Coach Trip to Saltholme - 25th October 2015

Saltholme RSPB Reserve was our destination for the first trip of the season. It is described as 'a natural haven in the heart of industrial Teesside' and it certainly lives up to its name being a series of pools surrounded by pylons, stacks, towers, and industrial paraphernalia. We were greeted by a very friendly Ranger who distributed maps and explained the delights of recent bird sightings.

The first of these was a Smew, which he explained was in The Lake adjacent to the Visitors Centre. We turned round and there it was! We turned to the feeders and with a whoosh and a scatter a Sparrowhawk swooped through on the look out for an early lunch. Surely these were omens for a special visit! We also noted Gadwall, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, and Canada Geese as we began to build our day list.

The reserve comprises at number of pools and lakes with hides or viewing screens. The first was the Wildlife Watchpoint and whilst there was little on the lake the feeders had Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, and a trio of Tits, Great, Long-tailed and Blue.

Then we moved on to the viewpoint over the Haverton Hole pools and the reedbeds. We could tell by the number of long lenses that this was the place for the elusive, if not mythical, Bittern. Sadly no matter how hard we stared it did not appear though we did add Grey Heron, Carrion Crow, Shoveler, Coot, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Moorhen, and Reed Bunting and these, whilst admirable, are hardly compensation.

We were rewarded however, and as we moved down the Kestrel Trail we got excellent views of a Merlin. Our Day-list was growing rapidly now, Golden Plover, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Wigeon, Little Grebe, and Wren was added. It was turning out to be a lovely bright autumnal afternoon with only a light breeze.

Throughout the day as we walked through the reserve we noted flybys and other birds skulking about in the vegetation - Curlew, Cormorant, Black Headed Gull, Pheasant, Meadow Pipit. Kestrel, Lapwing, Woodpigeon, Magpie, Jay, Rook, and Buzzard were added to our list.

We moved on along the Dragonfly path and to the large hide overlooking the Saltholmes Pools, the largest pools with the greatest number of birds. We quickly added the Gulls, Lesser and Greater Black Backed, Common, and Herring. From the path we continued to build our list; Merlin, (again, or was it the same one following us?) Jay and Rook, Starling, Stock Dove, Marsh Harrier, Skylark, Robin, and Blackbird. The pools had large numbers of Golden Plover with a solitary Knot tucked in with them, Shelduck, the tiny Teal, and the elegant Pintail, and a well-hidden Snipe. There was also solitary Little Egret and a Redshank.

The sun was sinking by now and the light was fantastic spreading a faint pink glow over the proceedings.
As we headed up to the last hide we spotted a Stonechat on top of the Bramble bushes and distant Barnacle Geese. The last view point was the Phil Stead hide but there was nothing new to add here, most of the birds were settling down for the night but there was a rather aggressive Moorhen making sure that a Magpie wouldn't be staying there.

As we made our way back to the coach at the end of our day and with 59 species on our day-list we were treated to an elegant murmuration of Starlings before we headed off home.

CHRIS S

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