
Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)
Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)

The best species I had was the reason of the second visit to the Auronzo di Cadore area: the outstanding Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum), famous to be one of the few species to not have any chlorophyll and to have an unpredictable appearance, disappearing for years and sometimes appearing where was never reported before.

Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)
Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)

Luca Boscain

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