Mancunian Birders Notebook 2016


A great year for new birds! My first ever Dalmatian Pelican, White-tailed Eagle, Demoiselle Crane, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Cliff Swallow, Brunnichs’ Guillemot, Siberian Accentor, Eastern Black Redstart and Dusky Thrush, plus first ever UK Blue Rock Thrush! Celebrations aplenty for reaching The Big 400 UK Bird Species and the publication of my first books

The New Year 2016 rather appropriately began with a Salford Docklands trip to see the Great Northern Loon

This bird remained on-site until April and attracted hundreds of visitors, providing many birders with their first trip to this site


Film: Great Northern Loon @ Salford Docklands

James walsh mancunian Birder

There were many local patch visits to Salford Docklands during 2016 gaining data for the book “The Birds of Salford Docklands”


“The Birds of Salford Docklands”

Early in the year, a Pallas’ Warbler showing in the hedgerow adjacent to Heswall ETW on Target Road on the Wirral


Mancunian Birder Article – On Target


Film: Pallas’s Warbler, Merseyside

January & February sightings of Chiffchaff on Pomona Docks yet again showed how very important this site is for passerines, and in the Spring Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat on territory, Little Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Sandpiper and a large Sand Martin colony were again noted!

With the Greater Manchester Green Summit happening in March 2018 it really is time to be talking seriously about how valuable urban nature reserves are to humanity


Pomona Docks on Salford Docklands, Greater Manchester


Film: Pomona Docks, Eden Project North


Return To Pomona public event, Pomona Docks, Salford Docklands, Greater Manchester

Saturday 28th May was a superb day showing more people around this urban ecological paradise on the Return To Pomona event! In June I visited the Eden Project in Cornwall for the first time, and it really makes you think we need something similar here in the North!


Architects’ Ecology Centre plans on Pomona Docks, Salford Docklands, Greater Manchester


Cornflower, Pomona Docks, Salford Docklands

Ecologist Zoe Barrett found Northern Wheatear and a drake Northern Pochard on Pomona Docks, plus rare Bee Orchids showing the floral value of this urban site


Drake Northern Pochard, Pomona, Salford Docklands

In June, a research trip to London that included a stroll through St. James’ Park to have a look at the Pelicans, recording a personal moment recalling how seeing these birds helped get me into birding when I was a young lad !


“A Mancunian In London”


“The Family Crest” Red-crested Pochard Article


@MancunianBirder shares birding memory in London!

It was therefore a full circle moment, on 19th June, to be seeing a DALMATIAN PELICAN in Cornwall, the first time I have seen a Pelican in the wild in the UK


Film: Dalmatian Pelican, Restronguet Creek, Cornwall


@MancunianBirder, Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

A pair of Ruddy Shelducks on the Slimbridge WWT nature reserve on 21st June were a fine Summer solstice surprise and looked like they had just arrived – but where from ?

Film: Ruddy Shelducks, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire

After paying homage to the long-staying south coast / Radipole Lake RSPB eclipse drake Hooded Merganser, we began a long pilgrimage North, via the Red-necked Phalarope on Grindon Lough in Northumberland, to the Isle of Mull, the EcoTourism Paradise, to look for my 400th UK Bird Species, WHITE-TAILED EAGLE


The Big 400 moment! Connecting with my first White-tailed Eagles!


Celebrating Good Times on the Isle of Mull #TheBig400

Read all about it!!

“The Big 400 – A Personal Journey To 400 UK Bird Species”

Thanks to Shaun @MancunianSpring for the photos!


Film: @MancunianBirder talks about The Isle of Mull

On 11th July, after 12 hours of searching, I connected with the DEMOISELLE CRANE (also known as the Koonj) in Northumberland – this was apparently the last sighting of this bird in the UK, reports suggest it was relocated in Denmark


Demoiselle Crane, Grindon Lough, Northumberland

A summer of White Stork research, including many hours spent searching fields and suitable habitat, such as a rubbish tip in the Midlands, and visiting the inaugural East Anglia Re-wilding programme

A sighting in the wild in Worcestershire on Monday 18th July of a White Stork in flight at Throckmorton Tip flying towards Wyre Piddle, picked up after hours of mooching and scanning !

