Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Handful of NZ Fauna

Welcome Swallow
Like the Australasian Coot and the tiny Silvereye, the Welcome Swallow brought itself to New Zealand and decided to make its home. Before the 1950s they were occasional vagrants, and then some started breeding and they are now distributed across the country and a common sight. They favour open grasslands and above water, where they dart and flicker in pursuit of their insectile prey. There is something almost magical in their flitting dance for food. Courtship involves hovering, fluttering and chasing one another through the air and when the pairing is cemented, the nest is build. These are often under bridges, eaves or inside the mouths of caves. They are built of reguigitated mud and resemble an upside-down igloo. Inside they are lined with soft down, wool and grass. They are short-lived, fast breeding birds - which explains their swift spread across the country. They typically lay more than four eggs and can hatch and raise three sets of offspring a year. The longest lived known swallow was six years old.

Mountain Stone Weta
Sturdier and more thckest than its cousins, the Mountain Stone Weta makes its home in the drier part of the South Island's high country. It is quite verastile, equally happy in shrubland, alpine grassland, scrub and scree. Groups are often found clustered together under loose slabs of schist. As the alpine area is prone to freezing temperatures, the MS Weta has some amazing adaptations. It can withstand being frozen solid to temeratures cloes to -10 degrees celsius and can thaw out and become active again. It is the largest insect to do this. These are long-lived critters too - taking 3-4 years to reach maturity and then living through up to 4 breeding seasons. Eggs are laid in autumn and hatch in spring.

Huhu Beetle
or Tunga rere
The bulkiest and heaviest of the New Zealand beetles, the huhu is easily recongnisable and frequently seen. It usually makes itself at home in forests - ranging from the wet podocarp forests to the drier woodlands and is quite an active flier. Bright lights lure it in, and often sends them crashing into windows. And be careful if you get one in your hair or clothes - they can deliver a nasty nip! The grubs are a great source of protein and were often eaten by the native Maori and by more adventurous visitors at the Hokitika Wild Foods festivals. They are said to taste nutty. Thick and white and creamy, they do not look particularly savoury and they hatch from eggs laid in decaying dead wood. They are an important part of the ecosystem, as they break down the wood so that decomposition can advance. Once they have pupated and become adult beetles, they no longer need to eat, but can live up to two weeks - mating and laying their eggs for the next generation.

Magpie Moth or Mokarokara
This pretty pied moth is diurnal - meaning it comes out during the day. It is endemic to New Zealand and widespread throughout coastal and lowland areas across both the main islands. The butterfly can be seen flitting around gardens from September to June and lays its eggs on the underside of groundsel, ragwort and cineraria. The fuzzy black caterpillar is often referred to as a "woolly bear" and they are voracious eaters, being known to defoliate one plant and have to crawl off in search of another. This makes them unpopular with gardeners, but does act as a good weed control on the wild pests! After they're good and fat, the caterpillar leaves its food plant and wanders off to spin its cocoon - usually in ground litter or crevices in wood. After 7-7 weeks, the butterfly hatches out. The diet of the caterpillar and moth make it taste bitter and foul and thus they are not considered a food source by hungry birds or lizards.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

#2,507 - Our friend Totoro

So where are numbers 2503-2506? Well, I've not gotten around to uploading them yet, but time will tell.

This is our friend Totoro and his two fluffy companions. They were drawn for Okami, in Moldova, who (like me) enjoys Studio Ghibli films. I hope this brings a smile to her face. It was referenced from a screen shot but I added my own style to the characters.

So what do you know about Moldova? Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union, but is now a country in a troubled state. Indeed, my mother is knitting jumpers for an Orphanage over there. According to Okami, it is a land of endless hills covered in crops and numerous rivers. Also, mixed forest (temperate, I guess) and more recently, hot weather and floods. I imagine that given its location it must also get very cold in winter, hence the collection of jerseys etc that is being undertaken in NZ. According to Wikipedia, a quarter of the people live on less than US$2 a day. It strives to become part of the EU and I hope it suceeds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

