The kōtuku is common in Australia, the South Pacific and Asia.
In New Zealand it only breeds near Whataroa, South Westland, between September and January. This colony is in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve and guided jet boat tours take visitors to view the birds from an observation hide.
The white heron or kotuku is well-loved by the New Zealand people, but it is rarely seen except by those who specifically seek it out. Its sole New Zealand breeding site near Okarito Lagoon in Westland is well-known and well-protected, but elsewhere it is ‘He kotuku rerenga tahi’ or the bird of single flight, implying something seen perhaps once in a lifetime. When seen in close proximity it is a magnificent bird, with its large size and clean white plumage. Source: NZ birds online
A large white heron with a long yellow bill, long dark legs and a very long neck. When breeding, the bill becomes grey-black and long filamentous plumes develop, mainly on the back. In flight, the white heron tucks its head back into its shoulders so that the length of its neck is hidden, giving it a hunched appearance. When walking, the white heron has an elegant upright stance showing the extreme length of its neck. When resting it is more hunched with its head tucked in, making the bird appear more bulky. Source: NZ birds online
Important identification characters when separating white herons from other white egret species in New Zealand include overall size, relative neck length, bill colour and shape, and how far the gape (i.e. the corner of the mouth) extends back in relation to the eye. The white heron is the largest, longest-necked of the egrets, and the gape extends well behind the eye. Source: NZ birds online
The most difficult part of this bird for me is the way that the beak and the eye interact and are connected, so that will be my focus in the research images. As always, I am also interested in how the legs and feet work, and how they use their wings.
From a quick structural sketch to a first draft – I have started placing the legs (which are often hidden underwater in the reference photos), and blocked in where I think the wing feathers are. To avoid making white wings look too dark, I think I will just do these as outlines rather than drawing in all the individual feathers.
El Huzbando has been in Melbourne for work for the last 4 days, and his flight lands around midnight. It’s far too late at night for me to drive, so I came out early with my laptop to finish working on these designs. It’s weird being almost the only person here.
Now, it’s time to take these draft sketches to finished detail, using some other reference pictures that show the details more clearly.
I noticed that there are two types of plumage, as with a lot of birds, but that they also change the beak colours, so I decided to show one bird in full breeding plumage and colouring, and one in transition, so it was important to really look at the beak.
IMPORTANT NOTICE - due to the effects of the covid-19 lockdown, shipping times are considerably impacted. Please be patient. We offer contactless deliveries in the Wellington region to help ease the load on the couriers. Dismiss