Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another Australian ex-pat

Australasian Gannet
Whilst breeding colonies on offshore islands formed earlier, this white seabird was first recorded breeding on the mainland around the late 1800s. Since then it has well and truly colonised the country with Cape Kidnappers, Muriwai and Farewell Spit, being the most readily accesible. The colony at Kidnappers is one of the most famous. By the late 1990s, over 6500 gannets were reported to be breeding there. Now the beach is covered in their feathers and the air rings with their calls. Hens lay only one egg, and both parents take turns incubating it. The nest is made from dried seaweed, cemented with guano. The chick hatches blind and helpless but grows swiftly and at 14 weeks is bigger than its parents and ready for the next stage in the adventure of its life. After exercising its wing muscles and learning to fly with skill and ability, the now four-month old youngsters depart on-mass, making the long flight - unassisted, to the east coast of Australia. Here they remain for about 2-3 years, foraging and surviving, before making the return journey. Only about a quarter return safely to the waters of New Zealand, and from here-on they remain here, diving for fish and eventually finding their own mates. It may take them a couple of years to succesfully pair off and find a space of land to call their own, but once mated, gannets remain life-long companions and can live for up to 30 years.

Awry Bill

Ngutuparore, the Wrybill
This wading bird is truly unique - for it is the only bird in the world with a bill turning to one side. It is a species of plover, and its bill is turned slightly to the right. Why? Well, theories on this differ - it could be a mere evolutionary quirk, or it could be an aid to its foraging. The Wrybill hunts for caddisfly and mayfly larvae, which hide beneath rocks. With its bill it is perhaps more adept at locating and extracting these. Wrybill are migratory within New Zealand, but have never been reported outside the country - not even as a windswept vagrant. They breed exclusively in the braided rivers of the South Island, but outside of breeding season can be found across the north and south islands. A favourite vacation spot is the Firth of Thames, which can hold up to 75% of the entire population in the colder seasons. These means that an environmental thread in this location could, literally, decimate the population. Whilst not considered uncommon, wrybill numbers have been undergoing a slow but steady decline.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seldom seen, sometimes heard

Pipipi, the brown creeper
Related to the Whitehead and the yellpowhead, the brown creeper is the only one still frequently found in native forest of the South Island. Even there, it is declining in numbers. It forages fairly high up the trees, catching insects. Mostly the flock moves in silence, but will occasionally break into song. The name "Pipipi" comes from its distinctive call. It is an active fellow, often hanging upside down from its strong toes. Like its cousins, it also frequently acts as a "host" to cuckoo chicks.

You can purchase this piece for $20 via Trademe:

Some cuckoo pictures will come soon, I promise! We have two very distinct species.

The Pipipi here is pictured on Marbleleaf and is a larger version of an ATC I made some years ago. Here for comparison is the original:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wetland Stalker

Matuka-moana, the White Faced Heron
Another Australian that now calls New Zealand home, the White-faced heron started to breed in this country in the 1940s. Now they are the most common heron species and are frequently sited in estuaries, swamps, around lakes and rivers and - essentially - anything wet. Their main diet is aquatic creatures - small fish, crabs and invertebrates, as well as the occasional reptile, frog or insect. Several techniques are employed while hunting - the stand and watch and wait method, stalking slowly about and keeping their eyes open, flicking their wings or raking with their feet to disturb anything buried in the mud. Or, if all else fails, charging at it with wings open. Dring breeding season these birds become highly territorial, choosing a mate, defining their territory and laying 3-5 eggs in a shallow , untidy bowl-shaped nest. Outside of breeding season they sometimes socialise with others of their species. , particularly if there is a lot of wetland to go around - such as after rain or flooding.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Royal Visitor

Kotuku Ngutupapa, the Royal Spoonbill

Like many of our avian species, the Royal Spoonbill made the journey across from Australia and decided that life was better here. Spoonbills were first recorded in New Zealand in the 1930s, but it was only from 1950 that they truly became an established species. It's long, spoon-shaped bill might look quite ridiculous, but it is a most elaborate tool. When feeding, the Spoonbill stands knee-deep in the water, swirling its bill about to create a mini-eddy or tidal pool that will draw and any small creatures, such as crustaceans, fish and frogs, from the water and mud. Papillae (touch receptors) inside the bill detect the prey and these birds are able to forage at night as well. Spoonbills travel in flocks, a feature which can be used to distinguish them from the rather more regal Kotuku or white heron. They fly in a V formation. Many breed at Okarito, along with their slender billed cousins, but other breeding sites have been established along the coast. Nests are constructed high in Kahikatea trees, or atop smaller, scrubbier bushes - or even the ground. The higher the nest, the more risk they have of losing chicks or eggs during stormy, windy weather.

The Maori name - Kotuku Ngutupapa, translates as "board billed kotuku."

