Tuesday, June 05, 2007


This season was once described in a Walt Disney film as "the time of togetherness" which basically means that every creature in the wild is putting it about like nobody's business. Wood pigeons have been "courting" on one particular fence post in our back garden every summer since time immemorial, several times a day. Frankly, it's not the sort of thing I want to see or hear when I'm doing the washing up - especially the male's post coital screech. Get a room, for fuck's sake!

British birdlife is fairly plain, wholesome fayre - a bit like British food. Unfortunately, we don't have gardens full of hummingbirds.

This, however, is the first of a very long series identifying some of the common garden birds that you'll find in Britain. I'll start off with a couple and then lose interest in it all together.


Identity: Brian Eno lookalike.

A greenfinch, yesterday.

Brian E.L.O. (library picture).

Song: combination of schwoops, schwerps, trilling and techno noises, possibly influenced by Higher State Of Consciousness by Josh Wink.

Habitat: seems to like large conifers. Often pictured looking photogenic on bird feeders.

Eating habits: seed eater. Often pictured looking photogenic on bird feeders. I once bought some sunflower seeds which greenfinches loved. Problem is, they'd stand on the fence spitting the coating off into next door's garden. Resolved to only buy uncoated sunflower seeds in future.

Behaviour: looking photogenic on bird feeders.


Identity: glamorous Art Nouveau mix of black, magenta, petrol blue and green shot through with glittery bits. Darker coat in summer, which isn't the logical thing, is it?

A starling tries to look thoughtful, as if watching a Jean Luc Godard film.

Song: no "song" as such, just an amalgam of "found sounds". Basically, nicks bits of song from other birds, along with stuff like car alarm noises, sounds of kids yelling, adding machines (I don't know where they get that one from, unless they all worked as wages clerks in the 1980's, which is unlikely).

Habitat: hanging around fields or gardens, heading off in all directions. At this time of year, male starlings become really macho and aggressive, starting fights with each other like tattooed nutters on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Behaviour: my dad once described starlings rather well as "being like Italians on holiday. They hang around in big groups, are noisy and start arguments with each other".

* * * * * * *

Bill Oddie has an acute fungal toe infection.

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Josh Wink "Higher State of Consciousness' is brilliant - I've got it on 12". Reminds me of my stoner days. Must go and play it really loud in the office and annoy everyone. Thanks for reminding me. Have a great time in Cornwall - look after that ankle x
Woohoo! I'm in love with Brian Eno. I'm gonna dig out Here Come The Warm Jets on my iPod.
Tony Soper? Good question, Betty.
I once played in a band called "Whatever Happened To Brian Cant."
The fucker only turned up, didn't he!
Fucking birds. We can hardly hear the diesel trucks for the noise they make.
"A starling tries to look thoughtful, as if watching a Jean Luc Godard film."

Looking thoughtful has never worked for me but this starling seems to be pulling it off.
Rockmother - I've still got piles of "dance twelves" (hem hem, that's what you are supposed to say, I think) that I listen to all the time, when I should really be analysing the collected works of Bob Dylan. Thanks re. the holiday. The ankle seems to be responding well to painkillers and Deep Heat Max. Strength. I have turned into my gran.

Dive - Brian Eno is exellent. I'm not going to do the pathetic Before And After Science joke here, though. Tony Soper seems to have been booted out of TV birdwatching by the exciting and younger (?) Bill Oddie. Shame. Geoff informed me that Brian Cant used to live a couple of miles down the road from us. I've never seen him in Sainsbury's, but I live in hope.

Vicus - the dawn chorus almost drowns out the sound of police sirens and helicopters in the early hours here. I always like to give the impression that I live on the mean streets ...

MJ - birds do a very good impression of looking thoughtful, even though most of them aren't that bright really. If I try to look thoughtful I just end up looking like a myopic idiot - which is what I am anyway.
I wonder where that greenfinch buys his eyeliner. Perhaps Brian will know.

