Saturday, April 30, 2011

Extinct Avian Giants of NZ

New Zealand is famous for its natural oddities - particularly in the form of large, flightless birds. This is not something that NZ is unique in - many islands once featured birds that had lost the use of their wings. Why might this happen? Because on those islands - New Zealand, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rodrigues, New Caledonia - there are few mammals, and birds evolved to fill the niches they had left. Once they no longer fly, they can grow particularly large and heavy, as is displayed in the form of this hen:

She is a Crested Moa. NZ once held a number of moa species (about 11), ranging in size from a few feet (1.3 m) to several metres (3.7 m) in height, and the Crested Moa was one of the more middle-of-the-range ones. It would have weighed around 75 kg. Her habitat was cold, alpine and montane (cloud) forest. She was quite widely spread across the South Island. The presence of a crest was determined by examination of her skull, which had a large number of pits in it. Others of her relatives have been found to feature these as well, but not as many.

Moas filled the niche of large herbviores - like deer or giraffes. They grazed trees, stripping them of leaves and bark, flowers and probably berries. Theie beaks acted like a pair os secateurs, snapping off the twigs which were then ground down in their gizzard. Large and heavy birds, you might think the moas would have nothing to fair.

You'd be wrong:

Because sharing their forest home was the largest raptor ever known, the Haast's Eagle. Weighing in at 10-15 kg (9-12 for males), she could measure up 1.4 m from crown to tail tip, standing about 90 cm tall. Her wings were relatively short for her size, with a wingspan of 2.6-3 m. This is a trait found in many forest dwelling raptors, as it allows them greater manouverability amonst the trees. She compensated for the loss of lift by having a long, broad tail.

The main food source of this raptor was moas - which could be up to fifteen times her weight. She would swoop on them from above at speeds of up to 80 km/hr and seize its pelvis in her one mighty claw whilst striking it about the head or neck with the other talon and stabbing it with her beak. Her weight and the speed and force at which she attacked was equivalent to dropping a cinder block on it from eight storeys up. It would still not have been a quick death.

When the moa became extinct in the 1400s, thanks to heavy hunting from the Maori; the eagle quickly followed suit.

Another bird that died out around that era was the Adzebill. This flightless bird has proved a puzzle to scientists who have at times considered it related to the rails, or possibly to the kagu of New Caledonia. It was a large, heavy bird standing around 80cm tall, and at first they were considered to be a small species of moa. Unlike the moas, however, Adzebill have wings - of a sort. Their carpometacarpus being greatly reduced (it's a wing bone), their wings were smaller proportionally than that of the dodo. Their other unique feature was their oversized beak. This powerful, sharp-edged tool looks to have been ideal for crunching through logs or digging in the dirt, but the adzebill's diet is unknown. It is speculated that it had an omnivorous diet, but may have used its bill and feet to dig seabirds and tuatara from their burrows. It probably fell prey to the kuri (maori dog, also extinct in NZ) as well as being heavily hunted by the Maori.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More birds in the hand...

Pōpokotea the Whitehead (on Karo)
The North Island equivalent to the Yellowhead, the Whitehead is still moderately well established on the mainland. A highly social bird, they gather in family groups and are more frequently heard than seen as they flutter through the upper canopy chattering to each other. They favour large tracts of forest, both native and pine, which hold plently of their favourite food - caterpillars, spiders, beetles and moths. Occasionally they will tag along with kakariki, saddlebacks and silvereyes. Their nests are compact and delicate and they form polygamous partnerships, with several hens to one male.

Riroriro, the Grey Warbler (on Tree Fuchsia)
Riroriro is very nearly our smallest bird. He loses out to the Rifleman merely because his tail is slightly longer. An inconspicious chap, he is not often seen but frequently heard with his long, tuneful warble emitted as he flicks through the trees. He is an insectivore an dusually hunts alone. In breeding season, he constructs an elaborate hanging nest in which his female lays 5-6 eggs. Youngsters grow fast, and she can fit in several broods a year. This is good, because after the first brood, the cuckoos arrive back in town. And she is the favourite host for the shining cuckoo. Despite the fact that the cuckoo eggs are bigger than her own, and that the chicks are huge, little Riroriro does not seem to notice the difference. Possibly she is also proud that her chick would grow so big and strong. Or perhaps I'm just anthropomorphising too much.

