Today me and Rachel spent a day in the Hartlepool area. I’d been wanting to vist Saltholme for a while now, and with the weather forecast to be pleasant and Rachel having a day off, we decided to go.

On the way we stopped at Scaling Dam. Unfortunately, the angle of the sun made viewing difficult, and the most interesting birds we could pick out were four Whooper Swans in the distance. From Scaling, we headed to Saltholme RSPS, where we were told that a Ring-Necked Duck had been seen in a nearby park. After a moments thought, we decided to try and see the duck, and then come back to Saltholme . After getting directions, I drove to Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park. This area, created on a former industrial site, is actually quite impressive. Thousands of trees were planted in the early 1990’s, and small ponds have been dug out for wildlife use. There is a feeding station next to the car park, which today was covered in Blue Tits, Great Tits, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings, amongst others. We were told by a passer-by that Bullfinches were often seen on the feeders as well, but we didn’t see them during our visit. From the car park we walked to the lake. The sun was quite low, and behind us, so it didn’t take very long for us to pick out the Ring-Necked Duck in the distance. I tried to get some photos, and below is pretty much the only one that is recognisable:

Also on the pond were at least twenty Gadwall, which I thought were impressively dense numbers for an urban park. On the walk back to the car park, we walked through an area of young trees. Whilst I was looking away, a larger bird with a white rump flew across Rachel’s path, most likely a Jay, which are apparently starting to colonise the area.

After leaving the park, we headed to Saltholme RSPB. The site is  a lot bigger than I expected, and was unusual, from my experience of RSPB reserves, in that the backdrop was so industrial, all chimneys and nuclear power plants. Here is a picture of a Kestrel sat on a pylon, as though to reinforce that image:

Anyway, Salthome is huge. You could spend hours walking round it, and we did, though we barely saw half of it. We did see plenty of nice geese as we walked round, aside from the common Canadas and Greylags, we saw Barnacle Geese, Pink-Footed Geese and White-Fronted Geese. Unfortunately a Greenland White Front that had been on site yesterday wasn’t found whilst I was there, and a probable Snow Goose x Canada Goose Hybrid that I had seen a picture of on Birdforum also wasn’t seen. We were told, however, that a Long-Eared Owl had been seen over in the scrub at the other end of the site, and we were shown a picture of one roosting there only yesterday. We got directions to the particular spot and head off, our hearts filled with hope.

Our hopes were dashed. And then, after being dashed, they were glued back together and murdered by racists. By which I mean that after two hours of scanning every single scrubby little bush and peering into the densest thickets of thorns, we utterly failed to find a roosting owl. Sadness abounded.

Luckily I had another species in mind that it might be possible to find, Common Seal! As you probably know, I see Grey Seals all the time. Tripping over them, pretty much. Squelching over their limp bodies etc., But I have never seen a Common Seal. There is a place in Hartlepool called Seal Sands, which in times gone by was where Common Seals gave birth and both species hauled themselves out of the water. Eventually, if course, the seals were wiped out by the tide of progress. That is, until the last few decades, when Common and Grey seals have been turning up again, and the Common seals have even started breeding again. I had a rough idea of where to go look for the seals, and so we set off.

I didn’t actually find the place that I was particularly looking for, but we did find some seals. The road went over a river, and I jokingly asked Rachel to see if there were any seals. To our surprise, there were. I swiftly pulled over, and we spent the next half hour watching the seals. It was fantastic to watch the seals flopping about and swimming, and one even swum along the river and breached itself almost entirely several times. However, during this time I was struck with worry – were these Common Seals or Grey Seals? I knew several things about the difference between Common Seals and Grey Seals; the nostrils are different, v-shaped in the Common Seal, parallel in the Grey Seal – but I was finding it hard to make out. Grey Seals are bigger, but I was having trouble judging the size from where I was. However, one seal was lying like this…

…which is, apparently, a characteristic behaviour of the Common Seal; the ‘head-up, tail-up’ posture. Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, is thus the latest addition to my mammal list.

From the Sealy Bridge, which I have just decided to call it, we drove to a place called Seaton Carew. Here there was a hotel, called the Staincliff hotel, which has had a flock of Velvet Scoter feeding on the sea opposite regularly for the past few weeks (months?). The best time to view them is at low tide, so, of course, we got there pretty much at high tide. Of Vekvet Scoters, there was no sign. All that I could scope were two Eiders, female and first winter male I think, that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t turn into Scoters.

Lastly, we tried the harbour. Hartlepool harbour is a bit bigger than Scarborough. Not Scarborough’s harbour, Scarborough itself, or at least it seemed that way. We walked down to the mouth of the harbour, where we saw Oystercatchers roosting on a patch of shingle:

As well as a few Curlews:

As we got closer to the mouth, we noticed several Guillemots swimming around, as well as a more distant bird that was either a Cormorant, a Diver, or a Grebe. As we got closer to it, its peaked forehead gave it away – Great Northern Diver. It remained steadfastly too far way for any sort of record shot, but I was able to get decent views. Right at the harbour mouth were some birders with tripods, so we walked over to see if they had seen anything in particular, but the only additional bird that they had noted was a Great Crested Grebe, which then popped up nearby for a photograph:

Just outside the harbour a bird popped up, which turned out to be another Great Northern Diver, and further round we sighted a Grey Seal, parallel nostrils were pretty obvious with it being so close to the harbour wall. 

Me and Rachel decided to walk a little bit further round to see if we could spot anything else. In a few places, sand had built up, and on these there were Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers scratting through the strandline (video to be added soon) and a few Ringed Plover sat motionless at the edge of the sea like tiny mad things:

All in all, a pretty good day. A new duck and a new mammal, as well as a few uncommon birds that it’s always nice to see, and we explored a new area that I will certainly have to come back to again. Maybe even fertile ground for one mine and Roberts famous trips? Who knows.

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