Monday, August 30, 2010

Extinct Owl and Common Dotterel

Whekau, the Laughing Owl
This is the first in the set of 12 extinct New Zealand birds I am planning on depicting. It is the Whekau, known also as the "laughing owl" because of the noise of its call, which rang like maniacal laughter. It was a relatively large bodied owl, and preferred to spend its time on the ground, rather than on the wing. It had long sturdy legs, and pursued its prey (small birds and kiore rats) on foot. Preferred habitat was open land, and it nested in limestone cliffs. This owl became extinct in the early 1900s, with the last verified sighting in 1914. However, it is possible that like many of our native birds, there is still hope that somewhere, out there, there are still some around.

Tuturiwhatu, the Banded Dotterel
Here is one shorebird that is still very much alive. It is the most numerous dotterel species in New Zealand (although it only has two rivals) and inhabitats both the shoreline and also riverbeds. The male makes several nests for his lady to choose from - these are merely scrapes in the sand, and in her chosen one she lays two to four eggs. Both parents take turns incubating. If danger threatens, the adult bird will put on a great show of injury, dragging its wing and looking for all the world like its about to drop dead. In this manner it lures the predator away from its nest or chicks, and when it reaches a safe distance, off it flies! Favoured food is insects, crabs, molluscs and sandhoppers, fish and invertebrates. These wee birds can live up to ten years, and in winter the birds that live and breed inland take a holiday across the ditch, in Australia, before returning with the spring to begin their family anew.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What a Cootie!

Australian Coot
Coots are one of the most widespread of bird families, with the Australian Coot having cousins in Europe, Asia and America, all sharing similar appearances and behaviour. The Australian species is a relative newcomer to our shores. The first breeding pairs were recordered around 1950, before that it was just a rare vagrant. Now it has dispersed throughout the country, and many lakes play host to two or three pairs of these smart black and white birds. The name "Coot" is thought to be derived from their piercing, one note call. They glide through the water, with jerking head movements and dive for pondweed. Their feet are webbed with small fleshy lobes . In breeding season a large pile of waterweeds is gathered together amongst the raupo and here the mother lays up to ten eggs. The chicks hatch as fluffy little purple-black featherballs, with bald, scarlet heads. As they grow, their briliant colouring is quickly lost, replaced with the smooth black plumage of the adult.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some more delightful Natives

For anyone who is intersted, many of the Originals of these New Zealand bird pictures are still available for sale. They are $20 each and I am listing a couple weekly on If you are interested in owning one, please contact me. I am also selling them as Collectible Art Card Prints (assembled by hand) for $3 each. For more details click here.

Korora, the Little Blue Penguin
This delicate blue penguin is the world's smallest penguin. He is also found in Australia and spares his days at sea. It is only at night that he comes ashore once more, and then scurries to his burrow to sleep the night away. Sometimes these "burrows" might be beneath a house, in which case the inhabitants can be rudely awoken by their loud crooning calls. Their favoured foods are crustraceans, squids and fish and they normally make dives of around 10-20m. When breeding, the Korora is known to form long-term partnerships, but these can dissolve fairly quickly. Two eggs are laid in the burrow and incubated by both parents. For the first week of the chicks' life, one parent guards whilst the other forages, but soon the demand exceeds supply and both parents must go out to sea. Chicks grow swiftly and fledge at around 8 weeks old. They do not move far though, preferring to stay in the neighbourhood where they were hatched and raised.

This fine looking parakeet is named "Kakariki", meaning "green" - specifically, HIS shade of green. There are three different species of Kakariki - most imaginatively known as the Yellow-crowned (pictured here), the red crowned and the orange crowned. For a time there was some debate over whether the oranges were a seperate species or a colour mutation of the yellows, but genetic testing has proven their status as a species. Kakariki used to be common in New Zealand forest, moving around in pairs or small groups, as they foraged for seeds, berries and shoots, flowerbuds and small invertebrates. Alas, like many of our natives, they fell prey to rats and stoats and feral cats. Now they are a scarce sight. It is highly possible there are more in captivity then in the wild, as they are a relatively popular aviary bird. In New Zealand, one requires special permits to keep them but they breed readily in captivity and have found their way all across the world.