#2,502 - Kotuku, the White Heron

The White Heron is a magnificant, cosmopolitan bird. In New Zealand, it is known as the "Kotuku". It is quite a rare bird, having been nearly eliminated last century for its white breeding plumes, which was the fashion of the time. Thankfully now, that fashion has passed and the Kotuku is now fully protected. During most of the year, Kotuku are widespread across the country, where they fish in estuaries, rivers and lakes. But in August, they begin on a journey to a little place south of Hokitika called Okarito. Here, despite efforts to wipe them all out for their feathers, is the only breeding place for this special, sacred bird. In preparation for breeding, the magnificant plumes grow in and the males build breeding platforms before trying to impress the ladies with both their fine plumes and their construction skills. Once the mate has been chosen, up to five eggs are laid in the well constructed platform nest. The young fledge a few months later and the birds depart the breeding site in January.

In Maori myrhology the Kotuku is an inhabitant of the spirit world and is considered rare and beautiful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#2,501 - the Takahe

The Takahe is another of our unique birds in Aotearoa. It is a member of the rail family - making it cousin to the common Pukeko, but is much bulkier and flightless. Takahe used to roam the tussocklands of New Zealand, happily munching all day on tussock grass (they favour the juicy base of the stalks) and the occasion bug or grub. When predators and mammalian herbivores were introduced to New Zealand, they had a dire effect on this bird. Stoats liked to devour the plump chicks, and the deer ate their grassland. In the 19th century, only 4 takahes were seen and in 1930 they were declared extinct. RIP, the Takahe, another victim of human invasion.

But that is not the end of the tale.

A scientist named Dr Geoffrey Orbell refused to give up, refused to believe that this sumo-wrestler of a rail was gone for good. He roamed the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland, hunting high and low for any sign.

And in 1948, he found it.

In what is now known as Takahe Valley, a population of 250 of these birds was found. And they still remain there today. But they are elsewhere now too. Thanks to the determined efforts of the Department of Conservation, Takahe can now be found on some of the predator-free offshore islands. They are still low in number, however, and being long-lived have a slow breeding cycle. So they're not out of the woods yet.

#2,500 - Kea

This fellow has been sitting in my "Inked but uncoloured" pile for a bout a month, and since it is rather awesome, I thought it high time I finished it up.

Meet the Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world and a real smart and cheeky character. Found only in New Zealand, the Kea makes his home above the treeline and often gathers in small flocks. They have an omnivourous diet, enjoying roots, shoots, berries, fruits as well as insects, reptiles, eggs, other invertebrates, carrion. Basically, they will eat almost anything and are noted for scavenging around alpine villages and ski resorts. Another nasty habit was to descend on snow-bogged sheep and peck through the wool above the rump to literally eat them alive. This act, although not immediately fatal, ultimately results in infection, fly-blotting and death. It also demonstrates quite how smart these parrots are to locate this rich food source. However, farmers did not appreciate this demonstration of smarts, and the kea suddenly found itself persecuted and shot. Since this was a learned behaviour, and only a few keas actually practised it, many innocent birds were executed. They have also been seen to hunt burrowing birds, specifically shearwaters, extracting the babies from their burrows to kill and eat them. Hopefully it also does the same with rabbits.

Keas are now considered vulnerable, if not in fact endangered, and are fully protected.

Keas are also noted for their insatiable curiousity and groups of them like to hang out around ski-fields where they scavenge for food and try their hand at amateur mechanics by dismantling cars. They particuarly like the rubber around windows and also windscreen wipers and aerials. When not causing trouble, keas are generally foraging for food. Indeed, it is only in those areas where they no longer have to hunt high and low - ie: areas with lots of human rubbish, that they have the time and energy to devote to destructive behaviour. Much like teenagers or children - keep them busy and they'll behave. Hence the large number of "Do Not Feed the Kea" signs that are often ignored.

They are hole nesters, using hollows under rocks and dug burrows, as well as descending below the tree line to make use of beech trees. Males often court and support several females, and travel frequently between their nests. Keas are highly sociable birds, and will "pay visits" to others of their flock. Lone birds do poorly in captivity, and often develop bonds with humans.

