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

Drakensberg

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.


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!


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


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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Eggs and Architecture

As everyone knows, I am a butterfly person. In the last year I have been able to get upclose with the camera and been able to photograph the eggs of a number of species of butterfly. Here are a few of the more interesting eggs that I have photographed this year. What fascinates me, from an architectural and structural perspective, is the structure of the wall of the egg to support and strengthen the entire thin walled egg. Anyway, enough geek talk, here are the photographs,a few are re-posts but interesting nevertheless. Shot with the faithful MPE65 and MT24EX combo.

The first photograph is of Eretis umbra, the Small Marbled Elf, A rather drab little Hesperid.

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The next photograph is the egg of the Common Mother of Pearl, Salamis parhassus, a spectacular Nymphalid found in the area (and my garden)

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The third photograph is the egg of the Common Black-Eye, Leptomyrina gorgias a Lyceanid that breeds on a number of our Crassulas and other succelents.

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The last egg for the time being is that of Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzled Blue, another Lyceanid and cousin of two of our rarest butterflies O ariadne and O niobe.

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Some more fun wih Spiders

I have recently been posting a lot of macro images taken with the MPE 65. I have always thought that the MPE would be a lens stuck away and used occasionally. I have however found that it spend a lot more time attached to the camera. It is not a field lens but is great fun under controlled conditions. This latest set of photographs was taken with the subject (a Salticid Spider) on a piece of paper and instead of the up close and personal photographs I tried a few full body shots. The attached were all taken at either 4x (portraits) or 1,5x (full bodies). All with the MPE and MT 24 EX flash system, minimal crop.

 

 


A weekend of blues and some macro geek stuff….

 This last weekend my friend Clive Curtis and I spent some time at Wahroonga, a special piece of grasslands between Howick and Boston in the KZN Midlands.  Our hope was to film species such as Lepidochrysops pephredo (the Mooi River Blue), L tantalus (the tantalising blue), Aloeides susanae (Susans copper) and Orachrysops subravus (The Grizzled Blue).  We got to the farm at around 09h30 in the morning and there was a load of activity with specimens of O subravus and A susanae a plenty, the latter being hard to photograph as they rarely settle.  Anyway, after a few hours we had the last two on the list ticked off, along with Leptomyrina gorgias (the common blackeye) and some eggs.  We missed the first two on the list.

Anyway, here are some photographs of the insects and eggs.  The eggs were taken with the MPE 65 at maximum zoom (5x) with very little DOF so I stacked three images in each using Zerene Stacker.

The first series were takes with the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM with the 430 EX Speedlight

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 Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female 

 

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 Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female  

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Aloeides susanae, Susans Copper, female 

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 Leptomyrina gorgias, the Common Blackeye, female.

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 Orachrysops subravus egg, stack of three images usinfg  Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x 

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  Leptomyrina gorgias egg, stack of three images using Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x


Chasing the Cliche (and hopefully eventually catching it)

 

 

For years I have been amazed by Salticids (Jumping Spiders) and have been wondering how other people get these amazing close ups.  Then I discovered the Canon MPE 65.  As you all know I purchased one three months ago and started working.  Eventually last weekend I found the first Salticid of Spring and had a go at getting the full frontal that everyone else had (hence the title of this post). This little fellow is approximately 7mm from toe to toe.  These were all taken with the MPE 65 and MT 24 EX combination.

MPE 65, 3X

MPE 65, 3X

MPE 65, 3X

MPE 65, 3.5X


The Kiln Gallery has a new Exhibitor

It has been a while since we had a new exhibitor at the Kiln.  Sarah van der Bank is not exhibiting at the Kiln building yet but her work is available on the Kiln FaceBook page and may be ordered directly from us.

Sarah is a born and raised Midlands lady. She grew up and was schooled right here in Howick and now lives in the Mkhuze Game reserve with her conservationist husband, Lance, and young son, Meryck.  Here is a taister of some of Sarah’s work. 

Like most of us at the Kiln, Sarah’s work may also be viewed and purchased through The PictureBox in Pietermaritzburg www.picturebox.co.za


The miracle that is a butterfly….

 I have, over the last 20 years, bred many thousands of butterflies and am always blown away by the metamorphosis of lavae through pupa to butterfly.  I am currently breeding about 5 species.  A while ago I posted the life history of one of our Hairtails (Anthene).  Two days ago I discovered the larvae of our African Monarch, Danaus chrysippus aegyptius, feasting on my Stapeliads.  After a bit of a look I found a pupa colouring up.  I had great fun photographing the larvae, pupae and emerged adult.  So, not to bore you all with test, here are some of the photographs.

