Saturday, 6 December 2008

Tauranga National Art awards.

Its been a while since my last entry because November was a huge month for me. Things were going really well with my entry for the Tauranga National Art Awards. This was a painting that I was constantly challenging myself with. I put lots of research, thought, and emotion into it and felt that was coming through in the painting. It was an emotionally intense process and when I felt it was finally finished I was very happy with the result. (Most unusual!) I should have known it was too good to be true! When it came to varnishing it I had almost run out of the usual product so tried to get more but my supplier had none in stock so to cut a long story short I went with another varnish that proved far from satisfactory! I tried another product to try to get rid of a series of milky streaks but the two mediums were not compatible so I made it worse! It was ruined! Heres a photo of it before the varnish went on. At this point my mood had hit rock bottom. I was in mourning! And I had a party to organise for Troys Birthday feeling far from in a party mood. Saturday morning I prepared food and fussed around looking forward to being able to have a few wines later on. We had lots of family and friends around, had a lovely meal and then Troy said he wanted to make a speech. He asked me to stand next to him, thanked everyone, waffled on for a bit then went down on one knee and proposed to me!!! I'd had no idea this was coming. Of course I said yes! So that pulled me out of my melancholy over the painting and I went back to the studio on Tuesday mentally accepting that I would have no painting entered in the Tauranga Art Awards. Mum came to see me and spied a half finished piece leaning up in the corner. Always a source of encouragement she suggested I finish that painting for Tauranga.....the only problem was that the next day and day after were the delivery days. I had one day to complete it! I went home Tuesday night, planned the rest of the painting and put in twelve hours work on it onWednesday. I was actually really pleased with how it turned out, I must do well under pressure. We delivered it the next day and four days later I got a phone call to say it had won the Supreme Award!
Now I have commissions and a great Gallery wanting my work so lots of work to do! But as always I can find a few moments each morning to photograph my favourite birds on the saltmarsh. The whitebaiters are gone and the herons are reasserting their territorial boundaries. I took this photo which may appear to be part of an elaborate courtship ritual but is in fact a pair of males challenging each other over feeding grounds. One of them had his female mate nearby but despite this he lost to the bachelor heron. The pair were forced to retreat to the other side of the river to feed. The whole standoff lasted only seconds but I do I love this shot! The victor was the bird on the right with his head held highest.
The swallows have hatched their second brood of babies above my studio entrance which means they are twice as fierce protecting the nest! A day or so ago one of them dive bombed my head three times in quick succession and I actually felt it touch my hair. They screech and snap their beak at the moment of contact - amazing how something so tiny can become such an effective assailant! My hair stands on end and I seek shelter as fast as I can!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Egret Hunter.

I saw the egret again at Awatapu lagoon but its SO timid. I can't get very close at all and he seems to know I'm stalking him. Its not an easy place to sneak up on him either. I have observed him for long enough now to recognise his feeding patterns so I got ahead of him around the bend and scrambled down a bank hiding in the bushes to wait for him to get there. I thought I'd sit still and quiet and give him 40 minutes. After 3 minutes I noticed a funny smell. After 5 minutes I had bugs crawling up my shirt. After 7 minutes the dampness from the ground had soaked into my jeans. After 9 minutes I got cramp in my leg! Stuff it I thought and started back up the bank and nearly stood on a huge dead rat laying on the ground - so thats what that smell was! I got to the top of the bank to see the egret flying past....BUGGER. So much for the surveillance, I hadn't lasted ten minutes! Thats why all my photos of the egret are of it flying off into the wild blue yonder.

The coot babies at Sullivans lake are growing fast. Another coot family further around the lake haven't been so lucky. One of the babies was killed by a pukeko I've been told. They can be very territorial those pooks. Mind you I've seen the coot parents chase bigger birds away from the nest without any problem pukekos included.

I'm happy to say the coots get better looking as they grow up. A classic case of "ugly duckling syndrome" to be sure.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Gannet, courting fantails.

Today was a public holiday but I needed to finish my entry for the Tauranga Art Awards so I went in to the studio. Town was deserted so I made the most of it and loitered around the public toilets again with my camera, (don't be silly, I was photographing the starlings in the flax again!) But actually I didn't get the perfect shot that I'm after.

I was looking through some of my recent shots and found these I'd taken of a gannet at the Whakatane Rivermouth. I sat on the rocks for about twenty minutes and watched it diving for fish...they really are impressive doing this!

