It’s warming up
Rather than adopting the official definitions of the seasons I am going to take my lead jointly from mother nature and the UK retail calendar. Winter is cold and dormant, in the spring buds start to appear, we get the occasional blue sky and the seasonal aisles in our supermarkets are devoted to eggs. Most of the supermarkets have been stocking chocolate eggs for at least a couple of weeks now however, the bulbs on my terrace have just started to poke through, some early trees are budding and this morning the sky was blue. I noticed that our Parakeet friends’ minds had turned to eggs and by this, I doubt they appreciate the foil wrapped chocolate variety. For them, it's time for the annual act of breeding. I don’t know when the tipping point moment is for a Parakeet. I am unsure when they start to feel the joys of spring but this morning there was undoubtedly nesting activity going on in Battersea Park. Parakeets are documented to nest early (allegedly as early as January). The image opposite was taken close to the bowling green on Battersea Park. I am not clear on where these birds are in the nesting cycle but the top Parakeet in the image was bringing supplies into the nest site. The lower bird in the image stayed put and did not leave the tree trunk.
Green and Blue
The sunlight makes such a difference to the visual appeal of the parakeets. Their green plumage becomes more vibrant and can be more readily picked out against a clear blue sky. In February the mornings are still crisp, the birds appear still a little sluggish and really don’t start moving at speed until the sun gets at least a little way up in the sky. The Parakeets are still occupying the very tops of the tallest trees. I don't earn an income from photographing Rose-Ringed Parakeets, so my photographic set-up is at a domestic level. Normally a Nikon D5000/D5100 and a Tamron 80-300 zoom lens. With this kit, it is only really possible to capture with any degree of clarity the birds when they descend below their usual vantage point to the lower branches of the trees. Of course, at this time of year, the birds are tending nests in the chunkier trunk sections of the trees. There are few more opportunities to capture the animals doing what they do with my limited photographic resources. If you like your Parakeet photographs to have higher production values than mine, I can recommend that you look out the work of artists like Carlton Stewart who I call out on my Twitter feed and Sam Hobson.
If you really want to go to town photographing the animals my advice, for what it is worth would be to go a bit larger on the zoom lens, push to one stretching to a 400 or 500 optical length. The Parakeets tend to occupy the higher reaches of the tallest tree’s, If however, your interest is capturing the richness of wildlife in and around the park (rather than the narrow verticle of a diminutive Parrot species), pretty much every animal except the Pigeons and the Magpies are comfortable nearer the ground and can invariably be seen and photographed, often at quite close quarters. More of the rich wildlife of Urban Parks in South West London is captured here;
Wrap up warm. It's cold out.
There was more activity around the nest site today. Supplies were being dropped off to the occupants of the knothole in the tree trunk in Battersea Park. It was bitterly cold today and it must be one hell of a task for Mrs Parakeet keeping the eggs or hatchlings warm in this weather. Even Battersea Park’s Heron that normally feels comfortable sitting knee-deep in pond water gave up and felt warmer standing in the middle of the road today. Most of the Parakeets weren’t moving much; the birds were pulling in their extremities and puffing up their feathers. Keeping warm appeared to be the main order of the day. Most of the birds remained high and there was very little chance to capture images, except the Heron who seemed to hang around for ages when he realised there was a lens pointing in his direction.
Heron crossing the Road.
Weather wise it was a tough weekend with sleet, snow and driving rain battering Battersea. I did catch a glimpse of a majestic looking Parakeet atop of one of the tall decapitated tree trunks on the Common in Clapham, bravely standing statuesquely above the bare tree trunk in the driving sleet. It made a fantastic sight, watching the tropical bird brave out the temperate British winter climate. However, unfortunately, I did not have my camera to record the image, so you will have to work with my verbal description and form your own mental picture.
When I am recording the birds I have a simple rule. I always try to stay in the public areas of the park. I don’t go delving off into the undergrowth or hiding behind bushes, for no other reason than I think it's not fair to other park users, the last thing you want on a gentle stroll through the park is guys emerging from the undergrowth with long-lensed cameras. Even if they have just been pointing their camera at feral wildlife. Everything I capture is visible and acquired from the accessible areas of the park, I don’t go ducking behind hedges or into fenced off areas.
I do also think it is only fair to give the wildlife its space, occasionally I will hold still for a while to capture or observe a particular Parakeet manoeuvre. But generally I am out there with the dogs barking, the children shouting and the dog walkers conversing loudly into their hands-free headsets. It is amazing what wildlife your eyes can catch when you raise your gaze from the footpath to the canopy of the trees.
