Thursday, March 31, 2011

Draconic Tigraven

For my Art for Christchurch blog I have been offering commissions as a way of raising money. This particular commission was to " create some creature that combines elements of dragons and ravens and perhaps even some Siberian tiger? It took me a wee while to ceonceptualise it, and I started off with an art card headstudy, but decided a postcard would give me more flexibility.

So here he is:

I have a large amount of fanart to put up, based on the swap I am currently hosting, but I am waiting until I've completed all 11 pieces before I post it here. That's why I've been quiet of late!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Go Fish

Kokiri, the Leatherjacket
With his tough, leathery skin, rigid body and retractable head spine, the Leatherjacket is not a fish to mess with. He is found around the coastal waters of New Zealand and uses his sharp teeth to rip sponges from the rocks. But he will eat almost anything, including spiny sea urchins. He is fully capable of swimming backwards, should the need arise.

Kumu-kumu, the Red Gurnard
This fanciful fish is easily recognised by its attractive fins. These have finger-like joints which it uses to grope about the sandy sea bed as it hunts for crustaceans and other small animals. It can grow up to 20 inches in length and is a desirable catch for fishermen. It lives at around depths of 180m , although the youngsters prefer shallower water.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tiritiri Matangi - a Twitcher's Paradise

Birdsong surrounds me – the chortle of the saddleback, the beautiful melody of tuis and bellbirds, warring with each other to be the loudest. I have just stepped off the boat and onto Tiritiri Matangi, one of the Hauraki Gulf's so-called “treasure islands.” As a predator-free, bird sanctuary, it certainly earns this title. The island is small in size, measuring only 220 hectares, but rich in birdlife.

We have walked only a few metres from the dock when two black birds explode from the bushes beside us and flap away, chuckling in disdain at the interruption. Juvenile saddlebacks, I surmise. Near them a bellbird proclaims his presence loudly to the world.

We make our way to the little bay of Hobb's Beach, where various litter and other detritus swept in from the mainland rather detracts from the natural beauty. A family of black oystercatchers fossick quietly, undisturbed by our presence. They call to each other with piercing whistles. Here my husband, Tim, and I head inland, up the Cable Road to the Ridge Road. The path is wide and grassy, the sun shining brightly upon us. Birds chatter and call to one another as a flock of whiteheads flutters through the trees. These dumpy wee birds were once very common on the North Island, now their numbers are few. Here, however, they flourish and continue to grace us with their noisy presence throughout our exploration.

Our group has now dispersed in various directions and we decide to make our way across the island and along the East Coast Track. We are woking on the assumption that as it is not included in any but the longest of the “suggested routes” it is likely to be less populated than the others. This does mean that we forego the opportunity to travel the Ngati Paoa track. We have not travelled far along the Ridge Road when I hear a melodious call coming from the bushes.

Immediately, I move into Twitcher mode, and start peering around, looking for it. Tim calls to me quietly, pointing. A large bird has flapped out of the trees in front of us. On long, sturdy legs, the kokako lands and proceeds to peck about on the grassy path. I fumble for the camera and take a series of shots. My heart pounds with excitement. Kokako are one of the rarest birds in our forests, in the South Island they are extinct. I have seen them before – in captivity at Mount Bruce, but to see one wild and free is a real treat.

Kokako are fascinating birds: they prefer not to fly, but leap around the trees like avian monkeys. Their song is one of the most haunting melodies you will ever hear. And they have “accents”. When the original birds were established on Tiritiri, they refused to pair up and it was eventually realised that it was not that they did not like each other, but more that they had not recognised each other's songs. More birds were captured and brought in from the same region and pairing did occur. Another interesting thing to note about kokako is that there is a disproportion between males and females, with the males being in the excess. This leads to some rather unorthodox pairings – Ornithologists studying a pair in one forest wondered why they built nests but never laid any eggs. A close examination revealed that both birds were males. We stand and watch our kokako for a while, unwilling to walk on and “scare” it away. After a short while it finishes its foraging and takes flight. We continue onwards.