C is for Cow

Hostess gift for the "Illuminated alphabet" swap

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baby Animal Alphabet

These cute wittle baby animals are for an Illuminated Alphabet 4x4 swap over on Illustrated ATCs.

A is for Anteater
B is for Bat
C is for Crow
D is for Duck

And here I was swearing I would never draw another crow, but it's a baby crow - all beak and feet and gawky as heck. Couldn't you just gobble him up?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The nocturnal Fantail" take two

My original illustration of the Long-tailed bat looked too much like a mouse to me, and not enough like he was supposed to, so I gave him another go.

Here he is about to catch a native moth of unknown species:

Want to give him a home? He's up for auction on TradeMe now:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"The Nocturnal Fantail"

The Other Pekapeka, the Long-tailed Bat
Early Europeans were not known for their imaginative animal names, and thus this slightly-more-common species of bat is known as either the "long-tailed" or the "short eared" bat. Then again, the Maori called both species "pekapeka". This wee fellow is still found on the Mainland - where you can actually see them in Talbot forest, near Geraldine. Although they are becoming increasingly rarer. At night as they flutter from tree to tree, they are often mistaken for large moths or - as the title suggests - nocturnal fantails. They are able to reach speeds of 60 km/hour. Smaller than the short-tailed bat, they weigh a mere 8-11 grams. Their high frequency sonar calls contain a few lower frequency notes - audible to the human ear (unless you've listened to your IPod too much and lost the higher register). They feast on winged insects, scooping them up in the membrane that runs the full length of their tails. Only one pup is born per year which contributes to their increasing scarcity. Roosting tends to be communual and they leave their hollow at dusk to hunt the forests for food. The long-tailed bat is related to several species of wattled bats in Australia, and this is probably from where their ancestors originated.

Now I want to go back to Peel Forest and go bat hunting!

Sending a heart to Bolivia

As you may have noticed, I have now set my sights on "conquering" South America with art. Whilst researching Postcrossing users in countries I had yet to post to, I discovered Thirtitude in Bolivia. What Thirtitude is doing is really sweet - he's organising for people to send postcards from around the world to his girlfriend, all of which should feature a particular stylised heart. So I dropped him a quick line to see if he was keen, and he took me up on my offer, so here is a LemurKat illustration featuring their symbol:

The bird on the top right is a Bolivian Hummingbird species, and is there to represent the lass and the cards eventual destination. The other bird is, of course, a kiwi and the flower a pohutukawa.

I apologise for stabbing Taupo. It was an unfortunate coincidence that the arrow was located before I placed the islands.

The only problem is, this is to be sent "naked" and I either need to laminate it or send it in a plastic sleeve. But I'm not sure the plastic will be accepted, since it means the stamp won't be franked directly. Then again, it's not as though someone in Bolivia can do something with an NZ postage stamp.

Also as my husband said "someone might steal it because it's pretty" but I suppose I face that problem everytime I set one on its journey...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A little bird that really rocks

PÄ«wauwau the Rock Wren
This charming and active little bird makes its way bobbing and flicking its wings in an endless quest for insects to munch on. Once relatively common, it is now in steady decline - a fate already faced by most of its close cousins - all but the rifleman are now extinct. Although named "wren", these tiny birds are not related to the wrens of Europe, America or Australia, but in fact belongs in its own family. Although capable of flight (unlike their extinct cousin, the Lyall's wren), they usually hop, and thus are prone to predation. Their home is the rocky mountain outcrops of the South Island, where they are limited to separated pockets. Their complex nests are built in rock crevices - first they excavate the soil, and then create a complicated sculpture of dried grass, moss, skeleton leaves, tussock and lined with feathers. The nest is fully enclosed except for a small side entrance. Both birds take turns incubating.

You can vote for the Rock Wren in the Forest and Bird "bird of the year" poll here:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bird of the Year

Every year, Forest and Bird run a Poll to determine which native or endemic bird is "bird of the year". Last year the kiwi headed the vote, but who will it be this year?

At the present, these two feathered foes are neck to neck:

So Have your say! - VOTE -

And if you're curious, I voted WEKA, because these quirky, curious, indomitable rails have the most character and personality of many of our avian friends. The only one that competes is the Kea, and well, Weka need more love!

In Loving Tribute part 2

I have spoken already of Fiona Casey, a beautiful spark snuffed out too soon - earlier this year. At her mother's request I have been illustrating some of her poems on and off over the last few months, and I thought I should share them with you. The art is mine, the poem and the handwriting is hers.

Fiona, we continue to miss you and I hope you enjoy my interpretations of your verse. You truly have been an inspiration to us all.

