Monday, March 23, 2020

Totoro and Turaco

I was photographing the forget-me-nots, which are coming out now in the garden, when I found this white feather clinging to one of them. Probably from a pigeon, but pretty nonetheless.

After I wrote yesterday about walking on the Heath, I saw that there was quite a backlash to people being out in public over the weekend. Apparently some of the beachfront towns were quite crowded, and lots of people turned up on some parts of the Heath -- so many that the city has warned it will be closed if people cannot maintain distance. (For the record, I was on the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension, which must not have been as crowded as the main Heath, because I felt able to keep to the six-foot rule.)

Kew Gardens, which had initially said it would remain open for people who needed fresh air, has now closed for the foreseeable future. And Boris has said the UK may enact a tighter lockdown if needed.

Yesterday, Olga and I went to the cemetery and to Fortune Green. Again, we were mostly able to steer clear of people, although at one point a boy and a young woman approached me to pet the dog -- I didn't say anything but they were well within my safety zone. And there were kids on the playground equipment! A lot of people are either entirely ignorant of the rules or they're just not policing themselves.

I finally finished that infernal book about Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Although considered a great beauty -- and steeped in scandal throughout her public life, including being caught up in the Profumo Affair -- she seemed thoroughly shallow and boring. The book itself felt hastily written and had no flair. Thumbs down!

I'm not sure I mentioned this at the time, but Totoro -- our Japanese forest spirit -- got gnawed down from his tree sometime last fall. (I say gnawed because I'm virtually certain squirrels were the culprits.) He was unharmed but the little bead that served as his bell-ringer was missing.

It never did turn up. A couple of weeks ago I found a green glass (I think?) bead lying on the ground in the cemetery, and I thought it would be a perfect replacement -- and it is. Although nominally a bell, Totoro never really rings, so it's just for appearance's sake. I've now rehung Totoro in the garden so he can keep watch over things.

Remember the turaco? After it disappeared last fall, I assumed we'd never see or hear it again. Being a tropical bird, it is way out of its home range of East Africa, flying around here in England. Imagine my surprise when Olga and I went to the cemetery yesterday and heard it! It's back!

I made the video above so you could hear it too. The bird doesn't really repeat its call so quickly -- I edited out the 10- or 12-second pauses between each one. Very "Tarzan" sounding, isn't it? (Here's a video of one in captivity making the same call.)

I wonder if it ever left? Did it hunker down and quietly overwinter here in London, or has it been sunning itself in the treetops of Tanzania before migrating back? Maybe it's not lost at all -- maybe it actually belongs to someone who lives nearby and they allow it to fly free. So many questions I would ask that turaco, if I could.


  1. The way people have been disregarding precautions, we should have lockdown now. You and Olga would still be able to walk. The Western Isles are repelling incoming on the ferries apart from islanders.

  2. The green glass ball is a perfect complement to the totoro. Great find. I just played the bird video. Both cats came running into my office and their heads and eyes went in every direction. I worry that with the UK being so slow to enact stricter measures and take control of the spread of the virus, it will only extend the amount of time we all are either in lockdown or completely limiting our lives (and livelihoods). But who know where this will lead...

  3. What an amazing bird and how spiffing that you were able to identify it Steve*.

    * My brother-in-law was christened Steven and is known as Steve with a "v". But you sir, you were named Stephen with a "ph" in the middle so surely your name should be shortened to Steph. Perhaps we should all call you Steph from now on? The "ph" makes an "f" sound as in "photograph".

  4. It's really sad that folks can't listen to reason. Especially in a health crises. You and Olga be safe. That's quite an interesting bird, and very beautiful. Thank you for the videos, I've never seen this bird. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

  5. Well, as abnormal as things are right now, a tropical bird in the trees of London doesn't seem to weird.
    I read about how many people were in the parks in London and how it has become impossible to keep proper distance in some. I've also read that they're shutting down all the beaches near here, including the ones on Dog Island! This seems a bit strange in that if there are twenty people on the entire island I'd be shocked.

  6. so glad you found a suitable replacement bead for Totoro's bell even if it is mainly just for looks. I hope my granddaughters are being sensible and staying in. not too worried about one of them but a little about the other. it's pretty quiet in this town but then it always is. I'm still walking Minnie but we don't encounter anyone.

  7. There has been a bit of overcrowding in public place here in California as well. The beaches, dunes, and other trails have lots and lots of people trying to get out into the sunshine. Not sure how all of this is going to unfold, but we're learning one step at a time. Glad that you and Olga can find quiet places to walk and listen to that turaco calling. Stay safe and healthy there.

  8. Some people don't get social distancing. It's very beneficial to get out and walk but people have to use their heads.

  9. What an interesting sounding (and looking) bird. I can't imagine it living in London but then, the city really is a melting pot.
    I look a long walk around my neighborhood yesterday and I saw lots of people out and about but we all stayed away from each other. I did see one cute dog I would loved to have patted on the head but, I resisted the urge and kept my distance.

