An Artist's Journeys in Nature

Birds

Cockatoo Paradise

Tropical Paradise – or more correctly, sub-tropical paradise.

Here in the Far North of New Zealand, summers can be hot and steamy, and winter days unexpectedly chilly.  The title of this piece of art was inspired by a builder friend I’d hired to do some work on my cottage almost 2 years ago – July 2017 in fact (our winter).

I’d heard Paul’s ute come up the drive about 9am on a cold but sunny morning, and went out to have a chat with him about the great progress he was making on the repair work.

“Lovely morning in Paradise!” he called out, pouring himself a warm mug of coffee from his thermos.  That made me smile, and led to a bit of a discussion about how pleased I was with my decision to stay put on this place.

It’s always especially heartwarming when friends voice their approval of one’s decisions, and as it happened, Paul had been one of the first locals to hear the news that I’d decided to stay instead of flitting off down south.

Apart from their obvious relevance to the ‘Tropical’ theme, all the elements in this image relate to this property.

The cockatoo belonged to friends who had a contracting business and came up here to do some trench digging work while my mom was still alive.  I’ve got great photos of him hopping around on a Jacaranda tree as we sat talking during a break from work.  Paradise indeed!

The Strelitzia reginae bird of paradise flowers are favorites – first encountered when we moved from the north of Scotland to Central Africa – what a change in lifestyle and surroundings THAT was!

Our new town’s botanical gardens were full of new wonders, like Cannas, Strelitzias,  Bougainvilleas, Golden Chalice Vines, Aloes and palm trees of all kinds.  I have 2 Strelitzias in my back garden that from time to time come under attack from my sheep (would you believe!).  They are very deep-rooted, so as they can’t be moved I plan to plant a couple more in the safe zone that I now call my ‘plant retreat’.

The Fruit Salad plants (Monstera deliciosa) flourish here.  My parents planted numbers of them when they first bought this place in 1970, so now I have several growing 30′ or more high in my native Totara trees. Quite spectacular!  They really prefer to have their feet in the shade, and not too much full sun on their leaves.

As for the palm leaves, they represent the unlimited numbers of NZ Nikau palms (Rhopalostylis sapida) that multiply to the point where I have to cut them out at times like weeds, or I would be overgrown,  They flourish especially under trees, where the birds have sat above and dropped seeds into the leaf mould below.  Nature is an unstoppable force!

Hope you enjoy this work,  For more details, click on the image. Vector.

 

 

 

Patricia

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Tui Bird and Friends

The Tui is one of New Zealand’s most iconic birds. Sharp, smart and vocal, he can be found in forest, open coppice country, parks and gardens. He is the largest of our honey eaters, his long, curving beak ideal for reaching into the throats of flowers of all kinds.

The Tui has 2 voice boxes – one attached to each lung – and he can produce an amazing variety of sounds in fast succession and overlapping one another. These sounds include carillion calls, sneezes, bursts of song and explosive ejaculations that are completely beyond description.

He is a mimic, and can be taught to talk, as the Maori soon discovered. His flight is fast and he flies in short, energetic bursts, punctuated by a drumming sound produced by a notch in the front of the 8th flight feather of each wing. You can certainly hear him coming!

The use of the term ‘friends’ here is euphemistic. The Tui is a dominant bird, highly protective of his nesting sites and food sources. Because at this stage I have no bird feeders here, I don’t know what the pecking order is between the Tui and the imported Indian Mynah (a rather forceful bird), but I suspect the Tui has the edge.

This is part of one of the 36 illustrations I painted for the book Taketakerau The Millennium Tree published in 2012. The whole picture shows a Maori and his young son exploring the forest on arrival in Aotearoa.

 

The birds shown here are completely fearless of the strange beings invading their world.  But since birds soon became a major source of food for the Maori immigrants, that situation did not last for long!

The birds in the picture are – Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) in the centre and around him, anticlockwise from the top right, Fantail, piwakawaka (Rhipidura fulginosa); Grey warbler, riroriro (Gerygone igata); Tit, miromiro (Petroica macrocephala); North Island Robin, toutouwai (Petroica australis).

The tree is the Shining Broadleaf (Griselinia lucida), often found as an epiphyte on larger forest trees.

For more details about this picture, c;lick on the image – and check out the remainder of the book illustrations at Taketakerau.com .

Patricia


Boring Kingfisher?

No-one could make the general statement that the NZ  Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) is a boring bird.   The clearly-defined color scheme of secondary opposites, the sharp haircut, the extraordinary flying, hunting and diving skills all make for an exciting avian package.

And it’s certainly hard to beat that metallic color scheme.

