Nature notes – Parakeets: A bleak day echoes with tropical voices

A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) in snow in the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in Sutton, London.8 February 2021 – Beddington Farmlands, London

A half-hearted snowfall has bleached Beddington Farmlands, painting the landscape in a palette of black, white and grey, drab brown and pale sage green. Many of the birds here seem to have been painted with the same brush. The Farmlands’ lakes, stirred by the bitter wind, make a dull beige canvas for black-and-white tufted ducks and coots, and muddy little grebes in their earthy winter plumage. Five little egrets, stark white, stand on the edge of the northernmost lake, close to a solitary black cormorant and a pair of grey herons – all hunched against the cold.

There’s something especially harsh about this dusting of gravelly snow. Proper snowfall would still the landscape into silence, but in this half-measure winter I can hear sounds that seem to deepen the chill: the white noise of snow pellets falling on old oaks, cold wind through dead grass, the harsh cawing of a solitary crow. Deep snow promises a measure of joy – snowmen, sleds and play. But this is no Winter Wonderland: a bleak day without use or consolation.

But as I lean upon a concrete gate, I see and hear something that speaks to me of warmth and hope. Gathered high in the dead twigs of a sycamore tree, a congregation of parakeets chatter and squawk, lending a blaze of green to the white sky, and tropical voices to counter the chill. On spring mornings I like to listen out for song thrushes calling out their strange, insistent little verses – I often think of this as the perfect soundtrack for my morning walk, but today the thrushes are silent. It’s hard to find a replacement for their song in the parakeets’ unmusical calls, but today they lift my heart and send me, smiling, into the snow-blown murk.

For more writing about bleak snowfall and optimism, here’s my account of my last, wintry Lake District walk before lockdown.

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