Original Post - In Loving Tribute

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Puweto, the Spotless Crake

This diminutive bird makes its home in our raupo swamps, and is relatively widespread and not uncommon. However, it is probaby one of our least known species. Shy and secretive, he is more often heard than seen - and then you have to know what to listen for. At dawn and dusk he calls - a sharp "pit-pit" call, a solitary or repeated "book" or a long purring rattle that sounds not unlike an alarm clock. They are fast runners, and rarely fly, although they are capable of travelling quite long distances to find new homes and reportedly have a good homing instinct. Like most rails, they feed on a mixture of seeds and plant matter, with the added taste of molluscs and other invertebrates. They build several nests, some as "dummy" or "play" nests, and a real one in which the eggs are laid. Young hatch precocious and grow fast. Little is known about this secetive bird, and its equally secretive cousin - the Marsh Crake.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pateke, one of the world's rarest ducks

This little brown dabbling duck is a scarce fellow indeed. Once found throughout New Zealand, now he is limited to tiny pockets in Northland and Great Barrier Island. Less than 1000 of these charming ducks remaining in the wild, rendering it critically endangered. These little ducks are almost nocturnal in behaviour, spending the days hiding under foliage and coming out in the evenings to forage. It is speculated that this behaviour can be attributed to hiding from avian predators in the historic past. Despite being of the "Dabbling duck" persuasion, their diet consists predominently of worms, insects and crustaceans and they sift through muddy puddles in search of food. Outside of breeding season, they gather in large flocks, but pair off to raise their offspring. Dad takes an active role in the tutoring of his offspring, and also fiercely defends his pond from any other waterfowl - they are quite fierce and determined in ridding their territory of competition - killing other pateke and small waterfowl and even attempting to take on larger birds like swans and paradise shelducks. If the pond is over 0.2 hectares in size, they may tolerate other species -as long as they don't come too close!

This picture depicts dad in his breeding plumage. So don't get too close!

A huge conservation project has been put into effect to save these guys - you can learn more about it at

Karearea perched atop a stump...

This magnificant bird is our only extant endemic raptor and a beautiful example of bush falcon. If you have been regularly following this blog, you will know that this is the second 6x4 image I have rendered of her - and that is because I did not feel the first did her justice.

A skilled predator, the Karearea hunts for birds and she is dept at snatching them from the air or swooping down on them. She has become the Vineyards' friend, as she is encouraged to make their home her home, as long as she pays her dues by devouring any small birds that might damage the grapes. Common prey are finches, silvereyes, sparrows and anything small andf feathery - along with moths and maybe the occasional mammal or lizard. Several pairs were captured from the hills and relocated in wineries and have now begun breeding there. Unfortunately, some of these birds have electrocuted themselves on electricity distribution transformers.

I've lived in New Zealand my entire life - 33 years, and saw my first wild falcon this year at Okarito. My parents and I were calmly walking along, chattting about the kayak adventure I had just been on, when suddenly a shape descends in a dive before us, sending a small flock of finches scattering. Alas, her attack was futile, and she swiftly soared up to perch in a tree where I got some excellent shots of the back of her head (although my father captured her in profile). Those photos, and some landscape ones taken from Okarito, were used as references for this piece.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tieke, the Saddleback

The Tieke is a fairly large, insectivorous wattlebird. Related to Kokako and Huia, it is extinct on the main islands of New Zealand but still flies wild on some of the offshore ones. They make their home in the middle and lower section of the forest where they forage in the leaf litter for grubs and bugs or prod at the bark. They prefer not to fly but leap about on their strong legs. In flight they are quite noisy. If insects are scarce, they are known to eat fruits and nectar. They are vocal birds, with the males have a vast repertoire of melodious tunes, that they use to defend their territory and call to their mates. Both male and female look similar, but it takes juveniles some time to develop their distinctive "saddle". A bold and curious bird, they tend to nest quite near the ground, in epiphyes, tree fern crowns or hollows in the tree trunks. When the youngsters fledge, they will hop around the ground beneath the nest where they fall easy prey to hunting stoats or rats. This is one reason for their decline on the mainland. Another is habitat loss. If you've been following this blog for some time and reading these descriptions, you will see that the major cause of extinctions or decline of our native birds is introduced predators and habitat loss. These two factors have affected many island-style bird populations, all the world over.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Poaka, the Pied Stilt

This slim and elegant wader is a handsome and familar fellow. After introducing himself to New Zealand in the early 1800s, this cosmopolitan species made New Zealand its newest home. Being rather generalists, they quickly adapted to the pastures and fields that the settlers were creating, and are now to be found both in estuaries and around the coast, as well as further inland in swampy pastures. They feast upon molluscs and invertebrates and breed both in the rocky riverbeds around the coast (or sometimes inland), often in large colonies of up to 100 pairs. Their nests are mounded lumps, in which they lay 2-5 eggs. When their young hatch, they are precocious and mobile and the parent birds distract potential predators by feigning injury.