James Walsh, ecologist / author / journalist and veteran of three Greater Manchester Green Summits asks “Can we now build a progressive plan for people and the environment in Greater Manchester ?”
I’m writing this on Day 4 of the virtual Green Summit, 24th September 2020. Once again, we have seen some of the great work that Councils, organisations, businesses and individuals are doing for the environment in Greater Manchester.
Some boroughs are moving forward at real pace – Salford and Oldham, in particular, are pioneers. Despite being the most industrialised of the Greater Manchester boroughs, Salford and Oldham are leaders on creating new areas for wildlife to thrive such as Salford Wetlands and Northern Roots.
However, in my opinion, there is still a disconnect. I would say that a majority of people in Greater Manchester still have no idea about the aspiration to be a world-leading Green City Region, or what that even means in real terms.
What does a “world-leading Green City Region” look like ? And how do we know if, and when, we can claim this grand sounding title ?
How can we communicate to the general public, embrace the passion of the Save The Greenbelt movement and really value our Natural Capital ? How can we maximise the new interest in wildlife and the environment ? How can this be reflected in real terms in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework ?
Can we put everything together and collectively demand and achieve a real Green New Deal for the Greater Manchester city region ? Can the Perfect Ten bird species be utilised to unify the boroughs ?
Much work is being done in terms of planting trees, but more work is required to protect and restore some of our most important habitats, the mosslands and the moorlands.
Farmlands are also an area that need special attention, especially in relation to key species such as Skylark, Grey Partridge, Yellowhammer, Northern Lapwing, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting.
David Attenborough recently brought the issue of extinction to the fore, and we need to understand that the tragedy of extinction isn’t just happening in areas of the globe such as Africa, South America and Asia.
Ecologists are already seeing worrying species decline happening here, for example the Turtle Dove is now extinct as a breeding species in Greater Manchester. This pretty summer migrant would once have been a common sight on our mosslands and farmlands.
We therefore urgently need big investment in ecology, and, in particular, species population monitoring. It isn’t sustainable to only have five paid, full-time ecologists monitoring species populations in a city region as huge as Greater Manchester!
Looking to the future on a very positive note, the Greater Manchester Birding City Region Project have made the application to be a formal partner of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. This project could be the key to saving the planet in the forthcoming decade, 2021-2030. This has to be the time that we turn things around!
Planning has also already started for the wonderful Manchester Festival of Nature 2021, Sunday 27th June, insects are the theme and the organisers are inviting you to float like a butterfly and buzz like a bee…
Ecotourism, and in particular, domestic Ecotourism is a new industry just waiting to happen in the North. Greater Manchester has the potential to be really at the forefront of this new industry. To capitalise we need vision and investment to nurture nature and increase infrastructure and enterprise.
It is high time that Ecotourism prospects are integrated into our Natural Capital models, and the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
The way we live our lives is changing rapidly. The tourism and marketing industries are having to adapt to the promotion of outdoor activities that can be done safely in solitude or small groups. There is a reduction in people using aviation to travel, both through choice and necessity. The “staycation” market is on the rise. Interest in the natural world is at an all-time high. All roads lead, on bicycle, to domestic Ecotourism.
Ecotourism can be birding, wildlife photography, looking at renewable energy, or any number of environmental learning activities integrated into a sustainable tour programme. “The Perfect Ten” bird species have been selected to highlight and represent the Ecotourism potential of Greater Manchester.
At a business breakfast event recently in Manchester, I asked Richard Leese about the Ecotourism potential of Greater Manchester in business terms. From the answer it was clear that Ecotourism wasn’t even being thought about as part of a business strategy for Greater Manchester.
In fact, the question of Ecotourism as a business strategy in Greater Manchester seems to bamboozle, even at the Natural Capital events.
At the European Green Cities Conference in Manchester in March 2019 I asked Ian Dickie (EFTEC), one of the co-authors of the Greater Manchester Natural Capital Plan, if Ecotourism was factored into the modelling of the plan and the answer was “No, Ecotourism wasn’t considered as a factor.”