There is a quiet area of Battersea Park between the Bandstand and the Evolution, tucked in behind the Bowling Green where there is an area of tranquillity for the birds. A few days ago I commented on this blog that I had noticed a nesting site that was just visible from the bandstand. This morning I can report lots more nesting activity. Spring is certainly picking up pace, even if the weather is still catching up with our Parakeets mating habits. A single tree in the area currently has at least two nest sites being tended. Located at a couple of locations within the same trunk, This is in addition to a variety of other nest sites in adjacent tree trunks,
The entire area of the park has been supplied with nest boxes, located at about 10-15 feet high and nailed to the sides of some of the larger trees by the park authorities. I have not seen a single Parakeet emerge from a nest box yet. The Parakeets tend to be operating out of naturally created holes higher up in the trees, preferring old knot holes high in the trunk nearer the tree's canopy.
Parakeets from the east
This morning, just after dawn, I had an early appointment, further to the east of the city. As I drove through Shooters Hill, towards Woolwich, I saw a pair of Parakeets swooping alongside my car. To investigate the local avian residents further I drove down to a little-known area of Parkland on the edge of Abbey Wood. There is a large space of open and protected ancient oak woods, that lie around the ruins of Lesnes Abbey. Sure enough, I found a large group of Parakeets in the tall oak trees in and around the park. They appeared a little less sociable than their South-West London neighbours, the parkland around the ruined abbey is far less busy than the open spaces in Battersea and potentially, for this reason, the Parakeets were less interested in me and a little more inclined to keep a safe distance. Again occupying only the highest sites in the wood, largely in the upper canopy of some of the very high, wonderful oaks that grow in the parkland.
I had to move more slowly around the wood as the birds were easily spooked and curious as to what I was doing at the base of the tree below. The nervous South-East London Parakeets did finally get scared off by the arrival of a loud pair of black crow-like birds. This may be a local dispute, the Battersea Parakeets and Crows happily occupy, very much the same space in Battersea Park, often settling in the same tree. By contrast the South-East London squawking crows saw off the small group of green birds, which disappeared somewhere else in the wood.
Whether this shy behaviour was characteristic of the Lesnes Abbey Parakeets or simply the symptom of a particularly abrasive couple of South-East London crows, I don’t know. However, one observation I will make is that the Parakeet is becoming ubiquitous in London. Many Londoners are still not aware of the presence of the tropical birds in London’s parkland, which is a shame. A very random encounter in one of London’s historic open spaces, within a few minutes, and with very little exploring, resulted in a number of sightings of groups of these wonderful exotic creatures.
Interestingly audibly there are also Woodpeckers in the woods at Lesnes Abbey in addition to the unmistakable screech of the Feral Parakeets. It has been suggested in some articles online that the Parakeets are crowding out Woodpeckers from their natural habitats. It will be interesting to see how the population evolves in Lesnes Abbey. Can the Crows, the Woodpeckers and the Parakeets co-exist or are we heading for a show-down?
Nesting between the Commons
I wanted this morning to understand if nesting was also in full swing on the Common in Clapham. My happy report is, the morning after Valentines night there were easily identifiable at least three nest sites apparent on my walk today first thing.
The Parakeets are clearly favouring the areas to the south-west of Clapham Common bordering the Avenue. Over and above the fact that real estate prices in that area (between the Commons) rank as some of the highest in London. The predominance of well-established, tall London Plane trees undoubtedly adds to the attractiveness of the area in the mind of the young Parakeets. I positioned myself on the path in front of one of the nest sites whilst there was a pause in the activity around the tree. A particular Parakeet had been tending the tree trunk, heading off and returning with supplies and depositing them in a knothole half way up the trunk. I waited in situ for no more than a couple of minutes. Sure enough, when the tree hole’s occupier came back it returned with muscle. A team of three Parakeets swept in making their trademark screeching noise, two birds stood guard, squawking while one dropped off his consignment. When the drop was made all three fled the site. I took a few shots while this was going on and then left the group in peace.
I have a new resource that I have been playing with. The Woodland Trust have produced a great app for the iPhone that helps you identify tree species from a few details. The verdict is that on the Common six out of ten Parakeets prefer a London Plane to hang out in. That statistic is in no way empirical and is based purely on my own observation on a 35-minute walk through the Common.
