Monday, June 28, 2010

Little Penguin

Little Penguin has donned her pompom hat and rainbow scarf in preparation for a cold Antarctic winter.

So why no fluffy ugg boots?

Because penguin have very special feet, their lipids are unsaturated - unsaturated fats do not freeze the same way saturated fats do.

Here's someone's answer from Yahoo Answers because I do not contain unsaturated fats and am starting to get a bit chilly in the finger department. Plus I'm tired and lazy:

The system that stops a penguin's foot from freezing is very elaborate and sophisticated and employs two mechanisms.

The first one allows the penguin to control the rate of blood flowing to its feet by varying the diameter of arterial vessels supplying the blood. In cold conditions the flow is reduced, when it is warm the flow increases.

The second mechanism takes the form of 'counter current heat exchangers' at the top of the legs. The arteries, which supply warm blood and oxygen to the penguin's feet break up into many small vessels which are closely linked to similar numbers of venous vessels bringing cold blood back from the feet. So, when heat is lost from the arterial vessels, the venous vessels running in the opposite direction pick it up and carry it back through the body, rather than out through the feet. This means that in the very remote regions of the skin, cells get oxygen but heat isn't lost through this skin.

From someone called "Daisy"

Okay, long story short - it's a cute bird in a hat. Do we really NEED an explaination?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Roll Up, Roll Up!

Behold, the Pig with the Human Face!

So hideous you won't believe it could be real!

Seriously, this thing actually was born a y ear or so ago - this image is photoreferenced
I doubt it's alive today though, which is a pity because it would be interesting to see what it grew up to look like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A-Through-L - the Wyverary

September meets the Wyverary in "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland..." by Catherynne M. Valente, a woman of extraordinary imagination. Read it! It's incomplete, but highly imaginative. Her published works are mostly brilliant too.

Art Dump

I have had issues with my recent pieces. Both a combination of lack-of-inspiration and lack-of-skill at the particular subject.

So here we have, first off, my rendition of Kuchiki Byakuya, a character from Bleach. Drawn for a lass in Macedonia whom I hope likes him despite the fact that I can't draw anime to save myself:

Although I do feel that for a human character, I didn't do too terrible a job. It's a bit... blah, however.

Now for another couple of blah pieces. I'm not sure if it is because I've drawn these characters on several occasions already or because I overdid the furry thing back in the early part of this century, but being required to draw not one but two seperate anthro felines failed to inspire me. I hope it doesn't show too much in the pieces, although it possibly explains why they are quite similar in pose:

Misty Kitty is taking the stage in "Rock Idol" - a fictional Reality TV show and Icekat with his overindulgence of piercings is enjoying a chocolate milkshake.

And finally, a piece I did some time ago but forgot to upload:

This is Sniff, Sniff was an (anamatronic) Alsatian dog that used to appear on television with his human, Constable Keith. Together, they would teach us children about such things as Stranger Danger and Not to Play with Fire and otherwise keep ourselves safe. This particular card was made for a wee lass in Sri Lanka. Her father was supposed to be sending me a photo of their dog (so I could draw it), but never did, however I managed to get a description of her - and decided Sniff looked enough like her to engage the daughter's attention. She liked it ^^ I got a sweet note back via her father.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fancy a shag?

The term "Shag" actually refers colloquially to cormorants that exhibit a crest. So I would like to introduce you to one of our endemic Shag species - the Spotted Shag or Parekareka:

Why is it called a Spotted Shag? I'm not sure - surely "striped" shag would be more appropriate? Whilst it does have a slight haze of speckles in its grey-white chest and a few brownish spots on its wings, this handsome fellow is not what I would describe as "spotted". So I shall henceforth refer to him as Parekareka instead.

Parekareka is a coastal shag, preferring to make his home on rugged, rocky coastlines and not delving inland like some of his non-shaggy Cormorant Cousins. He builds his nest on craggy ledges . But before that, he must put on his finery and find himself a mate. In breeding season, adult Parekareka colour up - their facial mask deepens in blue-ness, their crests grow larger and more erect, the spots on their wings (aha!) more pronounced. Their black feathers grow in glossier and blacker, the white grows in more pure with a touch of blue-green. White filoplumes adorn their wings. And now, in their fine attire, they seek their mates.

