Russian Caucasus 2013 Tour

Discussions about the ‘World’s Floweriest Place’ could be heard around the dinner table after another day on Lagonaki’s amazing meadows and dolines. Several of us were of the opinion that Lagonaki was at least the equal of anywhere we’d been. 

All that was to change later as we drove up a track to Tugaz Lake 3000m up on a ridge south of Dombai close to the Caucasus’s main range. We looked out over a sea of flowers! The huge blue bells of Campanula biebersteiniana, held on stems barely longer than the flowers, were so thick on the ground they were like a blue grass stretching up the slopes.  There were patches of yellow where Primula ruprechtii coloured the ground, sometimes instead the imperial purple Primula amoena. Deeper yellow was provided by Anemone speciosa, a choice species, whilst bright shining pink was Pedicularis nordmanniana. Scattered through it all was three different colour forms (cream, bright golden yellow and blue) of large-flowered Viola oreades.  Every kilometre or so we’d stopped and walked amongst this fantastic scene, marvelling at the flowers, at the landscapes…then we crested a final rise and drivers parked up, a beautiful cwm filled with a deep emerald lake was in front of us, snow slopes all around. There were half a dozen species of Saxifrage in flower on the gravelly ground, Corydalis, fine mats of Veronica telephiifolia, yellow Gentiana oschtenica in clumps, perfect groups of Gentiana pyrenaica. Two male West Caucasian Tur, a kind of Ibex, picked their way across the back of the cwm, the calls of Caucasian Snowcock echoing around us, one seen briefly. At our feet Lapland Fritillaries…

 

Lower down the valleys the tracks were swarming with butterflies. Camberwell Beauties, Map Butterflies and both Admirals flew along in front of our vehicles as swarms of blues and skippers and Scotch Arguses rose from the track surface. We stopped several times to photograph the large groups of mud-puddling butterflies, we could have spent days looking through them. Twice we saw groups of more than hundred mixed skippers and blues crowded into just a few square inches. More than sixty species were recorded on one day and the list of butterflies seen during the trip was impressive, notable for some rather special species such as Large Blues in numbers, a colony of Scarce Large Blues, several of the uncommon Violet Coppers, Yellow-legged Tortoiseshells, and the delicate Nordmann’s Apollo. 

 

A Wallcreeper appeared on sandstone cliffs, there were several Lammergeier sightings, and Great Rosefinches and Alpine Accentors were noted on the ridge above Dombai. A White-tailed Eagle was a surprise, while raptor numbers in the low forested hills were impressive with Lesser Spotted, Imperial and Steppe Eagles as well as Honey Buzzards.  It is always great to see Hawfinches and Bullfinches and we saw a good number of Red-fronted Serins too.  The massed displays of Lilies (kesselringianum and monadelphum) were fabulous, also Aconitums, a variety of Campanulas, seven species of Lousewort, Iris sibirica and the Yellow Globe Orchid were all fabulous. Possibly what sticks in the mind most though is the near endless largely pristine landscapes from the lowest hill country to highest glacier-clad mountains. The human population of the Russian Caucasus is very low and so much of it remains undamaged. We experienced endless vistas of flowery mountain meadows and forest-clad valleys. Amazing country! And so easy to visit too with airports close to both main centres, and we either drove or went by cableway  to all these high places.

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