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



Well, after a rather long leave of absence I am back on my blog. I have some great ideas but for now just a cool image….


The very rare and beautiful Disa zuluensis


The Tugela Valley and its Ansellias.

A while back I posted a blog on the Leopard Orchid (Ansellia africana), an indigenous epiphytic orchid found in our area.  Nine months ago we found a large colony of about fifty huge plants averaging a meter in diameter. The site was a valley of a tributary of the Tugela River, approximately 40km inland.  I have wanted to get back to photo the plants when in flower. Last week we went through and visited the plants in the late afternoon.  Here are a few images

Close up of A africana flowers.  These are typical of the Southern types with smaller yellow faintly marked flowers  
Another close up of the flowers 

A medium sized plant in flower

Six plants high up in the tree, further up the valley we found some huge plants.


Another orchid post

This is a wonderful time of the year with Spring here in the Southern half of the planet and so a few more orchids…..

The first, an epiphyte from Northern India, Coelogyne flaccida. This plant has beautiful cascading flowers in early Spring and is great in baskets.  
The next is a Cymbidium species. I have to say that I am not a fan of growing Cymbidium hybrids and prefer the species as they have their own shape and aroma.  This is a beauty, Cymbidium eburneum

And finally a Dendrobium hybrid, D Sakura, a very easy growing and flowering plant.


A few more orchids…

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.

 And finally we have the pristine white Coelegyne cristata, an epiphyte from the Himalayah region of Northern India.  A large, lovely flower.  

Orchids, orchids and more orchids

Well, winter is over and we have Spring upon us. With Spring comes loads of flowers.  Before we visit the garden I will show you all some beautiful orchids flowering in my home at the moment.

The first is the lolly Oncidium Sharry Baby, a great plant, easy to flower and it smells of chocolate. The flowers last ages so this is a great plant for the home.

The next plant is Angraecum sesquipedale, Darwins orchid named as such as he predicted that an unknown moth. With a very long tongue would pollinate it. 40 years later Xanthopan morganii praedictum was discovered and named….


Next we have a hybrid of Cymbidium traceyanum. I got this as my wife’s name is Tracey and, like her, it is lovely…..enjoy


The Cape trip….Part 2….some birds

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

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

  The next two, Little Egret, Leisure Isle, Knysna

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

More birds, butterflies and fun stuff tomorrow😀

The Cape a Trip…..part 1

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

Aloeides thyra 

Lampides boutiques, mating pair 

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


Some cats….. Part three

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


Some cats……part 2

After yesterday’s leopard posts I thought it appropriate to post this, a young cheetah having a huge yawn after waking up with its family after a long night sleep…..tomorrow some lions, more cheetah and leopard and others before we start posting on our two week road trip around the cape!! 


Some Cats……part 1

It is always good to see elusive animals and the leopard, as one of the big 5, is always a good one to see.  We were very fortunate to have a number of sightings at Phinda Private Game Reserve, here are a few images from these….. 


The next “from the office” post

As noted in the last post, I am very lucky in that my chosen profession sees me visit all sorts of lovely areas with all sorts of lovely buildings. The Middeldrift area of KZN is full of lovely old buildings and here are two. I know nothing of their history, I am trying to find out a little, but here is the first one. In Nkosi Shange’s area a little church that we found and named Shange Abbey, a really lovely little building, over 100 years old…

And then we have this building, I have no idea what it was…traders house, local doctor.??? Who knows? Currently it is abandoned.  Maybe I will find out but here it is….

 Amazing old buildings with more to come, along with the plants and other beautiful things we see in the area.

Views from the office.

What I do gets me out. I get to see lovely places. I never carry the big photo bag with me as this takes time to set up while working so instead I take the Apple smartphone or tablet. I have for a while been taking images of where I travel and work and posting them on Facebook under the title “View from the Office”. I also cycle and study and photograph butterflies and these have always been posted as “View from the Saddle” and “View from the Office”. Folks have commented on this particular steam of “views” and asked me to include them in the blog, so here we go….. The first of the “views” blogs.