However, subsequent to this event, EFTEC were one of the co-authors of the “Ecosystem Contribution to Tourism and Outdoor Leisure” report.
So, my question to the environmental and business community in Greater Manchester is “How much could Ecotourism actually add onto the Natural Capital value of Greater Manchester ?”
“Have you seen the Perfect Ten ?”, is the question that the Greater Manchester Birding City Region Project are asking to Greater Manchester residents and visitors.
The Greater Manchester Birding City Region Project are promoting “The Perfect Ten” as part of the third Greater Manchester Green Summit, taking place online from Monday 21st – Thursday 24th September.
James Walsh, aka The Mancunian Birder, one of the originators of the GMBCR Project says “For this years’ Green Summit our theme is “The Perfect Ten”, ten bird species selected to represent each of the ten boroughs.”
“At the inaugural Greater Manchester Green Summit in March 2018 we launched the GMBCR Project at Manchester Central. At the Green Summit in March 2019 at The Lowry on Salford Quays we highlighted the Eco-Tourism potential of Greater Manchester with a tour around the docklands to see birds such as Peregrine Falcons. This year we are highlighting the amazing birdlife present in all the boroughs.”
Shaun Hargreaves of the GMBCR Project says “We launched the “Perfect Ten” film at the virtual Manchester Festival of Nature in June to critical acclaim on social media.
Now that we have put Greater Manchester on the map, we are now promoting “The Perfect Ten” film to all the Greater Manchester councils, media and marketing agencies.
Collectively, the GMBCR Project have spent many years researching the environment and birdlife of Greater Manchester and we have carefully selected the ten bird species that best represent each borough.
From the serene Mute Swan in Salford, to the beautiful Northern Lapwing in Trafford, the colourful Rose-ringed Parakeet in Manchester, the stunning Kingfisher in Bolton, the elegant Little Egret in Bury, the pretty Mandarin Duck in Stockport, the superstar Willow Tit in Wigan, the powerful Peregrine in Rochdale, the wise Oldham Tawny Owl, to the picturesque Red Grouse on Tameside, the Greater Manchester city region has world-class birdlife.”
The virtual Greater Manchester Green Summit 2020 takes place online from Monday 21st – 24th September.
James Walsh, aka The Mancunian Birder, talks about a Spring day in the Stockport borough cycling and birding, recording a total of 65 bird species, giving readers a glimpse into what you can see in just one day in Stockport.
I’ve named the Stockport borough the “Far East” of Greater Manchester, and, at 5:30am, upon our arrival, Etherow Country Park felt more like the foothills of the Himalayas than a City Region in the North of England! It was freezing cold, with steam atmospherically pouring off the surface of the reservoirs and river.
The “Birding Stockport” symbol, the Mandarin Duck, the Greater Manchester Birding City Region project selection to represent the borough of Stockport, greeted us on the North Reservoir. Three of these amazingly colourful ducks, two males and a female, displayed in the early morning sunlight. This species was a big feature of the day, with up to 20 seen around the Country Park, a pair on the River Goyt adjacent to Roman Lakes and three (2 drakes and a female) on Reddish Vale Country Park mill ponds.
Dipper and Bullfinch were seen along the river, with Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Grey Heron and Cormorant on Keg Pool.
Two singing male Reed Bunting were on the marshes, a Raven was heard “cronking” and a Buzzard flew through, one of several seen throughout the day at Etherow Country Park and Ludworth Moor. Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen in the trees.
Etherow Country Park is a great place to experience the dawn chorus, with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler amongst the summer migrant songsters. The sun really began to shine on Sunny Corner and we warmed up listening to natures symphony.
The first Swallows of the day were seen around the farm, a Kingfisher dashed through, appropriately near to the Kingfisher sculpture, and Siskin was heard in Ernocroft Wood as we made the ascent to Ludworth.
