Kitchen Birdwatcher: Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

How many of you can bird watch while you’re doing the washing up? I can, and it’s fascinating! It was while scrubbing away at a particularly recalcitrant baking tray one afternoon that I looked up and saw a magpie with a beakful of twigs flying into the tree on the embankment across the railway tracks.

Then a second twig-laden magpie came in, and I realised they were building a nest – so I kept watching them. And I’ve been watching them ever since. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to some more of my local wildlife (and update you on the Toon Magpies, of course!). It’s time to meet the neighbours…

All photos from the wonder that is Wikimedia Commons. Click through on any pic for more info and licensing details.

The Pidge Family

A wood pigeon at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium
A wood pigeon at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium

The Pidge Family are Wood Pigeons. Pidge himself has become a regular visitor to my kitchen tree over the last year or so, especially on rainy days when he will come and snuggle up in the crook of a branch with his feathers all fluffed up in an attempt to keep dry.

I kind of relate to Pidge, he’s a bit of a bumbler but his heart is obviously in the right place. He does try – he’s protective of his family and has had a couple of half-hearted run-ins with Cheeky Squirrel (see below) in an attempt to defend them (guess who won? Clue: it wasn’t Pidge…).

I was delighted one day when he turned up with a female and watched as they conducted their courtship in the tree – then he and Mrs Pidge disappeared for a few weeks, returning with a small, scruffy, grumpy-looking youngster who was obviously Baby Pidge…

The Green Parakeet Gang

Noisy and colourful, this mob of distinctive bright green birds really are a gang. If they were human, they’d be that bunch of lads swaggering round the town centre on a Friday night, drunkenly singing football songs, shouting “You’re my besht mate” at each other, and falling over.

You know the type.

Not universally liked (although I am very fond of them), these persistently loud-mouthed birds thrive in this part of London. They roost further down the railway tracks (there’s a massive roosting site at Esher Rugby Club, apparently), and they seem to use the trees round here as a staging post on their way to bed of an evening.

Watching from the window in the late afternoon or early evening I will often see them flying along the tracks in noisy formation, chattering to each other as they swoop and dive. Sometimes I can only hear them as they fly by – it’s a friendly sound that always makes me smile.

The Toon Magpies

Magpie on a Fence, St. James's Park, Central London
Magpie on a Fence, St. James’s Park, Central London

A brand new juvenile magpie paid a visit to my tree the over the summer, much to the delight of my Newcastle United-supporting friend Jim (this new magpie is now christened Laurent Robert incidentally!). This means that at least one of the eggs in this year’s nest hatched and the resulting chick survived to fledge, which makes me very happy indeed.

In fact, there seems to be loads of magpies about at the moment, which suggests I was correct in thinking there was at least a second nest somewhere this year. There’s certainly more than the old rhyme can count (one for sorrow, two for joy…). There may even be enough for a full first XI and substitutes on Tyneside!

Woody Woodpecker

Young Great Spotted Woodpecker
Young Great Spotted Woodpecker

A new resident of the neighbourhood, Woody (named for the laughing cartoon character) visited the kitchen tree one weekend recently while I was… guess what? Yep, doing the washing up. I caught a brief flash of red out of the corner of my eye and looked up to see a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering away at the tree with adolescent enthusiasm, much to my surprise.

I’ve been birdwatching almost all my life and I can’t remember ever seeing a woodpecker in London before, so this was a first for me! I wouldn’t have thought they’d be the city-dweller type either, but it turns out I was completely wrong about that – they are common in most of England and Wales, so a population of these particular birds in southern England and parts of London shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Cheeky Squirrel

Mission Possible? Squirrels in Boston Manor Park, West London
Mission Possible? Squirrels in Boston Manor Park, West London

There are numerous squirrels living in my neighbourhood, but Cheeky is my favourite. And yes, his name fits him very well! He’s quite distinctive since he’s missing a clump of fur on his tail, which makes me wonder if he pushed the cheekiness too far with another squirrel or one of the large local crows at some point (those crows take no shit, believe me).

I’ve been watching Cheeky for a while now, and I actually think he’s warmed to me a bit. He seems to know I’m not a threat. Absolutely fearless and able to beat me in a staring contest (and I’ve practiced on cats), he will investigate all the comings and goings from my block – one afternoon last week, he came and perched on the doorstep, only a foot or so away from me, and watched with great interest as I unlocked the front door!

The Quick Brown Foxes

Fox in Kew Gardens, West London (September 2008)
Fox in Kew Gardens, West London (September 2008)

The local foxes genuinely amuse me. For a start, it’s their world and we just live in it – when you encounter one at night, it will stop and warily watch you until you’ve gone, like ‘OK human, you can walk through my territory. I’ll allow it just this once…

There’s one I’ve bumped into (almost literally) several times who always looks thoroughly guilty, like I’ve caught him up to some serious no good, but the best local fox was one I met in Brentford one night who escorted me down the road until I reached my turning! It trotted alongside me, a few feet away, quite happily, stopping just by the junction as I turned into it. That was a lovely encounter.

However, someone needs to teach the foxes round here the Green Cross Code since they appear to have absolutely no road sense whatsoever – having seen them sprint across the road numerous times, narrowly missing being pancaked by an oncoming car, I’m amazed that more of them haven’t ended up as fox pate on the tarmac for scavenging corvids.

They’re tough cookies though. Urban foxes are survivors, and I’ve seen this on my own doorstep. Last summer, a large and destructive fire started on the bone dry allotments next door to my flat. The fire spread terrifyingly fast, gutting an adjacent factory building and coming very close to igniting our block too.

We were all evacuated from our homes while the (amazing) firefighters got the blaze under control, and while we were waiting to return one of my neighbours showed me some footage he’d taken on his mobile phone of a frightened fox running for its life across the allotments to escape the conflagration – and boy, could that fox run!

I’m pleased to report that the fox made it, probably slightly singed (and having broken the 100m athletics world record in the process), to the safety of the railway embankment…

… and we’re back where we started. More from my wild neighbours soon!

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