Final instar larva of Danaus chrysippus aegyptius (The Arfican Monarch) feasting on the leaves of Stapelia hirsuta, a carrion plant from the Eastern Cape.  The egg of this larva was laid, and initially fed on Adenium multiflorum (The Impala Lily) but went onto the Stapeliad when it has flattened the Adenium.  The larva is brightly coloured as a warning to birds that it is poisonous.

Pupa of D chrysippus aegyptius colouring up.  Note the wings, abdomen, eyes and antannae clearly visible.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius newly emerged from pupa.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria, side view.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria upper side.


The Kiln welcomes Rob Caskie

Talk PosterA month ago, well known story teller and historian Rob Caskie approached Fran and myself to use the Kiln to present talks.  We naturally thought that this was a great idea and Rob presented his first talk on Tuesday night.  The talk was on Rorkes Drift, one of the great Anglo Zulu battles and was a fantastic success.  Rob’s next talk is completely different and the focus is on the great continent of Antarctica.  The first quarter of the 1900’s saw great expeditions.  Some successful, others not.  Successful expeditions generally saw heros come home.  Unsuccessful ones saw heros remain entombed in the ice.  Very occationally you saw unsuccessful expeditions return home.  Rob’s next talk on Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton demonstrates this very well.  Scott raced Amundsen to the South Pole, Amundsen won, Scott remains there.  Shackleton was caught in the ice, his ship was crushed and his story is epic.  His entire crew rowed to Elephant Island afterwhich he took a small whaler and travelled to South Georgia.  He returned and rescued the entire crew from Elephant Island.  The trip has been recorded as a great feat of mountaineering, leadership at the highest level and the greatest exhibition of navigation skills ever.  The talk is on the 17th April 2012 at the Kiln.

I am not going to go through Rob’s resume again as he is very well known.  All I wish to add is that he has recently addressed the Royal Geographic Society and was flown to the continent of Antarctica to present the talk he will at the Kiln. 

Future talks include the battle if Isandlwana amd other great African stories….

And now a photo or two..

Rob and Fran at the Kiln.

Rob and Fran at the Kiln

Rob Caskie

Rob Caskie

Rob on the ice pack immediately prior to delivering his Scott and Amundsen talk.

Rob on the ice.  Who on this great lump of rock would talk in shorts on the ice pack ?(except Rob C of course)


Rocksitters in March.

Here in KwaZulu Natal we have two members of the genus Durbania.  Members of the species Durbania amakosa fly throughout the Eastern region, from the coast right up to 2500m is suitable areas.  They are also mid summer insects, emerging in November on the coast and later at higher altitudes.  Our localised Durbania limbata is a bit of an anomoly, it flies in late summer.  Mid March is the best time to find it.  A few weeks ago my old friend Harald Selb visited us from Cape Town and Steve Woodhall, Clive Curtis and I spent a day butterflying in the midlands with him.  I did not take him to the D limbata spots as I thought we may be too early.  Instead we visited the forests nearby and Woodridge.  A week later Clive and I visitied the old “Pennington spot” at Curries Post above Yellowoods.  Clive wanted HD video footage and I have to say that, despite having bred the insect from larvae found on the rocks had never seen it live.  So Clive and I visited the old spot.  After introducing ourselves to the owner we walked over to the colony (with his over active dogs in tow…..anyone who has ever tried to photograph butterflies will know that a bouncing, loving labrador is not a great help when trying to focus on a butterfly at 20cm).  We wondered around and saw very little apart from a very territorial Spialia spio.  I checked the rocks and found loads of old pupal cases but no insects.  After 1/2 an hour of searching I was beginning to think we were to late and then Clive saw a D limbata.  That was it, over the next hour we saw loads.  Along with the D limbata were what have to be the most frustrating butterflies on the planet to photograph, Stygionympha wichgrafi, they rarely site and when they do it is for a second or two.  I have a hard drive of in flight escape shots!!  I got one relaxing.  All that said, I feel that if we had stopped with Harald we would have seen them.  Pity but good reason for him to come up again next March.  Here are a few photos of the day.

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman underside

Spialia Spio, the Mountain Sandman, underside.

Stygionympha wichgrafi, Wichgrafs Brown.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Clive Curtis videoing D limbata.

Clive Curtis doing his thing.