On Ludworth Moor, the views of Greater Manchester were stunning and we saw some great new birds such as Northern Lapwing, Stock Dove, Swift, Linnet, Kestrel, Rook and Mistle Thrush. The highlight was quality views of Lesser Redpoll on Sandhill Lane.
We made our way towards Marple on Smithy Lane, Hollywood Road and then a detour along footpath 467. On Roman Lakes Great Crested Grebe were looking magnificent and a troupe of House Martins overhead.
At Stockport Hydro, a Grey Wagtail had a beak-full of food. Raptors seen in this area included Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. Along cycleway 55 a singing male Whitethroat, plus a Swift and good numbers of hirundines. It was great to complete the day watching the Sand Martin colony buzzing along the River Mersey.
James Walsh, aka The Mancunian Birder, previews the upcoming, third Greater Manchester Green Summit. Due to health and safety reasons it is a virtual summit taking place online from Monday 21st – 24th September.
I wholeheartedly support the aim of Greater Manchester becoming a world-leading “Green City Region”. I do believe that it is definitely achievable, but we have a long way to go!
I think it’s fair to say that Greater Manchester is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and capitalism. Therefore, we have a certain responsibility on a global scale to be a beacon of light, a shining example to the rest of the world, especially as we boast “that what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow” and that “we do things differently here.”
Now is the time for Greater Manchester to step up and prove it. It’s time to do the business. People are more aware of the environment, events this year have seen a surge in interest in wildlife. In turn, this could lead to a nature renaissance in Greater Manchester.
The Green City Region e-newsletter for August 2020 talks of a “Green Recovery”, and there is growing enthusiasm for a Green New Deal.
So what could a “green economic recovery” look like in Greater Manchester ? The first “green-shoots” are Oldham Council passing official motions this year to become the UKs’ first Green New Deal borough.
For Greater Manchester to become a world-leading Green City Region, in my opinion, requires a shared vision and a co-ordinated strategy. My suggestion for a title for such a project is PLAN BEE.
The bee is an internationally known symbol for the Greater Manchester City Region. The bee is on our civic artwork, it’s a symbol that is on t-shirts and hats in clothes shops, our cycling network is called The Bee, radio stations such as the new Buzz Radio Manchester use bee imagery and the Manchester Festival of Nature has the bee as it’s focal-point.
Essentially, in my opinion, any City Region plan should have bee habitat at it’s heart. Taking care of the birds and the bees could have a huge amount of benefits for Greater Manchester residents in terms of Eco-Tourism, agricultural and health benefits.
PLAN BEE and the PERFECT TEN bird species potentially gives us a platform to unite the boroughs through connecting people with nature.
A GREATER MANCHESTER PLAN BEE could potentially incorporate the “Jobs of the Future” such as Eco-Tourism, renewable energy, rainwater harvesting, creation and management of nature reserves, permaculture and sustainable agriculture.
The virtual Greater Manchester Green Summit 2020 is online from Monday 21st – Thursday 24th September.
The weather throughout the trip was excellent – typical Southern African winter conditions of very cool nights, no rain and hot sunny days.
Currency: In Botswana – Pula, in Zambia – Kwacha, US dollars, Sterling and South African Rand widely acceptable
Safety: Northern Botswana is a malarial area so prophylactics advised (Malarone on private prescription), however we did not see a mosquito at this time of year as it was too cold. Obviously there are a number of large animals and everyone travelling through the area is advised to take the utmost care when on safari, especially keeping in your tent at night ! Overrall, it was a pleasure to be in this area of the world.
Special thanks to Samson “Sammie” Obitseng (freelance Botswana Eco tour guide), fellow travellers Jan Colett and Roger Burrows (writer for African Conservation Foundation/Wild Dogs expert) and mobile safari campsite/catering staff – Enoch, Barobi and Legkowa.
DAY 1 (2nd June) MOTSENTSALA TREE LODGE, MAUN, BOTSWANA
On arrival in Maun we transfered to the very pleasant and superbly designed Motsentsala Tree Lodge. The environs here are an “enclosed” reserve that includes 2 nature trails. There are no big cats on the land so it is safe to walk the trails without a guide.
