More New Zealand birds

Even though I had a lovely walk in the sunshine today and saw choughs and wheatears as well as a part of the unbeatable Anglesey coastline, I am STILL drawing New Zealand birds!

 

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Australian magpies were always catching me out with their crazy warbles and cries. They hopped about in a jolly way in farmlands. Myna birds were similarly common, fluttering from the roadsides and perching on city sign posts.

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Yellowhammers crying out for “a little bit of bread and no cheese” used to be a common part of the Britains soundscape. Sadly not so much any more. New Zealand has flocks of these little yellow finches bathing in the dusty roads.

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I only saw one Shining Cuckoo, in Zealandia, Wellington. I was so excited I called out to a random guy with a big camera but he shrugged not understanding me. these are tiny sparrow sized cuckoos and indeed very shiny!

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The Kingfisher would dash across the road in a flash of blue with it’s smart white collar standing out. As I drew this one it’s massive upturning beak looked plain weird and i had to fight myself not to give it a nose job!

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Paradise shelducks, like  most ducks, I mostly ignored (Shame! Shame on me!) but look how pretty they are! unusually the female has the more dapper appearance with her white head, though both hide beautiful hues of colours in their wings. Apparently the male is so devoted to his mate that the Maori would catch the female and just wait for the male to join her.

I hope to finish up my New Zealand project soon. As I’m back in the UK the market for these bird images is quite niche but if anyone would like a print please get in touch or check my Zazzle shop

 

 

Back in the UK

 

It’s been two weeks back in the UK! Eeeeep!

There has been a lot of jetlag, love, friends, weddings, walks and easter eggs (+ a feast of New Zealand chocolate which I am regretting gobbling up so quickly!) but less drawing 😦

Partly because I need a new sketchbook. I can’t randomly change the subject of a sketchbook to wet and windy Wales after the wonders of New Zealand, the book would get a complex and lead an unhappy double life and I just can’t do that to it.

So I got a new Moleskine Sketch 🙂 just like the one I lost. I painted in it and it’s just as good as I remembered!

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I haven’t forgotten New Zealand though. I want to create a personal wildlife map and been working on a few birds which for various reasons I didn’t get round to.

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Fantails completely charmed me with their flitty, wafty flight and beeping calls. They munch on flying insects and like to follow people hoping they will disturb their next snack. I miss them!

New Zealand week 6: Landscape

“In the beginning Ranginui the Sky father and Paptuanuku the Earth mother embraced and produced many children. The world was a dark place and the children fought about trying to seperate their mother and father and allow light to enter the world. Tane Mahuta managed to part his parents with his forests and life flourished. The rain is the grief of the Sky father on being parted from his love.”

I’ve been drawing landscapes mostly this week, and this Maori creation story really struck me. The relationship between truly majestic land and expansive sky.

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I only started drawing landscapes a year ago after avoiding them forever. Same with buildings. With buildings I just find them too straight!  Landscapes are all lumps and bumps and apart from how vast the subject is I try to draw them just like I would a bird or a whale!

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I like to portion out the page into thirds, the top 1/3 for sky, the bottom for foreground. With a soft pencil (I really recommend the lovely Blackwing pencils) I scribble the ovals and triangles to work out the form. A really basic shape.

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Sometimes I jump straight to paints and other times I get some details down with a fine liner. Depends on how easy it is to get my paints out or how much I want to capture the textures. Or moving things, especially boats which drift in a sneaky way. I capture the main features of the drawing in ink. Skyline, mountain crags, pesky boats and the few wonky buildings.

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After painting I go over some lines and add more detail. I like to let the way the paints have settled dictate how I draw forests or rocks. Watercolour is a tricksy medium and not great if you’re a perfectionist! I’m getting better at controlling but I like to go with the flow ☺️.

It’s interesting how colours can create depth. No camera  can capture exactly what the eye sees and the brain processes. Then again when painting you have to ignore what your brain tells you and see exactly what your eyes see. That mountian may register as green but is could be more yellow or blue. A shadow may be a contrasting colour, not just black.

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White will pop out and look closer than black, which likes to sink and look like a hole in the page. I avoid using these colours for mixing as they make things look lifeless. Warm colours look closer than cold. I have cold and warm tones for each colour in my paint box and like to use contrasting colours to make things pop out, it may be ott but I’m not really trying to get an exact replica of what I see but a bit of what I feel to. And all that crazy arty farty stuff!

New Zealand Week 5: Sealife

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I am now on the the South Island and this week sealife has been centre stage of my travels. The crossing from Wellington was incredibly beautiful. The landscape is a dramatic clash of tectonic plates resulting in crinkly mountains and  a stunning coastline.

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My first few days I visited the aquarium in Picton, home to many native fish species and a preserved giant squid specimen.
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Salmon are being farmed in the Marlborough sounds and attracting seals. The salmon are protected by nets but the native fish take a batteing from these hungry pinnipeds.

