A great winter for geese in Greater Manchester

Pink-footed Goose, Rochdale Canal SSSI, Greater Manchester

(Photo thanks to Howard Wilkinson Photography)

The highlights of a great winter for rare and scarce geese in Greater Manchester include a Richardson’s Cackling Goose, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Brent Goose, Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Geese.

The Richardson’s Cackling Goose was present at Lightshaw Meadows and Pennington Flash and might still be present in Greater Manchester somewhere with a Canada Goose flock. This is potentially a first for Greater Manchester. It was first recorded on 2nd February 2021 at the Lightshaw Meadows Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve and on Sunday 7th February it gave birders a unique opportunity to photograph this mega rare bird at close range and learn more about the subtle identification features.

A few lucky birders managed to see a very elusive Greenland White-fronted Goose in early December 2020 on the mosslands on the Cheshire / Greater Manchester border with a flock of Pink-footed Geese. Decent numbers of this species were present on the mosslands in the winter, especially on the Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Little Woolden Moss.

A Pink-footed Goose seems to have been present in the Rochdale borough for most of the winter, first being reported in December 2020 at Slattocks on the Rochdale Canal and still present on 4th April. Sightings of probably the same bird in the Piethorne Valley and Hollingworth Lake in January and in flight at Hough Farm, Oldham on 2nd April. A Pink-footed Goose was present near Dunkirk Pond on Tameside on 31st January. A dark-bellied Brent Goose was present on Hollingworth Lake 3rd-5th March.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in from the north at Elton Reservoir on 14th October 2020. These birds were only seen in flight so it wasn’t possible to see if any of these birds were ringed. A Barnacle Goose on Roman Lakes, Marple, on 22nd March might be the same bird that was first reported on-site on 18th January 2011 – could it be celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary at this picturesque site in the Stockport borough ?

There is still time for one or two more Spring surprises… perhaps a twitchable European White-fronted Goose ?



Rare bird species sighted in Rochdale borough


Rare sighting sends Rochdale birdwatchers on wild goose chase


Richardson’s Cackling Goose, Lightshaw Flash Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, 2nd February


Richardson’s Cackling Goose, Lightshaw Flash Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, 3rd February 2021


Richardson’s Cackling Goose, Pennington Flash Country Park, 7th February 2021


Greenland White-fronted Goose on the mosses


Pink-footed Geese on the mosses

Twelve days of wild Christmas, day 10 – Northern Lapwing

On the tenth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,         

ten Lapwings leaping, nine Egrets hunting,                         

eight Kingfishers fishing, seven Swans a swimming,               

six Owls-a-hooting, five Peregrines, four Willow Tits,

three Red Grouse, two Turtle Doves

and a Grey Partridge flying free

Twelve days of wild Christmas – day 9, Little Egret

On the ninth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,         

nine Egrets hunting, eight Kingfishers fishing,                     

 seven Swans a swimming, six Owls-a-hooting,                       

five Peregrines, four Willow Tits, three Red Grouse,           

two Turtle Dove and a Grey Partridge flying free

The Greater Manchester Birding City Region (GMBCR) Project have selected the Little Egret to represent the Bury borough on the basis that Elton Reservoir is the premier site in the city region to see this species. On 27th December 2020 a birder reported an estimated a possible TEN present in the Elton Reservoir area via the manchesterbirding.com internet forum.



The Little Gem Of The Perfect Ten


Egrets fly in to save the Greater Manchester greenbelt


Rare birds highlight the importance of greenbelt land in Greater Manchester

Twelve days of wild Christmas, day 8 – Kingfisher

On the eighth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,                                                          

eight Kingfishers fishing, seven Swans a swimming,               

six Owls-a-hooting, five Peregrines, four Willow Tits,

three Red Grouse, two Turtle Doves

and a Grey Partridge flying free

“… hear the splashing of the Kingfisher…”

Pink Floyd “Grantchester Meadows”

The Greater Manchester Birding City Region (GMBCR) Project have selected the Kingfisher to represent the Bolton borough based on the Kingfisher Trail that runs through the borough connecting top wildlife sites such as Moses Gate Country Park and Leverhulme Park.

The Kingfisher is one of “The Perfect Ten” bird species, ten birds selected to represent each of the ten boroughs – the concept is similar to the designation of official “state birds” in the USA. “The Perfect Ten” works on a number of different levels – to stimulate civic pride and interest in the environment, and also for potential marketing and Natural Capital purposes such as Ecotourism.



