Thursday 10 December 2009

The Sound of the Suburbs

I slipped out to Kensington Gardens earlier today, to enjoy a 'quiet' baguette on a bench outside the orangery. I use the inverted commas advisedly, as, while I sat there, the air was rent every few minutes by the raucous shrieks of squadrons of ring-necked parakeets chasing each other at speed across the sky. I never dreamt that in my lifetime the dominant - indeed the overwhelming - sound of most open spaces in London and its suburbs should be this alien shrieking. It was fun - exciting indeed - to see these exotic creatures at first, but once their numbers started to grow, it was a different matter... And it's not just the parakeets. Rather too many of the changes in birdlife in my time have had a deleterious effect on the soundscape. While the most beautiful of garden singers, the song thrush, has declined steeply, the magpies and crows have come into town, and their unlovely shouts and caws are the only sounds that can match the parakeets. Even the collared dove (another one I never dreamt would become common), a lovely bird and a delight to see, has a strange, unmusical, quite undovelike call. Generally, the more musical birds that have increased in numbers are the ones with the weakest voices - the goldfinch with its beautiful soft liquid burbling, the longtailed tit with its thin piping whistle. On the other hand, there are more blackcaps around, and they're overwintering now - but that's a fact that might lead us to another, less agreeable subject...