Takahikare-moana the White-faced Storm Petrel
These are the smallest and most delicate of our native petrels. They are frequently seem around New Zealand coasts where they frisk in loose flocks across the waves, as though walking on water. In this manner they hunt for plankton and small crustaceans. Almost entirely pelagic, she comes ashore only to breed, the nest being built in a tiny burrow or a rock crevice. These tunnels form a honeycomb of burrows that appear very fragile. At night the flock drifts in and she will drop down by her own burrow and scuttle inside. She lays only one egg and both parents regurgitate a fish paste for the hungry chick. After breeding, many of them flock to the tropical waters of the Pacific or South America.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Zealand Naturally Art Cards

I've been drawing a lot of our native species, as you've likely noticed, so I thought it was time I put the completed list (to date) up here for the reference of anyone who might be interested in taking advantage of any of my Felt listings to acquire some. If anyone is interested, cards are $3 each, $2 each if you buy 9 or more, or cheaper still if you order any more than that. I have yet to estimate how much the entire set would cost - I do not even know how many I have done! but I will do a full set of the birds for $100, which is around $1.38 per card.

The cards in the image here are printed out on glossy photo paper using the 9-image setting, mounted on card (150 gsm) that is slightly less than 2.5 x 3.5 inches with an information sheet on the back; laminated and cut to slightly more than the 2.5 x 3.5 images. I am slowly growing in skill and confidence at using my laminator and guillotene and feel I can do a pretty decent job, but if in any case the lamination peels away, I will replace the cards affected free of charge.

Buyer can choose the colour of the backing card, but I recommend the light green above or a dull yellow. Some look good on blue, but others do not.

If you are interested in buying any, drop me an email or you can go through Felt:

Current species available:
V = Vertical format (portrait)
H = Horizontal format (landscape)
Most of the invertebrates could go either way

Kiwi H (this one is a slightly different format from the others)
Tawaki (Erect crested Penguin) V
Hoiho (Yellow eyed penguin) V
Little Blue V
Crested Grebe V
Dabchick H
Toroa (albatross) H
Titi - Cook's petrel H
White-fronted storm petrel (to come soon) V
Gannet V
Spotted Shag V
Pied Shag V
Kotuku V
White faced heron H
Spoonbill H
Blue Duck H
Brown Teal H
Paradise Duck H
Shoveller Duck H
Takahe H
Pukeko V
Weka H
Banded Rail H
Marsh Crake H
Australasian Coot H
Wrybill H
Variable Oystercatcher H
Banded Dotteral H
Pied Stilt V
Kaki (Black Stilt) V
Gull (Black billed) V
Black-Fronted tern H
Spurwing Plover H
Kereru V
Kea H
Kaka V
Kakapo H
Kakariki V
Long Tailed Cuckoo H
Shining Cuckoo H
Kahu (Harrier Hawk) V
New Zealand Falcon V
Morepork V
Kotare (Kingfisher) H
Rock Wren V
Rifleman V
Pippit V
Fernbird H
Tomtit (South Island) H
Robin (South Island) H
Black Robin H
Yellowhead V
Brown creeper V
Grey Warbler V
Tui H
Bellbird H
Stitchbird H
Kokako H
Saddleback H
Piwakawaka H
Silvereye H
Welcome Swallow H
Little Bittern (extinct) H
Auckland Island Merganser (extinct) H
False-toothed Pelican (extinct) V
Quail (extinct) H
Snipe (extinct) H
Whekau (laughing Owl) (extinct) V
Huia (extinct) V
Stephen Islands Wren (extinct) V
Piopio (extinct) V