On Saturday I was trying to get some housework done when I kept getting distracted by a couple of fantails outside. I chased them with the camera for a while while I should have been vaccuuming because they were so amusing. They are dating you see, the male catches bugs which he feeds to the female to prove his worth and to impress her, and perhaps to build her strength up so she can lay the eggs. When he finally wins her over they go steady and nature takes its course. They have probably already started building a nest as I have observed them collecting spiderwebs for a few weeks now.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Flax feeders.

There are lots of lovely little flax plants in the main centre of the Whakatane township and they are all in flower at the moment. The starlings sparrows and waxeyes are all making the most of the nectar supply. Because they are a smaller variety of flax then the smaller birds can reach to the back of the flowers. (Strangely enough I haven't seen any tuis feeding from them. Perhaps they only like the larger type.)

The starlings are so colourful this time of the year in their irridescent plumage that I have been obsessed with capturing the perfect image of them among the lime green and yellow flax flowers. However there are drawbacks to taking photos in an area where there are lots of people. Firstly, you can be focusing on a bird in a bush ten feet in front of you and not realise that the people sitting outside the cafe twenty feet beyond are feeling rather paranoid perhaps wondering if you are a private eye and if so whose photo are you taking! Just as well I'm not a guy or they'd think me a pervert! Speaking of weirdos there was a guy lurking around nearby, studying me and looking rather suspicious. My attention was on a feeding starling when I realised he was right next to me. I looked up and he said "Is that a camera?" Stifling the urge to voice any number of witty replies I just said "Yes." Judging by his eyes he was probably too wasted to tell so I didn't encourage any more conversation!

I really like this little sparrow with his forehead coated in orange pollen. I then realised ALL the sparrows in the area were sporting orange caps. After lurking among the flaxbushes for three days I read in the local paper about four new security cameras installed that very area. I wonder what they'll make of me......

Thursday, 16 October 2008

BirdsAplenty Art Exhibition

Its been a busy couple of weeks! I've been flat out finishing paintings for the BirdsAplenty Art Exhibition on at the moment. It opened last Friday 10th October and finishes this Sunday 19th October. This is the 2nd year of the exhibition run in conjunction with the BirdsAplenty festival. Sales are down a little from last year I guess due to the recession but we have had good numbers through, about 200 people so far! This fantail is one of the paintings I have sold from the exhibition so far.

These next two are from my "Requiem" series that I am working on at the moment. Huia are the main focus and I am working with issues regarding the attitudes that led to their extinction at the hand of man. I think this is the first time I have really concentrated on one theme and the more research I do the more inspired I become so I will be developing these ideas for a while yet I think.

I went back to check out the coots nest at Sullivans lake a week or so ago. The babies had hatched and I couldn't believe what the chicks looked like! The parent birds are black/dark bluey grey and the chicks come out like little punks with bright red & orange heads - CHECK THIS OUT! Are Coot chicks really cute? Kinda debatable.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Scrapping sparrows & feeding fantails.

I've been photographing sparrows lately as I'm planning a painting that will include about five or six of them. Last weekend I put some birdseed out in my feedstation (an old wheelbarrow) and tried to get some action shots. I wanted to get them flying or fighting as they do often at the feedstation.

Today I photographed our resident pair of fantails which were quite obliging in that they let me get very close although I wish they would keep still a little longer. Later in the afternoon they were flitting around the tops of some tall trees among thick clouds of little sandfly type insects. I got a neat shot of them in the air together but the quality was crap as I had to have the ISO set at 400 with a fast shutter speed. I'm sure they almost had a "head-on" in mid air but their reactions are lightening fast as they dart after bugs etc. I think I'd like to get re-incarnated as a fantail....except I'm not sure about eating bugs. I watched one eat a big fat blowfly today. Yuck! No if I'm going to be re-incarnated as a bird it had better be a seagull so I can hang out in the carpark down the heads and live off scavenged fish and chips!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

spring has sprung!

I've been painting feathers for the last week and am suffering sore shoulders and eyes....the down side of painting on a space two inches wide! And the inclement weather has meant I've had little opportunity to take a break with my camera.

Spring is well and truly here with ducklings emerging and birds building nests evrywhere you look. I took the shot of the black swan at McLarens Falls Park a couple of weeks ago. HUGE nest! I was surprised at how close I was able to get despite the aggressive reputation these birds have.

The coot and ducklings are residents of Sullivans Lake in Whakatane.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Three Seals and a Surfer.