The afternoon was quiet but included a stunning Crimson Breasted Shrike, singing Bearded Scrub Robin, the “Nuthatch-a-like” Long-billed Crombec, and a small flock of confiding White-browed Sparrow Weavers, aswell as Eland and Zebra.
DAYS 2-4 (3rd-5th June) MOREMI GAME RESERVE, BOTSWANA
Early morning nature trail walk around Motsentsala saw many feeding flocks of passerines including Golden-Tailed and Bearded Woodpecker, Black-backed Puffback, White-Crested Helmet Shrike, Orange Breasted Bush Shrike, Black Faced Waxbill and Chinspot Batis.
In Maun we met our guide, Samson (aka Sammie) Obitseng, and after a brief transport debacle a trek worthy safari vehicle was sorted out and we made our way into the Moremi Game Reserve, having first encounters with Elephant, Giraffe, Impala, Kori Bustard, Brown Snake Eagle, Saddle Billed and Yellow Billed Storks, Bataleur, Lilac Breasted Roller (the national bird of Botswana), Southern Ground Hornbill, Blacksmith Lapwing, Nile Crocodile and African Jacana.
In Moremi we had our first night camping, the camp site was full of wild life with birds such as Green Wood Hoopoe, Crested Barbet and Black Shouldered Kite, while Spotted Hyena, Lions and Elephants were heard at night (some very close!) under a perfect sky.
On Day 3 we took a river trip on the Okavango Delta, seeing White Breasted Cormorant and Dickinsons Kestrel on the way to the boat mooring area. The rarest bird of the river trip was the Slaty Egret, a species found only on the Okavango Delta/Zambezi River, other excellent sightings were Rufous Bellied Heron, Yellow Billed Pintail, Black Crake and fishing Malachite Kingfishers watched at close quarters. Raptors were seen on the Delta; stunning views of African Fish Eagle, and a passing African Marsh Harrier, passerines were represented by Cape Wagtail, African Stonechat and Red Faced Mousebird, and proud parents included Saddle Billed Stork (2 nests both with young in) and a pair of African Pygmy Goose with pygmy goslings ! Several Languanas (Water Monitor Lizards) sunbathed on the banks and 2 Elephant crossed the river as we watched from only a few yards distance.
Evening bird sightings included Bennetts and Cardinal Woodpecker and African Green Pigeon, whilst a pride of lions had been found and we had views of them sunbathing in the afternoon and then all 8 adults (2 males and 6 females) at very close quarters (as close as 2 yards from the vehicle) in the evening. Just one of many sensational experiences during the trip.
In the early morning of Day 4 the pride of Lions plus 5 cubs were located. The cubs were 2 aged around 2 months and 3 aged approximately 3 months. Sammie informed us that these would certainly be the offspring of the 2 males otherwise they would not be accepted into this pride. Once again we had awesome views of Lions as they walked next to us.
Moments later, news came through that a male Leopard was being watched nearby. We arrived to find a poser lying in the grass, “preening” post meal (a small kill). After a few minutes he strolled around, leapt over a stream, found another small meal of Francolin eggs and then began hunting again.
The marshes and watering holes produced Hadeda Ibis, African Openbill and Kalahari Scrub-Robin, plus a Grey Headed Kingfisher perched on a termite mound.
DAYS 5-6 (6th-7th June) KHWAI COMMUNITY AREA, BOTSWANA
On the way to Khwai a series of small pools and marshes held Hammerkop, a male Painted Snipe and 2 Wattled Cranes, and more raptors included Tawny Eagle and Hooded Vulture. A change to sandier more open habitat was reflected in the species – Namaqua Doves, Red-crested Korhaan and Sammie did well to swerve past 2 tiny, newly hatched Double Banded Sandgrouse chicks on the sandy track.
