Archive for the Evenimente Category

Finding the Apollo in Bulgaria – July 2018

Posted in Concedii, Evenimente, Specii rare on July 17, 2018 by maxpho

This post is about finding the Mountain Apollo, one of the most beautiful and large butterflies in Europe.

The quest for the fantastic Parnassius apollo butterfly began when I was very young, while receiving a book about insects; on the front cover it stood very proudly the big whitish black-and-red spotted Apollo. This image remained with me for so many years…

My first big disappointment came in 2012 when, together with my wife, I went to the Bicaz Gorges (for the second time in as many years), in my own country, Romania. Despite knowing that most Romanian lepidopterists accepted that P. apollo is considered extinct in the area, my hopes were very high. Of course, no Apollos were seen, despite visiting many of the known sites for this species…

The next Apollo-targeted trip was in 2017, in Croatia, again with my wife, and her brother. There we went first on the Velebit Mountain. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit ahead of time, and we’ve arrived a bit too late at the meeting…Most probably a couple a weeks too late.

A second trip towards the east of Croatia resulted in a bigger disappointment: the wildfires encircled one of the best areas for Apollo in Croatia, so my hopes to meet the species were, again, ruined.

The last trip dedicated to finding the species was in Bulgaria, at Trigrad, also in 2017, in August. Not learning from my mistakes, I’ve decided to check the area despite being very late in the period. Again, no Apollos, but the area was truly peppered with its main food plant, Sedum album. The region is characterized by steep calcareous walls, sub-alpine vegetation in some areas, and a lot of space for butterflies to fly in, with many species of plants around this rather quiet village.  A few interesting butterfly species were observed, and comparing their usual flight periods with the Apollo’s, I’ve concluded that we’ve arrived too late, perhaps with as much as 3 weeks…To be honest, this was already in my mind before we departed towards Trigrad: exchanging a few messages with the renowned lepidopterist Levente Székely, I’ve found out some general areas where the species flies, and also their main flight periods for each location. He told me that basically it was too late to find the Apollo in that year…I did not listen :(. After the big disappointment with Croatia, I needed badly some evidence of the Apollo. But it was not to happen in 2017.

So, this was the story of Apollo for me…until 2018.

Bulgaria July 13-15, 2018.

To begin with, the team: myself, my brother-in-law, Mihai, and my uncle, Leonard. All of which never saw an Apollo butterfly in the wild before…

Day 1:

Our trip started in Bucharest, with the team gathering at about 5:30 in the morning. We drove to the Giurgiu-Ruse bridge over the Danube, and into Bulgaria. By 12:00 we were in Sofia, and by 15:00 at Melnik, a nice little vacation village, situated at around 400 meters above sea level. The area was surrounded by calcareous walls, and the nearby grass fields looked very similar to the Retezat Mountains fields back in Romania.  A lovely location.

pirin melnik.jpg

Our first stop was right next to Melnik, in a small opening where a light shower cooled the air from 34 Celsius to around 24 C in a matter of minutes.


And the very first invertebrates: a spider (Lycosa sp., to be determined)…


…and a few individuals of Scarabaeus pius/sacer (yet to be precisely determined):


Also, a few butterflies were observed, including one Limenitis reducta female, and the only Polygonia egea observed in the entire trip.

The next few stops were on the road from Gorno Spanchevo to Pirin, a mountainous road recently “refurbished”. Being late in the evening, not much was to be expected. Yet hundreds of Cetonidae were flying around, with as many as 40 on a single plant. A few scarab beetle were also observed.

pirin 3.jpg

The first big “wow” of the trip came from Mihai: a couple (really a couple, a male and a female) of Palpares libelluloides, perhaps the largest species of ant-lions in Europe:



The last stop, an hour before sunset. This time at the side of the road a large grass-rich opening offered no more than 10 individuals of Libelloides macaronius, or owlflies:


This short trip had to end, since all of us were quite tired, and the next day was to be dedicated to the Apollo.