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I jumped on a tour which took me to Kaikoura. Just off shore is a massive deep sea canyon where giant squid lurk and sperm whales hunt them. We got to see 2 whales huffing away on the surface and dive down…. I’m still giddy about it!

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The next day I was up early to do the ‘must do’ dolphin swim. It definitely is. The dusky dolphins around Kaikoura are very energetic and VERY curious. It is very much we entertain them more than they entertain us! Diving and spinning really got their attention as well as making weird sounds through our snorkel. It was incredible to get eye to eye with these gorgeous animals as they made their way to their day resting sites near the coast before their nocturnal hunts start again.

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At Oamaru I watched  the blue penguin, the worlds smallest penguin cross beaches to their night time rests. As the sun falls they ‘raft’ up offshore and quack to each other before surfing onto the beach and hurridly waddle up to nest boxes on protected beaches. (Again stoats and rats are not welcome).

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 South again and I ventured to the royal albatross centre near Dunedin. Massive fluffy chicks were hunched on the hillside and a few adults were soaring on their long thin wings.

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New Zealand week 4: Disappearance

This week I set out to learn about the rare and extinct creatures of New Zealand from the Te papa museum and Zealandia nature reserve in Wellington.

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When the maori arrived on these islands the came across gigantic flightless birds, the Moa, towering above them. They were predated on by humongous eagles with 3m wingspan and then by the new humans who hunted them to extinction. The forest still remembers them though, like the lance tree which has tough leaves when it’s a young sapling and then changes to luscious foliage at a height the moa could no longer reach. The eagles also disappeared. What a sight that would have been! The Te Papa museum hold a lifesize model of these two birds.

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The number of extinct birds is long and depressing. Some were hunted for food, but humans or introduced predators. Others like the Huia were collected for feathers. Zealandia show a fantastic film on the natural history of New Zealand including the disappearance of these species and had a clip of someone shooting the Hihi from the sky to draw. It made me feel a bit strange. Sick in fact, that someone would want to document these amazing things whilst also destroying them.

Walking around Zealandia was a lot more positive than the museum. Situated just above the city, this water reservoir has been predator proofed and the local birds are doing well. Walking the paths you see why the birds have suffered. The robins would come eye to eye for a closer look. The noisey kaka parrots wooshed over our heads and the takahe were adorably pecking about our feet.

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The songs from the tui were incredible, like a choir of R2d2 droids. I was told the maori would teach these birds hakas and place them around their camps to ward off unwanted visitors. Walking the natural New Zealand bush with all sorts of whirrs and whistles from the birds makes it a truly magical place.

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Look! Something that isn’t a bird! This is a Tuatura, and they are NOT lizards. Calling them lizards make them cranky. These guys came about BEFORE lizards and are more realted to crocodiles. Just look at the tail! A tiny foot long croc. I saw this guy at the breeding program at Picton Aquarium. I loved their beady, almond-shaped eyes.
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It was a wonderful day drawing all the crazy friendly birds in Zealandia but I must have got carried away with the moment as somewhere in Wellington is my little rough sketchbook that I had been drawing all my preliminary sketches. I spent a day searching but it never turned up. It’s hard losing something that I have poured so much of my heart into, I’m thankful I photographed so many pages. As so many good friends and random street magicians said, I can always do more, and I will make sure I do.

New Zealand week 3: Painting on the go

Many years ago when I was a Zoology student I went on a field trip to Kenya. It was epic. The wildlife was incredible. When we would spot a lion or elephant cameras would start clicking away, and there was me doing super rough sketches.

I was known doodler of funny characters and fantasy animals, nothing serious, and I would get high marks for my illustrations of dissections but this was the first time I forced myself to draw in the field. In a random journal with whatever I had to hand. In fact one of my elephant drawings I coloured in with a clump of red dirt. I still think it’s prety cool.

I always take a sketch pad with me everywhere, and the last few years a small box of water colours to. I love pocket sized books (as long as the paper is good enough) and limiting my paints has helped me find the range I like working in best, and the limited colours help unite my paintings.
When I get them out!

I was drawing last week and a lady came up to me saying she loved to paint but it’s so difficult to do it outside.

I totally understand her! So for her and all others who want to paint more here are my tips:

1) Go outside

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Simple, but wherever you are, get out of the house and find something that sparks in you and try and capture it.

2) Find somewhere in the shade where you can sit.

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Portable parasols and camping chairs are defiently in my shopping list! But sometimes you get lucky with a handy bench under a tree with a great view. Sometimes you put uo with pins and needles and horrible smells to get the picture you want. That’s just the way it goes!

3) Get your kit out

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For this trip I have a tiny moleskine for sketches, a slightly bigger watercolour book and an a3 watercolour pad. Paper quality matters a lot to me. Nice paper makes me gooey inside 🙂

I have a limited amount of paints which makes me use them more creatively and also helps untie my different paintings. I try and have a warm and cold colour of red, blue, green and yellow. I use a lot of brown so they got in to and a ‘clean’ black and white for when I definetly need them and ‘dirty’ black and white for mixing.

