I can’t remember why I’d decided it would be a good idea, but four days after turning up in London, my birding instincts kicked in. A screech from the sky: I instinctively looked up and through the deep blue sky sailed a parakeet.
Four days. That was as long as I could not look up, as long as I could go without birds. Before I had disregarded the Ring-necked Parakeets of suburban London as much as I had the city itself: a ghastly, unnatural place, with very few redeeming features. I still feel the same way towards the city. It’s a hot and horrible place of seething streets and airless spaces and good jobs that pay well. For a country boy these things are particularly hard to adjust to.
But something changed. It wasn’t that exact parakeet, it merely teed up the one that did. Two stultifying days later, the atmosphere was dense and the scent of traffic fumes inescapable. That was when I found it. After a sweaty day of flat viewing across the city, it was perched in a tree outside the house I’m currently, gratefully, staying at. Sitting flush to the branch, the long tail made more sense than it does wobbling through the sky. But it was the turquoise sheen – a colour I didn’t expect and couldn’t place on prior parakeets – that took me by surprise. It was the colour of the sky and sycamore leaves painted on to the exotic bird sat above me. It was that what made me see it for the jewel like bird it is. One that could not be more strangely appropriate for London.
So why had I been ignoring it? I think birders, myself included, can be too hung up on the purity, the naturalness, of nature. That is its own small unquestioned absurdity. Nature in the pristine, untouched sense doesn’t really exist. Dig deep enough and you’ll find an artificial element in its history, in any history. Birds for me are the most visible, joyous example of nature as it now is. Free, yet altered in most possible ways by human influence. Kept in a cage they are just animals. When the cage blows over, and they flex their wings and fly as they would anywhere is when they become nature for me. The lingering sense of dislike – that category C sniffiness – does nothing any favours at all, not the bird or the person. So you might as well celebrate it; at the very least acknowledge it.