One of the places that I visit most often is Ladysmith in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, SA. The last six months has seen the area experience severe drought. It is normal dry but this year is very bad. The area is rural with loads of subsistence farming.  The first image is on route to the area, the Wagondrift dam on the N3 outside of Estcourt.

Then we get into the area, an old “view” outside of Ezakheni township near Ladysmith, lovely “bushveldt” home of Acacia trees, Aloes and many other wonderful plants.

 And then we have the worksite, or rather the view from the site. Taken in August of this year you will see just how bad the drought is.  
Well that’s is it for the first “views” post. A beautiful but tough area. I am happy to note that the rains have finally come and I hope that new posts will show the area looking good, the cattle sleek and people in the area thriving again.

Chrysoritis orientalis, the Eastern Opal, a beautiful and rare insect from the Southern Drakensberg.

I first heard of Chrysoritis orientalis many years ago when I first became interested in butterflies. My friend, Harald Selb, spoke of the Opals as if they were at the top of the butterfly chain of beauty. I would argue that he is not far wrong. I would have to wait a while before being introduced to this beautiful family of butterflies, a genus fairly common in the Cape but less so up here.

Anyway, the insect under consideration was discovered by Swanepoel in the Bushmans Nek area of the Southern Drakensberg in 1975.  My first trip after the insect was in December 1992 when I made the trip up the the colony with Clive Quickleberge and Harald Selb. Despite finding interesting insects such as Neita lotenia and Seradinga clarki we did not meet the beautiful opal.

Over the years I made a number of trips up with my, then to be, wife, Tracey on these trips I collected a few specimens. Later, in 1996 I climbed the hill with Alan Heath and Tracey and I found larvae of the insect and we were able to identify the ants associated with it as well as the food plant. I also had the unique privilege of thing the first person to see one of these insects emerge from its pupa.

Since the collecting trip with Alan I have wanted to photograph the butterfly. A trip up with Clive Curtis in Dec 2013 resulted in our seeing one tattered female.  This year we hoped would be different.  Clive wanted stock video footage of the insect and I was after images of the insect.  We planned a trip up in early November, it was very dry but the area had seen snow recently and we hope that this moisture might wake everything up.

The area is prone to thunder storm activity from mid day so we decided to meet in Howick at 05h30 and get up the hill as early as possible.  We got to the Bushmans Nek Hotel just after seven and were at the colony at half past eight.  On the way up I received a text message from Steve Woodhall asking for male upperside images for his upcoming e-book. We checked all the ridges and came across Aloeides penningtoni in a number of spots.

Aloeides penningtoni (Clive Curtis)  
While at one of these spots filming and photo the A penningtoni we were treated by the appearance of a pair of the rare Bearded Vulture that flew low over us, I suspect two blokes lying on the ground might look very appetizing to these birds. This was a real treat.

The Breaded Vulture (Clive Curtis) 

On arriving at the colony we began searching for the insect. Within minutes we had the first sighting and the fun began. The colony was in full flight. We spend the next three hours filming and photographing the butterflies. Here are some images.

Male C orientalis upperside (for Steve W) 

Male underside 

Female underside 

Myself photographing the insects (Clive Curtis) 

Clive wondering around with video gear searching for more insects to film  


The view from the colony looking South.


A very successful day was had by both Clive and I, the sore! Tired legs were worth it!

A few more orchids in flower

This time of year sees a lot of my orchids in flower. Rather than loads of words this time just a few pictures of some of my plants that are in flower.

The first, Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, this one showing a lot of West African genetics with the dark spotting.  
Then a dainty Epidendrum, E radicans.


 Then we have a very interesting Pahiopedilum, this time P hirsutissimum. 
An inter generic hybrid, Rlc Husky Boy

Then a local plant, Polystachya pubescens

And finally Oncidium Moon Shadow ( apologies to Cat Stephens)


A few orchids

i have been very remiss recently and not posted for no other reason life life has been rather mad. Anyway, here goes….I gave been growing orchids for a while now and this weekend was able to photograph a very common Dendrobium nobile orchid. It is an epiphyte from the Pacific rim, a strange little plant, all canes and a few scrappy leaves but just as you least expect it out pop some flowers. Here are two images of this weekends flowers…… (More posts to come, more frequently….promise)


Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid.

Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, is a fascinating plant. Discovered by Ansell on the Niger River inWest Africa in the nineteenth century the plant is considered by some to be monotypic, a single species with a genus, and others a complex of similar plants.  The plant is distributed throughout most of the drier savannah areas of the Continent and is usually seen high up in trees in the sun. It is a rather messy plant, in the wild a mass of roots, old and new canes (pseudobulbs) and old flower stalks are seen alongside the distinctive leaf shape. The plant can get huge, up to an estimated 1000kg and plants in the Ndumo area of Zululand Kzn are known to have Eagle Owls nest in them.

The root system of the plant is very interesting. Roots to attach to plants and feed are present as are the “leaf catcher” roots. These roots grow upward forming a basket which traps plant little, bird matter and other detritus to compost and feed from.

These plants flower in Spring and Summer. The flowers are four to seven cm across and either butter yellow is the Southern specimens or bright yellow with purple/brown blotches.

I have a number of plants in trees, pots and hanging baskets and they do very well in all here is Pietermaritzburg.

The plant grows happily is a tree or in pot. This Spring flowerer and can grow into a massive plant and is demonstrated below.

A first photograph is of a wild growing plant, no flowers but healthy. Growing in the Mkomaas Valley, KZN. It is on a dead tree with all limbs hacked off for fire wood.  The canes are about 500 mm long and 40 mm thick. In this photograph you can clearly see the “leaf catcher” roots growing upward to catch plant matter, bird poo and other detritus that might fall and compost to be used as food.


The next is of a garden plant. This plant is growing in Scottsville Pietermaritzburg. It is happy and healthy and the pollinator is present as viable seed capsules are visible. The second photograph is a close up image of the pods.

And now, the flowers. These vary, from a pure butter yellow to yellow with brown/purple spots. They are small flowers, from three to six cm across. The flowers are borne on a stalk originating at the terminal end or at a node on the cane. From twenty to fifty flowers can be found per stalk. Below are a few images of the flowers. 

Here is an image of a plant from KZN

And another showing a West African genetics with the dark spotting. 

and finally a 1.5 m diameter monster that I found in the Tugela valley recently 


Angraecum sesquipedale (Thouars)

I love plants and insects with stories or legend about them. The extinct (in the wild) Encephalartos woodi (Woods cycad) from the Ngoye, Lepidochrysops tantalus (the Tantalizing Blue) immortalized by Swanepoel and then there is this orchid.

Angraecum sesquipedale is something I have read about for a long time. Native to the lowland forests of Madagascar Flower were first sent to Charles Darwin (noted evolutionary scientist and author of many papers and books on orchid biology and pollination) in 1862 and, on noticing the length of the nectar spur a whopping 35 cm ( the species name, sesquipedale refers to the “foot and a half long” nectar spur. Darwin proclaimed that a yet undiscovered moth would polinate the flower. Fourth years later the insect was discovered, Morgan’s Sphinx, Xanthopan morgani praedicta ( a better subspecific name could not have been chosen).

I received a number of plants from Richard King of Darling in the Western Cape, these are all young and a year or two away from flowering. I received a mature plant from Outeniqua Orchids earlier this year and it produced a bud in early May this year. After two months the buds (two) were ready to open and the fist one did, two days ago. On opening the flower is green is greenish and turns white over a few days. At night it is fragrant. It is huge, 15cm wide.  A really beautiful plant.

Below are a few images of the plant, maturing bud and flower.  YouTube has footage of the moth pollinating the plant.


  The flower bud and emerging spur at about five weeks.  The open flower, approximately 15 cm in diameter. On opening the flower is light green, slowly turning white as it matures. To attract the moth it is fragrant at night.    The open flower showing the full length of the nectar spur.


A few more Orchids

last Wednesday my father in law had a double heart bi-pass. We went down to see him in hospital in Durban on Saturday and decided to visit the Orchid Show in Durban North after seeing him.  attached are a few images of plants on display.  Those that I could ID I have, the non IDed are hybrids with no labels. The venue was wonderful, overlooking the Beachwood Golf Course, right next to Virginia airport (so we had loads of low flying two and four seaters). Anyway, here we go….. 

