Day of the Ambon Onyx and Studded Sergeant

Posted: May 31, 2009 in butterflies, macro photography

Note on photo above: This skittlebug played catch with me around and around the area so many times until it finally settled on the funny piles of sand.

Girl vs Wild Lesson 1: Build Sandcastles!

In order to survive a boring day out in the wild without butterflies, a girl with a camera has to learn to build sandcastles and fill these with butterfly bait.

Butterflies like the studded sergeant above aren't going to land unless you bribe it with something.

Thankfully, when girl with camera got to site today, sandcastles were already built and baited by someone else.  Yay!

Note on photo above: Quick reflexes are needed to photograph this 2 second butterfly, not stealth…

Girl versus Wild Lesson 2: Shoot first, think later

When faced with more than 1 ambon onyx in the 'wild', forget stealth.  Each ambon onyx will chase the other repeatedly in spite of your desperate pleas for them to 'sit! stay! staaay! Good butterfly!'

Once an ambon onyx lands, you have about 2 seconds to shoot it or forget it.  In about 2 seconds, the other one will chase it away and the pair will whirl violently around each other like 2 sea eagles downsized a thousand times minus the talons and sharp beaks.

Note on Photo above and below: Ambon is an island.  And an onyx is a kind of stone.  But that doesn't make sense for this butterfly unless whoever named it thinks it resembles the onyx and that it came from Ambon island.

When I saw it I thought it looked like custard and cream pie.  I guess everyone should be glad I'm not naming any butterflies cos then it'd have been called Custard Cream Pie

Girl versus Wild Lesson 3: Location, location, location

If fast reflexes don't work for 2 second butterflies, then it all comes down to location, location, location.

There were 3 places where the pair of tiny 'sea eagles' whirled to whenever they started chasing each other, 2 bushes on either side and another 1 unseen location which I couldn't trace because they whirled away so fast. 

But all I had to do was wait and aim my lens at one spot where they always flip their wings open the moment they land (the hot sun spot).

Note on photo above and below: Finding butterflies under leaves in the dark forest is so hard you wonder how you found them when you find them.

Girl versus Wild Lesson 4: Use Your Feet, Not Your Head

When your subjects don't come to you, go to your subjects.  Tired with the regular Commanders, 5 bar swordtails and lycaenids and angry with the Common Mime that got away *again*, girl hoisted camera on shoulder and went into brush.

After pushing through to the inside of the forest cover, a dark bullet zipped past and landed under a leaf.  Excited, I pushed in a beeline thinking that it would keep the butterfly in sight by moving head first and trying to maneuver my way around the overhanging branches.

Few minutes later, the butterfly peered out from under a leaf watching amusedly as I was hovering less than 1 metre away from it:

1) Entangled around my neck by hanging vine

2) Entangled around flash by vine on right

3) Entangled around left foot by soft root on forest floor

4) Couldn't move left, couldn't move right, couldn't move forwards

Note on skipper:  I don't know what skipper this is but this is the only skipper I've ever come across that unfolds its wings the moment it lands.  Never even got a chance to photograph the underside with the wings closed.  Maybe it's the sunspot.

So I moved back, gently disentangled myself and lifted my right foot high up and brought it down on the whole mess of vines. 

As the path suddenly cleared violently, the butterfly gave a silent scream of horror (Common Awl: "…..!!!!!!") and flew away (but not before I shot it first and thought about it later (lesson 2)).

Note on photo above and below: Here, the friendly apefly with its face in my trail pants….OOMPH



Instead of running home after getting rained out of the shooting site, I went and took shelter at another location.  After waiting an hour for the rain to stop and another hour for the afternoon sun to come up and 2 hours for some activity,  I was rewarded by the very late burst of activity from quite a few Judys flying at each other, whirling around and chasing each other off each other's perches. 

Note on photo above and below:  I had never seen this many Judys ever.

















Note on jumping spider:  I found this spider by accident after accidentally brushing a lizard off a fence when running my hand along it for support while climbing up.  I might have saved its life.

Note on photo below: Is it typical of moth caterpillars to choo choo themselves off leaves because they move so much faster than butterfly caterpillars?

Note on photo below: The wind helped somewhat by pushing the skittish lemon emigrant to its right, allowing the butterfly to be momentarily parallel to the camera… great… but no banana as they say.

Note on photo below: Thought this butterfly was more pinkish than the other lemon emigrants that I'd come across before.


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  1. Emjay says:

    Oh Ellen – you gave me a laugh this morning. I would make a very poor butterfly photographer! I love the little apefly with its green face – very cute! The spider and moth caterpillar are nasty looking! 🙂

  2. Shutterbug says:

    Brilliant work, as always! :o)

  3. Waterbaby says:

    do you live in a magical land of butterflies?! enjoyed this!

  4. Yes it was just adorable, walking up and down my pant leg nonchalently burying its face in it whenever it stopped. hahaha… thinking about it now still tickles me somewhat.

  5. I try to imagine that sometimes… but I always get interrupted by a bus or truck noisily passing by.. :(((

  6. Waterbaby says:

    lol. i hear ya! (and the bus)

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