The Kingfisher – the jewel of the Bolton borough


The Bolton News – Plans to create “Urban Greenheart”


New Kingfisher Trail to star one of Britain’s best loved birds

Twelve days of wild Christmas – day 7, Mute Swan

On the seventh day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,

seven Swans a swimming, six Owls-a-hooting,                      

five Peregrines, four Willow Tits, three Red Grouse,               

two Turtle Doves and a Grey Partridge flying free

The Greater Manchester Birding City Region (GMBCR) Project have selected the Mute Swan to represent the Salford borough as part of “The Perfect Ten” bird species.

The Mute Swan looks like it could be the first bird of “The Perfect Ten” to be officially approved at Council level as there is talk of a motion being put forward at Salford Council to this effect early in 2021, thanks to Councillor Lewis Nelson, the Salford Wildlife Champion and the Salford people’s grassroots support.



Mute Swan selected to represent the Salford borough


Grassroots support growing for the Mute Swan to be named the official bird of the Salford borough

Twelve days of wild Christmas, day 6 – Tawny Owl

On the sixth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,

six Owls-a-hooting, five Peregrines,

four Willow Tits, three Red Grouse,

two Turtle Doves and a Grey Partridge flying free

The Greater Manchester Birding City Region (GMBCR) Project have selected the Tawny Owl to represent the Oldham borough based on the following criteria – the heritage value and long-term association of the owl to the Oldham borough, and due to the fact that it is the most widespread of the owls present. Seeing any Owl usually involves good luck, knowledge and fieldcraft, but the Tawny Owl is the owl that you are most likely to see, or hear, in the Oldham borough.

Daisy Nook Country Park and Tandle Hill Country Park are good sites to connect with this species, but they can frequent any park or garden in the borough, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look and/or being in the right place at the right time.

The GMBCR Project have created a term, OWLs – standing for Oldham Wildlife Locations – for listing the best places to look for wildlife in the borough. Oldham could potentially independently start to designate it’s own sites of wildlife importance using this acronym system, contributing towards the Council’s ambitions to be the greenest borough in Greater Manchester.



OWLs – Oldham Wildlife Locations


The Oldham Times – Tawny Owl puts James Walsh in the Oldham 100 Club


Tawny Owl – the superstar bird of the Oldham borough

Twelve days of wild Christmas – day 5, Peregrine Falcon

On the fifth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,

five Peregrines,

four Willow Tits, three Red Grouse, two Turtle Doves

and a Grey Partridge flying free

The Greater Manchester Birding City Region Project suggest that the Natural Capital value of Peregrine Falcons is vastly under-estimated in Greater Manchester, particularly in regards to Ecotourism – how much could Peregrine Falcons bring in to the city region economy if managed appropriately in a sensitive and constructive manner ?

Do Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital estimates include what Peregrines do for our economy ? In terms of tourism and natural pest control ? Do we have any estimates on what the potential economic benefits could be in the future ? Especially in regards to Peregrine Falcons being natural Feral Pigeon population regulators.

Peregrine Falcon photos thanks to Steve Burke



Peregrine Falcon chosen to represent the Rochdale borough

The Twelve Days of wild Christmas – day 4, Willow Tit

On the fourth day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,

four Willow Tits, three Red Grouse, two Turtle Doves

and a Grey Partridge flying free

The Willow Tit represents the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, 2021-2030, and the bid for Wigan to become Greater Manchester’s first NNR – National Nature Reserve.

The Willow Tit is the superstar bird of Greater Manchester, and, specifically, the Wigan borough. Salford and Trafford are also very important boroughs for this species. Greater Manchester is a stronghold for this unique, habitat specialist on an international scale.