After the nest is built, the plumes fall out, their crests moult away. As the eggs are laid and the incubating commences, the vestiges of beauty and courtship are cast aside. When the eggs hatch, the parent birds go forth and bring them back mouthfuls of half-digested fish and crustaceans, which the youngsters greedily bolt up.

Outside on the rocks, the gulls wait.

After the parents have departed, aggressive red bills sometimes fly to the nest, bullying the youngsters until they disgorge their meal. Upon which, the vicious pirate scoffs it up! This nasty procedure continues until the young shag exceeds the gull in size and dominance is no longer possible.

When the youngsters are fully fledged, large parties of them, accompanied by their parents, make long journeys up and down the coast. Here they learn to fish and feed for themselves.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Who will bell the cat?

The mice had been troubled for some time by the Household's cat. Sleek and fast, he was a silent, deadly predator, descending to snap up hapless rodents in his powerful jaws. And so the clan called a Committee meeting. All the mice came, and discussed their ideas on what could be done.

Many suggestions were made, some merely foolish, others completely ridiculous. Finally, the littlest mouse piped up:

"Why don't we tie a bell around his neck, then we will hear him coming and can run away."

What a most excellent idea, the mice agreed. They even had a bell, an old Christmas decoration that had rolled beneath the sofa.

"But who shall do this deed?" Asked a wiser Elder.

All eyes turned on the Littlest mouse. It was his suggestion after all.

"Oh," he stuttered, "I would be happy to, but you see I am too small."

So they turned to another mouse. "I couldn't possibly," said she, "for I have my kits to feed - what would happen were I to get caught?"

"I'm too fat, I"d get stuck in the hole running back."

"Oh I couldn't possibly, it's my knee, you see. I can't run like I used to..."

And so on around the clan, each mouse was too old, too infirm or otherwise incapable of completing the task.

And so, brilliant idea or not, noone was willing to bell the cat.

It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Bear and the Bees

Bear was hungrily hunting for berries in the forest when he stumbled upon a rotting log. Nosing at it, he scented the rich, tasty scent of honey. Now, honey was Bear's favoruite food. Carefully he nuzzled the log, trying to see if the stinging inhabitants were home. At just that moment, a Worker Bee buzzed in, returning laden with nectar. Upon seeing the bear and realising its intent, she sacrificed herself by stinging him sharply upon the snout, warning him to be on his way. At this Bear flew into a dreadful rage. He ripped at the log, breaking it open with his sharp claws. Immediately the bees swarmed out, furious with him, stinging and buzzing and stinging some more. Bear fled, stampeding through the forest until he found a small pool of water and dove in.

It is wiser to bear a single injury in silence than to provoke a thousand by flying into a rage.

A fable by Aesops. The Bear is a Sloth Bear from Asia. This postcard is going to Uganda, of all places.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shark Attack!

The Blue Shark is a wide ranging shark - found across most of the world. It is also the most common of these fish in New Zealand waters. They are one of the easiest "game fish" to catch, often falling prey to fishermen, and can be lured in by blood in the water. Once caught, they are reported to be quite sluggish. However, the meat turns unpelasant fairly quickly and reeks of ammonia if the shark is not gutted swiftly after catching. "Gamefishing" is one sport I cannot get to grips with - why catch something if you're not going to eat it? It's not sport - it's sadism!

They can also be quite vicious, and sometimes come quite close to shore, so bathers beware!

Monday, June 14, 2010


The Merino sheep is a breed of sheep that is famous in New Zealand. It is a great, shaggy sheep producing a goodly quantity of warm, thick wool. One sheep in particular made headlines a few years ago. Named "Shrek", this castrated male sheep evaded mustering for six years, living in a cave in the high country. When they found him he was a great, big, shaggy, matted mess of wool. He was carrying around 27 kgs of the stuff! If he lived anywhere but NZ he probably would have been eaten by wolves or otehr predators, if they could find him under that wool. Only in New Zealand can a sheep become famous just because he lived as a hermit for 7 years. Shrek has retired from the limelight now, but is currently touring NZ to make a new book. If he was not a media-love, he would have been turned to mutton. So, go Shrek!

