News, Trip Reports, etc

Les Vercors, France, 8th to 14th June 2008

Col de Menee, near Combeau

La Chapelle en Vercors
Location of La Chapelle en Vercors

Vercors June 2008 gallery

La Chapelle en Vercors, altitude 945 metres, lies at the heart of the Parc Naturel Regional du Vercors.The geological diversity of the mountains – the deep gorges cut in limestone, the plateaux and summits overlooked by the Grand Veymont (2,341 m; 7,680 feet), the sheer cliffs and extensive forests, and the climate subjected to a variety of influences – continental, oceanic, Mediterranean and alpine, all give this area a particularly rich and diverse wildlife and flora.
With a total in excess of 1800 plant species, orchids are well represented with about 63 species existing within the park.

We spent a week here principally looking for orchid species. We looked at different habitats whilst driving around, and walked several well-marked footpaths – there is a good network of ‘sentiers’ to give access to the most promising areas. The park authority produces indispensable footpath maps widely available in the shops. For one rare species we asked a local park ranger, they frequently drive the area in well-marked vans.

The weather was unseasonally awful ! By June it has usually stabilized, apparently, allowing of course for odd blips because of the altitude. The day we left La Chapelle it was 4 degrees centigrade on the final col, the previous day had seen 20 minutes of snow there ! The cold, very wet and prolonged spring meant that butterflies were at a very low density, but the orchids were there if a little later than normal. This proved to be an advantage; I would recommend the first week in June for this trip in a ‘normal’ year.

We made no attempt to see the specialist breeding birds of the region, the birds recorded were those seen whilst looking for orchid species; likewise with butterflies because of the bad weather.


Font D’Urle, altitude 1436m.

Situated a few kms west of Vassieux, the road to the village [D76b] is signposted on the D76 – it is a well-known site for walkers.
Font D’Urle is a small skiing resort of chalets and gites with a couple of restaurants. From here there is a marked circular footpath to Porte D’Urle at 1499m. and back over some limestone karst to the village. A spectacular walk of high pasture and limestone crags and pavements with many plant species.

Herbouilly/Hauts Plateaux, altitude 1300-1600m.

About 3 kms east of St Martin-en-Vercors, along the back-road [D221] to Villard-de-Lans, is the Auberge de Roybon, a hotel/restaurant. From here it is possible to walk the marked paths to the high plateau.
We barely ventured up here, mainly because of the weather, but also because the main interest here is probably avian, i.e. Black Grouse, owls, etc as the plateau is mostly covered with forest. On two brief visits we did however see some interesting plants; a walk to the top would no doubt prove rewarding.

Vallee de Combeau, altitude 1200-1300m.

A beautiful, remote valley north of Menee, on route D120, with interesting flora.

Beaufort-sur-Gervanne area, altitude c350m.

In the extreme south-west of the park, Beaufort is on route D70.
Being lower and more southerly, we looked at fields and a wood near here for ophrys orchids, the climate being almost Mediterranean.

Les Merciers, altitude c1300m.

Les Merciers is a small hamlet near Engins and is sign-posted on route D531 north of Lans-en-Vercors.
Apparently well known to mountain walkers, we walked a short stretch of one of the marked paths above the village, looking in vain for a decent selection of butterflies.

These are just five sites we looked at after gleaning information from the Vercors park website and elsewhere. It seemed that just about anywhere produced orchid species when we toured around and walked the footpath network, it was just a matter of narrowing down habitat requirements. In fact, many species were found roadside.

I have not given specific details on the location of certain species, e.g. Lady’s Slipper, Coral Root and Spitzel’s, and I won’t respond to emails asking for details. We found these either by good fortune, or in the case of one by asking a park ranger – I suggest others do the same, or try emailing them through the website. The park authorities also provide guides to help you find certain species; see their website.


Camping des Myrtilles
"Les Chaberts"
Tél & Fax :
E-mail :


Official website of the Parc Naturel Regional du Vercors


ORCHIDS - 31 species, not including subspecies, and some hybrids.

Main source of reference FIELD GUIDE TO ORCHIDS OF BRITAIN & EUROPE by Karl Peter Buttler, 1991.

1. MAN ORCHID Aceras anthropophorum – Common roadside
2. PYRAMIDAL ORCHID Anacamptis pyramidalis – Fairly common, especially in the southwest
3. WHITE HELLEBORINE Cephalanthera damasonium – Occasional roadside and elsewhere, often with Narrow-leaved Helleborine
4. NARROW-LEAVED HELLEBORINE Cephalanthera longifolia – Common roadside and woods
5. RED HELLEBORINE Cephalanthera rubra – Common roadside and woods near Beaufort sur Gervanne
6. FROG ORCHID Coeloglossum viride - Font d'Urle only
7. CORAL ROOT Corallorhiza trifida – Undisclosed site, five plants
8. LADY'S SLIPPER Cypripedium calceolus – Undisclosed site with 150+ plants
9. COMMON SPOTTED ORCHID Dactylorhiza fuchsii – Scattered, woods and occasionally roadside
10. HEATH SPOTTED ORCHID Dactylorhiza maculata – Scarce, a few roadside near Herbouilly
11. ELDER-FLOWERED ORCHID Dactylorhiza sambucina (red and yellow variants) – very common Font d’Urle and some high cols
12. SMALL-LEAVED HELLEBORINE Epipactis microphylla – One plant only in woods near Beaufort sur Gervanne
13.FRAGRANT ORCHID Gymnadenia conopsea – Common in rocky areas
14. LIZARD ORCHID Himantoglossum hircinum – Very common at lower altitude
15. VIOLET LIMODORE Limodorum abortivum – Only in woods near Beaufort sur Gervanne
16. COMMON TWAYBLADE Listera ovata – Common roadside
17. BIRD'S NEST ORCHID Neottia nidus-avis – Amazingly common in most woods
18. BEE ORCHID Ophrys apifera – Common roadside on warm southern side, e.g. around Beaufort sur Gervanne
19. LATE SPIDER ORCHID Ophrys fuciflora – 2-3 plants in field near Beaufort sur Gervanne
20. FLY ORCHID Ophrys insectifera – Occasional roadside and in woods
21. WOODCOCK ORCHID Ophrys scolopax – Several plants in field near Beaufort sur Gervanne
22. EARLY PURPLE ORCHID Orchis mascula – Very common on roadsides. Late-flowering high altitude plants possibly ssp. acutiflora e.g. Font D’Urle
23. MILITARY ORCHID Orchis militaris – Occasional roadside around La Chapelle and Vassieux
24. PALE-FLOWERED ORCHID Orchis pallens – 8 plants near Herbouilly
25. LADY ORCHID Orchis purpurea – Occasional roadside and in woods
26. MONKEY ORCHID Orchis simia – Common roadside
27. SPITZEL'S ORCHID Orchis spitzelii – Common at undisclosed site
28. TOOTHED ORCHID Orchis tridentata ssp. commutata – Five plants near Beaufort sur Gervanne
29. BURNT ORCHID Orchis ustulata – Scarce throughout, possibly including ssp. aestivus
30. LESSER BUTTERFLY ORCHID Platanthera bifolia – Common roadside and woods
31. GREATER BUTTERFLY ORCHID Platanthera chlorantha – Six plants in woods near Beaufort sur Gervanne