In studies to determine the intelligence of various non-primate animals, the kea came out tops in learned behaviour - they are capable of solving puzzles and devising solutions. This is one of their best surivival traits, but also - alas, one of their most maligned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

#2499 - Welcome to Moria

So where is Moria? Well, Middle Earth, obviously, but the location is in fact at the top of the West Coast of New Zealand, in the Kahurangi National Park.

Here is the photo that inspired this ATC and a selection of others. These were taken by my father on one of my parents holidays up to the West Coast. I have never been here, myself :(

#2498 - Crystal Kingfisher

Here's something a wee bit different, and also provided a bit of a challenge! The theme was "still life with glass" and well... I interpreted it as I see fit. I find Still Lifes pretty blah, they don't really do it for me, and I had these photos of this beautiful crystalware by Swarovski that my mother had taken in Rotorua. So I selected my favourite of the birds and gave it a go. The light reflection is the hardest bit of colouring glass, and I don't think I did too badly, although I would hesitate to say I did a good job! I rather like it though, and the recepient seemed to too.

Titipounamu, the Rifleman

This delightful wee chap is New Zealand's smallest bird. He is a member of the NZ Wren family, which are not particularly related to the more cosmopolitan wrens, but merely bears a superficial resemblance to them. The male is small and green and pretty, whereas the female is a more dowdy brown. Both move with quick flicks of their wings, darting from tree trunk to tree trunk, pipping away to one another as they hunt for tasty grubs and insects. Their habitat is thinly wooded native forest, and I have seen them both in Peel Forest (Canterbury) and near Harwood's Hole (Takaka Hill). They are hole nesters, laying their eggs in cavities within trees, sometimes with entrances so narrow that even this diminutive bird has a tight squeeze. The nest has a dome shape, and she lays 4-5 eggs which take around 2 weeks to hatch.

Their only extant relative is the Rock Wren, which looks similar but is slightly larger and makes its home above the treeline, in the alpine region, and once there was also the bush wren, which favoured the denser native forest and is now, sadly, extinct. Other extinct relatives include the Stephen's Island Wren, an entire species that was wiped out more-or-less by one Lighthouse Keeper's cat. It is a tragic story and demonstrates how vulnerable to mammalian predators are natives were - and still are - especially those with very limited range. Also, why people shouldn't keep cats!

People often assume that because I love animals, I would have lots of pets. I don't. Although I would one day like an indoor cat, I don't keep cats because I like birds, I don't feel I have the time and attention to devote to a dog and keeping birds in cages is just plain cruel. I once wanted a ferret, but they are now no longer permitted to be bought/sold/bred in New Zealand because of the risk of them escaping.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Whakahao, the Hooker's Sea Lion

Now known as the "New Zealand Sea Lion", this seal is endemic to New Zealand and steadily declining in number. Its restricted breeding range makes it one of the most vulnerable to extinction. The major breeding site are the Auckland Islands. This small archipelago is in fact nowhere near Auckland, but sub-Antarctic, with the nearest being 465 km from Bluff. Outside of breeding season, the Hooker strays across to the mainland around the Foveaux Strait and as far up as Otago. Squid, fish and octopi constitute the majority of their diet, and they can venture 175 km from the coast to forage. Dives can measure anything up to 600m, but are usually less than 200m and last 4-5 minutes. The male is considerably larger than the female, and starts defending his own territory and harem at around 8-9 years of age. Females determine their mate based on the size and quality of the beach territory he holds, and he defends his girls with great ferocity and determination. Occasionally younger or weaker males lurk around the perimeter, hoping for a piece of the action. A single pup is born to each cow every 1-2 years. It is born on the beach and moved into the vegetation as it grows older - around 6 weeks. At this point the bull has gone off back to living the bachelor lifestyle, and mum and the other cows are left to raise the young by themselves. The cows alternate between suckling their young and foraging at sea, with the pups left together in small pods awaiting their return. They remain dependent on their mother's for the first year.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yellow Admiral - Kahukowhai

The other commonly sighted native New Zealand butterfly. The Yellow Admiral is not endemic - it is also found in Australia and some of the islands. Its Maori name translates as "yellow cloak". It is a fast flier, thought to have been blown across the Tasman Sea. In behaviour it is not disimilar to the Red Admiral although it is not quite as long lived, lasting only a few months in its adult form. The larvae look similar and also live on nettle leaves. They feed at night, curling a leaf about them during the daylight hours.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Zealand Falcon - Karearea