PS: This is not Shrek, as I drew it with horns, Shrek doesn't have them - presumerably because he's castrated.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Tiny Immigrant

This diminutive birds (shown here about life-sized) came to New Zealand the hard way - on their own. They are one of our later immigrants, arriving around 1856 and making the Chatham Islands their home. After this, they moved to the mainland and are now wide-spread across the country, and also a fairly common sight in the urban environment. So how did this little bird make such a big journey? Flocks of them were swept across by powerful winds. These winds only blow from Australia to New Zealand - there was no chance of them being swept back. How such a small insect-eating bird survived such a long journey just goes to show the tenacity and strength of this tiny fellows.

Silvereye are a member of the Zosteropida family, which are widely distributed across a number of continents and islands. Their favourite foods are insects, nectar and berries, and the former made them popular in orchards, where they snack on the pesky woolly aphis. Of course, they also enjoy the fruit! They travel in small flocks, making distinctive rapid warbling conversation and flashing swiftly through the trees. In spring and early summer, they pair off and build cup-shaped nests which resemble hammocks. In these they lay their eggs and raise their offspring.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another New Zealand Oddity

This is a male Hihi, also known as the Stitchbird. The name comes from his call, which sounds very much like "Tzit-tzit". It is one of our three Honeyeater species and the most endangered. The other two, the Tui and Bellbird, are still fairly widespread across the mainland, but the poor wee Hihi is now limited to offshore islands. He rarely lands on the ground, and spends his time flicking through the canopy, supping nectar from the smaller flowers. In areas where Tui and Bellbird, both larger and more aggressive species, are found, he will favour the lower quality flowers. Stitchbirds are unusual in that they mate face to face. Male Hihi are notoriously aggressive. The eggs are laid in tree hollows, another oddity for honeyeaters. This also makes them vulnerable to predators. Genetic analysis now shows that they are not as much a part of the Honeyeater family as was once believed, and have now been given their own family name, Notiomystidae. This analysis has proven that they are in fact more closely related to the wattlebirds - kokako, saddleback and huia, then the Honeyeaters.

This postcard is my sole contribution to "Drawing Day". I met up with the other Drawfest memebrs in the library at 1.30 pm today after taking some photographs around town, hunting down derelict buildings and interesting signs. Not a lot to be found in the building line, to be honest, but I was quite proud of the two signs I photographed. Once again, I was the oldest, but today they were all drawing Pokemon. I did not contribute, choosing instead to add to my NZ natives collection of art in preparation of my best book yet. This wee fellow, perched in front of a fuschia plant, took around 2 hours from start to finish. I am not sure where in the world he will end up yet, but you can be sure he will be taking a long flight!

Some declining Natives

Once the Kakariki was a common sight in New Zealand's native forests. Large flocks would flutter through the trees, chattering loudly as they foraged for fruit, seeds and shoots. Whiteheads (in the north) and Yellowheads (in the south) would hang around the flocks, snatching up any insects they disturbed. Now, however, their chatter is silenced. They are still there, in our more undisturbed forests, but you'd be hard-pressed to find them. Like many of our natives, the Kakariki were damaged significantly by the introduction of mammalian predators. Rats would steal their eggs and chicks, and stoats gobble up the adult birds. Like most parakeets, Kakariki are hole-nesters, and this makes them vulnerable to a visit from Mr Stoat. Kakariki is the Maori word for "green" - specifically THAT shade of green and there are three distinct species - the yellow-crowned, the red-crowned and the somewhat more controversial, orange-crowned (more recently proven to be a species, NOT a hybrid of the two).