In September, I saw my first EURASIAN BEAVER along the beautiful River Otter in Devon, it took three days to see, including some very early mornings


Eurasian Beaver, River Otter, Devon, September 2016

Trenow Cove, with it’s spectacular views on Mount’s Bay in Cornwall, is the very picturesque site for the famous mega HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL


Film: Hudsonian Whimbrel, Trenow Cove, Mount’s Bay, Cornwall

The Dalmatian Pelican was still on a long summer residence, and whilst birding the Hayle Estuary news came through that Graham Gordon, a colleague from the infamous Brit birders “Birding In The USA” Cape May days, had found a mega rare American hirundine, a Cliff Swallow, on the Isles of Scilly!

Many thanks to George Kinnard for arranging the charter boat, and to Shaun for skilfully filming my Baywatch impression!


Film: Onboard the Falcon charter boat from Penzance to Scilly

On the Isles of Scilly CLIFF SWALLOW, Lesser Yellowlegs, Temminck’s Stint and Whinchat seen in just 2 days! Really great to be on the islands again, for the first time since 1995!


Film: Whinchat, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly


Film: Lesser Yellowlegs and Temminck’s Stint, Isles of Scilly

In Cheshire Yellow-legged Gull Sandbach Flashes and a pair of Ruddy Shelduck at Winsford Flashes

Thanks to Paul Brewster, Focalpoint Optics Manager, for the digiscoping equipment!


Yellow-legged Gull, Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire, September 2016 (@MancunianBirder)

Whatever the origins of the Manchester North American Wood Duck/s this species certainly caught the imagination of the local media and resulted in an interview on That’s Manchester with Chyaz Samuel, and a newspaper article, birders should always be looking to find the angles that inspire to bring birds and the environment to the attention of the masses


Film: Mancunian Birder That’s Manchester interview


Film: Drake North American Wood Duck, Manchester

Newspaper articles on birds are notorious for fake news!


A twitch to Fife in Scotland for the Anstruther Harbour BRUNNICH’S GUILLEMOT, a species from the Arctic Circle

The trip was successful with the bird filmed in the harbour, with some accompanying genuine Scottish harbour sounds!


Film: Brunnich’s Guillemot, Anstruther Harbour, Fife


Rare Bird Alert! Finders In The Field – Brunnichs’ Guillemot

On 1st October I found a duck that resembled a possible mega Western Spot-billed Duck at Fog Lane Park, south Manchester

In my opinion this species could be a potential vagrant to the UK from Asia, therefore I documented the bird as fully as possible, just in case! It took a while to see that the open wings were heavily pinioned, therefore, this bird was very obviously a bird that had been placed on the park duck pond from a collection, especially as it might have been a Mallard hybrid?! This was yet another episode filed in the “Educational Birding” file

As the Western Spot-billed Duck is closely related to the Mallard and are found on ponds, it is possible that a vagrant could actually turn up in the UK with Mallards on a duck pond, but not this one! A first-winter drake in Cumbria on the River Eden in March 2014 might be a candidate for the British List


Western Spot-billed Duck (or perhaps WSBD x Mallard hybrid?), Fog Lane Park, Manchester, October 2016

Moving swiftly on to perhaps one of the biggest ornithological events of the 21st century! The mythical SIBERIAN ACCENTOR influx into Europe, numbering a huge 213 birds between 4th October and 6th November, including 69 in Sweden and a bird at Easington, East Yorkshire that attracted thousands of birders to the Old School House grounds, where this bird fed in the open, famously around a big yellow skip, much to the joy of the huge crowds!