South Africa’s largest butterfly, Papilio ophidicephalus phalusco, the Emperor Swallowtail, Life History

The largest butterfly in Southern Africa is, without doubt, the Emperor Swallowtail (Papilio ophidicephalus). The insect is found throughout the mist forests in Southern Africa (through into East Africa). In South Africa we have a number of sub-species, ssp phalusco is found in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal as far north as Greytown, ssp zuluensis in the Eshowe area, ssp ayrsi in the Northern KZN into Southern Mpumalanga, ssp transvaalensis in the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Notrh of the Oliphants river and ssp entabeni in the Soutpansberg way up there in the Limpopo Province. There are a number of other ssp including the nominate further North but we shall stick to ssp phalusco, the one that I know most intimately myself being an inhabitant of their range.
Before I carry on, this post shall not go into detail regarding the length and duration of the instarts (period between skin sheds), as this has all been documented at length by the likes of Clarke and van Son. Instead I shall discuss what I observed during the short eight weeks of the cycle from egg to adult.
My old friend Clive Curtis has always been very pationate about butterflies.  We have travelled all around the province together colelcting and breeding butterflies and he is currently working on a DVD about South African Butterflies (www.safarivision.com). Part of the work toward this is documenting the life histories of a particular species in each family. Clive chose the most spectacular of our swallowtails (P ophidicephalus phalusco) as one focus species to breed. He captured a female in the Karkloof had her lay about 20 eggs and past 15 on to me to breed at home.
The Papilionidae (swallowtails) are spectacular insects. All South African readers will know the Orange Dog (Papilio demedocus demedocus) or Green Banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus) from their gardens. These two breed on, amongst other plants, the Citrus species such as lemon, grapfruit and orange trees. Our species, the largest of all, is a far more selective eater. It eats a plant known as Clausena anisata (known as Perdepis in Afrikaans, loosely translated as Horse pee due to its smell when you crush the leaves). Anyway, the first stage of the life history is the egg. Eggs are laid lingly on leaves of the foodplant. The eggs are circular, cream coloured and between 1 and 1.5mm in diameter.  It takes the little larvae take about five or six days to mature to eclosure or larval emergence. Just prior to the little larva breaking out of the egg it darkens up. Upon emerging from the egg the larva has its first meal, the old egg shell. To gat an idea of size the larva is approximately 2mm long on emergence. So, to photos, the first photo is of the egg while the second is of the young larva eating the egg shell.

 

OK, after the little creature eats its shell it settles into life as a butterfly larva.  This is a dangerous life, birds, robber flies and spiders want to eat you, wasps and flies want to sting you and lay their eggs in your little body and have their babies grow in you (while you are still crawling around and eating).  You are not equiped with very much to evade these hazards, you cannot crawl fast but you can hide.  From the moment that these little larvae start to eat they begin to look like a piece of bird dropping.  From the first to the fourth instar they larvae look like a bird dropping.  They stay on the leaves, eating, growing and shedding skin until, after approximately four weeks they reach the final instar that is different.  Of interest is that, during the third and fourth instars, the larvae rest with a slight twist to their body (see the photos below).  Anyway, here are photos of the second, third and fourth instars.

 

The final instar is very different.  Rather then resting on the leaves they spend their sleeping time at the base of the tree or branch.  This means that they no longer need to resemble something grim like a bird dropping and are supprisingly different with beautiful green and brown patches on the skin.  The lumps and bumps are still evident (indeed into the pupal stage).  Of interest, the Papilio butterflies have a defensive mechanism, a foul smelling structure known as the ostometrium that it pops out of its head when threatened. As said they smell foul and obviously tell all attackers that they are not a pleasant tasting meal at all.  Below are a number of photos of the final instar (and a couple with the mutters with their ostometrium exposed)

The most magical of all butterly larval stages has to be larva to pupa to butterfly.  After 7 to 14 days as fifth instar larvae they get nice and fat and  lethargic.  The process of change begins.  They slip off and find a safe place to spend the next two or three weeks as a vulnerable pupa.  The Papilio butterflies all have a girdle holding the pupa in place.  Like most other butterflies they spin a silk pad which that they attach themselves to (by anal appendages known as cremaster hooks).  They also spin a girdle which is a little like you undoing your belt and slipping it around a branch and the fixing it.  It allows you the spend your pupal stage, head up leaning back.  The pupa is splendid, rather like a twig with a bit of lichen underneath.

