It's easy to get swept away with the in-your-face drama of yellow kōwhai filled with feasting birds, but spring brings subtle pleasures too. This week, I've swapped out my birding lens for an "Art" lens and sought out the delicate, tiny, and hidden. From the remnants of tree daisy flowers to a hidden parrot tulip, there were many subjects to photograph.
Thanks to the iNaturalist (a website where you can upload observations and get identifications), I learned these were not flowers but the bracts left over from flowering coastal tree daisies (Olearia solandri). In the typical weird New Zealand way, these daisies are scrubby trees. They look more like a weed or something nondescript at first blush, but up close, they are beautiful!
While Linton was weighing the takahē at Zealandia (both Nio and Orbell are healthy weights, I'm glad to report), I searched the nearby bushes for more treasures and found this tiny lonesome karamū (Coprosma) berry. They usually come in clusters and are quickly wolfed down by hungry birds over winter, but somehow this one escaped attention.
Tutu is a gorgeous native plant, and this one had the most psychedelic stems. It's starting to come into flower, soon to be followed by gorgeous purple-black berries. Tutu is poisonous though, including the honeydew excreted from passion-vine hopper insects (yep I'm talking about bug poo). Honeybees collect the honeydew, which can then contaminate the honey - bad news for anyone inadvertently consuming it. Fortunately, beekeepers know to not harvest honey when the risk is highest.
Although not tiny in the slightest, I thought I'd include an iconic koru - the spiral-shaped frond of an unfurling mamaku tree fern. Another example of New Zealand plants doing an Alice-in-Wonderland thing of being much larger than their relatives elsewhere. These ferns are indeed the size of trees and the koru are around 20cm across.
Back home, I took a wander around the garden and found this stunning parrot tulip hiding under it's leaves. A wise flower, for it would have taken a beating from the late winter storm we just had with hail and sleet. These gorgeous flowers look like a painting - I'm glad one survived!
Have you noticed subtle but gorgeous signs of spring (or fall) where you are?
After a dreary wet winter, we're all desperately searching for signs of spring. Yesterday, after a brief gap between rain and more rain, we ventured out to nearby Ōtari-Wilton's Bush to find some early-flowering kōwhai. It was quite disconcerting how many slips we passed along the way. Over the weekend, Ōtari itself had also experienced a massive slip.
For those outside of Wellington, Ōtari is a botanic garden specializing in native and endemic plants of Aotearoa, including the overshore islands. It also has a remnant of original Pōneke forest, with a huge rimu tree pride of place. It is an incredible natural asset to Wellington, providing native forest for the birds spilling over from Zealandia EcoSanctuary.
This glorious kōwhai put us in good cheer. It's in the Chatham Islands collection, and unlike some kōwhai, has both flowers and leaves at the same time. It is a bird magnet, with not much else flowering yet.
As you might guess, there was one very stroppy tūī who decided he owned the tree. He spent most of his time fending off three kākā for the nectar goodness. One of the kākā was a youngster, purple-banded earlier this year at nearby Zealandia, now off exploring the big wide world, so that was lovely to see!
It was interesting to see how the different birds approached feeding. The tūī inserts its bill directly down the kōwhai flower and uses its long brush-tipped tongue to lap up the nectar. It often needs to stretch to get to the flowers. By comparison, the kākā grabs a footfull of kōwhai flowers to pull them closer, then uses its huge but delicate beak and tongue to get directly into the base of the flower. They too have a brush-tipped tongue. Both bird species end up with their faces dusted thickly with kōwhai pollen, pollinating the flowers as they gorge on the nectar.
Also profusely flowering are the mānuka (tea tree) bushes. There are some gorgeous pink-flowered specimens at Ōtari, and I couldn't help but create some dark and moody photos. The intention was to continue with a bright and cheery theme, but I couldn't help myself.
In search of spring, I was also recently inspired to create this embellished watercolour artwork "Dreaming of Spring", featuring native puawhananga (Clematis paniculata).
Although I spend most of my time in the digital world where there are billions of colours to hand, it's hard to resist pigmented paints, filled with history and lore. This piece was created with just three pigments: vivacious French Ultramarine, moody Perylene Green, and mysterious Serpentine. The latter is a wonderful green pigment from Australia that granulates into green and burnt scarlet particles, given huge depth and texture. I love how these three colours play together. I couldn't resist some gold accents to bring it to life and add extra cheer. Given the positive reaction to this piece, it's now available as an embellished print where the gold stamen are hand-painted giving each print a touch of joy and uniqueness.
Are you seeing signs of spring yet?
Father figures come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, genders, ages, and flavours, but I know many are huge bird fans. Does your father figure have an elaborate bird feeder? Perhaps yours loves tramping in the forest, immersing themselves in the sounds of green. Or are they like Chris, always craning their head to see who's calling high in the sky? Maybe your Pa is like Richard who's learned how to speak pīwakawaka and has a tiny flock following him around the garden? How about all the dads who slog their guts out every weekend checking rat traps to ensure baby birds survive in their nests?
I'm not one to create art with certain genders or stereotypes in mind, but over the years, I've noticed that some of my artworks are especially loved by fathers (and people buying gifts for their fathers).