Even the nest-building process seems a little ‘over the top’:  the kingfisher flies repeatedly at the chosen spot in a bank or tree trunk, using its beak (another very significant feature) as a drilling or ‘boring’ tool until it has drilled a large enough hole to give it purchase to continue excavations in a more standard fashion.     A woodpecker on steroids, in fact.

That beak is surprisingly large, when you see it in silhouette, and very useful for catching prey (especially fish, for which the Kingfisher will dive up to 3 ft underwater, and small vertebrates), as well as drilling holes.  Its shape is a direct giveaway to the family relationship between Kingfishers and Australian Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae) – both Southwest Pacific birds.

Laughing Kookaburras are quite a lot larger (39-45cm / 310-480gm for the Kookaburra as against 23cm / 55gm for the Kingfisher), but the outline and proportions of the two species have a great similarity.

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Kingfishers scanning for prey, Waioeka Flats, Bay of Plenty.  Illustration for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’ (2012).

My one complaint about the Kingfisher, and the reason why against all the odds I often tell him he’s ‘boring’ is the call.  It is a very harsh, unmusical ‘keek’, repeated either strung together quickly 4 or 5 times (over and over), or repeated once at intervals of of 5 or 6 seconds (again – over and over).  Either way, it can after a while quite simply get on your nerves.

I only wish the Kingfisher had inherited from the Kookaburra side of the family, the distinctive laughing call for which Kookaburras are renowned.  Just think of it, I would be able to roll on the floor laughing when the Kingfisher gives voice (which is quite often), instead of saying, “Aargh, shut up boy….!”

And if you don’t happen to know what the Kookaburra sounds like, give yourself a treat and go HERE.  Scroll down and run the Sounds files (especially the second one) – and make sure you have some room on the floor…

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/


The Harrier Hawk

harrier-riconThis is the story of a bird drama I had a few years back.

I had made a ‘Cat Garden’ at the end of the house, using 6′ netting and long 4″x4″ posts concreted into the ground.  It was quite an effort to construct.

The main aim was to contain cats – chiefly my ex-stray Fluffy, who used to wander off over the road until he got hit by a car and lost a back leg (a cool $500 worth of operation I might add).  Given his wandering nature, and my worries about the safety of my 2 Birmans also, I decided to make this garden.  It’s about 45′ long by 35′ deep on a steep grassy, ferny bank.  Basically, it worked well and though my 2 silver tabbies soon demonstrated their contempt by getting out of it, they didn’t do so very often.

My large workshop has windows looking out onto this garden at ground level – the house is dug into the bank at the back and side – and the cats used to get into the garden off the top of a big bench I have standing in the workshop under the windows. They were able to step straight off the windowsill onto the ground.

I say “used to” because as the result of a tragedy involving my young Black Lab and a couple of my ducks, I moved the remaining 3 female ducks into the Cat Garden instead.  In a sense it was an inspired move, because they did an excellent job of clearing out the weeds and wandering jew (Tradescantia fluminensis), which had grown rampant in there.

So the ducks were a blessing to the Cat Garden.  How come I never got the cats to do a lick of work around that garden? Didn’t I build it for them? Ungrateful, lazy felines!

One day about lunchtime I heard the ducks making an infernal racket – it wasn’t their normal “where’s the grub?” chant.  So I went into the workshop to look and got a huge shock.  Standing on a stone in the garden about 4′ away from the window was an Australasian Harrier Hawk (Circus approximans) – now called the Swamp Harrier.  He was standing side-on to me at eye level and though we see them flying round here on a daily basis, I had never been as close to one as this.

He was bigger than I thought.  It was one of those unforgettable moments when I could have wished my eyes were a camera.  The size and presence of him was something else.  He looked calmly across at me for a moment or two, then spread his great wings and took off.  The vision has stayed with me ever since.

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Harrier Hawk / Swamp Harrier – Vector.

Obviously this called for action.  I was surprised he had come down into the small garden, because it’s overhung on one side by the lower branches of a Norfolk Island Pine, has the wall of our 2 story house on another side, ti-tree scrub on the two other sides, and a couple of tree ferns growing in it, so it doesn’t offer a smooth flight path. But raptors are the masters of the air waves.  And since I didn’t have any doubts about why he was there, I went out with a roll of electric fence tape and laced it back and forth across the airspace.

I hoped it would serve its purpose of protecting my ducks because – funny, comical characters that they were, I loved them, and I didn’t want any more disasters to happen in my duck world.

harrier-products

So this artwork is an attempt to reconstruct what I saw and felt in that magical moment before he departed.

