Trip reports

Saltholme & Hartlepool - 12/10/13

Male wigeon swimming
Wigeon - RSPB Images

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The first star sighting of the day was from the car, just round the corner from our first destination - we spotted a flock of barnacle geese feeding in a field next to the main road.

Our first stop was Greatham Creek which is part of the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve. From the car park we spotted curlew and little egret. A distant raptor caught our attention which turned out to be a marsh harrier. We walked up the path to the RSPB screen which overlooks the tidal Greatham Creek. The tide happened to be in which meant that the birds were pushed up into a smaller area - this made it much easier for us to see them! Waders present were dunlin, redshank, lapwing and a lone black-tailed godwit. A variety of gulls were present including a large number of great black backed gulls, black-headed gulls and one juvenile common gull. A few grey seals were hauled out on the mud while a couple more played in the water.

Next we headed back down the road to RSPB Saltholme. The reserve was generally pretty quiet with most of the action being from the feeding station at the visitor centre or the Saltholme Pools hide.

On the feeders at the visitor centre were good numbers of goldfinch, greenfinch, tree sparrow and a water rail was seen scuttling around the margins.

From the Saltholme Pools hide, there were good numbers of wildfowl including teal, tufted duck and wigeon. These were joined by single females of red-breasted merganser and pintail. Wader-wise, snipe and redshank were feeding round the edges of the water and 3 bar-tailed godwits were also present though fast asleep with their heads tucked under their wings!

The group then split into two for lunch. Some of us went to the excellent café for lunch while the others went to eat their packed lunch in the Phil Stead hide. I opted for the café and had an excellent chip butty and a hot chocolate - perfect for a chilly autumn day. The "café crew" then joined the others in the Phil Stead hide where we got views of another water rail less than 10 feet away.

We then left the RSPB reserve and headed up the coast to Hartlepool headland. This is usually an excellent place to visit in autumn both for seawatching and for migrants and it didn't disappoint. A quick half hour spent seawatching picked up good numbers of gannets, red-throated diver and guillemot. The best bird during this period was the lead bird of a flock of common scoter which flew past - it had white patches in the wings which revealed it to be a velvet scoter! One of the local seawatchers told us there had been a long-tailed duck in the harbour so we decided to head down and see if we could find it.

As we walked along the shore we spotted turnstone, oystercatcher, redshank and ringed plover in the rocks. In the harbour, we found the aforementioned long-tailed duck along with a female goldeneye, a great crested grebe and a group of eiders and female goldeneye.

We continued out walk in gardens in & around the town square. This is where we found a glut of newly arrived migrants - goldcrest, brambling, redwing, chiffchaff and a single great spotted woodpecker. The highlight here though was a group of 3 redpoll. 2 were lesser redpolls but one was a mealy redpoll which is less common in the north than the lesser (go figure!).

We were just getting to the point of having to decide whether to move on somewhere else or call it a day when I received a report from Birdguides about a scarcity which had turned up about 3 miles down the road. Off we went to the Jewish Cemetery where we had brilliant views of great grey shrike!

All in all it was a good day's autumn birdwatching with 70 species seen.