Day 2:

Again, early in the morning, 6 AM, and we were already making the plan for the day. A short breakfast and up we went. This time, the road to Pirin showed its true colors:

pirin 2.jpg


At an altitude of 900 meters and rising, the number of butterflies was increasing rapidly. Here I’ve managed to observe the only Chazara briseis of the trip. Lots of Colias sp. individuals were flying in the morning Sun, as were a few Satyrinae. Melanargia galathea and Brintesia circe were the most common species in the area. No larger butterflies. Yet 😉


Further along the road, on the calcareous walls, tens of Sedum album plants were giving us the sign that Parnassius apollo should be…close.


Our first larger butterfly was…well…we still don’t know for sure. A whitish large shape flying above our car. With the Sun in our eyes, we could not discern the true nature of this back-illuminated butterfly. (We can however assume it was actually our first Apollo observed, since no other species encountered in our trip were similar to it.)

Many of the visited locations were filled with Carduus sp., the main feeding plants of the Apollo:


The next few stops were rather brief, with all of us looking down the valleys or up the cliffs, but with no luck…

I was again a bit disappointed, and thinking “Croatia all over again…”.


Another stop, and another one and…WOWWWW!!!

Ten Apollos were flying in front of my eyes down a cliff, all on a small patch filled with Carduus. What a sight! “I’ve finally found it!”. Shouting to the other members of the expedition: “Get over here, tons of Apollos here!”.

The next three hours were dedicated to this area alone, with the Apollos flying up and down on a rather steep stony wall. Pretty hard to photograph the species here:


Next stops along the road revealed another 8 Apollos, some observed at an altitude of 1600m. By the time we’ve got back to the first Apollo location, the bulk of the species was already gone. Still, a couple of females were laying their eggs on a few stones close to the larval food plant.

The Gallery presented below is the result of some 2 hours of photography.

apollo 7 si 1.jpg













On the road back to Melnik, we’ve observed another two Apollos, at an altitude of only 900 meters. This was the lowest altitude where the species was observed on the trip.

We went back to the Hotel, and celebrated our success with a couple of beers and a nice big stake. What a memorable day…

Day 3:

Again, early in the morning, and up to the mountains. Same locations were visited, but due to the earlier time of the day, only two Apollos were observed. These were the only individuals of the day, adding to a total of 22 (perhaps 23) Parnassius apollo individuals observed on the entire trip. Not bad, not bad at all 🙂

On our way back from the mountain, stopping again at around 900 meters of altitude, Leonard finds an ant colony, with some rather large individuals. Some were gathering at the entrance of the colony as soon as we were approaching it. Their bite on the camera’s lens cap was proof that these were no ordinary ants, but some rather ferocious ones (Cataglyphis nodus, ID: Leonard):


The very last insect, found by Mihai just a few hundred meters from the ant colonies, was also the giant of the trip: Saga natoliae. What a magnificent bush-cricket.




saga comparatie.jpg

The way back home was long, delayed for a couple of hours by a terrible accident (in which a truck smashed a small car in a wall…not a nice sight to remember), but it made all the drivers a bit more careful on the sinuous road to Sofia…

The long way back was rather quiet, with only a few cars passing from Bulgaria to Romania. It was a relaxing returning trip from a very tiring expedition.

Must get back there again…



-This post is dedicated to my wife, who couldn’t come with me on the trip. She stood back home, preparing the next generation of astro/ento/photo enthusiasts ;).

-I must thank Levente Székely for all the information regarding the general locations and flight periods of Parnassius apollo in Bulgaria. Without these details, I could still be only dreaming of one day meeting the superb Mountain Apollo. Thank you!


Papilio machaon – March 14, 2018

Posted in Evenimente on March 14, 2018 by maxpho

Another species emerged today in my balcony. This time from a larvae found in September last year. The species name is Papilio machaon (Linnaeus, 1758). It is found in all of Europe but their numbers are declining due mostly to human activities…

Papilio 1.jpg


And a second individual…in a higher resolution shot.