Hooker Sea Lion H
Hector's Dolphin H
Long Tailed Bat H
Short Tailed Bat H

Tuatara H
Skink species x3 V, H,H
Gecko species x 3 V, H, H

Amphibians :
Hochstetter's Frog H
Archey's Frog H

Fish :
Gollum Galaxias V
Kokopu H
Long Finned Eel V
Tarakihi H
Butterfish H
Black Rockfish H
John Dory H
Pigfish H
Red Gurnard H
Leatherjacket H
Blue Shark H

Invertebrates :
Katipo Spider V
Square Ended Crab Spider V
Black Headed Jumping Spider V
New Zealand Grasshopper H
Mole Cricket H
Weta H
Chorus Cicada V
Praying Mantis H
Stick Insect V
Flax Weevil V
Huhu Beetle V
Manuka Beetle V
Flower Longhorn V
Helm's Stag Beetle V
Seashore Earwig H
Three Lined Hoverfly V
Red Admiral Butterfly H
Yellow Admiral Butterfly V
Copper Butterfly V
Common Blue Butterfly V
Monarch Butterfly V
Forest Ringlet Butterfly V
Magpie Moth H
Puriri Moth V
Purple peripatus H
Giant Snail H
Beaded Top Shell V
Kina V
Paddle crab H

Nz Lizards

New Zealand has a vast number of gecko and skink species - indeed, more are still being discovered. Thus choosing which ones to illustrate proved to be a bit of a challenge. They all look much the same in terms of shape and in many cases, colour, so I have selected some of the more common or widespread species. Many of the species also have different colour morphs, so whilst they are related genetically, the ones in Canterbury might look different from their North Island counterparts.

Our lizards are special in that they do not lay eggs - all but one of our gecko and skink species are viviparious. Because our conditions are colder than those of their tropical counterparts, retaining the eggs inside the body while they develop means that the female can move to a warmer position if the need requires. The one exception is the appropriately (if rather boringly) named Egg-laying skink (which is also semi-aquatic) which I have drawn on a previous occasion.

Geckos have large eyes and prehensile tails and live an aboreal existence. They have long, fleshy tongues and frequently lick their eyes as they are unable to close them. NZ has both nocturnal and diurnal species, but traditionally geckos are nocturnal. We have over 40 different species.

Skinks are sleek and lean, they move fast and are usually to be found on the ground, particularly amongst rotting wood or loose stones. They are active during the day. We have more than 50 different species.

Forest Gecko

Elegant Gecko

Common Skink

Scree Skink

As you can see, I find lizards more of a challenge to draw than birds or mammals, so there will likely be more of these before I complete my collection.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Toreapango, the Variable Oystercatcher

There are two species of oystercatcher to be found in New Zealand. The South Island Pied (which also lives in the North Island, but doesn't breed there) and this fellow, the Variable Oystercatcher. Anyone who frequently beach walks should be familiar with these striking black and white (or just black) birds, and their strident alarm calls are a frequent sound. There are two colour morphs to the Variable - the pied and the pure black. Pied Variables can be distinguished from the SIPO by the less distinct band between the black and the white, which on the SIPO runs up the bird's shoulder as well. They are also slightly larger. Pure black birds are more common in the South Island than the North, but this speices is widespread across both. It favours a coastal habitat and is not found inland, although will forage in pasture that borders the coast.

The name "oystercatcher" comes from his diet, which includes molluscs - although not oysters, which he places upright in the sand and then pries open with his bill, or if that doesn't work, he'll hammer it open. He also enjoys marine worms, crabs and occasionally even small fish. When catching marine worms, he fishes them from their burrow with that long, useful bill and then might choose to rinse it off in water before gulping it down.

In winter, oystercatchers gather in flocks of 50 or more, but during spring they pair off and establish their own territory. This they defend by performing noisy "piping dances" - bowing their heads and running with short, quick steps and calling in high-pitched trills that slowly die away. The nest is a scrape in the sand, usually near rocks, driftwood or some sort of cover and in this are laid two or three cryptically coloured eggs. Chicks are able to leave the nest at two days old but remain with their parents for some time. Both adults and chicks are capable of swimming for short distances if required and if danger threatens, they prefer to run rather than to take flight.