Today there were TWO seals sharing Wairakas rock! They appeared to be a male and a female adult in good condition. However a third seal I spotted in the water came ashore to sun itself on the rocky breakwater & this was small and very skinny. I watched a surfer make his way out along the rocks with his board and I knew he was about to come face to face with the young seal. Sure enough he stopped very suddenly and the two of them eyeballed each other for a second or two then much to the surfers relief the seal took off back into the water!
The seals have certainly caused a lot of interest among the locals. A bus load of tourists even turned up while I was there!

The morning fined up and turned out lovely. I snapped these white fronted terns and an oystercatcher before tearing myself away and heading back to the studio.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Northern Giant Petrel?

It turns out the dead whale I photographed yesterday was a baby sperm whale. Perhaps the victim of an orca attack?

I was looking through my photos tonight when I remembered another couple of photos I had taken when we first got to the beach. As we jumped down the sand dune I saw a large dark albatross-like bird flying along above the surf. I only had seconds to snap these two photos and didn't even set my exposures so the quality is pretty bad. I have done a little research and have decided it may be a Northern Giant Petrel. The exterior tube-like nostrils place it in the petrel family and it was a very large bird. I am surprised to see one here in the Bay of Plenty but I suspect it was because of the whale as they commonly feed off dead sea mammals. If anyone can positively identify this bird can you please let me know and I'd love to know how rare (or common) they are around Whakatane.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Of dead whales and sleepy seals.

What a strange day I've had! We were on our way to work when Troy got a text to say there was a whale stranded on Ohope Beach. Of course he had to photograph it for the newspaper so there was no way I was going to miss out. Driving over the hill I was hoping the whale was going to be ok and imagined it being refloated and swimming off through the waves to a happy ending. Bit of a different story when we got there. It wasn't a stranding at all - more like a dead whale being washed up on the beach after floating lifelessly around in the ocean for a couple of weeks.

I'm not certain what kind of whale it was, perhaps a minke. Really interesting lower jaw on the creature, very narrow compared to the width of the head so not sure what it would be eating. Perhaps squid and other fish. It was really stinky downwind. The guys at Dept of Conservation were going to bury it this afternoon. What a job but someone's gotta do it! (Glad I didn't have to dig the hole.)

By the way, the distant Island in my second photo is coincidentally Whale Island.
So that was my morning, observing a rotting whale carcass being rolled around in the ocean! I hope it died of natural causes.

Actually I was back in my studio at ten a.m. so I did get some work done before I picked Troy up at mid-day. He told me something over lunch that I simply could not believe so he took me to see it for myself. Let me explain.

For those of you unfamiliar with my hometown of Whakatane let me introduce you to one of our most recognisable landmarks -"Wairaka" or " the Lady on the Rock." When the Mataatua waka first landed at Whakatane the Maori men set off to explore leaving the women on the beach. The tide came in and the waka or canoe began to float away. It was custom that only the men were able to man the canoe so one of the women,Wairaka called out "Kia Whakatane ake i ahau" which roughly translated meant "let me perform the duties of a man." She then brought the waka back to the beach attaining heroine status in the process. This statue of Wairaka was erected on the rock at the rivermouth in the sixties (I think.) I'm not sure how high the rock is that she stands on but the statue herself must be about seven foot tall.

So check out this next is Wairaka in all her bronze glory (complete with seagull accessory) and there at her feet like a little loyal dog is.....a SEAL!!! A bit skinny admittedly but very much alive and it must definitely be fit to have been able to get up there at all. Its not uncommon for seals to come ashore this time of year, the young ones get a bit under the weather and need to rest up a bit especially after stormy weather (and goodness knows we've had enough of that!) BUT whatever possessed this seal to scale such a steep rock......I have no idea. At least it was safe from harrassing dogs & humans so perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea after all!
Apologies for any incorrect spelling or historical inaccuracies with regard to the legend of Wairaka. I have retold the story how I remember it told to me at school many years ago.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Oil slick and Parrot Pie

OK, OK, I admit its been a while since my last blog but thats because I've been having too much fun with my NEW LENS! But more on that later. I had previously had a frustrating couple of weeks really. The weather had been WET and yucky and I'd had little opportunity to get out with my camera. I went down to the Apanui saltmarsh on the 25th August and had seen seven spoonbills, the most I'd ever seen at once. One was feeding and appeared to be making its way toward me by the yacht club but as it got to where the stream runs out into the river it took off back to the others. I wandered along the stopbank and standing above the floodgate I saw why the spoonbill had shied away from the stream - an ugly oilslick was flowing along the watercourse out to the river! I phoned the pollution hotline and left ENVBOP to deal with it. How sickening! Walking back to my car I watched a man who had been sitting on a bench get up and ride off on his bike leaving behind the newspaper he had been reading which subsequently began to blow away in the wind. I stuffed it into a bin thinking of that tosser on the bike and how lucky he was I couldn't catch up or I would have told him what I thought. Some days I feel ashamed to be a human :(