There is a tiny brush that goes with my paint set which is perfect for quickly blobbing on colour. I like a long brush that can take a lot of paint and some fine ones to get some detail in. Broad brushes are usefull for blocking colour but I don’t tend to use them as much.

Water I just pop in the tiny tray with my tiny paints. The splatters I do on some of my work actually helps keep my water clean so I can use it longer! Necessity breeds invention they say. A little jar would be perfect though!

And pens I have a selection of sizes depending on how I’m feeling 🙂 and I love my black wing pencils.

When everything is out there’s no turning back… Paint!
And that’s what I tell myself every time. But every time it’s getting easier. And I’m still and will always be learning.

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New Zealand: Week 2 “How to save a kiwi.”

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The New Zealand native birds took quite a hit when humans stumbled upon the land. The giant flightless Moas disappearedalong with the  3m wingspanned eagle which preyed upon them.

Man and many of the animals that came with them, intentionally and unitentionally, picked off these  birds which had adapted to a land of no mammals and had no coping strategy with such efficient killers. Many are now extinct.

The kiwi is one of these endemic birds clinging on.

Over the last two weeks of volunteering at a nature reserve (which got it’s first footage of a kiwi living in the forest this Valentines day ❤️) I have been asking what can be done for a chance of kiwi  living naturally in New Zealand past 2050. This is what I have learnt:

1) The more native forests the better.

Kiwi nest in burrows in the forest undergrowth and feed on the insects that scuttle through the forest floor.  A pair of kiwi need 5hectares and their offspring need somewhere to skip about to, meet other young kiwi from a different family and have their own adorable fluffball babies. Also the deeper the forest the safer they are from predators.

A lot of forests were lost to farming and timber, reserves have saved vital kiwi habitat. As well as the kiwi other amazing animals thrive to. Like the massive kauri snail (or pupu rangi) and the Tui which calls out like R2D2 from the trees.

As more people appreciate these amazing forests the spread of disease can be a big problem for the biggest of trees, the Kauri. The public kauri forests I visited had shoe washing facilities to help halt this killing fungus.
2) Control dogs and cats in kiwi zones.

Dogs are the biggest killer of kiwi. Even a beloved pet dog can find a kiwi irresistible to  play with. As well as marking and enforcing areas as no dog zones, there are also kiwi friendly courses for dogs who live near by. This involves scattering kiwi poo across a path and giving a small electric shock to the dogs who are too interested until they are conditioned to ignore the smell.

Cats are the second biggest threat. Ferrel cats are trapped and cat owners are asked to keep their pets indoors at night when the are naturally most likely to hunt.

3) Reduce invasive  mammal numbers
The first two kiwi I saw had both been killed by stoats. I’ve seen a stoat tackle a rabbit 5 times its size and a kiwi is a similar sized meal, but kiwi do not breed like rabbits. Prey animals which have adapted to a predator can counter act the dent on their population by having more offspring, a ‘doomed surpluss’. A female kiwi can lay around four eggs a year, even if they all hatch that isn’t a lot of spare kiwi to pump up an already diminished population.

As well as snaffling a few kiwi eggs, rats can also snack on seeds of native trees reducing the forests. Australian possums gobble up the leaves of a single tree and kill it.

Poisons and traps are effective in keeping the numbers down but it is a never ending job and a lot of tramping through thick forest.

Worth it though right?

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New Zealand: Week 1 “Aliens everywhere”

I have been volunteering at Pupu Rangi nature reserve in New Zealand for a week. It’s amazing to learn about new ecosystems and New Zealand is crazy!

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On my way from Auckland to the reserve up north the impact of introduced alien species really hit me. Indian Myna birds flutter everywhere. Australian Harriers soar over the fields, fields which should have been filled with ferns and massive kauri trees, with kiwi scampering about. The birds are nothing compared to the impact from the mammals. Stoats and ferrets find kiwi easy pickings while rats and possums devour seeds and young trees.
My main tasks this week has been to set up footprint traps to monitor rats and stoats at Trounson Kaori Park in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC). Octavian, who manages Papu rangi, has been testing me on the trees and I’m getting pretty good. I love the contrasting shapes of the leaves in the forest, and imagining a dinosaur munching on the tree ferns.


We got a call from a DOC ranger tracking two kiwi chicks and we went to help. Chicks are fitted with radio transmitters and checked up on. Unfortunately these two had both been killed and stashed by stoats.

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Just like with the alien species, dead kiwis is the story of New Zealand. I heard a wildlife photographer say he felt his photographs of picture perfect native species gave a false sense of security about the state of the world. I want to try and capture what New Zealand is really like.

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The next day  was a lot more positive. We took a break from stomping through thick forest to visit Bluff beach and then swam in Kai Iwi lake. That night we went out with a red light and watched a kiwi foraging at Trounson. We wound past towering kauri trees, the stars peeping through the canopy and glow worms matching them below.

Also… Weta selfie

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