The East Coast track is beautiful and wild. The path takes us along the top of the cliffs, showing us a beautiful vista of azure water, dotted with petrels and gulls. The birdsong continues to envelop us. It is sobering to think that once all of our forests rang with such a melody. Until mammalian predators reduced the bird populations. Chattering kakariki flash past us, disturbing by our presence enough to fly several metres down the path, only to take flight again as we reach them. These parakeets are a beautiful shade of green, wearing a “cap” of red. They are plentiful and personable. Quite popular as an aviary bird, especially overseas (permits are required to keep them in New Zealand), there are now more kakariki outside New Zealand than in it. As a hole-nesting species, they are greatly affected by stoats and rats which prey on the chicks, the eggs, and the incubating hens.

Huge pohutakawa cling to the rocky cliffs. They are impressive enough in late summer, but must be quite a sight to behold when in flower. Along here patches of native forest give way a drier, more open landscape, with large swathes of grass. Something blue/green stalks through it and I freeze, hopeful of another rare sighting, but alas, it is only a pair of pukekos. I had hoped it would be their rather bulkier cousin, the takahe. Still, we have a way to go yet – I am sure to see one of these sumo-wrestler like rails.

The path takes us into a small valley and across a wooden bridge. A huge tree dwarves the landscape and many birds flutter about in its branches. Alas, they are slightly too far away to identify. Once again it is Tim that drags me away from peering into the trees and directs me towards another bird of interest. Its body is a dull olive-green/brown, but its head is pure black, with a white fleck behind its eye. A male hihi, also known as the stitchbird.

As exciting as it is to see this extremely rare bird, that has always been one of my favourites, I am also a little mortified at myself. I consider myself the Twitcher in the team – and twice now my husband has outstaged me.

The stitchbirds prove impossible to photograph, and after observing them for some time, we continue onwards.

After a time, Fisherman's Bay comes into view. It is a secluded haven with a small, sandy beach. A trail of large rocky outcrops leads out to sea, shaping the bay. A boat lies at anchor, its passengers swimming and playing on the sand. We do not descend, but make our way around the headland.

A water resevoir comes into sight, and a few steps later, something large rustles in the bushes. Can it be? It is – one large, plump takahe. A short distance away comes another rustling, his mate, and beside her a rather sizeable ball of black fuzz. The two adult birds watch us, trying to decide if we are a threat to their baby. After attempting, without success, to capture the family on film, we creep around them. If mum chooses to get aggressive, I don't want to be her opponent. Takahe were considered extinct for 40 years, until rediscovered in a remote valley in Fiordland. Most of the species are now in captivity or on predator-free islands like Tiritiri. With a slow breeding cycle and poor parenting skills, they are easily outclassed by their slender cousins, the pukeko.

We soon arrive at the lighthouse, home of the Visitor Centre and our lunch. Lunch is accompanied by sparrows – the first sparrows I've seen on the island. A saddleback scratches through the leaf litter nearby. We have seen many saddlebacks on our walk – these noisy birds seem largely untroubled by our presence. Bellbirds sup from the supplementary nectar feeders, whilst kereru watch on.

After lunch, we take a leisurely stroll down the Wattle track. Despite the huge amount of foot traffic, the birds around here are a lively, noisy bunch. Water troughs provide a quick dip for the birds, and entertainment for us, as two tuis splash merrily away. A robin swoops down to peck up any insects we might have disturbed. He's a bright and friendly chap. Some of the volunteers rake up leaf litter to help him find an easy meal.

Further down the path a family of brown quail sunbath on the path, until disturbed by a family with small children. The brown quail is an Australian import, introduced to New Zealand. A few years ago there was a bit of excitement about these birds – it was thought they might be remnants of the New Zealand quail population, considered extinct. Alas, genetic testing proved this was not the case. However, in the absence of their long-lost cousins, they do fill the habitat niche neatly.

Back down at the Tiritiri wharf, Greg is doing the rounds. Greg is a very inquisitive takahe. Hopeful for handouts, he patrols the groups of assembled humans as we await our departure. Unfortunately for Greg, the visitors have all paid heed to the many signs and instructions to not feed the takahe. He is forced back to eating his natural diet – dry grasses.

And so we board the boat once more, sending the assembled terns spiralling away into the air. As I sit and watch Tiritiri Matangi receed into the distance, a near-perfect avian paradise, I mourn what we have lost and celebrate what we have preserved.

Something fishy

Black Rockfish:

The black rockfish is found only in New Zealand and is widespread across the ountry. He makes his home in rock pools and estuaries where he hides beneath rocks or sunken logs. with his strong fins he wedges himself in securely to strop strong currents sweeping him away. In winter the female spawns in a special nest chamber, contructed beneath a boulder. The male guards the ball of eggs until they hatch.

