A blog about what I love….photography and bicycles!

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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.

  


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!! 

    
    
 


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.


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)

  


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 

 


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 

  


Some more rather unique, odd and beautiful flowers.

The last two weeks have seen some interesting plants flower in the garden. A number of Stapeliads that were collected in a garden in Springbok (WC) have flowered (eventually) and we have some orchids popping up flowers as well.

First the Stapeliads, here in the first one, an Orbaea, species unknown but most likely a hybrid. Take a close look at the tiny hairlike structures on the edge of the petal. 


The next is another Stapeliad ided as S asteroidea, or a gracile variant of S hirsuta. Lovely little flower. 

 Next is a favorite, two images of Stapelia granduliflora (one posted recently) 

  

 the orchids will be posted this weekend.


This weekends macro work

There is no theme for this weeks blog as I simply had a go at a few opportunistic subjects.

I have been working on photographing the life history of a butterfly called Charaxes varanes (if you follow this blog you will see the imagine in the next six weeks). I have always been fascinated by the head shields of the Charaxinae butterflies and they make fantastic subjects for portraits.  A few years ago I bred a number of local Charaxes butterflies and got the entire life history on camera. Ch varanes is a common insect and I have bred it a number of times however never had the chance to catch the hole thing on film.  The third and fourth instar head shields are spectacular. Here is the third instar portrait. 


The second image that I worked on this weekend is that of a Stapeliad, S graduliflora. I blogged on these plants recently and discussed the fact that they attract flies to fertilize them (their foul smell attracts the flies, large flowers can be smelt from quite a distance, the smaller are inoffensive). This plant has never flowered for me. I received it from a friend who travelled to Springbok in the North Western Cape. This is a stack of 10 images stacked to obtain a greater DOF (using Zerene Stacker, Canon 100 f 2.8) 

  


Some portraits

A while back I spent some time photographing a series of images that reflected the creatures in my garden. Entitled “Garden Portraits” here are three of my favourites. 

The first is a female rain spider on her egg sack. A very caring mum looking after her babies.  Canon MPE65 and MT24EX flash system

  

The next is a Lynx spider, the first spider that I found in my garden. Similar gear was used to the above.

 

The last one is a little Salticid spider, again the gear used was similar to the above. 

  


Landscapes and things

I have to say that I have been silent for an embarrassing period. There is no excuse. Anyway, this Christmas we all headed off to the Drakensberg (Bushmansneck) for a five day break at the beautiful Farraway Farm. The insect life was shocking but the biking and other photography superb. Here are just a few images from the trip to get things going again for this year

After the storm. 5 Image panorama stitched in CS6

After the storm. 5 Image panorama stitched in CS6

Garden Castle Panorama.  5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Garden Castle Panorama. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Early afternoon. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Early afternoon. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

African Stone Chat (Male)

African Stone Chat (Male)

Ant eating chat.

Ant eating chat.

African Stone Chat (Female)

African Stone Chat (Female)

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite


A flurry of frogs!!

I have never quite known what a collection of frogs are called…a croak, a pond, a flurry? Who knows, anyway I recently came accross a beautiful young Natal Tree Frog (Leptopelis natalensis) and it allowed me to photograph it. Here are a load of uncaptioned photographs, enjoy..(all taken with the Canon, 100mm f2.8 macro and 430EX Speedlight)

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And now for non macro work!!

This last weekend I was fortunate enough to spend three days at the Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith. I shall not say any more and rather share images of some of the beautiful animals that we saw. This will take a few posts so here are the first couple of photographs. More are to follow over the next few days.

The first photograph is a pair of white rhino, beautiful muddy giants in the Sunset
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The next is the first of one very handsome male lion introduced from Kalahari stock.
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And another of the same young man.
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And here, a young Kudu cow, could not resist photgraphing this!
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And finally a young bull elephant dismantleing a tree!
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I have loads more photographs and will post them over the next few days.


Some interesting images!!

This last weekend has been wet and I have needed to get some work done on my butterfly talk. It is scheduled for next Saturday and I wanted to get some wing scale shots to include in the talk. I shot Junonia oryhthia madagascariensis, the Eyed Pansy, Junonia oenone oenone, the Blue Pansy and the Ioulaus sidas, the Saphire. The images were hard to get with the lighting being very tricky but I shot these few photos at between 3 and 5 x with the MPE 65.

The first photograph is of the wing of the Blue Pansy, J oenone oenone. Part of the blue flash is visible.

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This next one is a wing eye spot of the Eyed Pansy, J orythia madagascariensis. Again the scales are fascinating.

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Thid is the anal fold on the hind wing of Iolaus sidas, not the long hairlike scales near the fold.

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And to add a something a little different, a Salticid

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And a first instar (a few hours old) larva of Dannaus chryssippus, the Monarch. Notice the lumps on the first and fourth segments that will eventually become very elongated.

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An egg, some interesting portraits and a beautiful butterfly

I have, for a while now, been photographing butterfly eggs with my MPE 65. The most recent egg that I have done is that of the Banana nightfighter, Moltena fiara. This egg was found on the leaf of the host plant, Striletzia nicholai, here in my Wembley garden. It never ceases to amaze me how beautifully structural these eggs are with the ribbing to add support and allow a thinner wall.

M fiara

These next two portraits of a fly and an antlion were great fund to do, just battled with the DOF.

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Finally, a while back I noticed this mint Colotes annae annae (Scarlet Tip) male in the garden. I never thought that I would see one here as this is a bushveld bug but here it is feeding on my Pentis!

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Recent close ups of butterfly larvae, adults and others!!

I have recently been breeding a number of butterflies and been able to either get macro images of the larvae or of the adult. This first photograph is of Charaxes candiope, the Green Veined Charaxes, third instar larva. The head shield is approximately 5mm accross. This was shot with the MPE 65 @ 2x

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These next two photographs are head shots of Junonia oenone, the Blue Pansy. I bred a number of these recently and was able to take a number of photographs of the head of the butterfly as this one was drying its wings. These two were taken with the MPE 65 3x

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This final photograh is a robber fly, not the classic full frontal that I wanted but still OK. This was also taken with the MP65 at 2x

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Damsels, flies and portraits

This Christmas holiday has been great fun chasing things and getting used to the MPE 65. I have always wanted to shoot those classic portraits of insects and finally for to this holiday. Here are three portraits and a less “macro” shot. Again these were all taken with the MPE 65 and MT24EX setup attached to the Canon.

The first photograph is a fly.
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Fly portrait
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Damsel portrait
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A second damsel portrait
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