My observations would be simply ramblings if I did not test some of my hypothesis. Yesterday I noted that the arrival of two black Crows was enough to make the Parakeet group in Bexley disappear. Today I noticed again in Clapham, members of the Crow family coexisting with the Parakeets of South West London. A Crows call was enough on Clapham Common to clear a tree of Blue Tits but the Parakeets remained firm, they did not even alter their gaze. As if the Crow posed no threat at all. Based on a couple of isolated observations it would be wrong to draw a judgment. Are the Parakeets in South West London more established, do they have more familiarity to the Crows so that do not see them as intruders. It could just be a simple matter of my identification skills being wanting and that the South East London Birds are of a larger or more aggressive species within the Crow Family. I would struggle to differentiate a Carrion Crow from a Raven or a Rook and that may be a significant difference. It may be that the Parakeets in South-West London are simply more acclimatised to a busy and bustling environment. The park around the Lesnes Abbey ruins saw far less traffic than the Common in Clapham. In my time on Lesnes Abbey Park, I think I encountered only two dog walkers, In Battersea over the same period two is the number of dog walkers who stop and talk to me (any Londoner will know that the volume of passers-by who engage in conversation with strangers is very low indeed within the M25 area). As I watch the Birds, the total number of other creatures occupying the Park space, Dogs, Foxes Humans is far higher, in addition to the trucks and buses regularly crisscrossing the Common. With all this activity on the Common, I am not surprised that the Parakeets are completely unfazed by the odd Crow. The Blue Tits, on the other hand, are tiny. They remain incredibly timid by nature.
Although this blog is kept, purely to talk about the Parakeets of London, when I am out and about in the open spaces of South West London I occasionally get a chance to capture images of the other wildlife that makes its home alongside the Parakeets of Battersea. This other collection is by no means as vast as the collection of images I have of Parakeets in Battersea (I find it hard to pen 300 words about a duck or a squirrel) but if you are interested, check out my Twitter and Instagram feeds.
Breeding like Rose Ringed Parakeets
Today was a beautiful spring morning; the bulbs in Battersea Park have just started flowering and the sun was bright in a beautiful blue sky.
During my morning constitutional, I checked in on the Parakeet nests in Battersea Park, they are accumulating in number. Spring is hotting up! There are now a good number of nest sites across the park, I have found the highest density in trunks near the Evolution, around the Bowling Green and in other quieter areas of the park, a couple of nest sites are located off the narrow winding path that runs to the south of the English Garden between the Albert Gate and the Brown Dog memorial. I have seen a repeat of the behaviour I witnessed on the common where it appears that more than one Parakeet is assisting with childcare. At the site pictured I witnessed more than one bird in and around the nest. In my naivety, I tend to imagine that nest tending would be an activity undertaken by a pair of Parakeets, The birds are after all regularly and characteristically seen in pairs, they have a habit of calling to each other when they become separated, however, I am seeing some signs that the nesting activity happening, as we enter spring, is more of a community affair. This supposition is only based on a handful of observations, the most recent this morning when I saw two nests sites in Battersea Park where groups of more than two were defending or observing nests.
My imagery is benefiting, as the birds start to nest, they are moving a little lower in the canopy of the park, moving down from the extremities of the tree's forty or fifty feet high to nearer 30 feet. The birds will often position themselves on a branch close to the entrance to a nest for a few moments, they assess the situation thoroughly before committing to enter the nest. This habit gives me a short window to catch a few images. They are still largely occupying the higher reaches of the Park, however, they are currently significantly easier for me to capture with a short zoom lens.
Whilst I am noticing slight and nuanced behavioural differences between communities of Parakeets living in London, our feral friends are not just setting up home in various sites around the capital. Rose Ringed Parakeets were traded globally for a number of years as pets and it seems over this time that many have escaped/been released, more than we could blame on the reckless actions of a small group of Hollywood legends and Rock gods. The Parakeets are not just finding new homes in London they are also setting up colonies around the world.
Anecdotal evidence on the internet implies that London is not the only urban centre where the birds are forming new communities. There are web articles devoted to colonies in various US cities, the most documented being in California. Additionally, there are groups in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Tokyo in Japan. The photographer Yoshinori Mizutani has produced some great imagery of flocks of birds gathering in Tokyo. From his images, the Japanese Parakeets appear to collect in far greater numbers than they do in South West London.
I have commented on flocking and minor migratory habits amongst the birds in Clapham but I have not witnessed movements in the numbers that Yoshinori has documented. Groups of birds numbering up top ten still appear relatively large in Battersea, and although the customary social collective is a pair. Parakeets it appears are, able to work collectively with a shared aim.
