2023 Calendar: Behind the Images

It’s been an awesome challenge putting together a calendar, especially as I continue to improve my skills and push my artistic vision. Through photography, I have also learned so much more about our native biodiversity, as well the unique beauty that can be found if we just look hard enough – or sit still long enough! Here, I share the stories behind some of the images, and a little bit about each species.

Kahuku/monarch

During my trip to Ōtautahi/Christchurch for my exhibition with Anne-Marie ‘Artemis’ Jones, I took some time to hunt down over-wintering monarch butterflies. Unlike populations in other parts of the world, the monarch butterflies in New Zealand stay put through winter, finding evergreen trees to shelter in and venturing out on warm, sunny days. I knew there were some parks that were known as over-wintering sites and I was lucky enough to find some butterflies at Abberley Park, not too far from the city centre. Unfortunately, the first day I visited was cloudy and I only managed a couple of okay images. It was still pretty special to see them all hanging on to the eucalyptus leaves in the wind and cold, and to see the protections put in place to help them survive winter. I went back a couple of days later when the sun came out, and the butterflies were out in abundance! They particularly liked the flowers on the rice paper plant, and it was here I managed to get this shot.

Riroriro/grey warbler

The only mention of a riroriro/grey warbler I’d heard prior to moving south was in association with its relationship to pīpīwharauroa/shining cuckoo. The shining cuckoo will knock out the eggs of the riroriro and lay its own there for the riroriro to hatch and rear. In action, the riroriro remind me of pīwakawaka – but with a shorter tail. They’re fast, tiny, and make a whole lot of noise! Throughout winter we can hear their ‘warble’ almost non-stop from the canopy of our southern beech trees (it seems to be a favourite hangout of theirs). They’re terribly hard to capture on camera, and I got lucky with this shot, as they rarely come down so low to the ground.

Kahukōwhai/yellow admiral

We had a patch of stinging nettles in a wilder part of our garden that I had meaning to pull up, but hadn’t gotten around to. Soon after this patch grew, I spotted a butterfly that was completely unknown to me – as I far as my knowledge went, we only had monarchs (and ringlets, but they were either in the mountains or the forests so certainly not something I’d see in my backyard!). After I finally tracked down the species of butterfly, I started learning about kahukura/red admiral, and coppers, and blues, and even day-flying moths. Most importantly, I discovered that stinging nettle is the only host plant for both admiral butterfly species (like swan plants for monarchs), so we ended up keeping our patch of nettle – and growing some more! It still amuses me that no matter how many flowers I plant specifically for the butterflies, they always seem to appreciate the weed flowers more (like this catsear growing in the long grass).

Pīwakawaka/fantail

The first time pīwakawaka graced our garden was in autumn, the year we moved in. I figured that as the months were getting colder, food must be getting leaner, and so they must’ve ventured further from their usual haunts to rustle up more kai. Knowing they were in the area, we started doing more to encourage them. I learned that they catch insects ‘on the wing’ (i.e. mid-flight) and they’re predominantly insect eaters, so to get more pīwakawaka in the garden meant we needed more insects. We have piles of logs all over our garden now, and we leave a lot of the leaf litter where it lands. Now, just a few years down the track, we have pīwakawaka all year round! They can be difficult to photograph because they move so quickly, but they are not at all shy of humans (or the sound of my camera’s shutter) so those are a real advantage. The shot here was the very first decent photograph I managed to capture of this friendly little bird, so it is a special image for me.

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