The Khwai Community Area was fairly quiet due to it being a hunting zone but the area around the river and campsite was excellent for owls with sightings of African Barred Owlet, Pearl Spotted Owlet and African Wood Owl.
DAYS 7-9 (8th-10th June) SAVUTI, BOTSWANA
Day 7 and the drive to Savuti was certainly a memorable one……almost unbelievably a pack of 14 African Wild Dogs, including a pregnant female, were sighted by the river, as they nervously attempted to find a safe place to cross. It took them a while to find a crocodile-free crossing area which gave us over an hour of close views. Whilst watching, a huge Lappet Faced Vulture flew over the river completing an amazing scene !
More raptors were seen as the terrain became more open including Lanner Falcon, Black Chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Martial Eagle, White Headed Vulture, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk and a Steppe Eagle at a nest.
The watering holes at Savuti were areas of constant motion with birds flying in and out to drink and bathe – Namaqua Sandgrouse, Capped Wheatear, Red-capped Lark and even a Kittlitzs Plover – and Elephants and Giraffes drinking here, mainly in the evenings. Passerines in this area included the subtle Bradfields Hornbill, Southern White-Crowned Shrikes and, one of the birds of the trip – a stunning male Long Tailed Paradise Wydah.
Verreaux’s Great Eagle Owl
Other birds that could not be missed were Secretarybird, Ostrich, Northern Black Korhaan, Kori Bustard and a superb Verreauxs Great Eagle Owl sat out in the open at dusk (thanks to Sammie for the mission to see this one).
Another superb evening sighting were 2 Cheetahs that occasionally gave good views as they wandered warily and stealthily around an area of dense undergrowth and long grass. To cap off the Savuti experience 4 African Wild Dogs were seen trotting along the Savuti Channel near the rock painting site.
DAYS 10-11 (11th-12th June) CHOBE RIVER, BOTSWANA
A flock of Pratincoles hawked insects high over the Chobe River (too high for identification), before an unscheduled stay @ Toro river lodge due to a support vehicle failure. This proved good for the bird list as we saw Lesser Moorhen in the reeds, and White-browed Coucal, Lesser Striped Swallow and White-fronted Bee-eater on the lawn !
The Chobe River is well documented as a wildlife haven and the boat trip here must be comparable with world class river trips such as the Okavango and the Daintree. A Lioness lazily chased a herd of Kudu, we had rare sightings of Sable Antelope and Bushbuck, 200+ Elephant lined the river banks which also hosted White-fronted Bee-eater, Brown-throated Martin and Pied Kingfisher nesting holes, as well as African Skimmer, Water Dikkop and Comb Duck.
Our stay at Chobe was all too brief but just before we left we passed by a huge flock of several hundred Buffalo, another (or the same?) Sable Antelope and a tail wagging Buffy Pipit.
DAYS 12-15 (13th-16th June) VICTORIA FALLS, ZAMBIA
A Wire-tailed Swallow flew over the Zambezi as we made the border crossing into Zambia onto our last destination of the trip – Victoria Falls, where a Red-capped Robin-Chat was found in the undergrowth by the spectacular waterfalls.
Zebras on the lawn of the hotel – the Zambezi Sun – looked incongruous and the Nature Trail here was superb: a male Southern Brown Throated Weaver in the small reedbed, 3 species of Kingfisher on the pond (pair of Brown Hooded, pair of Giant and a Pied), and a number of passerines in small feeding flocks including Tropical Boubou, Grey Headed Bush Shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul and Red Winged Starling.
A tourist cruise on the Zambezi onboard the African Princess saw Water Dikkop, Giant Kingfisher and 26 Trumpeter Hornbill and perhaps the same flock early the next morning by Victoria Falls.
Overall, a really quality trip and an awesome experience, especially seeing “The Big Five” and some amazing birds – I really can’t rate this safari highly enough.
The mythicalGurney’s Pitta (Artwork thanks to Tony Disley, In Focus)
PITTA SWEET SYMPHONY – an epic journey in 1998 to the Asian rainforest to see the mythical Gurney’s Pitta, one of the rarest birds on the planet.