Titi, the Cook's Petrel
The Petrel is classified as a "tube-nosed seabird" and has a raised nostril tube above its beak. These improve the bird's sense of smell, and also help drain away excess salt water, exuded from a gland above the eye. Titi rarely comes ashore, spending most of his life on the wing or the waves, skimming the surface for fish and squid. Petrels have an interesting adaptation to their stomachs. They are divided into two, and the upper stomach stores the oil from their food. This oil porovides a strong energy source, and is reguigitated to feed the chicks. The chicks store it also, and if attacked in the nest, can eject large quantities at the predator making life unpleasantly stinky for them, and also damaging the natural insulatory properties of the feather or fur, which can be fatal. Like all birds, he must return to land to breed. The nesting site is a deep burrow in which one egg is laid and incubated. Tuatara have been reported to also occupy petrel's nests, but this may be at the detriment to the bird, as tuatara have an appetite for bird flesh and could easily devour the chick or egg.

"Titi" is used to refer to a number of different petrel species throughout New Zealand, including the Sooty Shearwater, or Muttonbird. Although considered a "gourmet food" this descination comes more from the scarcity of it on menus and the difficulty in catching it, NOT the taste. It requires careful preparation to take away the rather pungent, briny flavours. I've never tried it, and I'm not sure I ever would.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hoiho, the yellow-eyed Penguin

Hoiho are considered amongst the rarest penguins in the world. They are found only in the southern parts of the South Island of New Zealand. The main stronghold is the Otago Peninsula where a breeding habitat has been established and has full protection, including visitation rights by the public. They are not colony nesters like many penguins, preferring to be out of sight from other couples. These habitats consist of their favourite nesting sites - forest or scrub, amongst native flax, and with a good view of the sea. When the chick is small, the parents take turns, one child-minding, whilst the other goes out fishing. Hoiho’s diet is mainly fish and squids. They can dive up to 160m and stay down for around 3.5 minutes. After the chick is larger and stronger, both parents head out to sea to forage. Hoiho often form long term partnerships and can live for over 20 years.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Duck, Albatross, Canary

Whio, the Blue Duck
Whio is named for his whistling call (the female makes a more guttural rattle). He is a dainty blue duck that makes his home in fast-flowing alpine streams. Here he dabbles away happily all day, using his beak to flick over stones in search of tasty insect larvae and the occassional crustacean. His beak has a rubbery lip to it, cushioning it against damage and helping him scrape the larvae from the rocks. The female is smaller than the male, but both fiercely defend their territory against much larger birds. Nests are built in a hollow scrape not far from the water - which makes them at risk of flooding. The youngsters swim in the currents from a young age and can fly at around 70 days old.

Toroa, the Royal Albatross
This royal wanderer is the largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan of around 3 metres. In flight, they are an awesome sight. On the ground, they're not so impressive, being decidedly clumsy walkers. Of course, the albatross only comes to land to do one thing - and that is to breed. The most famous colony in New Zealand is on Otago Peninsula, Taiaroa Head, and attracts many visitors to the reserve. Whilst they're not allowed to wander around the bird's nests, their are hidden viewing hides and often birds soaring overhead. Toroa are long-lived and monogamous, returning every breeding season to the same nesting spot. One bird at Taiaroa, affectionately named "Grandma", raised her last brood at the ripe old age of 62.

Mohua, the Yellowhead
The Mohua is a delicate golden bush bird, sometimes known as the "bush canary". But it is unlikely that you will ever see it in the wild. They are now very rare. They are small insectivores and closely related to the rather more common Pipipi (Brown Creeper) and the Popokotea (Whitehead). Found exclusively in the South Island, it is deforestation and introduced mammals that have been their downfall. Mohua nest in tree hollows, often qwuite high in the canopy (another reason you're unlikely to see them). The female is the sole incubator, but both parents feed the chicks. As often happens in hole nesting species, females are often killed on the nest by enterprising stoats or possums.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

(Re-) Introducing Aroha!

I've a few more in my "NZ Naturally" series to upload - a Toroa, Mohua and a Whio but for the moment I would like to introduce to you my recently revived character.