The New Zealand Dotterel or Tuturiwhatu is another of our natives that was once widespread and is now in decline, thanks to the European invaders. However, in this case the damage is mostly due to humans themselves. Dotterel live, love, breed and feed on the coastal shores. They are easily disturbed - especially in breeding season, by dirt-bikes, dogs, curious humans and of course the introduced mammalian predators. As the eggs are laid in a hollow on the sand, they can easily be crushed by a dirt-bike, horse or unwitting human. If a predator comes near the nesting bird, her partner puts on a bit of a show, pretending to be mortally wounded. Dragging his wing, flopping helplessly, he lures the predator away from the nest site. Once he is a safe distance away - or the predator gets too close, he flies off, making a high pitched chip-chip call and, of course, away from the nest.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Loving Tribute

There are some people in this world that you never forget, some people that truly touch your heart. One such person was Fiona Casey. Our parents were friends, and when we were young we used to visit one another, then time moved on and we moved apart. A couple of years ago, our family caught up again and I got to see Fiona for the first time in probably close to 20 years. I was impressed by her spirit and her attitude and after that we chatted occasionally on Facebook, but we did not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face again.

In February, two months before my wedding, Fiona passed away. Her sister and parents attended the wedding and I was pleased to have them there.

After seeing my art, her mother asked if I would be interested in illustrating some of Fiona's poems, written when she was in High School. I was honoured to accept. They are largely metaphorical, and have a somewhat melancholic edge, so I hope that I can do them justice. I illustrated the first one today, and I show it here with the poem included. If her family would prefer that I did not share her poem, I will be happy to remove it.

Unfortunately, my scanner has issues with bright red... I'll need to work with that if I'm going to make prints of this.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoy Fiona's bittersweet poem and my whimsical illustration. This is her original handwriting too, photocopied from her book.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Native New Zealanders

Not a lizard, but a reptile harking back from the time of the dinosaurs, the Tuatara is another relic of New Zealand. The adults are nocturnal, the youngsters diurnal. This is a survival mechanism because tuatara are not particularly picky eaters - but they do eat meat (eggs and ubsects), and they don't turn their nose up at eating smaller members of their own species. They are long-lived - some known species are approaching 100 years old - or older, and slow breeders. For example, Henry, a famous captive tuatara, has now beconme a father for the very first time. Aged 111. They only reproduce every 2-5 years, if that. This makes them vulnerable to predation, as they don't breed fast enough to restock the population. Also they are affected by temperature changes - the higher the temperature, the more males are hatched, so if climate change is on the rise, then the tuatara will be on the decline. Through captive breeding, this ratio can be somewhat monitored and controlled. Tuataras live in burrows, coming out at night to forage. They have been known to share with burrowing petrels, although whether this is of benefit to the bird is uncertain. Since tuataras do like meat, and are partial to eggs, it is probably not the best living arrangement and the petrel would be best to move out and find a new home.

The Kaki or Black Stilt is a very rare wading bird. Once widespread across New Zealand, it is now limited to only one breeding ground - in the riverbed near Twizel. Conservation efforts have meant that a large fence has been erected around this area, allowing the birds to fly in and out but keeping the area clear of mammalian predators. At present there are not many more than 7 breeding pairs, captive breeding is involved to help boost their numbers. As there are many more make black stilts than females, the male Kaki will often seek out a Poaka - a pied stilt, for breeding. These hybrids are fertile, but have low survival rates. Kaki prod around the riverbed rocks and in the mud for tasty invertebrates to gobble down. They are solitary breeders, and when the young hatch they are precocious and active, swiftly able to hunt for themselves, under the watchful eyes of their parents.

The Kotata or Fernbird, as it is named, is a diminutive, reclusive fringe forest dweller. More often heard than seen, it is not uncommon, but yet one of our lesser known species. Named "Fernbird" for its distinctive droopy, fernlike tail, rather than its habitat, it lives and breeds in sedge, near water. Inoculous, and relatively small, it prefers not to fly and will hop along the ground to travel. Not that it tends to move far from home, at any rate. It nests close to the ground, making a little cup nest. This is of course vulnerable to rats, and the Kotata is also threatened by habitat destruction. Maori revered this wee chap as an oracle and interpreted its calls to decide whether their daily ventures would be succesful or fail. They have also used them to portend disaster. I have been on several fernbird hunts, including a most noteable one in Totaranui (where I stumbled upon them accidentally) and find them charming fellows.