Finally, after two to three weeks (and longer during winter) the adult emerges.  Not much more can be said of the butterfly, most people have seen it.  It is safe to say, and an awful cliche, that, like most jouneys the destination is great but the route is enlightening.  The path to adulthood of these beautiful butterflies is full of risk.  The response is a wonderful evolutionary result where larvae and papae are beautifully cryptic.  Below are shots of a freshly emerged male.

 

Anyway, I must conclude by saying that if you want to see these butterflies, it is easy.  All you need to do is get into open spaces within the mist forests on a sunny day in Summer (peak in November/December and again in March/April) and you will see them flitting around.  An old trick is that they love the colour red.  About 20 years ago I purchased a car for its colour, a bright red VW, and it was perfect to attract Papilio butterflies (especially P ophidicephalus and P euphranor) to come closer.


Hogsback, rain, mud and a few butterflies……

There has been silence from my side as we all dashed off for Christmas at my parents home in the Hogsback in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.  As usual with my visit to Hogsback the trip would involve time on the bicycle and as much butterflying as possible.  The main focus butterfly wise was to find a number of endemics, some of which had neve been photographed.  These included Penningtons Opal (Chrysoritis penningtoni), Dicksons Copper (Aloeides dicksoni) and the Gaika Sylph (Metisella syrinx).  Added to the list was as many photographs of the Amakosa rocksitter (Durbania amakosa amakosa) as possible to compare with our local insect as well as the one that I discussed in my last post, from the Bushmans Neck area.

The drive to Hogsback was long and hard.  As we approached we were greated by a massive thunder storm that was followed by a day of soft rain and cabin fever (me on holiday needing exercise, Tracey wanting to get out and three little girls).  It was good though as it gave us time to spend time with my folks, sister Leonie from Cape Town, other sister Nikki and her husband Rod and their little ones over from Kansas.  On day two we sis see sunshine for a few hours and I dashed out to a local wetland to look for Satyrids.

On arrival I found a few specimens of Serradinga clarki, they are very difficult to photograph as they flit around all over the place rarely landing and when they do it is in a clump of grass making taking a photograph very difficult.  After a few unsuccessful attempts I decided to wonder up a rocky ridge and to my supprise saw a skipper flitting around the rocks.  After a few minutes of following it around I was able to get a few photographs.  There were a number of the little beauties flying around enguaging in aerial battles.

 

I was a little confused with the ID of the skippers however Ernest Pringle and Torben Larsen both agreed that they were Tsitana tsita.

Shortly after seeing the skippers I noted a small dark butterfly flit onto a rock.  Immediately I knew that it would be a rocksitter and there it waqs, a small male, a bit ropey but I was chuffed to find that they were in the area and immadiately started looking for more.  After an hour I had photographed approximately 10 males and a female.  They are smaller than the Drakenberg and Natal subspecies and lack the orange dital markings on the other two.  Compare the photographs below to those from Bushmans Neck (previous post)

Durbania amakoza amakoza male (The Amakoza Rocksitter)

Durbania amakoza amakoza female (The Natal Rocksitter)

The next two days were wet and one was Christmas so we spent a very over indulgent day at Coombe Dingle.  The 27th December was to be a good day, or so all the weather web pages said, so we planned an assault on Gaikas Kop to try to get the rareties.  We woke up early to a breezy, overcast and chilly day.  I knew that the Chrysoritis colony that we were to visit was on the protected slopes so was fairly confident that we would be out of the wind and that we should be successful if the clouds broke.  The climb is short and pretty hard but the flowers over December are wonderful.  Various species of Watsonia (in particular W pillansii with the odd white form popping up in the patches or red) and the robust Kniphofia northyi were to be seen.  It was very strange that the Proteas, once so abundant on top and on the slopes, were in a very bad way with huge patches having died.  I climbed with Tracey (my wife), sisters Leonie and Nikki and brother in law, Rod and they were most shocked when, upon reaching the top I told them to walk half way down the other side to the colony.  Gaikas Kop is an amazing place.  It is flat on top and obviously collects a lot of water as whenever I have visited the sides of the hill seep water all over the place.  On the way down to the colony I saw a small Lyceanid butterfly flitting around.  It turned out to be Orachrysops nasutus nasutus, a fairly widespread cousin of the rare O niobe and O ariadne (I posted about this butterfly a few posts back).  It was a female and I was able to get a few photos, one is attached.