In the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration can humanity save this beautiful bird species ?
“The crisp rustling of the leaves behind the thick Pandanus vegetation was the first indication that the bird was there. The intense humidity in the gully added to the tension as I gently raised my head to a gap in the rattan palms. Peering through, I fixed my eyes on a dumpy, thrush-sized shape feeding vigorously among the leaf litter. Then, after very carefully lifting my binoculars, my suspicions were confirmed as I was dazzled – golden yellow gorget and flanks, deep iridescent blue crown, nape and tail, black face mask – it was a male Gurney’s Pitta, the climax of my first trip to Asia.”
In March and April 1998 I birded in Malaysia and Thailand, around breath-taking mountains, dense jungle, waterlily-covered lakes, mangroves and warm, emerald seas lapping on golden beaches. These culturally diverse and inexpensive countries produced a trip list of 350+ species, many of them concentrated in select areas of rainforest. A total of seven species of Pitta were recorded on the trip – Gurney’s, Banded, Blue-winged, Garnet, Hooded, Rusty-naped and Mangrove.
Also on this birding trip were Howard “Fred” Fearn, Lawrence Pitcher and Jonathan Williams.
The best way to describe the journey would be David Attenborough on safari meets Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Beach”. The hand drawn maps that accompany this article actually look like the famous map in the film!
In Malaysia, a country formed as recently as 1955 from the former British colonies of Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah, our efforts were concentrated on Fraser’s Hill, an old colonial hill station, and Taman Negara – perhaps the oldest jungle in the world, and at 4,343 square kilometres, the largest protected area of primary rainforest on peninsular Malaysia.
FRASER’S HILL, MALAYSIA
Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia, March 1998
Fraser’s Hill is 100km north of Kuala Lumpur, and because of it’s altitude of over 1,500 metres and resultant cooler climate proved to be the ideal place to start and complete the trip, enabling us to climatise early on, and “chill” after the baking temperatures of Taman Negara and Thailand. Fraser’s Hill has a quality range of altitudinal bird species.
Arriving there was a surreal experience, I wasn’t expecting to see a golf course and Mediterranean-style apartments cut into virgin rainforest! In the first few hours we watched flocks of Crested Honey Buzzards on migration, Wreathed Hornbill and Grey Nightjar. As the stay wore on, I experienced more magical moments: a male Blue-and-White Flycatcher joining a tree full of Mugimaki Flycatchers at the mosque; getting drenched in a sudden deluge of rain whilst watching Brown Bullfinches at the High Pines garden; rescuing a White-bellied Swiftlet from a spiders web using an extended tripod leg; and catching rare glimpses of Siamang Gibbons swinging through the canopy.
The Gap, at the base of the Fraser’s Hill road, is another surreal place. The only accommodation was at the Resthouse, a quaint English-style B and B with afternoon tea on the lawn. However, any thoughts that you are back in “Blighty” are dispelled as Asian Fairy Bluebirds and Red-rumped Swallows of the local badia race pass overhead.
TAMAN NEGARA, MALAYSIA
My advice for anyone visiting Taman Negara is not to try too hard in the first day or two. You can get to know a lot of the commoner species just spending a morning in the resort, perhaps sitting under a fruiting fig tree which should be heaving with orioles, bulbuls, spiderhunters, Pied Hornbills, leafbirds, pigeons, hanging parrots, barbets and flowerpeckers – just don’t forget that field guide.
Once you’ve started exploring the trails you may find that jungle birding can be very tough, but don’t get disappointed if you go more than an hour without seeing a bird. Many are seen during “waves” – feeding flocks that move through, usually pretty rapidly. So, stay alert as a wave made up of at least ten species may be around the next corner. In the dry season, try to find small pools, as one near the Jenet Muda trail had us spellbound with gems such as Banded Pitta and Red-bearded Bee-eater coming in to drink and bathe. Most birders stay overnight in the hides, and Kumbang is probably the best. This area is excellent for Pittas and if you’ve got the stamina you can stay up late to see Asian Elephant and Tapir that occasionally visit the salt-lick after dark.