Some 5 years ago now I decided it would be fun to write a chapter book for the 7-9 age group, with the main character being a cheeky little weka who got taken from her home and decided to walk back. I still intend to write that story, maybe for Nanowrimo this year (if a picture tells a thousand words, - 25,000 words + 25 pictures = 50,000 right?). But first I have plotted and sketched out the picture book explaination to her nickanme of "Stickybeak." You can see the teaser for it in my blog here.

The main character is a cheeky little weka who likes sweet food and shiny things. Her name is "Aroha", the Maori word meaning "love". But all who know her, call her "Stickybeak".

Here is the trading card I made of her way back in 2005 when she was first "conceived".

I still have this one in my personal collection!

And here is a postcard I drew of her this morning (I think I even used the same reference image - oops, that's google for you) - this one is going on a Grand Adventure to Colombia, in South America, where she will be living with a young boy and hopefully not lead him into mischief!

Hrm, I wondered where my last little chocolate fish had gone!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some of our Urban Avian Acquaintinces

Tui, the Parson Bird
The talented tui is one of our most charasmatic birds. One of the three honeyeater species, it is closely related to the Bellbird (featured earlier). The two frequently share habitat and have similar diets. They also have similar songs. The tui, however, is more of an improvisor and creator - he likes to combine other sounds into his melody - telephones, house alarms, dogs barking etc. At least one tui in captivity has learned how to talk. Tuis used to be widespread throughout the country, but now their range is rather more limited. They still have their strongholds, however. In Russell (Bay of Islands) it seems there is a tui for almost every tree and you are surrounded by a symphony of their melodies - although it can be rather overwelming!
There are, alas, none in Canterbury anymore. But there are plans to change that.

Pukeko, the Purple Swamp Hen
Ranking in at #9 last year on the "Bird of the Year" poll, the Pukeko is both loved and loathed. With their long legs, flicking white tails and stalking movement, they are both a comical and familar sight in the swampier suburbs. Often seen grazing in paddocks or by roadside verges, they are not infrequently casualties of hit and runs. However, their habit of snatching foods from gardens and damaging their crops does not endear them to farmers or gardeners. They are versatile eaters, usually resigned to eating roots and shoots and boring plant matter, they are known to indulge in eggs, ducklings, small fish and invertebrates. Pukeko form polygamous breeding groups, with several hens laying and brooding in the same nest. As this is a large, flattened platform of reeds, there is plenty of space. All birds in the group - including those from previous broods, help mind the chicks.

Piwakawaka, the Fantail
Ah, the fantail - one of our most endearing wild birds. Who could resist these dumpy little birds with their vast spread tails, as they tumbled through the tree branches or flicker through the air. And the way they follow you as you walk through woodland paths. How friendly they are, how amiable. Really, they're after you because you are the Great Insect Disturber. Piwakawaka is an exclusive insectivore - meaning he won't eat anything else. This can be quite a problem in the winter months, when food is hard to come by, and you may observe that there are less of these wee guys around when the weather is cold. But the ones that make it through the winter do what small birds do best - they breed. They start at a young age, raising 2-5 chicks at a time, and are able to lay (although probably not raise) up to 5 clutches a season. Chicks hatch and grow to fledglings in just under a month. Both parents feed them, and when the female starts building her second nest, dad takes full responsibility. Chicks are fed every ten minutes - that's 100 times a day!!

For a bird, they're quite short-lived - three years being the oldest recorded (although I doubt many fantails have their birthdays noted and counted) in New Zealand, although in Australia their cousins have reached double figures.

The black fantail pictured here is a relatively common genetic mutation - occuring only in South Island fantails, about 1 in 5 are born black.

And why the tail, you might ask? Doesn't it hinder them? Not at all - the tail helps them change direction swiftly (to catch that fly all the faster) , also to balance them as they hop up and down branches - sometime upside down.

So next time a little Piwakawaka visits your garden, be sure to notice what a little evolutionary marvel it is.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Because Birds ROCK!