Female Orachrysops nasutus nasutus, the Nosy Blue

We got to the Chrysoritis colony, it was shielded from the wind and the clouds did break up giving us windows of opportunity to look for the illusive little butterfly.  I found them at the spot way back in 1993 and, since then, have visited on a number of occations either on my own or with Alan Heath and Harald Selb.  Every time that I have visited I have seen them.  Even my father, Bruce (not a butterfly person), has been up there on his own and collected a specimen for DNA analysis at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard).  The 27th was different.  I did not see a single specimen.  Sad but that it how things go and I will have to return to photograph them.  I did however find a lovely fresh female Serradinga clarki whose wings were still floppy.  I got some great photos of her before we left. 

Serradinga clarki (Clarks Widow) female

The walk down is through Thamnocallamis bamboo, a bamboo endemic to the higher slopes of the Southern Drakensberg and the Amatolas.  This bamboo is the foodplant of Metisella syrinx (the Gaika or Bamboo Sylph).  As soon as we got into the bamboo we saw the butterfly.  It is a beast to get close to and photograph as the hillside is steep and strewn with boulders and the higher bits of the bamboo very difficult to access.  After unsuccessfully chasing a few I finally got one to play the game and sit for a short period, shot enough to get two shots but to short to get an upperside.  One of the two is attached.

Metisella syrinx (The Banboo or Gaika Sylph)


A dash up the Bushmans Neck

A few weeks ago I sent an email out to my friends inviting them to join me on a dash up Bushmans Neck to photograph Chrysoritis orientalis.  A lot of interest and very little commitment was shown as the hill is very steep.  Eventually two of us went.  My old mate Clive Curtis, a professional hunter who can walk for a week before he starts panting and myself.  I collected Clive at 05h30 from his house and we headed to Bushmans Neck.  After a very misty drive we signed in at the Ezemvelo Gate and started the walk.

The path to the colony goes straight up the main ridge above the hotel, it is very steep and in some places precipitous on either side.  On the way up we came across a small colony of Aloeides oreas.  One particulary fresh male allowed us time to photograph him. 

  Clive has started a stock video company (linked to his hunting video business http://www.safari-vision.com/) and was able to get a lot of footage of this little chap.  From here (about half was up) we dashed to the top.  It took spot on an hour from the car park to the colony.  I have visited the colony on a number of occations.  Some on my own, once with Clive (where we had to sprint off the hill to avoid the huge lightning storm that appeared from Lesotho) and also once with Alan Heath where I found the larvae and Alan was able to breed the insect.  Needless to say we walked the colony flat.  We saw one very ropey female and nothing else.  I suggest that we were far to late for the brood and should head up there again in October and November next year.  That said we found two colonies of rocksitters on top.  The species amakosa of the genus Durbania has been split into a number of subspecies.  I collected a number of specimens from this locality 16 years ago and showed them to Steve Woodhall.  They were nothing like our local insect, Durbania amakosa natalensis.  I thought they were closer to the nominate amakosa however the red/orange patterning on the wings was far more extensive.  Since then we have bred them from three localities and I am fairly sure now that they deserve subspecific status.  Anyway, here are two males found in the upper colonies.

Again Clive got loads of footage of these.  We then set off down the hill to see what we could find in the Proteas.  Not long after entering the Protea stand we cam accross a male Capys alpheas, a butterfly whose larvae feed on the flower heads of Proteas.  In the Proteas we also found more rocksitters.  Further down the hill we came across a number of skippers.  Spialia skippers have always confused me and here we had two of the 10 odd species.  Anyway, I got home and IDed them (with confirmation from Steve Woodhall and skipper guru Johan Greyling).  We found two, Spialia mafa and S asteroidia.  I got a number of photos and Clive some video footage.

And finally a few candid shots of Clive photograhing the Spialia int he photograph above and on the walk home.

We got to the bottom absolutely famished and Clive treated me to lunch preceded by a iced lolly, one of those lollies where the packet should read “defrost and add 5l of water”, it was sweet but exactly what we needed.  The usual conversation on the way home was a little less enthusiastic than usual as we were both rather tired.  It is a hard climb and my cycling legs struggled!!


Decembers invited artist

Things have been pretty wild for the last few weeks getting the Agric Hall going anf people have been asking me whats happening for December.  Well December is here and the first person who will be in for the period Dec/Jan is Steve Bailey.  Steve is an award winning Eastern Cape based photographer.  A brief bio follows as do a number of photographs but please visit Steve site www.stevebailey.co.za for more information.

This December we hope to see Allen Hallett return to the Kiln after a very successful exhibition in Gaborone.

