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Well, after a rather long leave of absence I am back on my blog. I have some great ideas but for now just a cool image….

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The very rare and beautiful Disa zuluensis

 


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…..14516447_10209423686862119_8526991535135094695_n

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…..14641926_10209423935148326_1162358604111145167_n

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…._V4A1195.jpg

Then the upperside of a male feeding….

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Then a female feeding…..

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And another female just chilling….

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And yet another…

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Higher up the slopes we came across Chrysorotis lycegenes, another beautiful opal….._v4a1237

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and Aloeides oreas…._v4a1229

and finally, a few candid shots of what we do……14492572_10209423935508335_6519075386448159188_n_v4a1242

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.


The Tugela Valley and its Ansellias.

A while back I posted a blog on the Leopard Orchid (Ansellia africana), an indigenous epiphytic orchid found in our area.  Nine months ago we found a large colony of about fifty huge plants averaging a meter in diameter. The site was a valley of a tributary of the Tugela River, approximately 40km inland.  I have wanted to get back to photo the plants when in flower. Last week we went through and visited the plants in the late afternoon.  Here are a few images

Close up of A africana flowers.  These are typical of the Southern types with smaller yellow faintly marked flowers  
Another close up of the flowers 

 
A medium sized plant in flower

 
Six plants high up in the tree, further up the valley we found some huge plants.

 


Another orchid post

This is a wonderful time of the year with Spring here in the Southern half of the planet and so a few more orchids…..

The first, an epiphyte from Northern India, Coelogyne flaccida. This plant has beautiful cascading flowers in early Spring and is great in baskets.  
The next is a Cymbidium species. I have to say that I am not a fan of growing Cymbidium hybrids and prefer the species as they have their own shape and aroma.  This is a beauty, Cymbidium eburneum

  
And finally a Dendrobium hybrid, D Sakura, a very easy growing and flowering plant.

  


A trip is planned into the bush.

A few months ago a posted a blog about the African Leopard Orchid, Ansellia africana, a lovely epiphyte. Here in KZN we see the smaller, yellow flowers, unlike the larger red wine spotted cousins in East Africa. Anyway, this Tuesday (weather permitting) we head to the Tugela Valley to work and hopefully photograph this beast in flower, the largest Ansellia I have seen, over 1.8 m in diameter…..hold thumbs 

 


A few more orchids…

a few more beauties flowering in my garden. The first is Birfranaria harrisonae, a lovely flower. I received this plant three years ago and it was a stubborn flowerer, finally this year it has come through with a number of lively flowers. 
Second we have one of my recent purchases (from the National Orchid Show held here in PMB). This is Pragmapedium Memoria Dick Clements, a hybrid (P besseae x P sargentianum). As far as the red hybrids go this is one of the best with an almost metallic look to it.

 And finally we have the pristine white Coelegyne cristata, an epiphyte from the Himalayah region of Northern India.  A large, lovely flower.  


Orchids, orchids and more orchids

Well, winter is over and we have Spring upon us. With Spring comes loads of flowers.  Before we visit the garden I will show you all some beautiful orchids flowering in my home at the moment.

The first is the lolly Oncidium Sharry Baby, a great plant, easy to flower and it smells of chocolate. The flowers last ages so this is a great plant for the home.

  
The next plant is Angraecum sesquipedale, Darwins orchid named as such as he predicted that an unknown moth. With a very long tongue would pollinate it. 40 years later Xanthopan morganii praedictum was discovered and named….

  

Next we have a hybrid of Cymbidium traceyanum. I got this as my wife’s name is Tracey and, like her, it is lovely…..enjoy

  


The Cape trip….Part 2….some birds

During our recent road trip to the Cape we chanced upon some lovely plants and birds. The images below were taken in Cape Town, Betty’S Bay and Knysna. Enjoy…. 

The first three images,  Black Oystercatcher, Betty’s Bay

    
  The next two, Little Egret, Leisure Isle, Knysna

  
And finally, an African Penguin, a Boulders a Beach, Cape Town

   
More birds, butterflies and fun stuff tomorrow😀


The Cape a Trip…..part 1

This Easter we decided to go road tripping. Our eldest daughter, Isabelle, decided to ride from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg with her school adventure team and we decided to follow her. We left a week after she did, they had a few days off before starting and visited Table Mountain and Robben Island before starting the long ride to Pmb. We left and travelled via Richmond, a small town in the Northern Cape. We spent three days in Cape Town, the first was lovely and ended with. Walk up Constantia Neck. A steep walk and quite a tough decent. Anyway, I found. Few lovely insects going up and here they are….

