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

Drakensberg

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

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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)