I've decided to create a new craze - NZ Naturally Collectible Cards. These are at present, strictly limited edition (limited to my printer and my laminator) but at $3 each, they're a real bargain. Right?

Basically, I'm selling ATC prints of my bird images with information on the back. Great for bird enthusiasts, art collectors, school teachers and geeky children like me*!

Here's the three new feathered friends I rustled up today:

The Kaka is the forest cousin to the Kea and although an intelligent bird, it is rather more shy in nature. Kaka were once relatively widespread in our forests, but now the South Island subspecies is very rare and the North Island one faring somewhat better. It's funny actually, that although the population in the South Island is smaller and the landmass bigger, it's the North Island that has proven the stronghold for these seed dispersal birds (Kaka and Kokako). The Kaka loves to munch on berries, and plays a very important role in the ecosystem. Alas, as a hole-nesting species, they have been deeply affected by the stoats and other introduced mammalian predators. Only the female incubates - so only the female (and chicks, if any) is easy prey. Once again, we have a disproportionate gender spread in the population. These birds are strictly hierachal, and the brighter coloured birds tend to be the top of the Pecking Order. So this fellow is most clearly a Boss Bird.

Karuhiruhi, the Pied Shag
Having already illustrated the endemic Spotted Shag, I wasn't going to draw another of these beautifully adapted fishing birds, but I did want to draw one in its typical "Drying" pose and since my eventual goal is to draw ALL our native birds, well, it had to be done. These handsome fellows prefer to hang out on the coasts, but occasionally they venture into estuaries or lagoons, as this chap here has. They are expert fishers, and lack oil in their feathers. This allows them greater diving ability (the oil adds buoyancy) but does mean that after dining, they must then sit in the sun to dry out their wings - as you can see here.

Weweia, the Dabchick
This delightful little water bird may look familar to a lot of you - it very much resembles the Little Grebes found throughout the world. But this species belongs to us, and us alone! To the North Island alone, mores-the-pity, and I guess they're not sharing. The grebe family are the speedboats of the bird world - but they've made a sacrifice for this speedy swimming ability. You see, their feet are positioned very far back, quite near the tail. This gives them maximum leverage ability through the water, but also means that they have difficulty walking. (they fall foward). For this also means that they rarely come on land, so unfortunately it would be unrealistic for me to depict their nifty foot adaptaption. You'll have to settle with a description instead. Their toes are individually webbed, making each toe look rather like a leaf. They are expert divers and make barely a splash as they dive beneath the water in pursuit of insect larvae and other invertebrates. They are so fast, that it is rumoured that if one is accidentally fired on in duck-hunting season, they can dive beneath the water before the bullet reaches them. Not something I wish to test.

One of my favourite all time birds is the Crested Grebe, their rather large and impressive cousin. But whilst I am itching to draw another one, I have refrained so far because they are one of the relatively new arrivals to New Zealand from Australia and are relatively rare. I was lucky enough to see one in the wild at lake Ianthe last week. Unfortuantely, I didn't realise that the dabchick (above) is found near Rotorua or I would have made my parents wait for hours while I tried to locate one when I went there with them two years ago.

Anyhow, here's my awesome (*coughs*) photo of a Crested Grebe. It reminds me rather of those Loch Ness Monster photos you see. Except, of course, that this one is DEFINTELY a Crested Grebe. And I had binoculors too.

Anybody got any suggestions on what bird I should illustrate next? I"m thinking it might be time to make another Kakapo.

* Obviously, I mean, like I WAS. Although I do consider myself in my second childhood. I've been obsessed with NZ birds since I was about 5. We blame my Nana, she loved birds. The book I am using as one of my references was given to me in 1988 and I still remember it as being the best birthday present EVER.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More of our vanishing treasures

The Black Robin "Old Blue"
The story of the Black Robin is probably one of the most famous New Zealand conservation successes. This little bird was critically endangered - critically endangered to the point where only 5 remained, on Little Mangere Island in the Chathams (islands 800 km east of Christchurch).
At this point, DoC (Department of Conservaition) stepped in and managed to bring them "Back from the Brink" and how did they manage this? Well, by cross-fostering the eggs with first grey warblers (unsuccessful, the chicks died due to unsanitory conditions) and then with tomtits (rather more succesful). This left the parent birds able to lay and raise another brood. But it could not have been done without "Old Blue". You see, out of the five remaining birds, only one was a fertile female. She can now claim to be the ancestor of every single Black Robin seen today - now around 250 of them. Old Blue, is of course long dead, the average lifespan of a robin is 5-6 years, but her legacy lives on and without her, the forests of the Chatham Islands would be a little bit quieter.