Must have another listen to 'Here Come the Warm Jets'.
God - I sound like mj.
we have starlings that make noises like computer blaster games - kerpow! kerang! - etc and every mobile trill you can think of!
the only intelligent thing our starlings have learned to do is to mimic the call of a red-tailed hawk. not terribly convincing coming from an animal the size of a tennis ball, but it doesn't stop them from repeating it 500,0000000times in a row right outside my bedroom window does it????
oo, a linkie! thankie!
I thought "oo a linkie! thankie!" was a bird call. I was dead impressed for a minute.
I have a wild life post in the wings (sqwawk!) but y'all will think I'm copying.
You Brits love yer birds.
All pigeons should immediately join their Carrier Cousins in antiquity and good bloody riddence to 'em!

I feel conflicted about the possibility of hearing a Greenfinch chirping Baby Is On Fire or The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch in the morning! I suppose if you dropped Acid in lieu of coffee it would make the day a lot more interesting.

I realise that birds are the only animals left in the British Isles after thousands of years of stewing away all of the creatures both great and small...

but it is a tad pathetic so perhaps it is finally time to buck up and import a few mammals.

It worked out quite well for the Australians now they have tons of rabbits to admire!
Kaz - perhaps I should take a selection of Eno albums away on holiday with me. Can't remember where I put Music For Traffic Jams though.

Belle - in that case, starlings are probably better versed in modern technology than I am. I don't own a mobile phone or play computer games, being a miserable old git who's stuck in the 1950's.

First Nations - starlings' impersonaltions of other birds consist of a couple of notes of blackbird song, a couple of notes of songthrush and a bit of crow. They wouldn't get very far in a karaoke competition, would they?

Arabella - "linkie thankie" ... isn't that something said by Professor Stanley Unwin? Go ahead with the wildlife post: I'm sure that no one will think you're copying. Not that I ever write anything worth copying anyway!

HE - the natural song of greenfinches sounds odd enough. All those trills and chirps and what sound like electronic effects (... back to Brian Eno again). As for British mammals, urban foxes are on the increase along with rats, although neither seems particularly appetising. What with foxhunting being outlawed, it's a pretty raw deal for the toffs. They'll have to start hunting/shooting each other.
This post made me laugh so much! Incidentally, I walked straight into an Italian Argument once whilst on holiday. One of them kept trying to finish with a smart-assed comment so he could walk nonchalently away, but the other bloke insisted on having the last word. There was a great deal of finger-wagging and arm-flailing. It amused me for a good fifteen minutes...

Bill Oddie IS an acute fungal toe infection.
Fathorse - I wonder why it is that Italians alone among Europeans seem to go on holidays in such big groups? No wonder it leads to loads of arguments!

Bill Oddie once took his shoes and socks off on a TV programme only to reveal a full set of green mouldy toes. It was one of the most distressing things I've had to see in recent years.
When we lived by the seaside, we used to be visited every year by a large flock of male greenfinches. They behaved impeccably, it must be said, but apparently the sexes split up in winter and go around in large gangs.
I could imagine male greenfinches hanging around in gangs - they look fairly hardfaced but dapper.
...and then there is the Robin. T E Lawrence-like, aloof, alone, handsome and a free spirit.
The wood pigeons, trundling around like Christopher Biggins, and about as attractive and useful.
The magpies, strutting, greedy, aggressive, like SS soldiers, and, if you're lucky, the Montezuma of the bird world - the goldfinch!
Aren't birds the best? God, I feel all poetic. I think I am unwell. It must be a being-British thing.
Robins are probably my favourite garden birds - the song, the psychotic personality behind a cute exterior, the tendency to still be awake hours after other birds have gone to sleep, and wake up hours before they do.

Bexleyheath isn't prime goldfinch territory, sadly. We have't even got any colonies of parakeets yet, which seem to be invading everywhere else.
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