15th August 2022 – The Northumbrian Garden Parrot – Peter Brown

Peter Brown was a secondary school teacher. He stopped teaching in 2004.

As a child ‘I-Spy’ books introduced him to information about birds and then ‘The Observer Book of Birds’ extended his knowledge.  In 1959 his father, who was a policeman, was asked by a neighbour to deal with a ‘parrot’ that he had seen in his garden.  Peter went with him and was pleased to be able to identify the ‘parrot’ because the ‘Observer Book of Birds’ (Page 191) told him that it wasn’t a parrot but a Waxwing.

He became a keen birdwatcher and, using birthday money from his many relatives, bought some binoculars and, in his teenage years, went to the coast every weekend with his pals birdwatching.  In the bad winter of 1963/63 they brought home some oil-covered  guillemots and cleaned and fed them until they recovered.

By 1972 he had other interests, which curtailed his birdwatching.  He became interested in the music of Bob Dylan and others, and also in folk-dancing, and watching Newcastle United.  In the 6th form he got good A-levels and decided to apply to university but he wanted one which gave him access to Newcastle United’s away games, so he chose Sheffield, it having two teams and being fairly close to Derby, Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester etc.

Later he married and came to live in Millhouses and renewed his interest in birds in the park and nearby woods.  He found kingfishers, dippers, pied wagtails, long tailed tits, bullfinches and mistle thrushes breeding and, in the nearby lake at Abbeydale Hamlet, mandarins used to breed.  Sometimes rare birds turned up.

He began to contribute to different surveys:-   surveys of local bird populations, surveys of wetlands birds (Rother Valley) and of breeding birds of the Sheffield area. He also worked for the Bird Atlas.  All this work was voluntary.

Late in his teaching career he worked at Handsworth Grange school where he formed the Wildlife and Conservation Club.  This after-school club set about changing the large open areas of grass and playing fields into a greener woodland and wildflower area.  The club, assisted by several parents and colleagues, set about plantings trees on the fields where they didn’t encroach on the sports areas.  They had a target of 2,000  trees by Year 2000  but managed 3000 trees and also planted a 200 metre-long hedge.  The club won prizes which were used to buy binoculars etc.

Peter stopped teaching in 2004  but was soon head-hunted and was asked to work with junior school pupils. (He had never worked with this age range before and was nervous!) He already had binoculars and a mobile library so he introduced the pupils to birds and took them on trips.  He helped the classes to do research and  to open their own projects.  Each pupil had a notebook and he set them a homework project about bird watching and after 3 weeks the best notebooks won prizes.Then he was asked to work with nursery children.  He was terrified – but they loved him!

Peter’s daughter introduced him to ‘Munroe bagging’.  Munroes are Scottish mountains which are more than 3000 feet high.  Peter joined her and over many trips has managed to climb 50 of them. He has also been to the Andes, Ethiopa, Gibralter and Peru to study the different birds that live at these altitudes.   He has contributed articles to magazines and also published an autographical book entitled “The Northumbrian Garden Parrot”.

This was a very interesting, well-illustrated talk from Peter, who has spent a lifetime watching birds.