  10. The call of the turaco is so raspy it sounds like a dog barking.

  11. How cool is that? Has the ring necked parakeet reappeared in your garden? They're amazing survivors as well.

  12. Love the feather on the forget-me-not. I tried to take a similar photo the other day, but it was a much smaller feather on a weed and needless to say, it didn't make the cut. lol

    I've been walking again to try to strengthen my heart and lungs and lose weight - yesterday I was out for an hour and saw about six people. That's about normal for here anyway, but it brings home to me how uncrowded we are here and therefore how fortunate we are as well. All of those people I saw also kept a good distance away, switching to the other side of the street as they passed me and then switching back as they got far enough ahead. (Everyone walks faster than I do with my short stubby legs!) I would feel very unsafe with large crowds around. I'm not sure I would have wanted strangers patting a dog of mine - I imagine an animal can carry the virus on its coat for awhile, and people need the reinforcement from other folks that the six foot rule is a minimum, is a rule, and is serious. I do feel for children who are having to live through this. They may never get over the anxiety this is causing. In that way it was kind of you to not object to the attention Olga drew. It's hard to balance caution and humanity at this point but there could easily come a time when there is no legal choice to be made. Our provincial government has put significant fines in place for violation of the rules, both for individuals and businesses.

    Oh, hey! I'm writing a book in the comments! sorry :)

  13. Hello Steve, it's my first tie here and your blog and I love it! That Totoro garden figurine is just so cute, I am a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's works and I would have to say Totoro is one of the bests and truly made me a child again after watching it. I also love the clip you posted with the sound of the turaco which is bother very interesting and relaxing, I mean, relaxing if you were on a camping trip in the woods but I would definitely be scared if I hear that here in the city :)

    Wish you all the best out there in the UK, here in the Philippines the struggle has just been starting and we are currently on day 11 of our lockdown but the numbers are drastically rising due to lack of testing kits and corrupting the existing ones by our politicians (asymptomatic politicians and their household cut priority lines on the test kits even if there are a huge demand from symptomatic patients).

    Stay safe Steve and your loved ones!

    Cavite Daily Photo
    Stevenson Que Blog

  14. There is a lot of disregard for social distancing from what I have read today. Wales may close all their parks. There was a very long line of cars of people going to Snowdonia.
    Here in the U.S. spring break seems to know no boundaries. The young would rather drink and party. {I don't really agree with allowing all the liquor stores to stay open. Essential ? really?).
    It's lovely to see your garden coming into bloom.

  15. GZ: Ask and ye shall receive! I agree it was necessary. People were just flouting the rules.

    Mitchell: Well, we're all in this together now! I'm glad the turaco is entertaining for your cats. Olga always responds to the video as well, and it's weird, because she usually doesn't notice TV noises.

    YP: I have a friend in Florida who calls me "Steph" (pronounced Stef) but I think most people shorten Stephen to Steve. When I was a kid I hated the spelling of my name. Everyone used to mispronounce it.

    Edna: This is the only one I've seen too. Believe me, it's not normal to see one flying around in London.

    Ms Moon: They probably feel like they have to close them all -- otherwise people would move to the isolated ones. Although it takes some effort to get out to Dog Island, doesn't it?!

    Ellen: I would be so happy to walk the dog and not see a soul.

    Robin: I hope you're able to find quiet or isolated places for your own walks. It is important to get some outside time!

    Red: I think a lot of people are just completely oblivious.

    Sharon: Yeah, we're all warily circling each other these days!

    Catalyst: It's a very weird-sounding bird. Before I saw the turaco last summer I heard it and thought, "What on EARTH is that?!" That's what led me to spot it in the first place.

    Allison: Yeah, they're still around. Unlike the turaco, the parakeets are established in feral colonies. They're basically living here wild now. I think the poor turaco is all on his own.

    Jenny-O: You're right, I should have intervened when they moved to pet Olga. It all happened so fast and I was constrained by a desire not to be rude. I just didn't have time to think it through before it was happening. In any case, we've read that the virus degrades pretty quickly on soft surfaces like fabric or hair, so I doubt Olga could have picked up enough of it in that brief encounter to be infectious. (We were concerned enough to look it up!)

    Stevenson: Hello and welcome! Yes, Totoro is one of my favorite Miyazaki characters. We picked this one up in Shanghai when we visited there five or six years ago. I hope you are able to fend off this crisis in the Philippines. We don't have adequate testing either, although it seems famous and wealthy people somehow manage to get one. (Funniest thing.)

    Cheryl: Yeah, keeping liquor stores open does seem a bit of a stretch, although if people couldn't get their spirits there might well be rioting! (Seriously, I can imagine people are willing to give up a lot, but take away their favorite drink and they'll get cranky.)