Robins have the advantage over kakapo and takahe and many of our other birds "on the brink" - they're quick and willing breeders and they're able to raise several broods a year. Also, despite the lack of genetic variation, there have been no effects of inbreeding, which it thought to have stemmed through something in their evolutionary history. Perhaps even what made them black robins in the first place.

Kokako (North Island)
The New Zealand forests are truly are poorer place now that the Kokako has largely disappeared. Its haunting call is something you will always remember (you can hear it here). Sadly, the South Island species has not been sighted (or at least confirmed, there have been a number of "unverified" sightings) now for 40-odd years and is considered extinct. Once again, this species was forced to the brink by mammalian predation and deforestation and saved by DoC. Now thanks to predator control and captive breeding, they are on the road to recovery and DoC are hoping to have 1000 breeding pairs by 2020. For Kokako to find a mate, they have to sing to the same tune - and there are regional dialects, but they are quite good at adapting their tunes. They are a large wattlebird, and although capable of heavy, flapping flight (not unlike a Kereru) they prefer to hop about the trees and across the forest floor on their long, sturdy legs. They are prone to predation by ship rats and possums, especially of the incubating females, which lead to an over-abundance of males. Indeed, according to the youtube video I just watched, many of the "breeding pairs" they had sighted in the wild and were considering infertile, turned out (After dna testing) to be two males!

The Kokako is one of the few remaining large berry-dispersal birds, along with its fellow diet compatriots the Kereru and Kaka. Only the Kereru can still be found in large numbers nowadays and if they too declined it could put many of our native trees at risk too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gems of the New Zealand forest

Kotare, the Sacred Kingfisher
A bright blue darting flash could mean that a Kotare is on the chase! As it slices through the water to snatch up shimmering silver fish or snatches insects from the air. Kotare are voracious hunters, and fish are not the main staple on the menu - they will happily munch on small mammals, reptiles, even other birds (like the silvereye). Kotare can often be seen roosting on branches or powerlines, watching and waiting for something tasty to come along. A group of kingfishers is known as a "Concentration". They are a hole-nesting species which they dig themselves either in a tree or clay bank. The female doing the incubating but both parents feeding the brood. They are untidy housekeepers, and their holes often reek.

Toutouwai, the New Zealand Robin
Bearing a superficial resemblance to the English birds for which they are named, the NZ Robin is a curious and relatively fearless bird. Once they were common throughout the forests, but now thanks to mammalian predation, you have to hunt a wee bit harder to find them. They thrive solely on a diet of bugs, insects and squirmy worms, and thus like the fantail are known to hang around people. We are the ultimate bug-stirrers, after all. Like a blackbird, they fossick around in leaf-litter gobbling down anything squirmy they disturb. Robins are noisy songbirds, and are among the first to greet the day and the last to go down with the sun. They build a large, compact nest against the bole of the tree and it is a beautifully woven construct. Should this nest be disturbed and their babies killed, they have been seen to show distress, hopping around the intruder, wings quivering.

This pair are the South Island subspecies, having the yellow colouration on the belly.

Korimako, the Bellbird
At first glance, the bellbird looks rather ordinary - a drab olive green bird with a blue and black sheen to its feathers. That is until it opens its mouth. The Bellbird's clear, chiming song has earned it its name, and given it the reputation as one of our finest songbirds. Its cousin the tui shows similar musical ability, but is more of a mimic and less crystal-clear (it likes to improvise and add its own twist). They also have regional accents - with each bird singing to a slightly different tune. Bellbirds are versatile eaters - eating fruit and insects, but their favourite food is juicy-sweet nectar. In breeding season, the female and the babies eat plenty of protein-rich insects. They are strongly territorial and in some areas compete with Tuis for food. They have also been known to bully Stitchbirds, a more distant relative. Stitchbirds are very rare, however, and it is only on offshore islands that their range overlaps. Bellbirds have been found to form partnerships with the same mate year after year.

