Saltholme 2019


It was a quieter than usual group which climbed aboard the very early coach for our trip to Saltholme. With the hour going forward during the night many of us (me included) didn’t sleep well in case we overslept and missed the coach. It was a narrow squeak for a couple of members who arrived exactly on time, but after Brian!! The normal stop at Hartshead Moor had us out of the coach, binoculars raised, counting the Rooks in the nearby rookery. There were plenty of passerines in the shrubs and hedges around the coach park and Brian noted ten different species in as many minutes.

Saltholme is an RSPB reserve situated between Billingham and Middlesborough, surrounded by a huge industrial complex. Chimneys belched steam, pylons and enormous cranes straddled the landscape, gasometers and industrial plants – some now decommissioned, were in every direction. What chance for nature here? Yet this was our fourth trip to this very different reserve.

On arrival we discovered that Winter Hours still applied on this Sunday, with the reserve closing at 4 pm, so it was to be an early start for home. On entering the Visitor Centre we scanned the “recent sightings” board and were pleasantly surprised. The feeders were well stocked and gave us great views of a good half dozen Tree Sparrows with a similar number of Goldfinches, Great Tit, Greenfinch all feeding up as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks! On the ground underneath the feeders were several Stock Doves, a couple of Mallards and one cheeky Coot taking advantage of an easy meal.

The group then split, a few hardy souls taking the long Wilderness Trail to start with, the majority staying with Brian and dividing themselves between the two hides outside the main reserve. From the Phil Stead hide we saw a reasonable mix of ducks with Mallard, Gadwall, Tufties, Teal, Canada and Greylag Geese with a Little Egret proving an interesting diversion as he bobbed up and down feeding. Heading out to the Wildlife Watchpoint we stopped by The lake and counted two Great Crested Grebes, two Mute Swans and more raucous Black-headed Gulls. Throughout the reserve there were some lovely carvings of animals from Alice in Wonderland. By this view point was an enormous over life-sized carved model of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I do hope it wasn’t any of my subscription money that was wasted on this! So onwards to the Wildlife Watchpoint where we saw Teal, Pochard, Mallard, two Moorhens, more Goldfinches and a solitary male Chaffinch.


We then retraced our steps back to the Visitor Centre meeting up with those who had walked the longest route. All reported seeing absolutely nothing other than the rear of a deer. Continuing on we followed the Dragonfly Trail to Saltholme Pools and the brand new hide due to be officially opened the next day. At a convenient bend in the path by a screen, we stopped and peeped into pools and scanned over fields. We heard and saw a couple of Skylarks, Meadow Pipit, a female Wheatear, Heron and Curlew whilst a Kestrel flew overhead, eyes downwards hunting for prey. Around the pools we spotted two Ringed Plovers, one asleep and the other with its back to us. A Pied Wagtail ran along a muddy bank. Finally we reached the new Saltholme hide and were dismayed by the lack of wildfowl. Obviously all the building work had disturbed the birds and they had deserted the reserve, hopefully for one season only. Yes, there were ducks and geese present, but in twos and threes rather than the tens or hundreds we were accustomed to.

We added Shelduck, Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser to the list whist lunch was munched.

Again we went our separate ways, some walking around the reserve others taking a shorter route. I went round The Lake once more, calling in at Paddy’s Pool hide to watch a couple of Little Grebes ducking and diving. By now it was turned 2 pm and the sun had finally broken through the clouds giving a warm sunny afternoon. We admired a pristine Small Tortoiseshell butterfly looking gorgeous in the sunshine as it flitted around clumps of primroses.

In the dry summer months a Saudi Arabian company pumps fresh water from its underground wells to maintain the health and sustainability of this wetland and the wildlife it supports. Last year, for example, it pumped about 100 Olympic sized swimming pools of fresh water to Saltholme.

Back in the Visitor Centre we watched the birds on the feeders until the lure of the café proved irresistible. We were pleased to see other members had also succumbed. On the journey home whilst most of us snoozed, Jennifer saw a Red Kite bringing our total for the day to 63.

This was surprisingly higher than in the previous two trips; in October 2012 we saw 54 and 59 in November 2015. We all hope that this renovated, state of the art reserve manages to attract back the numbers of birds for which it is so well known. At the present time it is a well appointed reserve, but with very little wildlife.


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