This deep-water fish is a common feature on many menus. He is widespread across New Zealand waters where he gathers in large schools. his main diet is invertebrates, which he collects by browsing over fine, soft mud. He positions his body at an angle, propped on his pectoral fins and grubs gently in the mud and sand.

John Dory:
John Dory are spiky, edible fish that are widespread across the coasts of Africa, South East Asia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe. He feeds largely on shrimp and small fish, which he captures by extending out his mouth - like a camera lense, to engulf it. If captured, he makes a grunting noise of disdain.


This herbivorous fish begins life as a red-brown female that spends her time hiding in kelp. As she matures her colour deepens to a rich golden brown. she becomes more active and social. In her 5th or 6th year it is possible for her to change gender, becoming male. With this maturity his colour deepens into a blue-black. He is restricted to New Zealand.

Alert Pigfish
Probably the New Zealand fish that always appealed the most to me. Although there are others with the same name, this fellow is the only one in his genus, Alertichthys. He is found at depths of 100-600m. Using his long snout he roots about in crevices for invertebrates like worms and crabs.

Longfin Eel
This handsome devil is getting rarer. He is among the largest eel species in the world, growing up to 2 metres long. He grows slowly and can live to be 60 years old. Shortly before dying (usually around the age of 24) he joins up with his fellows and swims 5000 km up into the tropical Pacific to spawn. The females lay the eggs - up to a million, and the males fertilise them. Then they die. The youngsters hatch as tiny, transparent elvers and make the long journey back inland to feed, grow and eventually breed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chimerical Critters

What do you get if you cross a kingfisher with an otter?

A Kingfotter!

Or a Tiger with a Peacock?

A Peacotig!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flutterbys of New Zealand

Long-tailed Blue Butterfly on South Island Broom
There are several species of blue butterfly in New Zealand, and it is one of our most common, although rarely noticed next to the more fanciful Monarch and the pest species, the White Butterfly. This particular species is known as the "long-tailed" and was first noted in New Zealand in 1956. It is thought that it has self-introduced from Australia. A cosmopolitan species, it is also found in Europe, Hawaii, Africa and Asia along with the Pacific Islands.

Forest Ringlet with Native Foxglove
This attractive butterfly is also one of our most vulnerable to extinction. Its population has been in steady decline - probably due to wasp predation. The life cycle takes one year, although recent research shows that two year cycles may occur in highland areas.

Copper Butterfly with Alpine Daisy
This diminutive and pretty little butterfly is widespread across the country, and includes at least 40 different spcies, all that look similar and are referred to under the same name. They occupy a number of niches - including the alpine reaches. Related species also occur in the cloud forests of New Guinea and in the Northern hemisphere. Copper larvae are particular feeders, and only eat plants of the dock family.

Monarch Butterfly
Probably the most familiar of the New Zealand butterflies, the Monarch is large and prevalent in urban areas. It can be encouraged to the garden by planting milkweed (the "swan plant") which is the favoured food of the caterpillar. The male - on the left - has a black spot on his wings.

February Pick-a-theme

I think this shall be the last Pick-a-theme I engage in. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I keep ending up producing what I feel is lacklustre art. I am just not passionate enough about many of the themes to do what I would consider a "good job".

For those of you wondering what a "pick-a-theme" is - basically each group consists of 5 people who all nominate what theme they are collecting. These can be vague (ie: "birds") or very specific (ie: "old fashioned beehives"). I rather enjoy trying to add my own little quirk to the theme, and interpret it my own way. They're fun - you get cards that are well suited for your collection, and sometimes have to face a challenge, but also you may be stuck with some rather tricksy-to-interpret themes.

Colourful Cat
Following up from my "finch kitties" of last year, this fellow is a cat coloured like a bullfinch.

Scarlet Macaw

Fantasy Armour
Whilst googling for this theme, I found an awesome dog costume. But I decided it would look better on a kitsune fox (which the recepient also likes)


Whimsical Tree
This cute palm tree was referenced by a photo I took on the Tauranga harbour front.

Child at Play
Children are not something I am very good at drawing, and try as hard as I could, I could not get her looking young enough. So here we have a pre-teen Malagasy girl showing her younger siblings how to fly one of their handmade, recycled kites (made from plastic bags).