I have put two of these 6x4 sized images up for sale on At $20 each, they're very reasonably priced and would look delightful framed on the wall.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Choo-choo! The Weka Pass Railway is full steam ahead!

I designed this for a young boy in the Netherlands, whom I received as an Official (ie: random) recepient via Postcrossing. His parents work in the rail industry and thus he has a passion for trains and other large vehicles. Although his other preferences were beaches and animals and mountains, none of my cards seem to quite have the charm that a preschool (I presume) child would choose, so I decided, what the heck? I need more practice drawing vehicles anyway!

The Weka Pass Railway is a steam train operating for recreational purposes in northern Canterbury. It is run by volunteers and operates on the 1st and 3rd sunday of every month, taking people around 12.8 km of scenic landscape. This landscape includes unique limestone formations, like Frog Rock which I have illustrated here. If looms over the road too, and makes quite an impressive sight. You can probably guess how it got its name.

Anyway, look! I drew a train!

Mini-Maxicard: Flax Weevil

Flax Weevil
This nocturnal Beetle makes its home on New Zealand flax bushes, hiding near the gruond diring the day and climbing into the leaf-blades to forage at night. Because of its large size and flightless, it is prone to predation especially by the Maori rat - the Kiore, and thus can now only be found on isolated predator free islands.

Original Postage stamp art by Dave Gunson.

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good”

Art inspired by Dr Seuss, for the Swap on ATCs for All.

DO these need any introduction? Just in case:
Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, The Lorax, Horton protects his Clover
And Seuss Kat!

Coloured in cheap colouring pencils and tombow markers (the former because I was away on holiday and forgot to pack my polychromos - oh no! Used the Tombows when I got home).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


In an effort to regain some of my writing abilities I am currently attending a course on Writing for Children. Our first assignment was to write a short story using the words "rickshaw"," encyclopedia" and "opposite".

The second assignment was to write a children's book.

As you can guess, I'm illustrating it too.

So here's a teaser:

The line down the centre is just to show where the gutter goes. One rule I remember from the brief Ilustrating for Children workshop I attended was: don't put the heads in the gutter".

Sunday, August 1, 2010


What is a Maxicard?
A maxi card is a postcard with a postage stamp placed on the picture side of the card where the stamp and card match or are in concordance.

These are mini-maxicards because they are ATC sized. All images were scanned prior to the stamps being applied so I could include them in my NZ Naturally art book. The Huhu beetle you can see in the post below.

Original stamps were designed and drawn by my artistic idol, Dave Gunson. He's a very talented New Zealand artist who not only has a similar style to mine but also responded to my message in his Guestbook AND encouraged me to start on my portfolio. You can see his art here.

The critters featured are:
Chorus cicada - The males of these small insects perch high in the tree canopy and sing loudly to attract the ladies (who remain mute). Their Maori name is "kihikihi wawa" which means "cicada" and "roaring sound of heavy rain" and rather describes the racket they are prone to making. They are one of the heralds of summer. This noise is made by vibrating organs in the abdomen (called tymbals) which are amplified by reasonating chambers. The insects also drum their wings against the tree trunk to add percussive clicks. This song proves irresistable to the females who come in swarms to mate with the singer.

Huhu beetle - description in the post below

Katipo Spider - this wee black fellow has recently made the headlines for two reasons - one is for biting a nude male bather in his delicates and causing him much pain and embarrasment and the second is for making the Endangered Species list. This means it is ILLEGAL to kill them. They are the most venomous native spider in New Zealand and make their home in sand dunes where they weave their webs in rotten logs, native dune grasses or in and under litter. So, be careful where you tread/sit/nude sunbathe or you might cause yourself unnecessary pain AND get fined for the slaughter of an endangered species. However, Katipo prefer to eat small invertebrates and only the female is capable of biting. Although the venom can be fatal, an antivenom has been developed and noone has perished of it since.