Bankside Birds

July 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Learning Stuff | 1 Comment
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The early bird catches the worm, as they say. Normally I am not excellent at getting up – I would like to spring out of bed at the crack of dawn every day but I love my bed too much (a bit like George who sleeps in at the beginning of Treasure Island, and Five Get into Trouble). Today though – a Sunday no less – I got up at 6.15 to cycle to Southwark for an early morning walk as part of the London Festival of Architecture. The title of the event was ‘Birds of Bankside‘ and it was organised by architect Catherine du Toit and author, broadcaster and bird expert extraordinnaire, Peter Holden.

Catherine is one half of the architectural practice 51% Studios and their festival project, which ties in with the Bankside Urban Forest initiative, is Nestworks 1 2 3. This considers and responds to the way in which birds have adapted to, and live within, urban environments. As part of the Nestworks project, 51% Studios have come up with three different types of nesting box: blocks, boughs and bushes, which have been carefully placed in various green spaces around Southwark.

The walk started at the Union Street Urban Orchard where we were almost immediately treated to the sight of a female blackbird, who has nested under the railway arches near the site (and who was no doubt delighted when a whole orchard was constructed near by earlier this year), swooping down to feast on red cherries from one of the orchard trees. The orchard’s set of Nestworks boxes can be seen here (above right). These are grouped together like this for sparrows, who are sociable birds who like to live in little communities. Spot the nesting ‘bough’ (below left) produced for 51% Studios by Riverford Organics.

From the Union Street Orchard we went to All Hallows Church (bombed during the war so only a couple of archways remain) and then on to various public and community gardens including those arrayed around the old Marshalsea prison, made famous by Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, and Octavia Hill’s Red Cross Garden, near Borough High Street. Although Peter warned us not to expect large amounts of exotic birdlife, over the course of the two hour walk we were lucky enough to see and/or hear goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, house sparrows and great tits, magpies, blackbirds, starlings, robins and crows (plus the obligatory pigeons).

We ended up near Tate Modern where our final bird of the morning was a peregrine falcon, perching on the tower of the turbine hall.  Some London peregrine falcons nest in the Barbican and when their chicks are old enough, the adults fly about and come over to the Tate. For anyone interested in seeing these (which I would recommend), the RSPB annually set up a viewing station, which is operational from 17 July to 12 September.

This painting (right), by one of my favourite artists, Cedric Morris, was painted in 1942, incidentally the same year that Five on a Treaure Island was published. Peregrine falcons had a hard time during the Second World War – because they catch pigeons they were killed to prevent them stopping all-important messages being taken by carrier pigeon. Their numbers were further affected by the horror of DDT, depicted by Morris in c.1960’s Landscape of Shame. Since the 60s things have improved and there are now something like 1,042 pairs breeding in the UK, something that Jack and Philip Mannering of Blyton’s Adventure series would no doubt be pleased to hear.


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  1. […] as well as a fine array of fruit tress, it boasted some excellent avian action too (see my post on Bankside Birds). This time the planting and construction has been inspired by the medicinal, as the project […]

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