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
a few more beauties flowering in my garden. The first is Birfranaria harrisonae, a lovely flower. I received this plant three years ago and it was a stubborn flowerer, finally this year it has come through with a number of lively flowers.
Second we have one of my recent purchases (from the National Orchid Show held here in PMB). This is Pragmapedium Memoria Dick Clements, a hybrid (P besseae x P sargentianum). As far as the red hybrids go this is one of the best with an almost metallic look to it.
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)
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!
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
The next photograph is the egg of the Common Mother of Pearl, Salamis parhassus, a spectacular Nymphalid found in the area (and my garden)
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.
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.
This last Friday I visited Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal to attend a Christmas lunch. While on the way up I stopped off at The Aloes Nursery and brought a few plants. I loaded them up, had lunch and then drove home. When I was offloading the plants I found that I has an unexpected visitor, a female rain spider complete with a large egg sac. I was able to keep her still and fire off a few photographs before putting here in a safe place to wait for the little ones to hatch.
Here are a few photos of her (portraits) all taken with the MPE 65 and MT24EX twin light set up on the Canon.
Yesterday I was wondering through the flowers at home and found a mating pair of weevils, the in copula shots were rather dissapointing however here are two, one taken with the 100mm f2.8 USM and the other with the MPE 65 at approximately 3x. Both shots are lit with the MT24EX twin light.
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.
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
Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female
Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female
Aloeides susanae, Susans Copper, female
Leptomyrina gorgias, the Common Blackeye, female.
Orachrysops subravus egg, stack of three images usinfg Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x
Leptomyrina gorgias egg, stack of three images using Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x
Some more photographs of Smaller Things As you all know I have been trying to master the MPE 65 lens that Canon produce and have been using it along with the MT 24 EX light system. This lens can get amazingly close and the 1,5 to 2,5X range is wonderful for smaller ants and things giving you reasonable DOF and a full image. Last weekend I decided to have a go at some ants and ladybirds. I was successful with the first and will have to go back to the ladybirds. Anyway, here are two shots of an ant on paper. I was chuffed with them.
But before we carry on I need your votes, please see http://photo.getaway.co.za/2012/03/01/salticid-red/# and vote for the AFROmacro spider
Ant shot at 1.5 x MPE
Again at 1.5x and with the MPE
And now for a few hoverflies. The first two were shot at 3x and the last at 1 x
Since the purchase of the Canon MPE 65 and the twin flash set I have been having a lot of fun learning how to get the best out of the setup. Last weekend I chose to continue chasing bees. Nice and big and interesting subjects. I was able to get a few co-operative little fellows and here are the results.
One thing that you have to remember with this flash and lens setup is if there are deep backgrounds they will be black (no light) so choose the subject (and backdrop) carefully.
MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250)
MPE 65 2 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop (25% off)
MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop
MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop
MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop
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
I have, for a long while, been asked to photograph more Scarabs. The problem has been finding specimens to photograph. After much searching I found these. This post is extremely short. I just want feedback on the very simple “draft” photos of these four insects. Please ignore the imperfections.
Goliathus albosignathus, the Goliath Scarab. One of the largest Scarab beetles on earth and found from Limpopo up into Central Africa.
Eudicella smithi, Smiths Scarab. Another interesting insect from Burundi, Central Africa.
Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, male from Tanzania, East Africa
Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, female, from Tanzania, East Africa.
Three weeks ago Steve Woohall, Chairman of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa (www.lepsoc.org.za), organised a day trip to the Kranskloof Nature Reserve in Durban. He invited me along. I have to say that I have always been someone who would rather fly solo, I love being around people but when it comes to working on butterflies I prefer to work alone. I agreed to attend. I got to Kranskloof early and, on arriving at the car park, noticed that there were a load of folks there already. I recognised a few people (some work colleagues, others butterfly mates) and started chatting with them and new folks. I met Ryan Edwards, one of our environmental lads who had recently moved to our PMB office and is a very keen and talented photographer, Kevin Cockburn, Greytown based Lepsoc seniority very keen and knowledgable butterflier and super bloke to spend “bush time” with, Rob Dickinson, a very interesting and interested bloke who travels Africa in his professional capacity and has a very keen interest in all things small (have to add great company and no slouch with the camera!!), Steve Woodhall, “nuff said”, and a large group of interested and interesting people.
I made it known that I had little time on the day (as I had to study etc) and Steve graciously suggested that I walk ahead and do what I had to. We all drove to a lower car park and while waiting Rob D suggested that he and I move down to a nearby stream to look for damselflies. He noted that he has done very well there recently. If he had done better than we did in the 10 minuted that we were there then well done Rob. It was very rewarding with many damselflies being photographed.
After a brief period photographing the damsels we had to move off to the real focus, Charaxes karkloof karkloof, the Karkloof Charaxes. My old mate Wolter Kaspers had found them in the area 20 years ago and I had found them there regularly, most recently two years ago with Steve and Co.
This first part of the blog covers the walk to the Ch karkloof spot. The walk is short and very quick through typical coastal bush. Here are a few butterfly photos………
Pseudagrion hageni, Hagens Sprite. Photographed with Rob Dickinson at the Kranskloof Nature Reserve.
Chilades trochylus, the Grass Jewel, a very pretty little Lyceanid.
Hypolyceana philippus philippus, the Purple-brown Hairstreak. Rather lovely!
Euchrysops barkeri, Barkers Smokey Blue.
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, Male. This has to be one of my favourite “Tips”
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, female, feeding on Leonotis sp
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, female
The next part………………part 2 covering larvae, Charaxes and things will be posted shortly.
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.
A 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 on the ice. Who on this great lump of rock would talk in shorts on the ice pack ?(except Rob C of course)
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, 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.