Eudia pavoniella – March 2, 2018

Posted in Canaraua Fetii, Evenimente, Experimente, Specii rare, Uncategorized on March 2, 2018 by maxpho

Spring is coming, and the first sign was observed in my balcony where I keep a few cocoons of a lovely medium-sized moth. A single female emerged today from one such cocoon. The species name is Saturnia pavoniella (Scopoli, 1763), a moth occurring in Europe. In Romania, I’ve found it in three locations already, in almost all the evolution stages: eggs. caterpillars and more recently as adults. It frequently comes to light during the colder nights of March-April, and sometimes in May, depending on altitude.

This species is not yet threatened, but it seems that its range is changing in recent years.

Eudia pavonia March22018.jpg

Also, the male. The following shots are of a freshly emerged male from March 10.




The transit of Mercury – May 9, 2016

Posted in ASTRO, Evenimente on May 9, 2016 by maxpho

Sometimes objects fly in front of the Sun: bees, birds, planes, the International Space Station…and sometimes planets also.

Today it was Mercury that transited the Sun.

Not the best conditions for this imaging session, but I did manage to observe the event with my wife, Eli, from the Comana Woods, south of Bucharest.

For now, only a few shots are posted, since the 200Gb of data will take some time to analyze.

The image below, was acquired using the 115mm F/7 APO Refractor and 3x Barlow lens, full aperture Baader solar filter, ASI 174MM camera and a Baader Red filter. Seeing was 4/10, with a lot of clouds passing rapidly.



Eli did a time-lapse transit evolution with Mercury in different positions. Note the unequal distances between the positions since she captured the shots between the clouds:


And a short animation showing the great differences between white-light and H-alpha  in solar imaging:


Thanks to Adrian Sonka, I could use a Coronado PST (40mm) which “sees” only the light emitted by the Hydrogen atoms. It offered the best views while observing the event at the eyepiece.

A wide view with moderate resolution (for 13:42 U.T.):

MercuryTransitMax1342ut May9.jpg


Zerynthia polyxena – February 21, 2016

Posted in Evenimente, Experimente, Specii rare on February 21, 2016 by maxpho

One of my “back to Nature” activities (involving breeding some insect species for re-population of areas that had these species which are now critically endangered) is up and running well I might say:

ZERY 1.jpg

This year’s species is Zerynthia polyxena, one of the most beautiful butterflies in Europe, and one of the earliest ones to emerge in March.  Last year I’ve reared almost a hundred caterpillars of this species, collected either as larvae or egg from two locations with very large populations (one of the locations had around 1000 larvae !!). The reason for this was to repopulate one area that had the species until a few years ago (but was eradicated due to very stupid and fast urbanization) and to increase the very fast declining numbers of individuals at another location (the very stupid way that agriculture is done is the main reason for this population’s decline).

Of course I had to make a few investigations regarding the future habitats where the butterflies will be released, and as for any other projects of this kind, I can only hope that the locations I have in mind will remain the same for some time (that is, not to be destroyed by humans in the next 5-10 years at least).

At the moment, due both to very warm temperatures for this period of the year (+15 to +20 degrees Celsius!!) and a warm winter from my part (the location for the butterfly pupae had temperatures above 10 degrees Celsius in December and January), some of the individuals have started to emerge. This is good but not very good, since their host plant is still mostly underground at the predicted locations. I have to ensure some good conditions for this adults until I’ll release them back to Nature.

For now, a few shots with some of the freshly emerged butterflies:

ZERY 2.jpg

ZERY 3.jpg

ZERY 4.jpg

Best of Maximus Astro-Photography – 2015

Posted in ASTRO, Evenimente, Tranzite ISS on December 31, 2015 by maxpho

This is the last day of 2015 and, as some others recap the successes or failures and plan strategies for the upcoming year, I’ll recap some of the best astro-shots of this year; they are either the best in terms of technique, artistic significance or importance of the subject.



The main subject that I (and many others) followed during this month, and afterwards, was comet Q2 Lovejoy.


Link to the original post here.

This comet passed near the Pleiades also:


Link to the original post here.


In February comet Q2 Lovejoy was still pretty much the most photogenic object, with its long ion tail interacting with the solar wind:


Link to the original post here.