Much sought-after is the Masked Finfoot, an aquatic species that looks like a hybrid of a Coot and a Crane! Little was known about this mysterious bird’s breeding habits at the time of our visit. We first saw one, a male, from a moving boat along the River Tahan. It completely ignored the boat’s motor and my fevered shouts to the boatmen to “Stop!” and then fed unconcerned adjacent to the riverbank as we paddled to within 30 yards.
“… trust me, it’s paradise…”
We also saw male and female Masked Finfoot in the Krabi mangroves along with Mangrove Pitta and Ruddy Kingfisher on a boat trip, plus Nordmann’s Greenshank, Great Crested Tern and Great Knot amongst the large numbers of roosting birds seen from the boat in Krabi Bay.
The Ko Phi Phi Islands are a two hour boat journey from Krabi. The main island is very commercialised but we got away from the development, in true “The Beach” style, taking a boat trip to Phi Phi Leh, a small uninhabited island where 1,000 Christmas Island Frigatebirds and Lesser Frigatebirds wheeled around, and 50 Black-naped Terns gathered at the foot of the limestone cliffs.
I made a solo jaunt to Thale Noi, on the north side of Songkhla Lake, and arrived at this paradise to be greeted with a seemingly endless carpet of pink waterlilies, fishing boats, marsh terns, jacanas, pygmy-geese and bitterns, all bathed in sunshine.
The noise and the heat caused insonmia, but what birder minds being kept awake due to squawking Gallinules and raucous Oriental Reed Warblers ?
The paddyfields along the approach road were another revelation – a female Painted Snipe crept furtively out from the rushes, Long-toed Stints, Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers fed in the pools, Oriental Pratincoles hawked overhead, a pair of Plain-backed Sparrows displayed on fence posts and an Eastern Marsh Harrier quartered the fields.
The open friendliness of the Thais was emphasised repeatedly and people always made sure that I got to the right place. In contrast to Malaysia, little English is spoken in Thailand, so at Thale Noi communication came in the form of the universal language of football. Stilted conversations were replaced with penalties in makeshift goals, especially after I said that I was from Manchester.
KHAO NOR CHUCHI
Seeing Gurney’s Pitta provoked strong emotions, it’s tale is a bitter sweet one. Once fairly common throughout peninsular Thailand and southern Burma, it was thought to be extinct for many years due to loss of habitat through uncontrolled deforestation.
Ashtonishingly, a male was found in an illegal bird market in Bangkok in 1986. The finder, British birder Phil Round, ascertained from the dealer the site where it had been trapped, and after taking some sound recordings from that bird, Gurney’s Pitta was rediscovered at Khao Nor Chuchi.
The conservation importance of the area had already been recognised the year before, during an examination of forest cover maps prepared from satellite photographs aimed at identifying the last remnants of lowland rainforest in southern Thailand. The Khao Pra Bang Khram non-hunting area was established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1987, and this site started to attract large numbers of birders and conservationists. Just 16 pairs were present in 1997, and at the time of my sighting, it was thought to be one of the rarest birds on the planet.
…Birding Asia… visions of Thailand and Malaysia…
The future of the Gurney’s Pitta now seems to be in the balance. Burma seems to potentially be the last hope for this species survival. 2021-2030 is the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Can humanity manage to save the Gurney’s Pitta and it’s rainforest habitat ?
Birdwatch magazine published this article in Bird The World 2000
During the 21st century, the Greater Manchester Birding City Region Project completed a series of “The Perfect Ten” days birding. These were a full calendar Spring day spent birding in each of the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester. In this article, James Walsh @MancunianBirder writes about a Spring day in Tameside birding and cycling, recording a total of 64 species…
The day started with the dawn chorus at Park Bridge and then we continued cycling along the Ashton cycleway.
