Into the Umkomaas Valley for a feast of Pierids
For a while now Doug Morton (for Dougs version of this see http://www.douglasimages.co.za/index.php?option=com_blog&view=comments&pid=19&Itemid=2) has been trying to organsise a trip to visit the Highover area of the Umkomaas Valley near Richmond. Doug is a keen birder and has seen Blue Swallow on top (where he also caught the butterflies Acraea violarum and Aloeides aranda) and told me that lower down in the valley we would enter the bushveld and then the Riverine type bush.
I have been keen to do it for a while but we had never been able to actually get there. The last week of my Christmas holiday proved just the time to do it. The weather was good, we (including wildlife photographer Sam Davis and birder Gordon Bennett) were all available so off we went. We met at Doug’s home at 06h30 on the 5th January 2011 and headed off for the Valley. After an hour of driving through sugar cane and blue gums we finally arrived at the Highover Farm.
We parked and were amazed by the plants and other life around the house. Here I have to add that the flower bed on either side of the path to the house is the biggest patch of Stapelia gigantia (Giant Carrion Flower) I have ever seen. Approximately 20 square meters of massed succulent. These are the biggest succulent flowers on the planet, measuring some 40cm across, and smell of rotten meat to attract the pollinator, blow flies. The place cannot be the most pleasant in late summer when the flowers are out.
After collecting the keys, we made our way to the grassland on top, but it was not good. The wind was up, clouds low and it rained on and off. There were no butterflies, but the flowers were out with some lovely orchids as well as a large stand of Gladiolus eckloni presented with their beautiful white and brown flecked flowers. We also got a brief glimpse of some Blue Swallows as they flitted around. Things did not go well in the grassland so we decided to head down into the shelter of the bush.
No sooner had we arrived, than we started seeing Pierids (whites) on the wing. This excited all of us but got Sam and Gordon particular worked up as neither had come across many of these butterflies before. We stopped off at the entrance to Highover and immediately noticed the Sulphur tip (Colotes auxo) everywhere. Among them were the odd Gold Tip (Colotes eris) and Scarlet Tip (Colotes dannae annae) along with masses of the Brown Veined White (Belenois aurorta aurorta) and the larger Brown-Veined White (Belenois gidica) and occationally Smoky Orange Tip (Colotes euippe omphale) and of course the Lemon Tip (Eronia leda).
We had a great day photographing all of these and I was able to get upper and underside pictures of most of the Pierids. Sam, armed with a 100 to 400mm lens was also photographing butterflies!! One thing that I found particularly interesting was a pair of Yellow Zulu (Alaena amazoula amazoula) mating. I associate these butterflies with rocky grassland, so finding them in the riverine bushveld was a suprise. I am going to include species on this blog later so the pictures that I took of the Sulphur and Scarlet tips will be included there (as I have male and female undersides) so below I shall include a few photographs of the singletons we saw.
Later we went further into the Valley. The Umkomaas River was full after all the rain and the grass long and lush. Doug hastened to remind us that this was Mamba country so we did tread a little more carefully than usual. We saw a number of beautiful insects on the mud puddles, from the Green-banded Swallow Tail (Papilio nireus lyeaus) through to the little Natal Spotted Blue (Azanus natalensis). I was happy to photograph these along with the Snout Butterfly (Libythea labdaca laeus), a very fast flying Nymphalid that breed on the White Stinkwood trees (we spent some time watching a female laying). Anyway…some photographs
And finally, thanks to Gordon, Sam and Doug for a very pleasant day…watch this space for the species posts, as a few were shot on this day…Cheers!