Aloeides thyra 

   
Lampides boutiques, mating pair 

 Dira clytus, the Autumn Brown. These were flying from Cape Town to Hogsback 

 


Some cats….. Part three

We are heading off on our road trip to Cape Town tomorrow so here is the last of the Phinda blogs for a while ( the next few will be road trip). Tonight’s is Lions. Some lovely ladies from Zululand… 

    
   


Some cats……part 2

After yesterday’s leopard posts I thought it appropriate to post this, a young cheetah having a huge yawn after waking up with its family after a long night sleep…..tomorrow some lions, more cheetah and leopard and others before we start posting on our two week road trip around the cape!! 

    
    
 


Some Cats……part 1

It is always good to see elusive animals and the leopard, as one of the big 5, is always a good one to see.  We were very fortunate to have a number of sightings at Phinda Private Game Reserve, here are a few images from these….. 

    
   


A weekend in the wild!

This last weekend was very special as we went to one of the beautiful private game reserves in the province, Phinda.

Phinda Private Game Reserve is situated just north of the town of Hluhluwe in Northern KZN. It is typical bushveldt and this year extremely dry after the devastating drought.  Anyway, it was extremely rewarding as fat as sightings go and over the next few days I shall post a number of images of the animals that the were able to spend time with.

The reserve is home to the big 5 and we were able to spend time with all of them. Here, as starter, are a few images of elephant and cheetah.

A young tired cow after a long day… 

 She was a member of a larger herd, here are a few of them… 

 and then we have our old friends, the Giraffes 

 and then those lovely cats, the cheetah, some youngsters drinking

And a portrait of one of these beautiful animals 

   


The next “from the office” post

As noted in the last post, I am very lucky in that my chosen profession sees me visit all sorts of lovely areas with all sorts of lovely buildings. The Middeldrift area of KZN is full of lovely old buildings and here are two. I know nothing of their history, I am trying to find out a little, but here is the first one. In Nkosi Shange’s area a little church that we found and named Shange Abbey, a really lovely little building, over 100 years old…

  
And then we have this building, I have no idea what it was…traders house, local doctor.??? Who knows? Currently it is abandoned.  Maybe I will find out but here it is….

 
 Amazing old buildings with more to come, along with the plants and other beautiful things we see in the area.


Views from the office.

What I do gets me out. I get to see lovely places. I never carry the big photo bag with me as this takes time to set up while working so instead I take the Apple smartphone or tablet. I have for a while been taking images of where I travel and work and posting them on Facebook under the title “View from the Office”. I also cycle and study and photograph butterflies and these have always been posted as “View from the Saddle” and “View from the Office”. Folks have commented on this particular steam of “views” and asked me to include them in the blog, so here we go….. The first of the “views” blogs.

One of the places that I visit most often is Ladysmith in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, SA. The last six months has seen the area experience severe drought. It is normal dry but this year is very bad. The area is rural with loads of subsistence farming.  The first image is on route to the area, the Wagondrift dam on the N3 outside of Estcourt.

   
Then we get into the area, an old “view” outside of Ezakheni township near Ladysmith, lovely “bushveldt” home of Acacia trees, Aloes and many other wonderful plants.

 And then we have the worksite, or rather the view from the site. Taken in August of this year you will see just how bad the drought is.  
Well that’s is it for the first “views” post. A beautiful but tough area. I am happy to note that the rains have finally come and I hope that new posts will show the area looking good, the cattle sleek and people in the area thriving again.


Chrysoritis orientalis, the Eastern Opal, a beautiful and rare insect from the Southern Drakensberg.

I first heard of Chrysoritis orientalis many years ago when I first became interested in butterflies. My friend, Harald Selb, spoke of the Opals as if they were at the top of the butterfly chain of beauty. I would argue that he is not far wrong. I would have to wait a while before being introduced to this beautiful family of butterflies, a genus fairly common in the Cape but less so up here.

Anyway, the insect under consideration was discovered by Swanepoel in the Bushmans Nek area of the Southern Drakensberg in 1975.  My first trip after the insect was in December 1992 when I made the trip up the the colony with Clive Quickleberge and Harald Selb. Despite finding interesting insects such as Neita lotenia and Seradinga clarki we did not meet the beautiful opal.

Over the years I made a number of trips up with my, then to be, wife, Tracey on these trips I collected a few specimens. Later, in 1996 I climbed the hill with Alan Heath and Tracey and I found larvae of the insect and we were able to identify the ants associated with it as well as the food plant. I also had the unique privilege of thing the first person to see one of these insects emerge from its pupa.

