Amateur photographer snaps picture of ‘elusive’ flying duck orchid after nine-year search

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Amateur photographer Ockert Le Roux has been hunting ducks for nine years – on a different kind.

Since moving to south-eastern South Australia from Melbourne in 2014, Mr Le Roux had been locally searching for the flying duck orchid (Caleana major) who travel “great distances” across the region, even traveling across the border into western Victoria to find it.

But it was a tip from a friend last Sunday that led him to a location just about a 30-minute drive from the city.

“I was working at the time when the text came through,” he said.

“I didn’t want to miss that opportunity. I’ve been looking for it for the past nine years. I’m not going to give that opportunity away.

“I left work, rushed home and grabbed my camera and my wife and I traveled to this area where the plant was brought to my attention.

“After nine years of diligent searching… it was quite a moment.”

Amateur photographer Ockert Le Roux is a forest ranger by profession.(Supplied: Ockert Le Roux)

The local scarcity of orchids

Mr Le Roux said while the species was more abundant in other parts of Australia and had been recorded in every state or territory except the Northern Territory, he had not heard of any recent sightings in the south-east.

“Recordings have been made as far back as the 1980s, but since then I have rarely come across anyone who could point out one of these orchids (sighted),” he said.

“Land use in south-eastern South Australia has changed significantly over time.

“A lot of forestry areas and a lot of agriculture have been introduced in the last 140 to 150 years in this region.

“The orchid’s natural habitat was occupied by other land uses.”

When he reached the location, which he wanted to keep secret, Mr Le Roux found two plants, of which the larger orchid flower was only about 15 mm high.

“You would think the burgundy or purple color and yellow beak would give it away, but it was really well camouflaged,” Le Roux said.

“I had to look very closely. I almost stepped on it.

“I think that’s another reason why they are scarce, or rarely seen.

“It’s just amazing to see this remarkable creature that mimics a duck in almost all of its anatomy.”

A close-up photo of a burgundy flying duck orchid

Ockert Le Roux photographed this flying duck orchid, rarely seen in south-eastern South Africa, after a nine-year search.(Supplied: Ockert Le Roux)

Next quest is already underway

Mr Le Roux, a forester by profession with an educational background in botany, said nature photography was a “natural fit” for him.

With one more long search behind him, Mr Le Roux says his focus is now shifting to another rare phenomenon in the region: bioluminescent algae on the Glenelg River in south-west Victoria.

He has been trying to photograph the phenomenon for the past four years.

“It’s not as simple as visiting all these conservation and forest reserves during the day,” he said.

“If there is kinetic energy in the water, it turns into a very translucent violet color of light in the water.

“The light is very strong; it’s almost like turning on a neon light.

“That’s my next challenge.”

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