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south africa

A day in the mountains with rare Southern African Butterflies

I have had a very long relationship with Chrysoritis oreas, a lovely little copper butterfly found tin top of Bulwer Mountain in the Southern Natal Drakensberg.  Discovered by Pennington on the Loteni area in the early 1900’s not much was known about this insect until the mid 1980s when Wolter Kaspers and Clive Quickleberge were on Bulwer Mountain and Wolter netted a rather worn copper.  This turned out to be C oreas at a new locality.  Since then many people have ventured up this beautiful, steep mountain.  My first trip up was in October 1993, the day that I met my wife (on the way back to Durban I stopped at Monteseel and met her!).  I climbed the mountain in October 1996 with Alan Heath and Tony Brinkman.  It was on this trip that Alan discovered the ant and food plant used by the butterfly, got it to lay and bred it through for the first time.  Later, in 2005 I climbed the hill with Steve Woodhall and we had a wonderful day photographing the butterfly.

My friend, Clive Curtis, is currently completing a DVD on Butterflies and requires more footage of rarities.  Last November we got great footage and photographs of the equally rare Chrysoritis orientalis at Bushmans Neck and since then we made plans to climb Bulwer.  The window period to see this insect is narrow, early October is the best and we were fortunate to find a weekend immediately after his return from safari in the Kalahari and before his son, Connor, was born.

We left not feeling too confident, the weather was not good, there was a lot of cloud and a very strong wind, however we decided to have a crack.  Luckily the closer we got to Bulwer the clouds began to clear and it looked like the colony might well be sheltered from the wind.

The drive up the hill was as rough as I remembered it.  We got to where the paragliders launch and then walked.  As we got out of the truck this is what greeted us…..14516447_10209423686862119_8526991535135094695_n

I find it easier walking with people who do not spend 14 hours a day tracking elephant and lion in the Kalahari sands and so I spent a lot of time “admiring” the various Moraea and other wild flowers on the way up.  On getting to the false summit I pointed out the colony to Clive, that being the little rock area in the centre of the photograph…..14641926_10209423935148326_1162358604111145167_n

We walked down to the lower part of the colony and immediately started seeing the little insects flying around.  Mostly confined to the lower rocky area they were fairly common.  Last time I was up with Steve we really battled to find specimens however this time they were not plentiful but they were there. Here are some images….. the first, the underside of a loverly fresh male…._V4A1195.jpg

Then the upperside of a male feeding….

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Then a female feeding…..

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And another female just chilling….

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And yet another…

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

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and Aloeides oreas…._v4a1229

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

we walked off the mountain very satisfied.  I had more photographs,Clive had photographs and video and I learned that a Canon 100 f2.8 lens requires stabilisation when shooting video!! Another great trip, thanks Clive and congratulations to you, Tarryn and Hannah on the arrival of Connor.


The Cape trip….Part 2….some birds

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

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

    
  The next two, Little Egret, Leisure Isle, Knysna

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

   
More birds, butterflies and fun stuff tomorrowūüėÄ


The Cape a Trip…..part 1

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

Aloeides thyra 

   
Lampides boutiques, mating pair 

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

 


Some cats….. Part three

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

    
   


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!


Some more rather unique, odd and beautiful flowers.

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

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


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

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

  

 the orchids will be posted this weekend.


This weekends macro work

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

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


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

  


Some portraits

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

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

  

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

 

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

  


Landscapes and things

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

After the storm. 5 Image panorama stitched in CS6

After the storm. 5 Image panorama stitched in CS6

Garden Castle Panorama.  5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Garden Castle Panorama. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Early afternoon. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

Early afternoon. 5 image panorama stitched in CS6

African Stone Chat (Male)

African Stone Chat (Male)

Ant eating chat.

Ant eating chat.

African Stone Chat (Female)

African Stone Chat (Female)

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite


A flurry of frogs!!

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

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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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Damsels, flies and portraits

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

The first photograph is a fly.
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Fly portrait
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Damsel portrait
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A second damsel portrait
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Some rather big Carpenter Bees and other stuff!!

This Christmas holiday has either been extremely wet or fiendishly hot and having just moved into our new house I have been unable to get into the field to photograph much. That said we have a new garden and I have been chasing all sorts of creatures around it.
The first, Xylocopa caffra, a fairly wide spread carpenter bee was a real challenge. They rarely sit and when that do are almost impossible to approach. These are large bees, approximately 45mm long, so the rig used was the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM and speelight set up that I usually use for field work.

The next series of photographs are of the egg and first instar larva of Junonia oenone, the Blue Pansy. The eggs were seen beeing laid on Asystasia gangetica. These photographs were taken with the MPE 65 and MT 24 EX set up. To gove an idea od scale the larva is 3,5mm long.

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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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Another meeting with the eight legged creatures that I share my home and garden with!!

After a very wet Spring, the wettest that I can remember, it has not dried up so I am unable to post any recent butterfly (in field photographs). So, tonight I shall post a few more Salticid spiders, the first two are awating confirmation of a provisional ID of Veisella durbani, male (thanks to Galina Azarkina again!!). The others await ID and I have thrown in another weevil that I would love my South African ento’s to ID for me (v common here in Maritzburg).
Anyway, the photographs are all taken with the trusty Canon rig of MPE 65 and MT24EX twin flash.

The first two are of a very frisky Veisella durbani

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And here is a Salticid that requires ID

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And a final weevil that also requires ID…

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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


Some more photographs of Smaller Things

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


Chasing bees with the new Canon MPE 65 Macro Lens

 

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

 

 


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


A new series of Scarabs

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.


Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes – Life History

Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes, is a common visitor to gardens here on the East coast of South Africa.  I planted the foodplant, Croton sylvaticus, in my garden five years ago.  The two that I planted have struggled due to the winter frosts.  While living on Botswana I noted them laying on another species of Croton. Anyway, I have seen the butterfly breed successfully on my trees for the last three years and finally decided to photograph it this year.

In March this year I found a number of eggs on may trees.  I gave a number to my friends, Stephen Woodhall and Harald Selb, and then bred the balance though.

The eggs are laid as singletons (very occattionally two) on the upper side of the large Croton leaf.  They are approximately 2mm in diameter and butter yellow on being laid.

After about 24 hours the egg gets the typical brown ring showing that it is fertile.

After about five days the first instar larva emerges.  The first meal is the egg shell.  This little chap is about three mm long on emergence.

After four days the larva has its first skin shed.  The second instar larva has the first dorsal spot.

After a further six days the next shed takes place.  At the shed the larva measures about 14 mm long. After the shed the larva has two dorsal spots and a rather fantastic head shield.  The next blog I post will be the head shields of this insect (which are spectacular).

After a further seven days the larva sheds again to become the spectacular fourth instar larva. Watch the next blog for head shield shots, this one is superb.

Again it only takes a week for the fourth instar larva to fatten up and shed its skin.  The larva is about 35mm long at the shed. The fifth instar is large, after 14 to 21 days of eating it reaches 50 to 60 mm in length and gets ready to pupate.

The larva finds a quite spot and spins a silk pad, hooks in (with anal hooks) and begins the pupation process.  This lasts three of four days afterwhich it sheds its skin and pupates.

The pupa, the incredible stage preceding the butterfly.

After three weeks the pupa begins to “colour up”, the stage when you can see the wing and body colouring appeat through the pupa.¬† Withing 12 hours it emerges.¬† The insect below is a female.¬† The males below.

Male Ch candiope candiope. 

Please watch this blog for the post of head shields, they are spectacular.


A day in the Kranskloof Nature Reserve (Part 1)

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.


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.