An now a brief bio :

“Steve Bailey was born in Liverpool, England and moved to Southern Africa when he was 10.
He has always had a passion for Photography – eventually studying Graphics/Photography, obtaining a City and Guilds Diploma in Graphic Reproduction.
He spent 25 years in Zimbabwe before moving to Cape Town, South Africa. He is now resident in Bedford in the Eastern Cape”, and a few photographs…..

  


Sharon Weaving exhibits at the Kiln.

 A few weeks ago University of Natal art student, Sharon Weaving, approached Fran to use the Kiln at the Karkloof Farmers Market as a venue for the examination of her work.  So, for the next week the Kiln is hers and her examiners.  Next Saturday we will be back in and her work will be on view along with ours.

So, before I post photographs a short blurb on Sharon….

I have always been passionate about art and craft. Whether ceramics, beadwork or knitting I find that creating with my hands is exciting, fulfilling and therapeutic.  My passion stems from my Mom’s love for all handcrafts and the enjoyment she derives from experiencing a new craft and passing on her knowledge.  I am excited to hear about the activities of new craft movements currently on the go.  These are worldwide initiatives motivated by like-minded artists / crafters, young and old, encouraging people to appreciate all that is handmade.  I think this is wonderful as these movements promote the ‘funky’ aspects of craft, and how contemporary art and craft can be used in development, activism and therapy.  I believe that art and craft are such an important part of life and should be promoted as such.   

I was first introduced to ceramics by attending underglaze painting classes which later progressed to running a ‘ceramic-painting’ studio from home.  My passion for ceramics continued and I decided to study a BA (Visual Art) at UKZN, followed by Honours and Masters majoring in Ceramics.  I started hand-building with porcelain in my Honours year, demonstrating an exploration of texture and translucency in my work.  My ideas progressed further with the piercing of the vessel surface to create shadows.

The casting of shadows continued into the body of work that I now present.  I started making geometric structural forms which were dipped in paper porcelain and fired to 1200˚C.  The fired structure assumed a soft, organic quality in its slumped state which I found appealing, and continued to play with this element of ‘chance outcome’.  Whilst working with these forms I discovered that I wanted to achieve a greater organic quality of form and decided to make the frames myself to have more command over the final product. 

Countless test pieces later I discovered the composition of material, process and clay body suitable to create my recent works.  Each piece is individually crocheted, dipped into an ‘engobe’ and dried over a mould.  Once dry, the pieces are fired to 1200˚C, burning away the crochet cotton , leaving a hollow, fragile, porcelain structure each of which casts its own unique delicate shadow.  I am very excited to have been able to use an age-old craft such as crochet in an unconventional manner thus illustrating that there is a place for time-honoured crafts in contemporary ceramics and other art forms.

 And now, photographs of Sharons ceramic work as well as a few “working” photographs firing in the Kiln…..

Frames

 

Nest

 

Nest

 

Crochet

 

Crochet

Cylinders

 
And now a few photographs of Sharons work in the Kiln (the real one baking them)
 

Firing the ceramics

 

Firing the ceramics 2


The Kiln at the Howick Agricultural Hall

Hello All

Again it has been a mad week with exams, work and getting the new gallery ready for opening.  That asside Fran and I are nearly there and ready to have the gallery open next Saturday (the 12th).  We will be sharing a room with Senqu at the Agric Hall in Howick.

To date the people exhibiting will be : Author and photographer Steve Woodhall, well known nature photographer and author Roger de la Harpe, Aritsts Denise Beuck and Andre de la Rosa, photographers Toni le Roux, Fran Simmons and myself.  We are hoping that sculpture Allen Hallett will confirm as will Peter Wickham, Doug and Deryck Morton and Cheryl Logan.

Tony Thomson, local Amber valley resident and artist, will man the gallery and paint during the week. 

This gallery, like the one at the Farmers Market, has been established as a showpiece for local artists and photographers.  You will not find a selection of Midlands material as diverse and unique as this anywhere else so stop off and have a coffee, say “Hi” to Tony and have a look.  I am sure that you will like what is to be seen.

And now some photos of material that will be on display (apologies for those who follow my blog as a few of these will be repeats).

The first photograph is Toni le Roux’s.  Toni entered this into the “Natural History” category of the N3TC competition this year and won the category!!

 

Nhlozane Dusk

and another of Toni’s that was runner up in the Landscape category in the same competition.
Kenmo Lake in Autumn
Next we have a very well known and popular Howick and Kiln artist Andre de la Rosa….
 

