A rare jaunt outside the county yesterday found me delving into the murky depths of Teeside with the lovely Sacha Elliott (@Sacha_Ecology), intent on a day of semi-localised twitching. All in all, a great day was had all around; good weather, good food, good company and, more importantly, great birds making for an exciting few hours.
Aiming to kill some time before RSPB Saltholme opened its doors, we decided to drop into ‘Seal Sands’ where a good number of both Common and Grey Seals lounged around very close to the hide. Though the greys are impressive enough in their own right, it is the common or Harbour Seals that are by far my favourite and with ten or so individuals snoozing in the morning sun I was not disappointed. Further exploration of the area turned up a nice variety of birds in addition to the curious balls of blubber; a Greenshank providing a welcome year tick and a number of Black-Tailed Godwit giving nice views. The various muddy channels here held a pair of Red-Breasted Merganser while the surrounding grassland boasted good numbers of Reed Bunting, Skylark and Meadow Pipit though these were later topped by close views of Fox as it broke cover to cross one of the open areas, the whole time harassed by a small group of Carrion Crows.
Arriving at Saltholme we first made a b-line for the Discovery Zone where the now famous Penduline Tits had been showing a week earlier, though not without a few pit stops along the way. Firstly to ogle the visitor center feeding station where a pleasant mix of; Tree Sparrow, Starling, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch fed contently and secondly to admire the female Smew showing nicely nearby – only my second ever encounter with this species. Plonking ourselves in the hide to await the arrival of the aforementioned tits, it is safe to say we were not feeling overly optimistic, the birds themselves not seen for quite some time prior to our arrival. Worry proved needless however and only a mere five minutes after arriving the excited shouts of one local alerted us to the arrival of our quarry. Sure enough, both Penduline Tits gave fantastic, up close and personal views just outside the hide though getting a photo proved somewhat difficult; numerous chaps with awfully big setups blocking most available viewing points. Never-mind, still a very welcome “lifer” for both me and Sacha, made even better by the constant calling of the local Water Rails and both Little Grebe and Pochard nearby. Exiting before the predicted clamor, a brief wander around the reserve threw up a number of other goodies including; Barnacle Goose, Pintail and Shoveler though we quickly decided to continue our spell of good luck elsewhere.
Next up, we dropped in to Jackson’s Landing quickly clapping eyes on the rather sickly Glaucous Gull residing in the Marina. The bird itself didn’t look overly well, sitting very low in the water with one of its wings hanging in a rather odd position though with plentiful food on offer it may well recover. An impressive bird nonetheless however and always a nice one to see. Sharing our chips with the local Herring Gulls, we were also able to pick out a yellow ringed first winter individual, likely from the Scottish banding scheme. This was promptly submitted to the relevant email address and I will update the blog when I hear back. From here we moved on to Hartlepool Headland where two Shore Larks showed down to a matter of feet as they fed on the gravelly area adjacent to the beach. Definitely a firm favourite of mine.
Last up we opted for a visit to Ward Jackson Park in order to catch up with everyone’s favourite non-native species, the Ring-Necked Parakeet. Well, they are certainly one of my favourites, Sacha however looked less that convinced. Sure enough, moments after arrival the characteristic raucous squawks of three Parakeets were heard, allowing us to pick up three birds feeding high in the treetops near the roadside.Sticking around for a quarter of an hour or so, no less than ten birds put in an appearance marking by far the largest concentration of the species I have seen in the North. A sign of things to come perhaps? One bird in particular proved interesting, seemingly excavating a new nest hole out of one of the trees, beautifully green tail splayed out the entire time. I really do love these birds though as a conservationist I probably shouldn’t..