  The Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) shares the same genus, Poecile, as seven species of the, perhaps, slightly more glamourous sounding Chickadee in North America. In the USA, the Chickadee is the official state bird for Massachussets and Maine. Disco music fans might have heard the Chickadee namechecked in the Jackson Five’s “Rockin’ Robin”…



GMBCR Project look ahead with 2020 Vision to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration


The Willow Tit – the superstar bird of the Wigan borough


GMBCR Project support Wigan National Nature Reserve


Star Tribune – Chickadee article

Twelve days of wild Christmas, day 3 – Red Grouse

On the third day of Christmas,

my true love sent to me,

three Red Grouse, two Turtle Doves

and a Grey Partridge flying free

  On the third day of Christmas, “The Perfect Ten” bird species start to show in the GMBCR Project’s alternative “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol…

  We have started up on the moorlands with the famous Red Grouse representing Tameside. This is a very hardy bird of the uplands that manages to survive in the harshest winter conditions. The Red Grouse connects the Celtic Isles of Britain and Ireland as it can be found in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Red Grouse has the potential to be the official national bird of the UK.

  The Red Grouse is perhaps not a bird that most people would associate with a city region. However, we are lucky in Greater Manchester to have some amazing upland and moorland habitats on Tameside and in the Oldham, Rochdale, Bury and Bolton boroughs. The best sites to look for Red Grouse in Greater Manchester are Stalybridge Country Park (Tameside), Dove Stones RSPB Reserve (Oldham) and Winter Hill / Horwich Moors (Bolton).

Dove Stones RSPB Reserve, Oldham, Greater Manchester


Keep The Red Grouse Flying – James Walsh


Tameside’s Famous Grouse

Birders all shook up on Hooded Mergansers

Priscilla, the female Hooded Merganser, Christchurch Park, Suffolk, March 2020 (Photo: @SwallowBirding)

James Walsh, aka The Mancunian Birder dons his “Duck Detective” hat and takes a festive look at the flamboyant Hooded Merganser…

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Elvis, the drake Hooded Merganser, Alderman East Canal, Suffolk, November 2020 (photo: @RyanPDeal)

Elvis, the drake Hooded Merganser, in Suffolk seems to be having a lonesome “Blue Christmas” on the wild west side of Ipswich, at Alderman Park along the Alderman East Canal, as it seems that Priscilla may have moved up the coast…

Photo of Elvis showing the bird’s yellowish plastic leg ring (photo: Carly Welsh)

This isn’t an American trilogy – neither of these birds has experienced the Kentucky rain! Elvis has a yellow(ish) ring that suggests that he is an escape / release from a collection / zoo. Ipswich Council placed Priscilla, the female Hooded Merganser, on the Wilderness Pond in Christchurch Park on Valentine’s Day 2020.

However, on Boxing Day, Saturday 26th December 2020 a female Hooded Merganser was on Staverton Pools  –  this time the girl has stayed for more than just a day and she is still present for a 3rd day and making the national rare bird headlines… suspicious minds suspect that this bird might be Priscilla… perhaps wandering due to getting no attention from Elvis ?!

Elvis, the drake Hooded Merganser, and his groupie entourage! (Photos: ESBR_Essex)

Elvis seems to be a bit of a hound dog – chasing around the local Mallards – and who knows who his latest flame is ? Could Elvis and Priscilla patch it up ?

The Suffolk birding scene’s most intriguing soap opera started when Elvis first arrived in the county in 2018 on the Blyth Estuary. Elvis, now in his 3rd year in the county, made the Ipswich Star and national bird headlines when he was found waddling around a cosmetics shop in the ghetto of Ipswich…

To add to the confusion a female Hooded Merganser, sporting a green ring was present at Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, 31st October – 1st November 2020…


The Hooded Mergansers status in the UK is becoming ever more complex this century with perhaps more genuine vagrants arriving from North America and increasing numbers of escaped / released birds at large.

The importance of full documentation is key – many of the wandering escaped / released birds show very obvious signs of previously being in captivity, such as plastic leg rings.


There are three records of potentially wild Hooded Mergansers in East Anglia, all from the same area of North Norfolk coast.

Female, Titchwell / Holme, 2nd – 15th June 1990

Female, Holme / Titchwell, 25th January to 10th April 1997 (photo: @Vaasetter)

A drake flew west past Titchwell on 17th September 2019 and presumably the same was on the nature reserve on 12th October 2019.

It would be great if there was a little less conversation and a little more action from the relevant birding authorities on the acceptance of these records…



Female Hooded Merganser, Staverton near Boyton, Suffolk, 26th November 2020


Ipswich Star – Rare bird has found it’s own McDonalds in Christchurch Park


How the Hooded Merganser sparked a love of birds


Ipswich Star – Valentine’s Day Love Duck


Mancunian Birder – Hug A Hoody


Mancunian Birder – All Good In The Hood