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Chatham Island shag – a bird a day

Today has been a busy day, with errands and earrings taking up most of the daylight. As I finally settle down to draw, El Huzbando is already making our dinner!

Research

Shags have a very distinct silhouette, and, with their amusing name, became one of the only non-forest birds that I could recognise easily – but there are so many species! 
The watercolour image below shows the importance of tiny details in making sure each species is correctly represented.
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Chatham Island shag. Adult. Star Keys, Chatham Islands, August 1968. Image © Department of Conservation (image ref: 10035213) by John Kendrick, Department of Conservation Courtesy of Department of Conservation

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Leucocarbo stewarti Foveaux shag (top), Leucocarbo chalconotus Otago shag (middle) and Leucocarbo onslowi Chatham Island shag watercolor painting by Derek Onley

​Chatham Island shag

The Chatham Island shag is a critically endangered shag which, as its name suggests, is restricted to the Chatham Islands. It is the only large black-and-white shag in the island group. Despite their declining population, Chatham Island shags can still readily be found roosting on headlands along the rocky coast line. They are entirely marine, dispersing from colonies and roost sites to forage in coastal waters and within parts of the brackish Te Whanga Lagoon. During breeding, compact colonies form on rocky headlands and offshore islets located throughout the Chatham Islands.
Source:
NZ birds online
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Chatham Island shag. Adult on nest containing chicks. Cape Fournier, Chatham Island, December 1981. Image © Department of Conservation (image ref: 10033306) by Rod Morris, Department of Conservation Courtesy of Department of Conservation

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Chatham Island shag. Roosting flock. Star Keys, Chatham Islands, February 1988. Image © Alan Tennyson by Alan Tennyson

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Chatham Island shag. Adults and large chicks on breeding colony. Chatham Island, December 1981. Image © Department of Conservation (image ref: 10038075) by Dick Veitch, Department of Conservation Courtesy of Department of Conservation

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Chatham Island shag. Adult feeding chick. Okawa Point, Chatham Island, December 1973. Image © Department of Conservation (image ref: 10038076) by Rod Morris, Department of Conservation Courtesy of Department of Conservation

Drawing the Chatham shag

These pictures illustrate my process of matching the colours from the photos – just colour-dropping the photos doesn’t work, as the colours you see in a photo are not the colours that actually make up the pixels of that photo. Here, you can see the colour-dropped orange, compared to the orange that I actually matched by eye to the photo. 
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Top left is the colour taken from the photo; top right is the colour I matched by eye.

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Chatham Island shag. Adult – close-up of head. Chatham Island, October 1976. Image © Department of Conservation (image ref: 10036566) by Rod Morris, Department of Conservation Courtesy of Department of Conservation

I particularly enjoy the blue eyes and punky hairstyles of these wee blokes.

​Threats and conservation

​Populations of Chatham Island shag are threatened by loss of breeding habitat, disturbance from stock, human persecution, introduced predators, and gull predation. However, given that population declines have been recorded at colonies on remote predator-free offshore islands, it is likely that some type of at-sea effects are impacting on the population. There has been no direct conservation management action to benefit Chatham Island shag other than co-ordinated island-wide population censuses. The recent increase in fencing coastal habitats on the Chatham Islands will prevent stock from gaining access to some colonies, thereby reducing disturbance.

The conservation status of this species was changed from nationally endangered to nationally critical.
Source:
NZ birds online

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