MEGA! Siberian Accentor, Easington, Yorkshire, October 2016


Film: Siberian Accentor, Easington, Yorkshire


Rare Bird Alert! Finders In The Field – Siberian Accentor


Birdguides “Bird Of The Week” Siberian Accentor, Easington


Julian Hughes of RSPB Conwy on the Siberian Accentor influx

Also, around Spurn a Shore Lark near the Bluebell Café, plus a very elusive OBP, and flocks of White-fronted Geese

The Lancashire Ross’s Goose that arrived as a first-winter bird in November 2013 again returned in the Autumn, firstly onto Newton Marsh on The Fylde, then Marshside Marsh RSPB, where three Cattle Egret were also present


Ross’s Goose, Marshside Marsh RSPB, Lancashire, October 2016

On 1st November a party of four adult Whooper Swans flew onto Castleshaw Reservoirs, one of my local patches amongst the hills above Oldham, Greater Manchester, giving some superb views


Whooper Swans, Castleshaw Reservoir, Greater Manchester, November 2016

A trip to the North-East, to the Cleveland coast, for my first EASTERN BLACK REDSTART and a Barnacle Goose flock at Saltholme RSPB Reserve

Eastern Black Redstart

The famous Eastern Black Redstart on the Cleveland coast, November 2016


Film: Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, Cleveland

It was a mega carry on into the winter, with a DUSKY THRUSH being found near Chesterfield in December, however, this wasn’t even the rarest thrush to be found in the Midlands during the winter!


Film: Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire

Also in December, following up a report of 2 drake Barrow’s Goldeneye on the River Mersey east of Chorlton Water Park, a pair of Goldeneye were seen, presumably not the same birds that were reported! I find it’s always worth following reports like this as you just never know your luck in the big city!


Film: Goldeneye on the River Mersey


2016 was completed in fine style with the publishing of my first books, a joint effort on “Fruitful Futures: Imagining Pomona” and a solo effort, “The Birds of Salford Docklands”, two books on the ecology of the area of docklands located to the west of Manchester, now generally known as Salford Quays


“The Birds of Salford Docklands”



“Fruitful Futures: Imagining Pomona” Book Launch, Manchester

Also in the Salford area a Great Grey Shrike over-wintered on the Mosslands, and the Little Woolden Moss Lancashire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve continued to progress from strength to strength

Great Grey Shrike, Salford Mosses

Pink-footed Geese, Salford Mosses

Natural Beauty of the Salford / Manchester Mosses


During the festive season, another sub-urban mega, this time in the Midlands! A male BLUE ROCK THRUSH in the Cotswolds, giving great views around the gardens and houses of Stow-on-the-Wold! Although I have seen this species on Mediterranean birding trips this was my first UK sighting – happy days!


Male Blue Rock Thrush, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, December 2016


“The Big 400” Published Online


“The Big 400 – A Personal Journey To 400 UK Bird Species”

Author: James Walsh

Available now on Amazon Kindle

James Walsh aka The Mancunian Birder becomes the first person to publish a book about seeing four hundred bird species within the UK, an almost James Bond-esque adventure of planes, trains, boats & automobiles from Manchester to the Scilly Isles to Kent to Shetland to Mull & many locations around the UK inbetween

“I started birding when I was eight, winning the Young Ornithologist of the Year award in 1985 & after more than 30 years of birding I managed to reach 400 UK bird species just before my 40th birthday” says James

Back in the day, in the 1980’s, birders had a reputation as anoraks, but these days birding is a big industry & superstar birders are the new rock n’ roll stars, with even Hollywood recreating the pioneering spirit of the birding experience for the big screen in “The Big Year”

There are several books that have a similar theme to this one, mainly accounts of a Big Year, & James Hanlons’ “Birding In The Fast Lane” is an account of a dash to 500 UK species, whereas this book is more of a Mancunian mooch, a smooth, reflective look at the UK birding scene from the 1980’s to the present day, a celebration of the UKs’ ecosystem & a great advert for wildlife and conservation in general; this book should take UK birding to the next level

The book contains personal accounts of many classic twitches such as the Yorkshire Spectacled Warbler in 1992, and the Pennington Flash Black-faced Bunting in 1994, both first records for Britain, and journeys to the Wilson’s Triangle and the Nottingham Triangle!