Note:  The Swamp Harrier  is recorded as being 50-60cm long.   Males weigh 650gm and females 850gm.  This makes them larger than Rooks at 45cm and Magpies at 41 cm long.

For more details, click on the images.

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/


The Shining Cuckoo

cuckoo-riconA couple of days ago I found a bird lying dead on my drive – face down, with wings slightly outstretched.  We have had a lot of high wind lately.

My first thought, judging by the  dark blue-green of the wings, was that this must be a young kingfisher.  It also had copper around the wingtips and lower rump.  Then when I turned it over, I saw the white breast barred with black and immediately realized it was a Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus).

Some books identify this as of ‘sparrow size’ and I can state absolutely that the shining cuckoo is definitely bigger than a sparrow (16cm + I’d say). This bird had a long split down the front of its chest, so I don’t think it was killed by my cat (now 20 yrs of age) – more likely blown into my cottage.

Shining cuckoos migrate down to New Zealand from the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands in the summer to breed, using nests of the Grey Warbler (Gerygone igata) to lay their eggs – one per nest – and they leave the tiny warblers to raise their kids.  Fortunately, by the time the shining cuckoos are ready to lay, the warblers have already raised one litter, so all is not lost (isn’t nature wonderful?).  But the young shining cuckoo definitely puts paid to the warblers’ second litter.

I had never seen a shining cuckoo ‘in real life’ before, and didn’t know I had them here, though I’ve always known we had grey warblers, because I heard them.  I used a pair of shining cuckoos as part of the wildlife interest in one of the 36 paintings I did for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’, which I illustrated in 2011.  Here’s the painting:

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‘Fallen Giants’ – click on the image for more details.

I’ve now heard the shining cuckoo’s call on New Zealand Birds Online, and identified it as a call I’d been hearing lately.  Was listening to the call outside this morning when I saw a fast flash of green wings across the grass to the trees where the sound was coming from, so I feel happy to know that the mate of the bird that lost its life (which was a female, I think) is not alone.

They are very fast fliers and spend much of their time hidden in the trees. So often one just doesn’t see these birds !

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/

 

 


Love Under The Mountain

love-iconI’ve just put finishing touches to a painting that has been lying around the place for quite some time.

As you’ll see from my previous post, this is ‘Home’, and the painting – acrylic on canvas card – has been nagging me for several years to get completed.

With all of these things, it doesn’t do to rush if the inspiration isn’t forthcoming.  When the right thing isn’t suggesting itself, it’s best to leave well alone, because you can guarantee that in due course, it will.

Come to think of it, that’s a really good piece of advice for life generally – in other words, “Don’t Force It!”

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The parakeets in the picture are kakariki – NZ red-crested parakeets, and putting them here is somewhat anachronistic, because we no longer have them up in the north.  We do have Australian Rosella parakeets though, very brightly colored, noisy and not endemic.  So I thought I’d use a bit of artistic licence…

The larger birds are one of my favorites – the kereru or NZ Native Pigeon. These had become rather scarce in the Far North due to human predation (even though they ARE protected) and the fact that a pair produces only one offspring a year – but I’m glad to say that since I’ve been letting the bush come back on my top paddocks, birdlife is increasing, and I’m seeing and hearing more kereru on the place all the time.

See also my earlier post and artwork ‘Flight of The Kukupa‘.

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/


Flight of The Kukupa

Kereru-kukupaHere’s a follow-on from my last post, as I’m busy putting up new items on Society6.

This is a painting of a NZ native pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), the Kereru, or as they’re called up here the Kukupa, soaring above the volcanic outcrop where I live.

They are quite a large bird, with very distinctive and beautiful coloring, the breast pure white, the head, neck, back and wings green of varying hues with purple and grey intermingled.  They have quite a heavy flight, although their nuptual flights in spring are quite spectacular.  A pair produces only one chick a year, so it it doesn’t take much brain to see how easily numbers become depleted.

Sadly, this bird is becoming scarce here because although they are protected, certain people think they have the right to take them for food.

Flight of The Kereru - Acrylic - Patricia Howitt

Flight of the Kukupa or Kereru – Native New Zealand Pigeon

When my parents moved in here about 40 years ago, and for many years after, the kukupa native woodpigeon could be seen in numbers swooping and soaring over the thermals from the warm rock face.

Nowadays, thanks to attention from some people, they are so depleted in numbers that I rarely see one in the bush, let alone up on the rock. The irony of it is that according to Maori tradition, the area behind this rock, known as ‘Kukuparere’ was fabled to be the place where ALL the Kereru birds in New Zealand originated from.  So much for respecting our treasured legends!  Where are the kaitiaki?

Click on the image for larger size and more details.

Patricia