19th Sept. Another wonderfully sunny day saw me in Durham with the group. Our first stop was Hartlepool Headland. The position of the sun made sea watching difficult, but to be honest I think whilst conditions were good for us they were never going to bring us many seabirds. I did spot a couple of Seals and I refuse to accept they were flotsam as suggested by one or two who didn’t see them! I also got my eye on a couple of cetaceans which where thought to be Harbour Porpoise. I enjoyed the morning in this interesting area and I would like more time to take an interest in some of the buildings, but the birding was not exciting this morning. Birds seen included Great Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, and many gulls! Rock Pipits were about and some members found Knot, Turnstone and Greenshank and a Sparrowhawk was seen. We were in no hurry to leave and had lunch on one of the lawns before leaving for Saltholme.
This was my first visit to Saltholme since it officially opened. The last time I was there the centre was a large mound of mud. I remember a discussion on another forum where many local birders expressed concerns as to how much was being spent on the centre at Saltholme. I’ve since heard mutterings of dissatisfaction ranging from levels of water in the ponds to unfinished areas. All I can say is that I feel it has been money well spent on what will prove to be an excellent educational centre. Of course it will be some years until the reserve comes of age, but I was most impressed by the place and the progress so far. Well done the RSPB and all others concerned is all I can say. Money very well spent I think. Having said that, I’m not really one who can really enjoy birding in crowds, so I was glad to get away from the centre and out onto the reserve. Although it was good to note a number of youngsters taking an interest in the dipping ponds and the many dragonflies about. I spotted many Common Darters, Southern Hawker and Common Hawker. Several Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies too.
I have Hooded Merganser on my life list, but I was still eager to find the one at Saltholme. Unfortunately it eluded me. Apparently it was on the pond near the centre in the morning, re-appeared whilst I was out on the reserve and then disappeared before I returned. I did have good sightings of Little Egret (3), Greenshank and Ruff. I reckon there has been many more Greenshank around in recent weeks than is usual in this area. Other waders seen were Golden Plover (numbers), Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. Waterfowl included Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and Tufted Duck. I heard mutterings about Scaup and Garganey, but I saw no sign of either. I did find a pair of Stonechat.
Our thirty-seven members on the fieldtrip seemed to go home happy with the daily tally of 62 bird species. There seemed to be at least two other RSPB groups visiting today, but the size of the reserve meant we didn’t really notice. I’m back there next weekend for a meeting so will take another look for the Hooded Merganser. My only complaint was the café shuts so early, as I was gasping for a cuppa by the end of the day and couldn’t get one!