Since the collecting trip with Alan I have wanted to photograph the butterfly. A trip up with Clive Curtis in Dec 2013 resulted in our seeing one tattered female.  This year we hoped would be different.  Clive wanted stock video footage of the insect and I was after images of the insect.  We planned a trip up in early November, it was very dry but the area had seen snow recently and we hope that this moisture might wake everything up.

The area is prone to thunder storm activity from mid day so we decided to meet in Howick at 05h30 and get up the hill as early as possible.  We got to the Bushmans Nek Hotel just after seven and were at the colony at half past eight.  On the way up I received a text message from Steve Woodhall asking for male upperside images for his upcoming e-book. We checked all the ridges and came across Aloeides penningtoni in a number of spots.

Aloeides penningtoni (Clive Curtis)  
While at one of these spots filming and photo the A penningtoni we were treated by the appearance of a pair of the rare Bearded Vulture that flew low over us, I suspect two blokes lying on the ground might look very appetizing to these birds. This was a real treat.

The Breaded Vulture (Clive Curtis) 

 
On arriving at the colony we began searching for the insect. Within minutes we had the first sighting and the fun began. The colony was in full flight. We spend the next three hours filming and photographing the butterflies. Here are some images.

Male C orientalis upperside (for Steve W) 

 
Male underside 

 
Female underside 

 
Myself photographing the insects (Clive Curtis) 

 
Clive wondering around with video gear searching for more insects to film  

 

The view from the colony looking South.

 

A very successful day was had by both Clive and I, the sore! Tired legs were worth it!


A few more orchids in flower

This time of year sees a lot of my orchids in flower. Rather than loads of words this time just a few pictures of some of my plants that are in flower.

The first, Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, this one showing a lot of West African genetics with the dark spotting.  
Then a dainty Epidendrum, E radicans.

  

 Then we have a very interesting Pahiopedilum, this time P hirsutissimum. 
An inter generic hybrid, Rlc Husky Boy

  
Then a local plant, Polystachya pubescens

  
And finally Oncidium Moon Shadow ( apologies to Cat Stephens)

  


A few orchids

i have been very remiss recently and not posted for no other reason life life has been rather mad. Anyway, here goes….I gave been growing orchids for a while now and this weekend was able to photograph a very common Dendrobium nobile orchid. It is an epiphyte from the Pacific rim, a strange little plant, all canes and a few scrappy leaves but just as you least expect it out pop some flowers. Here are two images of this weekends flowers…… (More posts to come, more frequently….promise)

   
 


Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid.

Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, is a fascinating plant. Discovered by Ansell on the Niger River inWest Africa in the nineteenth century the plant is considered by some to be monotypic, a single species with a genus, and others a complex of similar plants.  The plant is distributed throughout most of the drier savannah areas of the Continent and is usually seen high up in trees in the sun. It is a rather messy plant, in the wild a mass of roots, old and new canes (pseudobulbs) and old flower stalks are seen alongside the distinctive leaf shape. The plant can get huge, up to an estimated 1000kg and plants in the Ndumo area of Zululand Kzn are known to have Eagle Owls nest in them.

The root system of the plant is very interesting. Roots to attach to plants and feed are present as are the “leaf catcher” roots. These roots grow upward forming a basket which traps plant little, bird matter and other detritus to compost and feed from.

These plants flower in Spring and Summer. The flowers are four to seven cm across and either butter yellow is the Southern specimens or bright yellow with purple/brown blotches.

I have a number of plants in trees, pots and hanging baskets and they do very well in all here is Pietermaritzburg.

The plant grows happily is a tree or in pot. This Spring flowerer and can grow into a massive plant and is demonstrated below.

A first photograph is of a wild growing plant, no flowers but healthy. Growing in the Mkomaas Valley, KZN. It is on a dead tree with all limbs hacked off for fire wood.  The canes are about 500 mm long and 40 mm thick. In this photograph you can clearly see the “leaf catcher” roots growing upward to catch plant matter, bird poo and other detritus that might fall and compost to be used as food.

 

The next is of a garden plant. This plant is growing in Scottsville Pietermaritzburg. It is happy and healthy and the pollinator is present as viable seed capsules are visible. The second photograph is a close up image of the pods.

   
And now, the flowers. These vary, from a pure butter yellow to yellow with brown/purple spots. They are small flowers, from three to six cm across. The flowers are borne on a stalk originating at the terminal end or at a node on the cane. From twenty to fifty flowers can be found per stalk. Below are a few images of the flowers. 

