A day in the mountains with rare Southern African Butterflies
I have had a very long relationship with Chrysoritis oreas, a lovely little copper butterfly found tin top of Bulwer Mountain in the Southern Natal Drakensberg. Discovered by Pennington on the Loteni area in the early 1900’s not much was known about this insect until the mid 1980s when Wolter Kaspers and Clive Quickleberge were on Bulwer Mountain and Wolter netted a rather worn copper. This turned out to be C oreas at a new locality. Since then many people have ventured up this beautiful, steep mountain. My first trip up was in October 1993, the day that I met my wife (on the way back to Durban I stopped at Monteseel and met her!). I climbed the mountain in October 1996 with Alan Heath and Tony Brinkman. It was on this trip that Alan discovered the ant and food plant used by the butterfly, got it to lay and bred it through for the first time. Later, in 2005 I climbed the hill with Steve Woodhall and we had a wonderful day photographing the butterfly.
My friend, Clive Curtis, is currently completing a DVD on Butterflies and requires more footage of rarities. Last November we got great footage and photographs of the equally rare Chrysoritis orientalis at Bushmans Neck and since then we made plans to climb Bulwer. The window period to see this insect is narrow, early October is the best and we were fortunate to find a weekend immediately after his return from safari in the Kalahari and before his son, Connor, was born.
We left not feeling too confident, the weather was not good, there was a lot of cloud and a very strong wind, however we decided to have a crack. Luckily the closer we got to Bulwer the clouds began to clear and it looked like the colony might well be sheltered from the wind.
The drive up the hill was as rough as I remembered it. We got to where the paragliders launch and then walked. As we got out of the truck this is what greeted us…..
I find it easier walking with people who do not spend 14 hours a day tracking elephant and lion in the Kalahari sands and so I spent a lot of time “admiring” the various Moraea and other wild flowers on the way up. On getting to the false summit I pointed out the colony to Clive, that being the little rock area in the centre of the photograph…..
We walked down to the lower part of the colony and immediately started seeing the little insects flying around. Mostly confined to the lower rocky area they were fairly common. Last time I was up with Steve we really battled to find specimens however this time they were not plentiful but they were there. Here are some images….. the first, the underside of a loverly fresh male….
Then the upperside of a male feeding….
Then a female feeding…..
And another female just chilling….
And yet another…
Higher up the slopes we came across Chrysorotis lycegenes, another beautiful opal…..
and Aloeides oreas….
and finally, a few candid shots of what we do……
we walked off the mountain very satisfied. I had more photographs,Clive had photographs and video and I learned that a Canon 100 f2.8 lens requires stabilisation when shooting video!! Another great trip, thanks Clive and congratulations to you, Tarryn and Hannah on the arrival of Connor.