My latest monoprint series is entitled “There’s a parrot in my garden”. This is in part inspired by a true event a few years back, which I had forgotten about until I recently became interested in these exotic birds; we live in a sleepy Dorset market town, and for several weeks there was a flock of about 20 or 30 green parakeets making their home in the trees on the allotments directly opposite our house. A BBC news report from July 2004 states that the number of wild parrots living in England is rising at 30% each year, the birds often making their home in city suburbs. Our particular Dorset flock has since moved on, but it seems other areas of the country are still seeing plenty of parakeets living in the wild.
According to Jasper Copping in “The Telegraph” on 20th April 2014, nobody knows the truth about how these parakeets first appeared wild in the UK – could they have escaped from the set of Humphrey Bogart’s film “The African Queen”? Could they have bred from a single pair of parakeets released in Carnaby Street in the 1960s by rock star Jimi Hendrix? Were they liberated from a private collection during the Great Storm of 1987?
Copping highlights the ongoing “problem” of un-native parakeets and the impact this is having on our native bird population. It seems these birds are spreading across South East England and are threatening the numbers of our native wildlife – a similar situation to the impact of grey squirrels on the population of reds. According to recent research by the Imperial College London, the Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum which monitored the feeding habits of garden birds in the presence of parakeets, the parakeets aren’t aggressive in any way towards the smaller native birds, but their “gregarious” and noisy behaviour seem to make the smaller garden birds wary of feeding in their presence.
This phenomenon has, by and large, completely escaped my notice – apart from an interesting couple of weeks living opposite an allotment sounding more like a tropical rainforest – because these birds seem to congregate in city parks and gardens, rather than rural market towns! At the time of the cited newspaper reports, Britain had experienced some very mild winters. This climate probably assisted the birds’ survival in the wild, and the availability of food from humans in urban areas. We have had a few harsh winters in recent years, so I wonder how the parakeet population is faring nowadays.
I have just joined the mailing list on www.wildparakeetsuk.co.uk. This is Hazel Jackson’s PhD research programme, based at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. Hazel is aiming to reconstruct the genetic origin of these wild birds and identify patterns, as well as creating an up-to-date picture of where these birds can be found around the UK. She is asking for people to send in any parakeet feathers, so she can DNA samples using newly-developed laboratory techniques.
Why am I suddenly so interested in exotic birds, parrots in particular? Initially, it has to be said, I was drawn to the shape of the beak, having previously felt inspired to build a collagraph plate of an eagle. I portrayed my eagle in profile with the beak slightly open and I was pleased that I managed to capture the savage beauty of this magnificent bird in print through the use of collaged materials like PVA glue and carborundum grit! This led me to consider creating collagraph prints of other birds with hooked bills …..
Of course, browsing photographs of Scarlet Macaws on the internet, I was immediately struck by the colour of their plumage. Vivid colours always attract me! However, I think the parrot is also symbolic for me. Returning to the series of monoprints I mentioned at the very beginning, the title is a metaphor for an underlying “wanderlust” that is re-surfacing; after two decades of being the mother who provides a stable home, I now dream of escaping to exotic worlds! Not necessarily to the Amazonian Rainforest to see the parrots, but just travelling to another country with a completely different culture. I am looking for an experience that is as vivid as the Macaw’s plumage! The metaphorical “parrot in my garden” is just the appearance of something exotic and different in my world:
– Learning Mandarin, since September 2013
– Travelling to Beijing, China, in August 2015
I am enjoying my visual experimentation of the parrot motif in my monoprints and I want to expand the theme and incorporate an exciting new (for me anyway!) printmaking technique – cyanotype.