Undocumented migrants


The temperature is 2C as I write, and brightening up my very urban and fairly monochrome London backyard…


… there be parrots.P1160959P1170054


Londoners may not be surprised, but the rest of you probably associate London with pigeons, not parrots. This pigeon-toed pigeon is looking down on these foreign arrivistes in quivering disbelief, if not affront:


The bright green invading hordes are Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri manillensis), and there are many theories as to how they arrived in England from India, but they are now very well established in London and the South East. They have been breeding in England since 1969, and the latest count had 8600 breeding pairs. Read this if you would like more background:


They travel in noisy flocks, sometimes hundreds strong:


and perch or preen on anything tall, including TV antennae.


At this time of year they are pairing off:



I photographed all these from our fourth-floor balcony, as they preened to fluff up their plumage for our Northern climes.



PS: They are also called Rosy-necked Parakeets, here’s why:


And I am thrilled they have come to live in my city.











In the deep midwinter..

In the last few days we have watched the pristine beauty of an icestorm on Christmas Eve, followed by six inches of fresh powdery snow on Christmas morning.

And through the deep deep freeze life goes on. Our new granddaughter Ellie arrived today, 8lbs 3oz and a lot of black hair!

Japanese maple bud encased in ice after an ice storm on Christmas Eve in Carlisle, Mass


Red and white…

The scarlets and vermilions of these Ecuadorian cloud forest wildflowers eclipse any poinsettias in my local shops.

Or these:

Or these:

But our colder Christmas surroundings bring snow and frost, with a different whiter beauty.





And so enjoy this time to remember old and true friends, and reach out to new ones.


Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Two toucans too..

Ecuador has five or six proper toucans: they are my kind of bird, being large and grand and brightly colored, so even I can see them.  Most are sub-tropical, but some are montane species living in the Andes cloud forests on the Western slopes, like my first one.

This male Plate-billed Mountain Toucan was perched on a branch near his nest, and inside the nest hole his mate was sitting on their eggs.  We thought he had brought food to sustain his lady-love, but eventually he selfishly ate this himself. The huge beak has serrated ‘teeth’, but despite this vicious-looking piece of machinery they are mainly fruit-eaters, supplemented by only occasional insects and lizards.

Plate-billed Toucan

The nest is in a perfectly round hole in a tree, and the female was not visible, although the guides said they had seen her.


These are birds that really shouldn’t be able to fly: their bills are enormous, and they look ludicrously unbalanced. The mystery was solved for me a few years ago in Brazil, where my lodge had a toucan’s bill on display. It turns out they are extremely light, being made of bony struts filled with a spongy keratin-like material. The photo below shows off his fine wings, which must help manage that beak in flight.

Plate-billed Toucan

My other toucans were Black-mandibled Toucans, also known as Yellow-throated Toucans, living in the sub-tropical Sumaco area on the Eastern slopes, in a large fruiting tree near my lodge:


They have bright blue feet, and flashes of red on the vent.

Yellow-throated Toucan

This one was part of a devoted pair, who spent long periods sidling up to each other, and taking turns grooming each other surprisingly delicately with those gigantic beaks.

Yellow-throated ToucanYellow-throated Toucan

A final check:

Yellow-throated Toucan

And time to pose for their portrait.


P1150243(In breeding season, pairs separate out from the larger flocks in which they mainly live.)





(Monty) Python

Spoiler alert:  Vegetarians should stop reading now!

Out one night with a flashlight, we came across this slender, elegant snake on a tree trunk, enjoying a late-night snack:

Common Blunthead eating lizard
Common Blunthead eating lizard

From this angle, the poor lizard has a disconcertingly human sacrificial appearance.

More dramatically, we were on the Napo River in a small boat watching flocks of parrots on a clay-lick, when the guides suddenly became very excited, pointing at the trees in the top right-hand corner of this photo:

Salt lick where parrots come.  In top right hand corner we also saw a boa.

None of us could see anything, but after some considerable time they calmed down enough to explain that a very large python was draped among the creepers, and it had caught a parrot. So, here are two photos taken twenty minutes apart, at a considerable distance, and from a rocking skiff,  of the cruel constrictor.

In the first one, the poor parrot is being slowly asphyxiated.

Boa constrictor strangling and eating a parrot

And in this second one, it is halfway down (actually, up) the snake’s gullet, beak first (which you would have thought might be rather painful, but then feet first wouldn’t be great either).

Boa constrictor strangling and eating a parrot

A genuine ex-parrot. (Credit: Monty Python).

A Red-tailed Boa, by the way, can get big enough to eat a deer, so a mere parrot doesn’t have much chance.

To cheer you up, here are the ones that got away.

Blue-headed parrots and Dusky-headed paraqueets
Blue-headed parrots and Dusky-headed paraqeets
Yellow-crowned parrots and Mealy Amazon Parrots
Yellow-crowned parrots and Mealy Amazon Parrots

Yellow-crowned parrots and Mealy Amazon Parrots

Feathered cows and orange sock-puppets

Ecuador hosts other remarkable birds in addition to hummingbirds. I’m saving toucans till later, but here are two you might enjoy.

The Hoatzin is a prehistoric-looking creature, seen all over the place near Napo Wildlife Lodge in the Amazon basin. Known locally as the Stinky Turkey, it eats only leaves, and so its digestive system is rather like that of the cow. The enzymes in its crop that help with this task mean it emits a nasty smell if cooked (hence its name) so it thrives unmolested by hungry humans. Their nests overhang slow-moving water, and then if a nestling is threatened it falls in, swims to the water’s edge, and climbs back up to the nest with special hooks on its wings.




The Andean Cock-of-the-rock lives at higher elevations, between 1000 and 2000 meters in the slopes of the Andes. The male’s head and neck are resplendently scarlet on the Western slopes, and tangerine on the Eastern slopes, both with a black and silver body and wings. The feathers of its crest and face completely envelop its beak, so from the neck up it looks like a fuzzy sock with stick-on eyes.

Cock-of-the Rock, orange variant on Eastern slope of Andes


Cock-of-the Rock, orange variant on Eastern slope of Andes

The male does a spectacular display in the lek, but sadly I didn’t see this. They are otherwise shy and hard to see, but I got a good look at this one on the Eastern slopes at Wild Sumaco lodge.