Whilst the SIPO is a subspecies of the Pied Oystercatcher, found in other parts of the world, the Variable is found only in New Zealand.

A bunch of bugs

Since I have illustrated the majority of New Zealand's native birds, I have moved on now to some of the less loveable creatures that share their islands with us. Here's the first selection - and I imagine there shall be more to come!

I believe these species are all endemic to our country, although some look rather similar to those found elsewhere.

Helm's Stag beetle and Flower Longhorn

Manuka Beetle

3-lined Hoverfly and Stick Insect

Black-headed Jumping Spider and Square-ended Crab Spider

Praying Mantis and Seashore Earwig

Mole Cricket and New Zealand Grasshopper

Scooby the Greyhound

This piece was commissioned for Lynne Turnbull, it is an Art Card sized portrait of her deceased greyhound, Scooby.

If you want to commission a piece of art of your own - I am offering commissions in exchange for donations made to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal - check out: for more details.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Avatar inspired art continues!

The Firebending Masters - Ram and Shaw

The Koi spirits representing Yin and Yang.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friendship is Magic

When I was young, I had a My Little Pony - in fact I had three, and I still have them (Skyflier, Bowtie and Baby Ribbon). And it seems that ever since the 80s, My Little Pony has still been around, recently coming to the forefront again with the new series "Friendship is Magic." It is oddly addictive. Anyhow, I allowed myself to be lured into a "My Little Pony" themed ATC swap, and decided to draw some of the characters.

But I just couldn't get the new design right - these new hydrocephilic cat-horses just do not look right when I try and replicate them. So, with a resigned sigh, I pulled down and dusted off Skyflier (back from G1, when MLP actually looked like horses) and used her as a model. More-or-less.

Here's the results:

Rainbow Dash is the favourite of the swap hostess (although I'm not so fond of her myself), Twilight Sparkles is one of my favourite characters (cos she's a bit like me), Fluttershy is cute but so, so timid! And Nightmare Moon was just a nifty design.

I might draw Pinkie Pie, who is my other favourite character, at a later date. And because I've drawn two pegasus and one unicorn but no earth pony!

I was told I was not allowed to design my own pony for the swap - she wanted "real" ponies only, but I could not resist drawing up my Kat pony for the backing:

Her cutie mark is a book, of course. I have Rose Moonfeather to thank for the original design of the LemurKat pony.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an amazing and addictive series featuring martial arts based around the four elements/Nations - fire, water, earth and air. Most of the people belong to one of the Nations and some have abilities to "bend" them - which is manipulating that element to their advantage. Only one person can master all the elements - the Avatar. Every generation an Avatar is born into the world, but 100 years ago the Avatar vanished. In his absence, the Fire Nation grew to dominate the world, spreading fear and discord. That is until the day two teenagers from the Southern Water Tribe find the Avatar frozen in ice. Now, with their help, he must master all the elements and set things right.

Avatar has great characters, each with their own unique personalities, a beautifully crafted world and a well developed plot. And a lot of very nifty hybrid critters. It also features a flying lemur called "Momo".

Having watched the entire three seasons in a little under three weeks, I developed a little bit of an obsession with it and began hosting the "Avatar" swap on AFA. Although the participants only need to create 3 cards, I decided to draw the chimerical monsters. And just kept going.

So, here they are. Now, because my usual style is cartoonish and cute and because Avatar is a cartoon, I decided to illustrate these in my alternative style - semi realistic (that is to say - as realistic as I get).

Appa, the Flying Bison: He's big and floofy and smarter than he looks! Appa is Ang's Animal Guide. Alledgedly, the Airbenders learned airbending from the Flying Bison.

Firebending Dragon
And the firebenders learned firebending from the dragons.

The Badgermole taught the Earthbenders their skills.

Momo, the flying Lemur is of course MY favourite (I might keep this one)

And we also have:
; the Reptilebird;
Slim the Catgator; Foofoo Cuddlypoofs,
Koalasheep; Toucanpuffin;
Purple Pentapus

And - of course:
the Platypus bear