How to live well
Health, wealth and happiness on our stretch of the Thames
After 30 years in advertising, 15 of them as a creative director, the kinship I feel with birdlife along the river has been the perfect foil for workplace stress and, the occasional depression that has afflicted my family.
As braves and squaws of the RiverTribe, we see and hear birds every day. They are the soundtrack of our lives. We don’t want to cull the Parakeet because they are ‘too noisy’. What nonsense. They live beneath the flightpath to Heathrow and within a web of noisy roads. Our little green feathered friends are a constant reminder that even in an urban space we are at one with nature.
So do me a favour and stick with this…
They’re not indigenous and they are not competing with our native birds for food. Those who want them gone are the avian equivalent of Donald Trump? There should be no wall for these beautiful birds.
Where is the romance in our lives? These beautiful green ring-necked Parakeets are said to be the descendants of ones that were brought to Shepperton during the making of African Queen. Humphrey Bogart is their great grandfather and Katherine Hepburn their great granny. How great is that? Apparently the roof blew off of their aviary during a storm and they survived the bitter British winter and managed to thrive. I love to see them hanging acrobatically from bird feeders, poking their little heads out of holes in trees and hear their funny little noises.
There are many migrants who pop in to say, “hi” to us and make the river their regular stomping ground. Swifts, swallows and house martins dive for a Thames cocktail every now and then. They gather mud to create their homes in the eaves of ours.
Honking Canada geese came here without a visa, along with their Arabian relatives, the Egyptian geese. Can’t they just go back to the Nile and disturb some pharaohs and sphinxes, you might ask. Oh, and those swans and ducks and herons and great crested grebes; man, the din they knock up is intolerable isn’t it?
As I walked along the towpath today I heard a moorhen making such a high pitched clicking noise, I had no doubt someone would be reporting her to the Noise Abatement Society. Was it totally disrupting people’s enjoyment of listening to the A380 engines roaring overhead? Funny isn’t it, that it has been proved that birds in this area actually sing louder than their country counterparts, to be heard above the roar of traffic in the air and on the road.
Now of course, I am being deliberately sardonic. I practise mindfulness. I find bird noises, more than anything, connect me to nature and put me in the moment. To me, the dawn chorus is a magical thing that welcomes me to the day. Blackbirds are often the first to start the cacophony. I think the Beatles wrote a song about it. It seems to herald a choir in total harmony, each with its own pitch and timbre, more timeless than any symphony created by man and definitely more pleasant than the incessant drone of machines. That sound jackdaws make in that onomatopoeic way is so evocative of fresh air and the scent of pinewood.
The divers like the great crested grebes and the resplendent cormorants spreading their wings in a statuesque pose on mooring posts. I have seen them by Richmond Bridge emerging from the swirling waters with huge eels wrapped around their long necks wondering which one was winning in this battle to the death.
So walk down by your river. Appreciate the colours and sounds that our feathered friends lay on for free as a concert by the Thames. See if you can recognise the pee-wit of a long-tailed tit and differentiate it from the short bursts of the call of a goldfinch.
Don’t call for culling. Fix yourself in the moment with the beauty of all birds that float and fly by the river. Look out for the wrens that are the only birds whose first brood helps to feed the second brood of the year; an anomaly that I have witnessed. Look out for the kingfishers that flit by in a blaze of azure blue. Would you believe their feathers reflect the light and they actually are colourless? From beneath the water, this makes them undetectable to their take away dinner. Look out for the birds of prey including the owls that have a right hoot at night around the Park Road area of Twickenham. You’ll see kestrels, sparrowhawks, and kites if you’re lucky.
I have been an ornithologist all my life. Birds out of captivity, give me immense pleasure and I share in the relative tranquillity of our homes by the river. They have to put up with us noisy people and occasionally drop a protest on our shoulders. But hey, that’s good luck anyway.
Live with the noise they make. They were here long before we were as members of the raptor family. Get yourself a book and identify them. See if you can recognise them by song alone. Watch out for those woodpeckers who live around here in abundance and welcome back the house sparrows who disappeared for such a long time and now seem to be making a comeback.
Put out some food in your gardens and you might attract some chaffinches or even a nuthatch. Get the right feeders that the squirrels can’t snaffle, those drab grey rascals introduced from abroad that decimated the red squirrel population in this area that I remember from my childhood. I've waited years to see a bullfinch again having seen one near Bushy Park a few decades ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cuckoo but it is still on my bucket list.
So plant yourself firmly in the present. Nothing distracts you from distraction better than using your senses to listen to bird song or appreciate their stunning plumage. And before you berate them for the noise they make, listen to yourself revving your engines, blowing your horns, starting up your lawnmowers, playing your tunes at full blast and hollering down your phone.
Listen for a change. Come to your senses.
©RiverTribe Magazine 2017