The most popular has to be The Scenic Route (pictured at the top), featuring Dad and the kids out for a kākā's equivalent of a Sunday drive (and with fuel prices these days, a lost pleasure). This piece makes a great combination with the gentleman ornithologist (humanologist?) "The Bird Watcher" (below).
I've also noticed a special reverence for the might and power of birds of prey, with "I Spy (ruru)" an immediate hit among owl art lovers. Another newish piece is our Skrark Art photographic print "Karearea Profile."
If your Dad is a fan of redbands, a pint, and a laugh, then "A Real Kiwi Joker" might be the perfect match! But did you know that kiwi pukupuku dads are also amazing stay-at-home fathers? They are responsible for all the egg incubating and chick raising (which is understandable when you learn that female kiwi are laying eggs that are around one-quarter their body weight - which is apparently like giving birth to a full-sized toddler according to my kiwi researcher friends 😮). Kiwi dads are awesome!
Finally, this list wouldn't be complete without a tūī. Everyone's favourite, but I know you can't go wrong with "In all his glory," who is especially popular.
So if you're wondering what to get Dad for Father's Day, a birthday, or other special occasion, an artwork featuring their favourite bird is a pretty good choice. Do take a look at my full collection - there's bound to be something your Dad will love! Or get in touch if you would like more suggestions.
What is your father's favourite bird?
Wonderful news from my fine-art printer, Oliver Zavala, from Picaflor Fine-Art Printing. He won in the "Specialty Products ~ Limited Edition & Fine Art Prints" category at the recent Pride in Print Awards with
"A Hidden World (kākāpō)" extra-large print! Oliver prints all my extra-large paper prints, which are too big for me to print, and he does a fabulous job. I'm delighted to hear that the judges agree!
This gorgeous fine-art print comes in multiple sizes and includes a 10% donation to Kākāpō Recovery. Based on reference photos from the lovely Andrew Digby from Kākāpō Recovery.
This is one of the few artworks that Linton has named. He was fortunate to have helped with a transmitter change on Anchor Island a few years ago, so has experienced how special it is to be among kākāpō on a restricted island. Here's hoping the various efforts to bring kākāpō back to the mainland will be successful so more of us can experience these amazing manu.
Coming in at number 5 - His Resplendence (tūī)
From limited-edition fine art prints, to TinyArts, to personalized postage stamps, this boy sold out completely. He's now only available occasionally as a TinyArt piece or (in the future) gift ephemera.
Number 4 was only a squeak ahead - The Chase (Pīwakawaka)
These adorable fantails have raced up the charts, ever since their predecessor, The Secret, sold out. At the time of writing, the large limited-edition prints of "The Chase (pīwakawaka)" have completely sold out, but small and medium prints are still available. These cuties are especially popular as TinyArt pieces too.
At Number 3 - Sweet Dreams are made of this...
This adorable morepork has swooped up the charts to number three, and is the number one piece supporting Forest & Bird. Sweet Dreams looks amazing big or small and suits so many different types of framing. From rustic to gold, plain to fancy, she's just gorgeous! At the time of writing, she's still available as a limited-edition print in all sizes, but will soon start running out, especially the large prints. Like the others, she's also popular as a TinyArt piece, and I can't make enough of them.
Number 2 - a new release that stormed the charts - a hidden world (Kākāpō)
These irresistible moss chickens were a late entry in 2021 but made a huge splash, quickly ousting other contenders from the top 5 spot. Based on photos of Sinbad and Hoki by Andrew Digby from Kākāpō Recovery, I set them in a magical cove that had people guessing where in Aotearoa it was (it's a cove in the Bay of Many Coves in the Marlborough Sounds). Hubby Linton came up with the name "A Hidden World (kākāpō)" after his experiences tracking kākāpō on remote Anchor Island. More recently, plans are forming to reintroduce kākāpō to the mainland, so perhaps their world won't be quite so hidden and more of us will be able to experience these incredible parrots in the wild. Because this is such a new print, there are still limited-edition prints available in all sizes. And unlike my other prints, there are two variations - square and rectangular - and people have strong preferences for one or the other. Which do you prefer?
Before I announce number 1, an Honourable mention goes to "Her Mystery (tūī)
If it wasn't for those charismatic kākāpō latecomers, "Her Mystery (tūī)" would be in the top 5. You've probably noticed that I love a gothic stormy backdrop, and the tūī colours suit that scene perfectly. She was created as a companion piece to our number one bird...
Who is Number 1?
2. The galah is called "Vinny" after YouTube's Marlene McCohen's gangster - he's even striking the gangster pose on the card.
3. The kākāpō is called "Sirocco" as the big-green-budgie-of-love was undoubtedly the reference bird for the illustration.
Do you play Wingspan? Do you agree it's the best game ever? Do you have some fun house rules too?
P.S. This is not a paid or solicited review, I'm just a dedicated fan.
So which bird raised the most funds? For the third year in a row, the tūī of course. Four of the top five pieces in 2020/2021 featured NZ's favourite bird...
Art of Birding Blog by Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
Welcome to the Art of Birding...
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