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…..
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…..
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….
Then the upperside of a male feeding….
Then a female feeding…..
And another female just chilling….
And yet another…
Higher up the slopes we came across Chrysorotis lycegenes, another beautiful opal…..
and Aloeides oreas….
and finally, a few candid shots of what we do……
we walked off the mountain very satisfied. I had more photographs,Clive had photographs and video and I learned that a Canon 100 f2.8 lens requires stabilisation when shooting video!! Another great trip, thanks Clive and congratulations to you, Tarryn and Hannah on the arrival of Connor.
Chrysoritis orientalis, the Eastern Opal, a beautiful and rare insect from the Southern Drakensberg.
I first heard of Chrysoritis orientalis many years ago when I first became interested in butterflies. My friend, Harald Selb, spoke of the Opals as if they were at the top of the butterfly chain of beauty. I would argue that he is not far wrong. I would have to wait a while before being introduced to this beautiful family of butterflies, a genus fairly common in the Cape but less so up here.
Anyway, the insect under consideration was discovered by Swanepoel in the Bushmans Nek area of the Southern Drakensberg in 1975. My first trip after the insect was in December 1992 when I made the trip up the the colony with Clive Quickleberge and Harald Selb. Despite finding interesting insects such as Neita lotenia and Seradinga clarki we did not meet the beautiful opal.
Over the years I made a number of trips up with my, then to be, wife, Tracey on these trips I collected a few specimens. Later, in 1996 I climbed the hill with Alan Heath and Tracey and I found larvae of the insect and we were able to identify the ants associated with it as well as the food plant. I also had the unique privilege of thing the first person to see one of these insects emerge from its pupa.
Since the collecting trip with Alan I have wanted to photograph the butterfly. A trip up with Clive Curtis in Dec 2013 resulted in our seeing one tattered female. This year we hoped would be different. Clive wanted stock video footage of the insect and I was after images of the insect. We planned a trip up in early November, it was very dry but the area had seen snow recently and we hope that this moisture might wake everything up.
The area is prone to thunder storm activity from mid day so we decided to meet in Howick at 05h30 and get up the hill as early as possible. We got to the Bushmans Nek Hotel just after seven and were at the colony at half past eight. On the way up I received a text message from Steve Woodhall asking for male upperside images for his upcoming e-book. We checked all the ridges and came across Aloeides penningtoni in a number of spots.
Aloeides penningtoni (Clive Curtis)
While at one of these spots filming and photo the A penningtoni we were treated by the appearance of a pair of the rare Bearded Vulture that flew low over us, I suspect two blokes lying on the ground might look very appetizing to these birds. This was a real treat.
The Breaded Vulture (Clive Curtis)
On arriving at the colony we began searching for the insect. Within minutes we had the first sighting and the fun began. The colony was in full flight. We spend the next three hours filming and photographing the butterflies. Here are some images.
Male C orientalis upperside (for Steve W)
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!