 View over the recreation area 

Pano from the lunch area, not a bad spot to chill

The famous Angraecum sesquipedale, Darwins orchid, a 15 cm wide flower with 35cm nectar spur.

Paphiopedilum insignae.

And now whole bunch of Paphs that I could not Id as they were hybrids.


A few more orchids on this Autumn evening

i have a number of orchids flowering right now and after last weekends attempts to photograph Paphiopedilum Leeanum against a white background I though that I would try these. The first is a very small hybrid of the Cattlaea group, Caltliante White Bridal. An interesting plant that opens with a green hue but then slowly turns white, the second from the right flower was the last to open. 

The second is a plant that has been flowering for around a month, Zygopetalum James Strauss is a beauty, a bit tired and old but a beauty nevertheless. 

The last photograph is of a real beauty, not only on the eye but on the nose as well.  This beautiful Oncidium flowers well and smells wonderful. This is the beautiful Oncidium Sharry Baby 


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.

Genetic anomalies (mosaic gynandromorph butterfly)

A few weeks ago I was asked to view the butterfly collection of the late Robin Bennet of Hilton. His wife Pat is looking to move and wanting to sell the collection. I agreed to appraise the collection and assist in selling it.  I visited Pat and had a look through the collection housed is superb Watkins and Doncaster cabinets and, on opening the tenth drawer I came upon a mosaic gynandromorph Hypolimnas missippus. A gynandromorph is both male and female, a genetic anomaly, that exhibits the markings of both male and female. I understand that they are sterile.  Of interest is that sexual dimorphism in H missippus is marked, I have included images of both male and female below to demonstrate the difference. Finally we have the image of the mosaic gynandromorph.  (The male and female are not my images).

After the meeting and viewing I found out that Pat and her husband not only shared a love of butterflies with me but also a love of orchids, sadly a blog is not place for the discussions etc that followed.

Male H missippus, a mimic of Amauris ochlea 

And here we have the female. An amazing insect that mimics all seven known forms of its model, D chryssippus, the African Monarch.

And finally we have the Gynandromorph.  This thing is extremely rare.  occasionally you find a bilateral gynandromorph (male one side, female the other), and this is rare, a mosaic gynandromorph such as this is the “needle in a haystack”. In my twenty years of chasing insects I have never seen one. This was caught by Robin Bennet in Pietermariztburg in the 1960’s.   

I have to say that this insect, along with a few other significant specimens in the collection, is valuable and I sincerely hope that it ends up in a significant, protected, collection.

Orthochilus ensatus (Eulophia ensata), one of my favorite flowers.

Every November I wait for these beautiful grassland orchids to show their face.  A terrestrial orchid I have found them in the Howick, Pietermaritzburg and Eshowe areas (commonly). The plant can easily be missed as it looks very similar to the grass around it but the flower is spectacular and can be seen from hundreds of meters away.  A beautiful yellow explosion.  Here are a few images of the plant taken near Pietermaritzburg on the Duzi.  The plant was recently moved from the genus Eulophia to Orthochilus (I am not a taxonomists but the move seemed obvious).


Some pollinators

This weekend the girls and I went up to Highmoor, a beautiful spot in the central Drakensberg. There was not too much happening apart from the mass visit of bees and bee mimics (flies) to the large patch of daisies growing there. Here are a number of images taken up there. All were with the Canon 100 f2.8 lens.  




Fly mimics



 African Honey bees.

Finally one from today, a long nosed fly pollinating Plectranthus eckloni in my garden in Wembley also taken with the 100 f2.8 macro lens.


Huernia hystrix

The family of plants known as the Stapeliads have always fascinated me.  For the past eight years I have collected a number of local plants. These plants are very interesting. They are succulents that thrive in the harsher environments so quite a battle to grow in our wet humid Pietermaritzburg climate.  They flower annually and the polinator for most are flies so, to attract them, the flowers smell foul, hence their common name of “carrion flower”. Below are three images, one of Stapelia gigantia (flowering in my garden, collected in the Tugela) and two of Huernia hystrix (flowering in a pot, collected at Hluhluwe). The S gigantia flower is the largest succulent flower in the world measuring a staggering 42cm across.