March had one more interesting comet visible along side Q2 Lovejoy. It was a very brief yet extremely interesting evolution of a SOHO comet named C/2015 D1. This little fellow disintegrated after passing too close to our star. To image this comet in the very bright dusk skies was a challenge. The same night I’ve observed this comet, Lovejoy and the Moon were present:


Link to the original post here.

In March I’ve also acquired my first acceptable Jupiter shot with the then-new homemade 14 inch scope:


Link to the original post here.

Also in March we had a partial solar eclipse, which was almost lost to clouds, but I did manage to take a few shots.


Link to the original post here.


After a long break in Astrophotography due to a different interest and some expeditions to find rare insects and reptiles, I’ve rebooted myself and restarted imaging the sky.

We had some very nice and quite large sunspot groups this year, and in August the planet Venus was also close to our Sun (apparently) which made possible to image both the star and planet during daytime.

Following is a composition showing the two:


Link to the original post here.

Many interesting sunspots made me get out more often in the beautiful Summer days:


Link to the original post here.


September was the month in which I made my dreams come true in terms of Astrophotography. With the finished 14 inch scope, and the new ASI 120MM-S camera (the old 120mm stopped working in December 2014) I’ve finally got my first great resolution shots of the Moon, practically at the limit of a 14 inch scope. This is what I’ve wanted from the very first days (10 years ago maybe) I’ve seen some fantastically sharp and detailed shots on the LPOD site, made by amateurs with amateur equipment.

But before those HR shots, a “SuperMoon eclipse” shot:


Original post here.

And now, for my best High Resolution shot of September: crater Posidonius.


This is only one of the craters imaged on that session. More can be seen here.

Other HR shots from a different September session show also very fine details at the lunar surface, some of 350 meters!



Original post here.

Another incredible session from September, with images showing details inside the Ina caldera and small rilles inside large craters:



Link to the original post here.


October was good to experiment a bit with the processing techniques and some interesting result came out of this.

My very first HR-HDR (High Resolution – High Dynamic Range) lunar shots:


Original post here.

And another HR/HDR view:


Original post here.

October continued with some great/excellent seeing conditions, so HR images of lunar areas continued:




Original post here.

In October we also had a nice “hiding” of Aldebaran by our Moon:


Original post here.


November continued with good seeing, and the Moon was again the main target. But some other objects were observed, like the famous Sirius b and a very tiny Mars at only 4.4 arc seconds.



Original post here.

HR lunar shots were again possible…


Original post here.

…as were some other experimental processing techniques:


Link to original post here.


December was a pretty full month for me, due mostly to the good seeing conditions (which were actually abnormal for this month at my location) and a few nice events.

An ISS transit over the Moon:


Original link here.

I’ve also been lucky enough to capture a plane into my small field of view while imaging a large sunspot:


Original post here.

And the last HR lunar session of the year, with very good seeing conditions:


Original post here.

One final “astro” shot, showing the Moon rising:



Some “astro-hopes” for 2016:

-Hope to increase the success in lunar/solar/planetary imaging in 2016, since a new camera just arrived (the ZWO ASI 174MM),

-Hope to be more active also in the Summer nights, despite other interests,

-Have a very large Lunar mosaic showing an entire lunar phase in HR.

-And hope to get under darker skies and marvel at the Milky Way and other deep sky objects together with my wife and anyone truly interested in conversations regarding our place in the Universe 🙂 !

Have a Great 2016 !


December 31, 2015

A Full Moon for Christmas – December 25th, 2015

Posted in ASTRO, Evenimente on December 25, 2015 by maxpho

A Full Moon mosaic acquired on the night of December 24 to 25, 2015. After a short High Resolution session of some lunar craters together with my brother in law and the 14 inch scope, I’ve decided, due to degrading seeing conditions, to make a small lunar mosaic. The result shown below is a 30 panel mosaic, each a 700 frames stack with the ASI 120MM-S camera and Red filter at the focal plane of the 355mm F/5 Newtonian. The image is resized to 50% due to degrading seeing conditions altering the different panels.