Orchis militaris x O.simia Hybrid Military/Monkey – near Vassieux
Orchis tridentata x O.ustulata Hybrid Toothed/Burnt – near Beaufort sur Gervanne
Bee orchid hybrids, various, e.g. x Late Spider - near Beaufort sur Gervanne

WILDFLOWERS of interest, not an exhaustive list;

BLACK RAMPION Phyteuma nigra - roadside
CARTHUSIAN PINK Dianthus carthusianorum
RAGGED ROBIN Lychnis flos-cuculi
MOSS CAMPION Silene acaulis - Fonte d’Urle
NARROW-LEAVED GENTIAN Gentiana angustifolia - Combeau
CLUSIUS'S GENTIAN Gentiana clusii - high cols
SPRING GENTIAN Gentiana verna - Font d’Urle
COMMON WINTERGREEN Pyrola minor - Combeau
GLOBEFLOWER Trolleus europaeus - Font d’Urle
LIVE-LONG SAXIFRAGE Saxifraga paniculata - Les Merciers
HEARTSEASE Viola tricolor - Font d’Urle
ST. BERNARD'S LILY Anthericum liliago - Combeau
LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY Convallaria majalis - Herbouilly
DOG'S-TOOTH VIOLET Erythronium dens-canis - Font d’Urle
PHEASANT'S-EYE DAFFODIL Narcissus poeticus - Font d’Urle
WILD DAFFODIL Narcissus pseudonarcissus - Font d’Urle
HERB PARIS Paris quadrifolia - Herbouilly
SCENTED SOLOMON'S SEAL Polygonatum odoratum - Font d'Urle


60 species recorded, including;

GRIFFON VULTURE Gyps fulvus - 40+ Font D’Urle
SHORT-TOED EAGLE Circaetus gallicus - 1-2 southern Vercors
QUAIL Coturnix coturnix - 1 heard campsite
TAWNY OWL Strix aluco - 1 campsite
BEE-EATER Merops apiaster - 2 Beaufort
HOOPOE Upupa epops
BLACK WOODPECKER Dryocopus martius - 2-3 heard or seen
TREE PIPIT Anthus trivialis
WATER PIPIT Anthus spinoletta
REDSTART Phoenicarus phoenicarus - 1+ pairs breeding at campsite
WHEATEAR Oenanthe oenanthe
BONELLI'S WARBLER Phylloscopus bonelli
FIRECREST Regulus ignicapillus
COAL TIT Parus ater
CRESTED TIT Parus cristatus
SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER Certhia brachydactyla - 1 Beaufort
RED-BACKED SHRIKE Lanius collurio
ALPINE CHOUGH Pyrrhocorax graculus - common Font D’Urle
RAVEN Corvus corax
BULLFINCH Pyrrhula pyrrhula
CIRL BUNTING Emberiza cirlus


23 species recorded

1. SWALLOWTAIL Papilio machaon
2. LARGE WHITE Pieris brassicae
3. BLACK-VEINED WHITE Aporia crataegi - Beaufort
4. SMALL WHITE Artogeia rapae
5. ORANGE TIP Anthocharis cardamines
6. CLOUDED YELLOW Colias crocea
7. BRIMSTONE Gonepteryx rhamni
8. WOOD WHITE Leptidea Sinapis
9. ILEX HAIRSTREAK Nordmannia ilicis - Beaufort
10. LITTLE BLUE Cupido minimus - Herbouilly
11. SILVER-STUDDED BLUE Plebejus argus - Combeau
12. ADONIS BLUE Polyommatus bellargus - Combeau
13. ESCHER'S BLUE Polyommatus escheri - Beaufort
14. RED ADMIRAL Vanessa atalanta
15. SMALL TORTOISESHELL Aglais urticae - Les Merciers
16. PAINTED LADY Vanessa cardui
17. HEATH FRITILLARY Mellicta athalia - Beaufort
18. MARBLED WHITE Melanargia galathea
19. MEADOW BROWN Maniola jurtina
20. SMALL HEATH Coenonympha pamphilus
21. PEARLY HEATH Coenonympha arcania - Beaufort
22. WALL BROWN Lasiommata megera
23. SMALL SKIPPER Thymelicus flavus