Old Fashioned Beehive
Well, it's colourful and whimsical, anyway. Can you find the 4-leaf clover?

Louisianna Swamp Land
Albino swamp 'gator.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This adorable character is a Pomeranian crossed with a Shih-tzu. This "designer breed" is known as a "Shiranian" or a "Shit-t-pom", by her owner, Leonora B Lundquist.

Her name is Maia.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Avian Pokemon

As many of you know, Pokemon Black and White has recently been released (or is due to be released), along with a whole bunch of new Pokemon. And as you know, I am moderately interested in Pokemon. So when the "15th Anniversary Pokemon ATC swap" began, I had to join in. Except that I was too late, and am currently at second place on the Waiting List. No worries, I made the Pokemon anyway (if I can't send them to this one, they'lre going to become my "Whimsical birds" for another swap).

Here's four of the new fellows:

#566. Archen
An ancestral bird Pokemon, Archen is un able to fly. Instead he gets about by making a series of large hops, aided by his wings. He is arboreal and leaps through the branches as agile as a Mankey, in pursuit of smaller prey.

#581. Swanna
A powerful bird Pokemon, Swanna is also very beautiful. She is fiercely protective of her Duckletts and will defend them with sharp stabs of her bill or a whip from her long neck. She lives in flocks, and at dusk, she and her fellows dance around their leader.

#627: Rufflet
This courageous little Pokemon will face up to any enemy, no matter how strong. All Rufflets are male, their female counterpart is Vullaby. They use their talons to crush berries and are also very strong and capable fliers.

#629: Vullaby
Vullaby are always female.Her wings are weak and she cannot fly, so she protects her vulnerable regions with bones.Carnivorous by nature, Vullaby are predominantly scavengers, but will pursue weakling prey when she can find it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Puppies, frog and the Ugly 5

As I mentioned, I've been away on vacation - my husband and I went to visit Auckland for the Battlecry Convention and also drove around the Coromandel. Alas, our spirits were somewhat muted for two reasons - the most serious of which was the tragedy of Christchurch Quake.

Anyhow, because I cannot travel without my art kit, I took with me a case of polychromos pencils (my favoured pencils, the prismas are too fragile to lug around the country, although the earthquake sent them tumbling to the floor at home...), a tin filled with blank white cards and a flash drive with some reference images on it. I was working on art for three different ATC swaps. Here are the pieces:

Whimsical Animals of Africa
When this theme came up, I jumped at the chance to participate. My animal art is whimsical by nature and I love African Animals. But what to draw? Everyone seemed to be drawing elephants and giraffes, and although I do like these animals, I decided on something different.

You've heard of the Big 5 of Africa, right? Well - now presenting the Ugly 5!

Marabou Stork, Vulture, Hyena
Warthog, Crocodile

Hand Drawn Dog Breeds
These pooches all belong to friends of mine. Although I'm thinking I might draw Nika again, as I am not happy with the "balance" in the image.

Nika - Mastiff/Staff/Black Lab
Rogar - Spaniel
Milly - Spoodle
Piper - Pekipoo

And last, but not least is Hochstetter's Frog

This piece is larger - A4 size in fact and has been commisisoned. He is a Hochstetter's Frog, one of New Zealand's primitive native frog species - and also found around the Coromandel (along with Archey's, whom I have drawn earlier). He is very rare and lives in damp forest, near streams. Of our four species, he is the most water-loving. He also has more warts than his other native cousins. His colour varies from green to brown, and gives good camouflage.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back in the Garden City

My husband and I were lucky. We were in Auckland when the big Quake hit, the quake that devastated our home city. Today we arrived home. Our home is fine. We don't call it Fortress Lemur for nothing. Our "casualties" were: a pizza stone and three bookcases (the books are ok, however). We have power and water. Others were not so lucky.

To raise money for those who are without power, without water, and sometimes without homes, I have created a fundraising blog: in which you can acquire original art from me, and (with any luck) other artists by making a donation of $10 or more to the Red Cross Earthquake fund. Please check it out.

I have created two Art Cards of now lost Christchurch Heritage buildings for this page:

The Christchurch Cathedral - the spire and part of the hall collapsed, killing around 20 people.

The Timeball Station - the Quake was situated very near this charming brick building. Now its masonry lies in piles - its future unknown.