Here is an image of a plant from KZN


And another showing a West African genetics with the dark spotting. 

  
and finally a 1.5 m diameter monster that I found in the Tugela valley recently 

 


Angraecum sesquipedale (Thouars)

I love plants and insects with stories or legend about them. The extinct (in the wild) Encephalartos woodi (Woods cycad) from the Ngoye, Lepidochrysops tantalus (the Tantalizing Blue) immortalized by Swanepoel and then there is this orchid.

Angraecum sesquipedale is something I have read about for a long time. Native to the lowland forests of Madagascar Flower were first sent to Charles Darwin (noted evolutionary scientist and author of many papers and books on orchid biology and pollination) in 1862 and, on noticing the length of the nectar spur a whopping 35 cm ( the species name, sesquipedale refers to the “foot and a half long” nectar spur. Darwin proclaimed that a yet undiscovered moth would polinate the flower. Fourth years later the insect was discovered, Morgan’s Sphinx, Xanthopan morgani praedicta ( a better subspecific name could not have been chosen).

I received a number of plants from Richard King of Darling in the Western Cape, these are all young and a year or two away from flowering. I received a mature plant from Outeniqua Orchids earlier this year and it produced a bud in early May this year. After two months the buds (two) were ready to open and the fist one did, two days ago. On opening the flower is green is greenish and turns white over a few days. At night it is fragrant. It is huge, 15cm wide.  A really beautiful plant.

Below are a few images of the plant, maturing bud and flower.  YouTube has footage of the moth pollinating the plant.

  

  The flower bud and emerging spur at about five weeks.  The open flower, approximately 15 cm in diameter. On opening the flower is light green, slowly turning white as it matures. To attract the moth it is fragrant at night.    The open flower showing the full length of the nectar spur.

 


A few more Orchids

last Wednesday my father in law had a double heart bi-pass. We went down to see him in hospital in Durban on Saturday and decided to visit the Orchid Show in Durban North after seeing him.  attached are a few images of plants on display.  Those that I could ID I have, the non IDed are hybrids with no labels. The venue was wonderful, overlooking the Beachwood Golf Course, right next to Virginia airport (so we had loads of low flying two and four seaters). Anyway, here we go….. 

 View over the recreation area 

Pano from the lunch area, not a bad spot to chill

 
The famous Angraecum sesquipedale, Darwins orchid, a 15 cm wide flower with 35cm nectar spur.

 
Paphiopedilum insignae.

And now whole bunch of Paphs that I could not Id as they were hybrids.

  
   


A few more orchids on this Autumn evening

i have a number of orchids flowering right now and after last weekends attempts to photograph Paphiopedilum Leeanum against a white background I though that I would try these. The first is a very small hybrid of the Cattlaea group, Caltliante White Bridal. An interesting plant that opens with a green hue but then slowly turns white, the second from the right flower was the last to open. 

The second is a plant that has been flowering for around a month, Zygopetalum James Strauss is a beauty, a bit tired and old but a beauty nevertheless. 

The last photograph is of a real beauty, not only on the eye but on the nose as well.  This beautiful Oncidium flowers well and smells wonderful. This is the beautiful Oncidium Sharry Baby 

 


Paphiopedalum Leeanum

The slipper orchids are very interesting plants. Real oddities with lower petals being fused to form the “slipper”. I have a number of slippers and currently have Paphiopedilum Leeanum in flower ( this hybrid is an old cross between Paphiopedilum insigne and Paphiopedilum spiceranum). P Leeanum is easy to grow and this really is a grea hybrid to grow. 

This plant is young with only one flower but more mature plants might see up to ten flowers on a plant.

Anyway, no more other than the 100mm f2.8 diaphragm died and somthese were taken with a non L zoom lens. All are four or five stack images combined in Zerene Stacker. 

       


Some unique and beautiful flowers…..now the orchids

Last week I posted a blog on some recently opened Stapeliads. These are interesting succulent plants from Africa, Arabian Peninsula and India. Now it is time to post a few recently opened orchids.  No more words just photographs.

The first is Zygopetalum James Strauss, a rather interesting little plant with lovely flowers. 

the next is Miltonidium Bartley Schwartz, a rather leggy flower spike but smells lovely. 

 and then we have one of my favourites, one of the slipper orchids Paphiopedilum leeanum, a cross between P insigne and P spicerianum. Really lovely compact little plant and interesting flower