The mercury hit 11 degrees this morning and the impact was instant. The trees in Battersea Park are beginning to fill with buds, and most heartening, the Parakeets could be found far lower in the trees. On a number of occasions, I saw Parakeets stationary, investigating tree buds at fifteen to twenty feet above ground. This is the lowest I have seen them all winter, It appears spring is now thankfully in full swing, a few of the known nest sites I have been passing for a while now appear to have a permanent Parakeet sentry positioned outside. The sentry stations themselves on a branch at a similar height to the nest and about five or ten feet from the entrance.
My ears may be deceiving me but I believe I heard Parakeet chicks near one of the large London Plane trees adjacent to the subtropical garden. I could not see any life in the tree, but am conscious that the nest could be on a side of the tree not visible from the path. At about this site in the Sub-tropical garden, Daffodils are fully flowering (incidentally the first I have seen this spring), so it is clearly unexposed there and retains what heat there is well.
I do not know if the new confidence in the birds is due to the change in temperature, having to forage lower due to more mouths to feed or that the smaller shrubs seem to be heavily in bud but the impacts are there, The birds are far more clearly visible lower down and with little or no leaf cover low in the tree canopy. If nothing else it's good for my neck muscles. Less peering in the tree tops with an icy draft racing over my collar.
Tree top return
The Parakeets have returned to the top of the trees today. The temperature is a little lower and the cloud is denser which is delivering a wintery feel around Clapham Common. One of the specific nest sites that I have discussed previously on the Avenue now appears quiet but there are new sites further out, moving east from the Avenue. Competition for nesting sites is now hotting up and I witnessed a couple of Parakeet disputes over property today. There are similar behaviours to those seen in Battersea Park, where sentries are sitting directly outside some of the nests and I am seeing groups of three birds occasionally protecting nests.
Don’t be afraid of the green alien.
The Rose Ringed Parakeet is remarkably hard to photograph.
I realise that this site is packed with images of my feral green neighbours, but the birds tend to keep themselves to themselves, hanging out high up in the trees, their faces are a little expressionless. Their bright beaks are tightly hooked, so on the rare occasions that they descend to a height where I can achieve a close enough shot, I fail to get a smile from them. Also, their eyes are a little unfriendly.
If I point the camera at a squirrel, I get a long stare back at me through black-jeweled eyes, the look hides a weighted combination of fear and mischief.
A simple Coot will sit quite serene on a tranquil pond and the scene is one of peace and calm. People love these creatures. From a simple straw poll of likes on my Instagram feed. Coots are the most popular animals by far. I am guaranteed likes if I post a picture of a Coot. Some of my Coot images have even been stolen and repurposed (I interpret this as a modern form of praise, not plagiarism).
It may be that we feel a little sorry for the Coot. We do relate to them, they are always the creature at the back of the pack, behind the Swans and the Ducks and the dive-bombing Gulls, when a kid opens a bag of Kingsmill by the duck pond.
Parakeets, however, are maligned; there are sites on the Internet offering services to eradicate Parakeets, and this maybe because the Parakeets don’t make it easy for themselves, they make a noise that offends some ears. Instead of the gentle twitter of garden birds, the Parakeets cry is rasping, They have an uncommon coloration, that looks unusual, possibly flashy in our muted sunlight, and their purposeful flight paths are direct and unwavering almost arrogant.
They are unfamiliar creatures but when you listen carefully over time you can make sense of the Parakeets calls, some calls bring a fellow Parakeet closer and there are some that they use when thy are flying together, presumably to keep in tune with their flight path (much as our air traffic controllers do). Yet they are also stickers. They didn’t intend to come here. We brought them. Having got here they were released into a cold and unfamiliar climate with a fauna that was not advantageous to fruit-eating birds, especially those used to enjoying a long languid Indian summer.
But they are clinging on. There are making the best of the Commons and Parks. Finding some shared land, running with the Squirrels (who are also a non-naïve species and invasive), banding together into small groups of Parakeets to protect a tiny piece of high altitude turf and get the smallest clawed leg up. They hunker down in the rough times and enjoy the good times when they come.
Slowly they are finding their place, assimilating into our world. They seem to enjoy nesting in the large London Plane trees. A tree that is now common in London but was only brought here in the last century because of its ability to survive a thick London smog (the London Plane is alleged to be a hybrid of two other non-native Planes, possibly the American and the Asian).
Some UK newspapers are printing stories advocating culling Parakeets.