In Ashton Under Lyne we spent some time looking for Black Redstarts, a scarce species that could benefit from a co-ordinated “Citizen Science” survey in the urban and sub-urban areas of Greater Manchester.
Ashton Moss – this site would make an amazing nature reserve. If Greater Manchester really is to become a “world-leading Green City Region” then the attitudes to sites such as Ashton Moss have to change. The Northern Roots project on Snipe Clough, Oldham, could be the start of this change.
Impressive numbers of singing Skylarks lift the heart, especially when you read the “State of Nature” reports. I cannot overstate the importance of Skylark habitat, especially in urban areas such as Ashton Moss and Pomona Docks.
With panoramic views to Manchester, Oldham, Werneth Low Country Park & Stalybridge Country Park, Ashton Moss could be a central hub for Tameside. I first looked this site as a professional ecologist working for the GMEU – the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit in 2010.
I don’t actually know the current status of the site, but what I do know is the last thing that Ashton needs is more concrete! The place is already chocka with industrial estates!
Ryecroft Hall reminded me of working at the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit and the Ashton Canal reminded me of the North American Wood Duck saga!
Tameside is named after the River Tame and we then made our way to the river via Audenshaw Reservoirs. Along the Tame Valley from Hulmes Wood to Haughton Dale Nature Reserve the highlight was a female Goosander. The next sites were the Peak Forest Canal and Stamford Park Lake, where Grey Herons were the outstanding feature.
Stalybridge Country Park is a stunning birding site. A singing Cuckoo at Walkerwood, a pair of Stonechats, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Curlew and Meadow Pipit, and the highlight of the day was superb views of the “Tameside Famous Grouse”, the Red Grouse, the symbol of “Birding Tameside”.
The song of the Skylark is a quintessentially British sound that has given inspiration to our poets, composers, song-writers and film-makers. Listen carefully to Pink Floyd’s “Grantchester Meadows” and there is a Skylark singing throughout the song...
Ashton Moss, on Tameside in Greater Manchester, could be “Manchester Meadows” with epic views of the skyline, Manchester to the west, Oldham to the north and the Tameside hills to the east, and a stunning soundtrack of singing Skylarks.
On my ecology research visits to Ashton Moss I have been astounded as to how many singing Skylarks are present on this urban site – it really is Skylark Central! I have experienced Skylarks on sites such as Pomona, but the volume of numbers present in the Ashton Moss area is impressive.
Sheldon Pool is already being managed as a nature reserve, and there is huge potential for the whole site to be a nature reserve. A site like this should be cherished so urban residents can experience Skylarks.
The Ashton Moss area is popular with local birders and sightings on this site include Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat, Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Cuckoo, Stonechat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, Little Grebe, Snipe, Pink-footed Goose, Little Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl and Little Owl.
Sheldon Pool often has Mute Swans and Tufted Ducks, and other ducks visiting this area of water have included Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal and Northern Shoveler.
If Greater Manchester is to become a world-leading Green City Region then sites like Pomona Docks (Trafford) and Ashton Moss (Tameside) need to be looked at from a new angle. Salford Wetlands and the Northern Roots project (Oldham) are providing this new angle.
Salford Wetlands and the Northern Roots project are looking at new ways of approaching areas of land that Councils would traditionally look at as “wasteland” or places to develop.
Collectively, in Greater Manchester, we are starting to understand just how vitally important our greenspaces are, how much wildlife there actually is in the City Region and the increasing potential for a real new industry based on Eco-Tourism, promoting our wonderful environment.
With vision, investment, nurturing nature, infrastructure and enterprise, Ashton Moss could be a central part of a Greater Manchester EcoTourism Plan. It is easily accessible from the city centre – you literally just have to take a few steps from a Metrolink station to be on the site. I could also see this as being a really great site as an Eco-Tourism hub, to promote the wilder side of Tameside.
There are very few places in Greater Manchester where you can here a Skylark singing in the urban environment so Ashton Moss really is a place that we should be looking to conserve, promote and celebrate.