Fence Post

 

Fruit

 Next we have Steve Woodhall.  Steve is the president of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa and author of a number if books on butterflies (all of which will be available at the Kiln)

The Oxe Eyed Pansy

 

The Coastal Tip (one of my favourite butterflies!!)

Thats it for now.  I shall post some of Fran, Denise and other folks material later this week.  We all hope to see you at the Gallery and please spread the WORD about the Kiln Gallery!!

The Kiln Gallery at the Karkloof Farmers Market and soon to be at the Howick Agricultural Hall as well.

I have not posted for a while, mainly because I have been away in the Northern Province and further working rather hard with Fran and Doug getting our new venture going. The new one is another Gallery. Doug and Fran started the Kiln at the Karkloof Farmers Market and two months into it we were approached by Laurence Hancock, a local farmer and business man, about establishing a permanent exhibition at the Howick Agricultural Hall. This was to be open 7 days a week which would help us enormously. Anyway, we have been getting printing done, sorting out painting and trying to employ people. Hence no posts.

Oh, and I forgot to add, if you have not been to the Kiln FB page then do, and like it and you will be kept up to date with all the goings-on. See http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Kiln-Gallery/192143797488771

The new gallery opens its doors on the 12th November so we hope to see everyone there!! Anyway, to close off a few pictures. Bye!!


Visiting rare mountain butterflies, The Drakensberg Daisy Copper (Chrysoritis oreas)

This last weekend Steve Woodhall, Michael Purves and I decided to hike up Bulwer Mountain to attempt to find and photograph the Drakenberg Daisy Copper, Chrysoritis oreas.  This insect was first discovered by South African butterfly legend Ken Pennington on the higher slops of the Drakensberg in Loteni area.  A few people visited the spot and collected specimens however I do not know of anyone who knows where this type locality is.  In the 1980’s Clive Quickleberge and my old friend Wolter Kaspers were on the Bulwer Mountain when Wolter presented Clive with a little copper that he had caught.  It was the Drakensberg Daisy Copper and Bulwer mountain is the only known locality besides the type.  I have visited the mountain a number of times.  The butterfly holds particular significance for me as the day that I trekked back from my first hike up the mountain was the day that I met my wife, Tracey.  In 1997 I visited the mountain with Alan and Jenny Heath, Tony Brinkman and Tracey.  On this trip Alan identified the foodplant (Thesium sp), the ant and got to breed the butterfly for the first time.

Saturdays trip was to secure a series of digital photographs of the insect, live and in habitat.  Steve had photographed the butterfly on film once before.

We left Howick a little late as Steve was caught in traffic but got to the town of Bulwer in good time.  The drive up to the Paragliding launch spot was a lot rougher than I remember and the climb a lot steeper.  Steve was fighting off the last of a chest cold so we took it slowly.  After an hour we were up on the ridge below the colony.  There we came across Penningtons Protea (Capys penningtoni) hilltopping.  This is another rare butterfly endemic to this area.  Like other members of the genus this insect breeds on the heads of protea flowers.  In the case of Penningtons Protea the foodplant os the widespread Protea caffra.  After unsuccessfully trying to photograph the Penningtons Protea we wondered over into the habitat of the little copper.  After a hour of searching we had found nothing but a few ragged Penningtons protea and a very weather-beaten Mooi River Opal (Chrysoritis lycegenes).  Eventually there was a yell from Steve, he had seen one.  Typical of these insects that live on the top of a windy hills, they fly low and shelter in the grass.  Steve had found a female, we followed her and she barrelled into a tuft of grass.  I was able to get a photograph before she shot off not to be seen again.  About half an hour later, after searching the area and finding nothing but a few Penningtons coppers (Aloeides penningtoni) Steve again saw a female.  This lady was a lot more co-operative and we all got a number of upper and underside shots.  While this was happening I noticed something dart onto an Osteospermum flower.  It was a male and it gave me enough time to get a number of photographs.  All in all we estimated that there were five specimens in the area.  All very fresh meaning we must have hit the begin of the brood.  Before leaving we were able to induce a female to lay a few eggs for Steve to take home to photograph and breed.

The hike back was tough but made easier by our success.  It was good to again make the acquaintance of this beautiful and very rare insect.


An early introduction to our invited artist for November, Steve Woodhall

Our invited photographer for November 2011 will be Steve Woodhall.  A short blurb on Steve follows but, having known Steve for some 20 years would like to add my 10c.  I met Steve on the Makhatini Flats in 1991, we were looking for a very rare butterfly that had only once been seen in SA when Steve Woodhall pitched up and introduced himself. 

