An Artist's Journeys in Nature

Wildlife

Sleep At Last

Geology and the passage of time…

The volcano that once existed here is sleeping now. The scorching fires have long since died away, and the battered earth has drawn a cloak across its scars.

The subterranean pipes that carried searing hot magma from the earth’s fiery core remain: embraced now by powerful, living roots that grip and swell around them.

Where once a crater stood, a wild tree grows. Tucked away in bolt-holes far below, by day the kiwi sleep.

Yes, there are 2 of them there.

Acrylic on Arches Dessein 120 gsm art paper, 19″x 25″.

For more details, prints and products, click on the images.

Patricia

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The Elusive Moth and The Cure-All

A few days ago, I cut down a heap of understorey bush known as kawakawa or pepper tree (Macropiper excelsum) and threw it in where the sheep were grazing, to be burnt when the time comes.

It is aromatic and very hot to the taste. I soon discovered the sheep will eat it – not entirely surprising because when I had my neighbor’s cattle in here some years ago, they also ate it.

It was highly regarded by the Maori people as a remedy both external and internal for many ailments – abdominal pains (especially digestive), rheumatic pains, toothache, kidney, bladder and urinary complaints, and as a blood purifier. As a poultice it was used for boils, bruises, eczema, toothache and badly infected wounds.  In her book ‘Medicines of the Maori‘, Christina Macdonald cites a case that she knew personally of an old man who bound up the nearly-severed top of one of his fingers with kawakawa leaves – and the finger healed quite easily.

When used in steam baths, the effect was “stimulating, exciting the salivary glands, kidneys and bowels”.

Many Maori people still use it today, and I boiled up some leaves to try it as a drink – much more mild, warm, and pleasant-tasting than I had expected: definitely added to the ‘drink more often’ list!   I’m about to try making a healing ointment out of it, too.

Branches were burned by the Maori to keep away insects from rows of sweet potato seedlings, and more recently by explorers, surveyors and hunters to keep mosquitoes and sandflies out of their camps. One asks – why are we messing with deadly chemicals when the Creator has made this stuff available to us? (And we all know the answer to that.)

The leaves of this plant are invariably covered with shotholes, and when I was illustrating ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree‘ I finally found out (after quite a bit of hunting) that these holes are caused by the nocturnal caterpillars of the Kawakawa Looper moth (Cleora scriptaria). You will find if you research it, that many people can tell you the holes are caused by caterpillars (big deal!), but it was hard in 2011 to find a source that would actually identify the species. There are far more illustrations of Cleora scriptaria on the net now.

Needless to say, though I’m surrounded by this stuff, I’ve never seen either a moth or a caterpillar in daylight. When I did the artwork for the book, I took the liberty of painting the moth on the leaves of the plant, in the subdued light of a storm.

Many people have commented how appropriate the use of this plant is for a painting entitled ‘Endurance’ that reflects on the long life and turbulent times of a tree now more than 2016 years old.  See also http://taketakerau.com/painting32.html

Acrylic on Bainbridge board 15″ x 20″.

For prints, products and more details, click on the images.

Patricia

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Turn Around

I’ve been out of circulation for quite a few months – and there’s a reason for that.   Back in late 2014 I was struck by a nasty disease called polymyalgia, which came close at the time to destroying my mobility.  Fortunately, once diagnosed, the solution was revealed – prednisone.

Aaargh!  Well I wasn’t entirely happy with that, but does one want to walk freely or not?  In addition, it was causing mayhem with my blood – too many platelets, anemia etc.  So my doctor put me on a modest dose of prednisone and over the period of about 18 months we tailed it back and achieved a recovery.

In the meantime, however, I had an accident and decided to go to a chiropractor (fortunately a very good one).   I’d had chiropractic before because I have 2 curves in my spine, not helped by riding horses.  So we entered into a process of sorting out these curves and re-stabilising my backbone.

I’d been quite depressed at the time of the polymyalgia – a mental state that was not helped by seeing all the things that needed doing round my 10 acre property and not being able to do a thing about them (physically or financially) – and so the obvious answer seemed to be to move away from this place, which I’ve been associated with for 47 years and have loved dearly.  I’d even got to the point where I wasn’t interested anymore.

But things kept getting in my way – not the least being shortage of finances to get things tidied up for sale.  On top of that I had a tree fall on my roof (damage? – oh yes!) and a second tree taken down because it was in danger of following suit.   Fallout everywhere.  Funds getting even lower.   I seemed to be stuck in mud.

Then just before last Christmas, the tide started to turn.  We began to win with the chiropractic.  I’m now getting around my land as in the old days – and for the most part it’s steep and hilly – and working quite hard, if carefully.  There are a few things I used to do and now cannot, but apart from that, the recovery is little short of miraculous.

I’ve decided to stay – how could I ever have thought of leaving?  To keep my grass down I’ve taken on breeding rare breeds Damara sheep.  My first 2 bought in early July are a Damara/Arapawa cross and her daughter.  Both have had lambs to a Damara crossbred ram, and I now have a fullblood Damara ram also.  So the headcount is currently 4 females and 2 males – and the lambs at 2 weeks old are a delight!

 

Below is one of my drawings of an Arapawa ram.  This breed, now officially accepted as a Rare Breed in this country, came about by early explorers and whalers dropping off sheep (probably of merino origin) on Arapawa Island in Cook Strait – where they continued to breed.  No doubt the motive was to provide a food source.

Initially they were regarded as game.  Later they were marked for extermination, until their value as a gene pool was recognized and a sanctuary established for them on the island, all thanks to the efforts of Betty Rowe and her husband Walt.  Now there are a number of breeders of Arapawa sheep throughout New Zealand.

Like Damaras, Arapawa sheep are shedders, and are naturally resistant to fly-strike.

So here we are!!  Hallelujah!

For prints, products and more details, click on the images.

Patricia

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Dolphin Fantasy

While on the subject of summer and the sea, here’s another Mighty Wallet design I’ve just released – Dolphin Fantasy, which shows 3 Dolphins flying through the air above a distant rural landscape / seascape.

This work started life as a wet-on wet acrylic, and after it dried I added the dolphins.  I had been reading a book about dolphins, and that, plus frequent reports of the many pods that circle our coastline and visit holidaymakers and tourist boats, inspired this work.

As the painting came together, I realized these dolphins were in fact having fun far above the sea and land, and that added the extra spice of fantasy to this artwork.

Here it is on the Wallet:

A great breath of spring and summer to carry in your pocket!  For more details, click on the images.

In the sidebar I have a link to the original artwork on Society6, where it is available as prints, iPhone cases, cushions and many more products.

Patricia

Design collection at Dynomighty

 

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Boring Kingfisher?

kingfishers-riconNo-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.

harrier-hawk2_700

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:

fallen-giants_700

‘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/