An Artist's Journeys in Nature

Posts tagged “new zealand

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/

 

 


Water Meets Sand – Te Paki Stream

te-paki-iconHere’s a very special piece of landscape, and one of my personal favorite artworks – inspired by some of the most unique scenery in New Zealand.

Te Paki Stream in the Far North of NZ is famous for its wilderness, its massive sand-dunes and great boogie boarding.  What a combination!  Its breathtaking quality comes from isolation, plus a unique engagement between water and sand dunes, that produces the added danger element of quicksand.

The stream bed is part of the Cape Reinga round trip, and provides about 3.5 km of tricky driving. Both the stream bed and 90 mile beach are treacherous with quicksand, so unless you are very experienced in the locale and this type of driving it is better to make your journey by tour bus. The buses are a great ride with wonderful commentary and they stop in the stream bed to allow time for boogie boarding.  It’s worth noting that car hire companies do not permit their vehicles to be driven on this route.

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Of course it’s wonderful to visit these places under your own steam. So, there are walking tracks for the real outdoors types, which apart from the buses is the best way to go – at least you can be sure of still having a vehicle when you return to base!

The other great attraction of this trip is the Cape Reinga lighthouse, situated at the clifftop on what is almost the northernmost promontory of NZ, with the Pacific and Tasman seas on each side.  Quite an experience to stand there and look out to where their waters mingle offshore.

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Stream bed artwork painted in acrylic, with acrylic painted additions, including a maori fishing hook – matau.  I just sold a tote bag with this design.

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/


Ruapehu Crater Outfall

outfall-riconI guess this is another in the ‘Journey’ series, although the idea wasn’t in my mind at the time I painted this one.

Being up on the volcanoes of the Central North Island Plateau gives one a feeling of being on top of the world.

All around the land falls away – one is literally on the top of the North Island and in good weather there is a bracing quality of light and clarity in the air that is hard to describe, except to say that it is unforgettable.

This is a view of a natural vent on the side of Mount Ruapehu just below the crater’s edge that was thought to keep the waters and mud in the lake from building pressure and breaching the lake walls.

However, on Christmas Eve 1953 part of the lake wall collapsed from the volume of water and mud behind it, and the resulting lahar swept away a rail bridge in the valley below minutes before the night train from Wellington to Auckland crossed the bridge – with disastrous results.

Our Geological Survey now has the lake closely monitored. Recently, another blowout (which had in fact been forecast) hit Dome Shelter just below the lake where two young men had stopped for the night, and they were lucky to escape with their lives.

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As I painted this, I thought of what it must have been like for the early explorers to discover these wilderness places, with all their eerie ‘presence’ and power. In the final year of my law studies, part of my work involved searching titles in the Land Transfer Office – in the days of physical not computer searches, and I’d had the honour of holding in my hands some original survey field notebooks from NZ’s early surveyors, many of whom were also gifted artists.

So a painting that started off as an exploration of some fascinating topography, came to contain so much more.

Acrylic on canvas board 25 × 30in.

Patricia