Over the years I have been on a number of butterfly trips with Steve and learned a lot from him and can say that he is a very enthusiastic butterfly person and very generous with his knowledge as well as his very obvious skills with the camera and photoshop.

Since joining the Lepidopterists Society of South Africa he has travelled the Southern African region extensivly, has become aquanted with most of its butterflies and has photographed a great many of them. A result of his travels and interest in butterflies has resulted in his publishing three books on butterflies and he is now Chairman of the Society.  His book “Field Guide to the Butterflies of South Africa“, published by Struik,  is a must for the bookshelf of anyone interested in South African fauna and flora.

And now, in Steves words…..

My name is Steve Woodhall and I specialise in photographing butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) and their biology.

I was born in 1957 in northern England. At primary school I was lucky to have a teacher who was a keen lepidopterist take me ‘under his wing’. My closest childhood friend went off with his family to live in Tanzania and started sending letters home, and butterflies. I became hooked on the whole idea of Africa and could not wait to get out there.

I had to wait until 1980 when I was transferred to SA by my firm. Having had some photographic training in my job, although qualified as a chemist I was keen on art.  So in my evenings I studied under Bill Ainslie at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. My childhood interest in butterfly collecting returned and in 1986 I joined the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa.

My photographic exploits eventually led to writing ‘Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa’ for Struik. Whilst doing this I learned digital photography and desktop publishing.

My aim is to take photographs that capture the natural behaviour of Lepidoptera. Simple, eye-catching images are my aim, with a well-lit yet out of focus background that complements the main subject.”


News from The Kiln

We at the Kiln have wanted to open for 7 days a week for a while.  Last weekend we were approached by a local businessman who offered us space in his property on a tourist route.  We are talking to other exhibitors to join us and we have a number of exciting new people who may join us.  That is all for this week as there is a lot of work to be done.  So, cheerio and here are a few photos that we hope will be housed at the exhibition, if they are not there then they will be at the Karkloof Farmers Market.


And now “The Kiln’s” second permanent exhibitor, co-founder Doug Morton

Before this post, please keep your eyes open regarding what we are going to be doing, Doug has some very interesting and exciting plans and we are planning a number of specifically Kiln activities. Also do not forget that it is the Karkloof Farmers Markets birthday in two weeks so on the 24th September they will be having their birthday market. So keep watching and now for my post…………..

After introducing our first permanent exhibitor and co-founder, Fran Simmons, now it is time for our other first permanent and co-founder, Doug Morton, in his own words……………………

Born in Pretoria in 1947, Doug was introduced to the bush at the age of four years when his family moved to Cullinan, near Pretoria. He preferred the veld to anything that school had to offer, and learned to hunt fearsome butterflies, observe everything around him, to run away from snakes and to treat all wildlife with respect. He developed a deep and lasting love of birdlife. By the time he and Terri married in 1969 Doug had been trained as a combat photographer in the SA Defence Force. He’s retained some of that expertise and now spends every available moment with his digital camera in hand, recording the people and the flora and fauna of South Africa. He’s ardent about nature and conservation, and hopes his efforts contribute to the environment for the enjoyment and education of all South Africans. He and Terri live in Pietermaritzburg, as do their son Deryk, his wife Elise and their daughter Claire, while their daughter Shayne, her husband Angus and their daughters Joely, Ella and Jess live in Surrey, United Kingdom.”


Back at Highmoor

 

The last few weeks have been rather hectic with me getting back to studying after not having done so for 20 years. Despite having to spend a lot of time reading we were able to get away to the Drakensberg for the mid term break. We went up to Highmoor again, the same place as we went for New Year and again went with our friends Craig and Bernie Elmer-English and their girls. We went up on Friday afternoon and were greeted by rain and hail. This was a concern as we had nearly dissolved in the rain over new year. It was not a problem though, it cleared up and we had two great days in the mountains. The Saturday started early with me heading up to the trout dams at dawn to try my hand at panorama shots of the Giants Castle. I took a number of pans and singletons and two are shown below. The first is a 5 landscape pano.

Giants Castle Panorama

Later in the day I went looking for Protea flowers. During December the low growing Protea dracomontanum and P simplex were flowering. This time the P roupelliae and P subvistita were out. Both are tree Proteas and seeing them on flower was great.

On Sunday we all went off to the higher trout dams for a picnic before heading home. I wanted to photograph the damselflies that I had seen there in January as well as the little frog in the area. It was cloudy but we found the damsels, the flogs and even a few butterflies.