Many agree that diversity has made us Londoners strong. London would not be London without its aliens. Plane-tree-lined streets, Canada Geese in St James Park, the Grey Squirrel scuttling along the sides of the train tracks. Even the Urban pigeon that was synonymous with, but now unfortunately largely absent from Trafalgar Square, is the result of us breeding a domesticated Rock Pigeon. With a little time and a little patience, the Parakeet starts to become familiar. I can now pick out their cry when a small group fly above my terrace. I can differentiate a call and tell when one Parakeet will quickly be accompanied by one of its friends. You have to admire any creature’s ability to take on the odds, live outside its comfort zone and turn a foreign world into some kind of home. They are frustrating creatures to photograph but when you get one they do look a lot more attractive than the native blackbird. The parakeets make London richer with their presence as do our other aliens.
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea
There is now fierce competition in Battersea Park for nest sites. While there is evidence of nesting now in every space within the park, even quite exposed knotholes are becoming the focus of competition. Parakeets are nesting above the adventure playground, some of these nests are just a few yards from where the wires traverse the canopy carrying the Go Ape route. If you are ever down there one Saturday as I often am with my little one you will be aware of the noise and activity that is focused on that small area of the park. The Plain trees that are closest to the southern border of the Park are now alive with nesting activity. I witnessed a number of spats this morning between groups of birds jostling for nest sites. Once you leave the park, I have become aware of Parakeet activity all the way up past the Royal Hospital to as far as at least Sloane Square. By now it is safe to assume that the Queen has Parakeets in her garden in Buckingham Palace. I wonder if they qualify for a Warrant?
The weather has been truly abysmal for a few days now, but thankfully I rose this morning to a beautiful blue sky and wonderfully high light levels, just perfect to for pointing cameras at trees, viewing Parakeets. With the warmer weather today, the Parakeets were certainly making hay whilst the sun was shining. Some of the familiar nest sites are now emitting squawking and chattering noises from inside. At one particular site in one of the taller oak trees in Battersea Park what can only be described as a Pandemonium of parakeets had gathered around a nest hole. A Grey Squirrel had worked its way into the nest. A large group of ten or more birds gathered around the nest site squawking and creating noise taking it in turns, one of the gang would hover just outside the nest shouting taunts into the small hole at the squirrel. When the bird tired there would be a short break before another would take over. Occasionally the squirrel would poke a head out see the gathering of birds directly outside the nest and scurry back in. Unfortunately, I do not know the fate of the squirrel or the young birds in the nest. The stand-off lasted at least 15 minutes and at that point, it had progressed nowhere. The gang of Parakeets was getting stronger and the squirrel was well and truly cornered.
The sunshine at last...
...but no happiness at the tall oak tree in Battersea Park, unfortunately. I have no idea what happened to the squirrel and the nest but the tree was eerily quiet. We can only presume the worst and that the nest has now been abandoned. An adjoining tree that contains a nest now has a permanent Parakeet sentry on guard, you can hear the fledgelings squeaking in the nest from the base of the tree. The improving weather, however, is having an effect on the flora, this should provide a little bit more fresh growth for all the wildlife to feed on. The birds were beautifully low in the trees today coming right down in some circumstances to my height so that they could enjoy the new blossom on the smaller trees and shrubs.
The devoted parent Parakeet is still standing sentry a few feet from the entrance to the remaining nest in the large oak tree on Battersea Park. The fledgelings are not surfacing yet so the sentry remains. The bird barely moves as the life of the Park goes on beneath it. Numerous dog walkers, a fox, a couple of magpies and a guy with a camera all walked past and the Parakeet did not move a muscle. Fingers crossed that we will see fledgelings surfacing soon from this nest site. For imagery, I felt that I would be underperforming if I did not provide a shot of a Parakeet tucking into some of the abundant pink blossom that is now covering many of the trees and shrubs in the park. If you do want to see an image of a Parakeet emerging from the nest in the tall oak tree, click here.
Shake the tree
The nest site is still active. Fingers crossed we will soon see new additions to the Battersea Parakeet community. The main activity on the park is in and around the abundant trees in blossom. If you see a tree laden with blossom slowly shedding the odd flower chances are there is a Parakeet in the tree snacking. One tree that stands on its own in the park just south of the festival gardens gathered quite a crowd. I could see the odd petal flutter down so went over to investigate, and sure enough, found a Parakeet in the lower branches. I positioned myself a little away from the tree to grab a few shots and soon found myself accompanied by a small group pointing iPhones at the same Parakeet. I am sure the bird enjoyed its celebrity moment, but nothing was going to distract it from the snacking opportunity it had before it.