This book is proudly Northern centric, with chapters entitled The Madchester Era, Magnetic North and We Love The North, James says “It is time the view from up North is heard on the birding scene”

James concludes “Seeing 400 bird species within the UK has always been the classic target for UK birders & I feel honoured to be able to publish my own personal journey to reaching this target”

“This book was launched at the Rutland Bird Fair 2017, the UKs’ largest birding festival, and the North-West Bird Fair 2017 at Martin Mere, Lancashire in November”


James celebrates seeing 400 UK Bird Species on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, summer 2016


Wood You Believe It ?

Photo: The stunning drake North American Wood Duck at Fairfield on the Ashton Canal, photographed in September 2016 (James Walsh @MancunianBirder)
A pair of North American Wood Ducks have been spotted at Fairfield on the picturesque Ashton Canal just 2 miles east of Manchester, to the surprise of local birdwatchers

James Walsh aka The Mancunian Birder, a qualified Ecologist who has researched the species both in America and the U.K. says “The North American Wood Duck, commonly known as the Wood Duck, is a unique species, it is one of just a small number of duck species that perch and nest in trees, they like secluded still and slow moving water with plenty waterside vegetation and trees, therefore they are very much at home on the Ashton Canal

Sightings of this species are very rare in Europe with most relating to birds that have escaped from zoos or collections/formed feral populations, however, it is also scientifically proven that Wood Ducks are flying the Atlantic and arriving in Europe naturally – a drake on Stronsay in Orkney in January 2016 was another Scottish Isles sighting that might be a genuine vagrant

The North American Wood Duck is a symbol of successful conservation in the USA as the species was almost extinct around the turn of the 20th century, but good folks of America have worked together to restore habitat and put up special nesting boxes, and now the USA population is on the up

The drake is renowned for spectacular colours, while, like most ducks, the female is a brownish colour, so she is camouflaged on the nest and when looking after ducklings

A drake Wood Duck attracted many birdwatchers to Mersey Vale Nature Reserve just west of Stockport from October 2015 – February 2016, and there was also a sighting of a drake Wood Duck at Chorlton Water Park in July 2016”

Premier League Birding

As Manchester City fans all over the world celebrate the Derby Day win, the Mancunian Birder starts a series of articles on the birdwatching areas that are in the vicinity of Premier League Football stadiums

The Etihad Stadium is located in the Medlock Valley on the north-east side of Manchester and is home to Kingfishers, a big Sand Martin colony, Grey Wagtails, Song Thrushes, Bullfinches and Goldfinches

Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats & Blackcaps are present in the Spring & Summer, especially in the area unofficially known as The Delph, near to the Etihad Metrolink station

The skies around the Etihad are the domain of Peregrine Falcons, the fastest bird on the planet, and recently a pair of Ravens were seen flying around the stadium

The area is very green with the Ashton Canal another wildlife corridor that runs through the area known as Eastlands, and the huge Phillip’s Park is just a short walk from the stadium and is home to Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Stock Doves

Manchester City Football Club keep the association with the Manchester Ship Canal and Salford Docklands through the ever-present ship on the clubs’ badge

Salford Docklands once saw huge amounts of global trade with a workforce of 5000 dockers, hard-working souls who kept the wheels of industry turning, however, the docks were closed in 1982 and the old Docklands, now known as Salford Quays, have become a wildlife haven, including The Big Five – Kingfisher, Northern Lapwing, Mute Swan, Cormorant and Grey Heron

As an ecologist, I have been recording, monitoring, filming and photographing the wildlife of Salford Docklands, the area of former docklands between Pomona & the Millenium Bridge, for ten years, during my time as a student at the University of Salford and Greater Manchester Ecology Unit

