tui feasting on kowhai

Joyous signs of spring

A tūī feeding on kōwhai nectar
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.

a kākā parrot inserts its bill into the base of a yellow kōwhai flower to drink nectar, surrounded by kōwhai leaves and flowers
A kākā feasting on kōwhai flower nectar

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. 

The kākā delicately uses its tongue to lick up the kōwhai flower nectar.
The kākā uses its brush-tipped tongue to lick up the kōwhai flower nectar.

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!


A tūī bird reaching up and into the yellow kōwhai flower with its beak. The stamens rub across their feathers, leaving a dusting of pollen.
Close-up of the tūī feeding on kōwhai by thrusting its bill into the flower. The stamens rub across their feathers, leaving a dusting of pollen.

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.


A tūī bird stretches its legs to the fullest extent to reach a flower, in amongst twiggy branches
Sometimes the best flower is a big stretch away!

A kākā parrot has grabbed a foot-full of kōwhai blossoms and is feeding on the flowers
And sometimes it's just easier to bring the flowers to your face!

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.

Pink mānuka flowers on a shrubby branch
A spray of light-pink mānuka flowers.

Close-up macro of a deep pink mānuka flower with five pink petals and a cluster of curly stamens
A close-up of a deep-pink manuka flower - such a gorgeous colour

In search of spring, I was also recently inspired to create this embellished watercolour artwork "Dreaming of Spring", featuring native puawhananga (Clematis paniculata). 
A watercolour botanical of clematis flowers and leaves in shades of green and blue with gold accents
"Dreaming of spring" (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?
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2 comments

These are stunning, you have a wonderful talent! Thank you for sharing :)

Emma2 Sep 2022
Thanks so much Emma – you’re very welcome!

Judi03 Sep 2022

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