Sightings of rare belted kingfisher bring birders flocking to Lancashire

Birders have been flocking to Lancashire in the hope of catrching a glimpse of a rare bird which seems to have made its home in the county.

By Phil Cunnington
Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 12:30 pm

Brockholes, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve just off the M6 at Preston, has seen an increase in visitors, keen to spot the belted kingfisher after it was first spotted there in October. It is generally only found on inland lakes in the United States and Canada.

It is believed to be only the fourth time the bird has been spotted in the United Kingdom – the last sighting was in Staffordshire in 2005, but one was seen in Ireland over the past couple of years.

The bird was initially seen by fisherman and birder George Shannon on the River Ribble near Samlesbury, before it flew onto the nature reserve where it has been spotted by three or four local birders.

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Leonard Poxon took this picture of the belted kingfisher on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Withnell Fold, near Chorley. The bird is usually only found in the US and Canada and has caused excietement in the birding community

George said: “I was fishing close to Redscar Woods when I heard a very loud but unfamiliar rattling croaky call. I looked round and watched a slate blue and white bird flying upstream towards me about 10ft above the centre of the river. It proceeded to land in dead trees directly opposite where I was sitting.

“I got my binoculars on it and genuinely couldn’t believe the image I was seeing. I thought ‘it’s a belted kingfisher but it can’t possibly be a belted kingfisher’. My heart was pounding out of my chest.

“The bird sat partially obscured on a dead branch, directly opposite where I sat for about a minute, bobbing and twitching around before moving even closer to me and in plain sight. It was a stunning belted kingfisher. Jet black crest and very heavy sturdy looking black bill, the slate coloured uppers were so brightly contrasted against the white of the body.”

WATCH: Drone footage of one of Lancashire's newest nature reserves.George believes the bird may be the one that was spotted in Ireland a couple of years ago.

A picture of the belted kingfisher in trees on the River Ribble, near Samlesbury, taken by George Shannon. George was fishing near Redscar Woods when he spotted the rare bird, which is usually only found in the US and Canada.

Birder Leonard Poxon spotted the bird fishing on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Withnell Fold, near Chorley. He said: “I have been watching the reports of the belted kingfisher that appeared on the River Ribble in October, noting that it visited the River Darwen and then the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at a time of heavy rain. I conjectured that it may re-locate again to the canal should the conditions on the River Darwen deteriorate after another period of heavy rain.

“I thought I would test out my theory and have a look for it at Withnell Fold. My luck was in, and I found the kingfisher where it had been seen previously. I saw it plunge dive several times and saw it catch at least one fish.”

The belted kingfisher is bigger than our kingfishers, it has a dark blue head, with a white collar, a large blue band on its chest and is white underneath. Its back and wings are blue-black. Its most prominent feature is the shaggy crest on its head.

It is found across most of North America, but it does migrate into the southern states, Mexico, and the Caribbean in winter. It has been seen in Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal as well as the UK.

Alan Wright, head of communications at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said: “We first heard about the belted kingfisher at Brockholes in October and then it laid low for a little while. Now birders are spotting it around the rivers and canals in South Lancashire, pretty much every day.

“It’s a big bird so it couldn’t hide away for too long, even though it is really shy. There is a good chance that the bird will remain in the area long term if it likes the conditions.”