Recently, I have joined a collaboration of ecologists, Journalists, students and academics writing a book about Pomona Docks, a huge area of Greenspace on the south-east side of Salford Docklands

The official launch date for the book is Tuesday 18th October 2016

The Salford Docklands Big Five 

Photo: Kingfisher, a star bird of the Salford Docklands

A classic EcoTourism promotion is to select a Big Five species for a site to represent and promote the site to the general public

The Manchester Ship Canal World Heritage Group have selected five species to represent and promote the Salford Docklands – Kingfisher, Northern Lapwing, Mute Swan, Cormorant and Grey Heron

Visitors to the Salford Docklands area have a good chance of seeing all five on a walk around The Quays, with Pomona a very good site to visit to see The Big Five

Kingfisher, Mute Swan & Northern Lapwing are resident breeding species along the Manchester Ship Canal, whilst Cormorants & Grey Herons are also resident all-year round

The Big Five featured on national television, BBCs’ Urban Jungle, in the summer of 2013, and can form the beginning of a structured EcoTourism plan for the Salford Docklands

The Green Atlantic Gateway


Photo: A rare North American Laughing Gull on New Brighton Beach, Merseyside – the location is a premier site of the Green Atlantic Gateway (James Walsh @MancunianBirder)

#NorthernGreenhouse  #EdenProjectNorth


The Atlantic Gateway Project is Peel Holdings plan to increase trade into the North-west region and re-industrialise the Manchester Ship Canal

The plans have been around for a while, but while Peel have formulated business plans that resemble the 1950’s or the 1980’s business model, the world has moved on, and rather than wasting time on fracking, biomass, Underground Coal Gasification, etc, Peel would be better thinking about the words of one of their theme tunes – don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, and build a green business model that takes climate change seriously and embraces the green economy

A Green Atlantic Gateway project could be a world leader in renewable energy technology and link together large areas of wildlife habitat, including Seaforth Nature Reserve, New Brighton, Birkinhead Docks, the Peel nature reserves of Port Sunlight & Speke/Garston Shore, Otterspool, Eastham Locks, Frodsham Marshes, Moore, Richmond Bank, Woolston Eyes SSSI, Davyhulme Millenium Nature Reserve, Jack Lane Nature Reserve in Flixton, the Salford Mosses and the Salford Docklands

The Manchester Ship Canal could potentially become the East Anglia Broads of the North with wildlife watching boat trips and canalside accommodation, a world class EcoTourism zone

Making the Mersey Estuary and the Manchester Ship Canal World Heritage sites could link with Liverpool World Heritage site to make the whole of the Atlantic Gateway a World Heritage Site – the management of UNESCO, our politicians and business leaders must appreciate the heritage value, ecological value and international importance of this area



Pomona Star Bird – the Northern Wheatear


Photo: Male Northern Wheatear, Pomona (James Walsh @MancunianBirder)

The big news on Salford Docklands today is a Northern Wheatear present on Pomona South Marsh this afternoon, a superb find for ecologist Zoe Barrett (@DiamondBirder)

The Northern Wheatear is a star bird of Pomona Docks, the big area of Greenspace located on the south-east of the Docklands

Spring is the big time of the year for this species on Pomona, with up to 10 birds present, remarkable numbers for such an urban site, just a mile from Manchester city centre

In the Spring the Northern Wheatears are on their way north from their African wintering grounds to breeding sites on habitats such Northern/Scottish hills and find Pomona Docks a great place to get R and R and food during their huge northwards migration

In the Autumn the birds are heading south to Africa and utilise Pomona as a site to feed up and chill before their huge southwards migration

Todays’ sighting yet again shows the true ecological worth of Pomona, a site that is the feature of a new book

An event is being organised to launch the Pomona Book, a big collaboration of ecologists, journalists, students and academics on Tuesday 18th October 2016

Keep tuned to @MancunianBirder for more news on this large event!