This falcon is our only extant endemic species of raptor. She prefers forested areas but can also be found in open country. Across most of New Zealand, alas, she has been largely displaced by the self-introduced Swamp Harrier of Australia. Her main diet is birds and the occasional insect, although females are large and strong enough to take the occasional young rabbit. Males are, like in most raptors, more diminutive. When hunting, she dives steeply onto her prey, seizing it in her talons. This victim is then taken to a handy "plucking post" where she dislocates its neck using a special notched "tooth" found in all falcon species. She then plucks it naked, and devours it hungrily. Threatened by habitat destruction and pesticides, Karearea has found an unlikely ally. She is being encouraged to breed - and especially to hunt, in vineyards. She is a naturally occurring way to keep down small birds that might otherwise make a meal of the grapes. In a dive, she can reach 200 km/hour.

In breeding season, the male chases the female, pretending to attack her. They then engage in some aerial acrobatics before he seals the bond by making her a gift of something juicy and dead. He encourages her to chase him (luring with the food), leading her to his chosen nesting place. This is generally a sheltered cliff edge, a well positioned epiphyte or somewhere on the ground. The eggs are laid, and the parents fiercely defend their nest from intruders.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Red Admiral - Kahukura

This delicate and pretty wee butterfly is a common sight around New Zealand gardens. It looks rather similar to the Yellow Admiral, but lacks the yellow patches (although the yellow still has red on its wings). The Maori name translates as "red cloak". When at rest, these colours are folded away, behind well camouflaged, mottled brown underwings. The adults feed on nectar and are quite long-lived, surviving for up to 9 months if they overwinter (although they end up quite bedraggled after this time). The eggs are laid on a nettle leaf and go through 5 instars, or growth stages, developing more defined spikes and stripes as they grow. Their favourite food is Ongaonga, an endemic nettle. This protects them somewhat during the day as they roll it over themselves, forming a sort of "tent". When they reach around 36 mm, they go into the pupae stage.

This one is going to be making a very long flight. She's destined for Finland.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

If your Totem is the Spider...

You are wild and artistic, putting a creative spin into your life. Patience is one of your virtues, and you are happy to bide your time until opportunity arises, and then you are quick to pounce. At times you might be considered spiteful, your actions or words venomous. It can be difficult for you to relate to others, and you prefer your own company, weaving your own creative magic.

Element = Air

The real Sea Wasp

So... we was out yesterday at a friend's place playing boardgames and well... I don't really get into the boardgames so much (although RoboRally rocks) and I took my sketchbook along and I twas posted this challenge - to combine a Portugese Man'o'War and a Wasp.

And this is the result.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Another little fish with a big name.

The Longnose Butterfly Fish, a beautiful little pisces that I saw both in Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef. These fellows are usually seen in pairs and they form monogamous bonds. Also known as the "forceps fish" they use their long snouts to pluck tasty worms and other invertebrates from the coral reef or stony floor.

The Hawaiian name - Lau-wiliwili-nukunuku-'oi'oi - translates as "long nosed fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf". I am guessing "nukunuku" means "nose" because it is also part of my other favourite reef fish - humuhumuunukunukuapua'a (which means "colourful fish with a pig's nose" or some-such).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Steam Punk and Starry Night

For the Summer Pick-a-theme I decided to do a poll in my Facebook to determine which picture I would draw next. The options were:
A; Still Life with Glass
B; Steampunk Guy
C; Tropical Fish
D; Dionysos (the Greek God)
E; Guy with horns

B came out the Unanimous winner. So I did it first. The rest will come - with time!
This was photoreferenced from this fellow here but doesn't really look like him. With obligatory vehicle and smog!

I've done my own take on Van Gogh's "Starry Night" I think four times now - over Hungary, over Aztec Ruins, over Slovakia - it was high time I did it over something in my own country! Gives me more excuse to try drawing architecture too. Good practise, even if the proportions are slightly off. The Chalice was tricksy!