The next day Troy took me into the photo shop to show me a second-hand 35-350mm Canon L series lens and they gave it to me to try out. Whats worse is they said keep it overnight and bring it back tomorrow. I took it down to Awatapu Lagoon and I was kind of impressed then later that night I checked the photos out on my PC and I was REALLY impressed. I got some lovely shots of fantails in the bullrushes and also an excellent shot of a swallow. Check out the detail in the close up of my fantail shot. But the lens cost $1,000 which I didn't have so I went to take it back the next day...."you can pay it off" they said....."No rush"..."We'll give you a trade in on your old lens!" I thought BUGGER IT, sold a kidney and that was that!

Tansy from D.O.C. emailed me and told me of a Kaka that has been visiting a Banksia tree in Whakatane so I've spent a couple of mornings stalking him. He is totally unconcerned with the spectators that gather to watch him. Flies in about 7.30 and feeds for about an hour, licking the big yellow banksia flowers like a kid with an icecream then chews his way into one or two of the older cones to eat the seeds. The first morning I was there he flew into a nearby magnolia to check they were edible. Just down the road from the banksia is a large kowhai that overhangs the footpath and it is just dripping with flowers. I've never seen a kowhai so full of flowers and of course the tuis are making the most of the opportunity. I've also been photographing a couple of tuis that feed in the flowering cherries at the rose gardens. They can be very posessive over their trees and swoop down to scare off other tuis, sparrows, bellbirds and I've even see them chase off monarch butterflies (can't see they would eat much.)

Its a great time of the year to photograph birds as they have come through a cold wet winter and are now into the rich spring food supplies which means they are preoccupied with food so you can get close to them as they are feeding. Not to mention that other distraction of spring - finding a mate and breeding! A lot of species get very territorial around this time too so are fighting with other birds over food and females and don't really care about me and my camera getting in their faces.

This morning I was sitting on the deck enjoying the sunshine (AT LAST!!!) when a pair of eastern rosellas landed in one of the trees on the edge of our driveway. I just happened to have my camera in my hand so I was stoked to be able to take advantage of their presence as they are normally quite difficult to approach. Quite beautiful birds - shame they are a pest due to the fact they take over and vigorously defend the food source of many native species. To be honest I have a couple in my freezer that were shot by a friend working in vermin control. Not sure what I'll do with them, a couple of times I've almost mistaken them for a pack of mince in my search for the evening dinner..... Maybe one day I will mistakenly thaw them out and will be faced with a tough decision, rosella risotto or parrot pie???

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Fibre & Fleece, Herons, Kotuku, Egret

In the middle of July Opotiki held its wonderful Fibre & Fleece Festival. I'd been working on a large entry for the exhibition called "Life Spiral." It was a collage made up of found natural objects arranged in a large spiral shape composed of over one hundred and thirty separate sections. It had taken months of work and was lots of fun but quite a challenge to collect all the bits. Each arm of the spiral represented a group of different plants or small animals, insects etc. Not many projects require plucking the prickles off a dead hedgehog, pressing different varieties of seaweed or collecting tiny bones from dead birds washed up on the beach! Anyway I was delighted to win the Furnishings and Artwork Section and even more delighted when a lovely lady who was my teacher in primary school bought the finished piece.

I hadn't seen the Kotuku for a while as he hadn't been to the mudflats and even the spoonbills were staying upriver and too far away to photograph. I had taken some nice shots of a pair of white faced herons though and I'd even seen a reef heron on a couple of occasions. He's a very dark bird plus quite shy so very difficult to photograph. Then one day this week Troy texted me to say someone had phoned him at the newspaper to report two white herons at the Awatapu Canal. I thought it unlikely that there were two but went to see and was delighted to find an egret feeding along the bank. This bird is quite a bit smaller than the Kotuku and lacks the fine breeding plumage on its back. Its beak is black where the Kotuku has a yellow beak during the winter, turning black during the breeding season. I got some photos of the egret but the canal is flanked by houses and he was spooked by some kids and dogs. A few days later I went back and there was the Kotuku so I got some lovely pics of him on a branch over the water. It was a stunning morning although I had to scramble over the stopbank and hike through mud, then stalk him through wet grass to get my photographs!