Stickybeak, Sydney’s celebrity Little Penguin, thrills all

Updated 16 September 2012
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Stickybeak, Sydney’s celebrity Little Penguin, thrills all

From the foaming wake of a Sydney ferry a small, grey figure sails toward the suburban Manly beachfront, landing belly-first on a closely-guarded strip of sand.
Stickybeak the penguin stands, shakes himself free of water and — after a furtive glance at the tourists gathered to watch his twilight return to the city’s most famous bird nest — waddles off under the wharf to his brood.
“He’s got a mansion under there,” joked chief penguin warden Angelika Treichler, who stood guard behind a strip of safety cones and padlocked gates guaranteeing the bird free passage to his nest.
“He used to live next door, but now he’s taken over the whole area.”
Stickybeak, his partner Mrs.Silverwing and their two chicks are the last remaining Little Penguins living under the Manly wharf, a bustling area for commuters and tourists.
Also known as fairy penguins or blue penguins the Little Penguin — the smallest species of their kind — grow to just 33 centimeters (13 inches) tall and can live for up to 20 years.
There are another 60 or so breeding pairs living in the nearby North Head National Park, a rugged wildlife preserve where Sydney Harbor meets the Pacific Ocean, but Stickybeak is a thoroughly metropolitan bird.
He joins hundreds of commuters taking the evening ferry from the city’s bustling center back to the beach, slipping into its wake to cruise home.
Treichler, a retired schoolteacher from Germany, has been watching him since volunteer patrols of the beach began when the colony was declared endangered in 2002 and has recorded his many adventures in the wardens’ log book.
“He came up here once, up the steps, walked across the road and waddled into the Flamenco Club. Luckily one of the guests knew him, knew he lived here and put his jacket over him and carried him out,” she told AFP.
“He used to sit for hours there on the boardwalk and sing very loudly, and look up whether we were listening, and when I would call him he’d come running out from under the wharf and cluck back at me.”
Conservationists have worked hard to nurse penguin numbers back to health over the past decade, using sniffer dogs to hunt out foxes in the park and deploying wardens to educate locals about the dangers of dogs and garbage.
Ecologist Lisa O’Neill tags every penguin with a microchip once they’re old enough to leave the nest, and says only 10 percent typically survive the transition to the harbor, with predators always lurking and speedboat strikes common.
There have been concerted efforts to move the penguins out of more urban areas — some nest under residential homes around the harbor — but success has been mixed with the deeply territorial creatures.
Stickybeak and Mrs.Silverwing — his step-mother — were taken across to Store Beach in the national park in an attempt to resettle them after a stint in hospital but Treichler said they “came straight back here” to the wharf.
Their unorthodox romance blossomed in the rehabilitation unit of the city zoo, where Mrs.Silverwing was mourning the death of her husband and Stickybeak was recovering from a boat strike accident that had killed his own partner.
They are the last of five pairs that once lived under the wharf, and Little Penguin coordinator with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Melanie Tyas, said it was a double-edged sword.
“In some ways I think it’d be great if we had more penguins under here, but then on the other hand you’ve got that (factor of) — well it’s one or two, it’s so rare that it’s such a special experience to see them,” she said.
The birds hunt the length and breadth of Sydney Harbor, foraging for fish, squid and other marine animals, and O’Neill said it was rare to find a penguin colony on the mainland, let alone one in an urban area.
“It’s just spectacular, it’s an amazing privilege to have the birds so close to an area like this,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have so close to the city, we’re really lucky.”


Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

Updated 23 May 2018
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Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.
“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.