Aug 25: Spotted Shags

Let’s learn about spotted shags…

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Below are some talking points and activities to pass the time, all relating to today’s story.

Talking points

Discuss the ideas presented in the story with your family—at home or over video conferencing. Find ways to involve as many people as possible, especially those who you know are isolated by the lock-down.

  • Have you seen a shag (cormorant) before? You might have seen one dive below the water then pop up again suddenly, perhaps you’ve seen one holding its wings out wide to dry. Did you know that there are several types of shag in New Zealand, in addition to the most commonly known pied shag?
  • What do you find noticeable or surprising about the pārekareka or spotted shag in the photos? Can you see any similarities between the shag’s plumage and the guano-covered rocks?
  • Writing in her diary from her Noises Island bach, Marlene Neureuter described spotted shags as being “so elegant—like city gentlemen in their grey suits.” Would you describe these birds as elegant? What other describing words or comparisons could fit them? What kind of personality do they look like they would have?
  • The article quotes from a book in which the author describes seeing fishermen sit and shoot at shags until hundreds lay dead in the water. He thinks the fishermen were just amusing themselves, or saw the shags as competition for fish. How does that story make you feel? Why do you think it was allowed to happen? What might have led the fisherman to be so casual about the shags?
  • Anchovies in the Hauraki Gulf are estimated by one fisherman to be down to 2 or 3% of their previous levels. Shags rely on fish like pilchards and anchovies so many shags are literally starving. Do you have any ideas about how we could boost pilchard and anchovy populations?
  • Another major challenge to the shag’s food supply is sedimentation clouding up the water after it rains, making it harder for seabirds to catch fish. What are the causes of sedimentation in Auckland’s marine environment?

Activity: Make a Damien Hirst—inspired spotted shag picture

Damien Hirst has often explored painting with masses of colourful spots. Check these out by using a search engine to look up “Damien Hirst dot art.”

  1. Draw the outline of a spotted shag standing on a rock. Look at the photos in the article for inspiration. Notice any details as you draw, such as the tuft of feathers at the back of the head.
  2. Prepare a palette of bright coloured acrylic paints (or use another medium such as felt tip if you prefer.)
  3. Fill in the outline of the shag with a variety of coloured dots. You can make these even or more random, closely spaced or more spread out.
  4. If you want to, add in details such as the shag’s green eye-patch and the splash of white on the back of the head.
  5. To create the look of guano in the background, paint a background of brown rock, then squirt white paint from the tube onto the brown rock. Drag it around with the prongs of a fork.
  6. Send us a picture of your Damien Hirst inspired spotted shag picture!