STUNNING DUNLINS @ RSPB SALTHOLME
On Monday I visited RSPB Saltholme, situated just north of Middlesbrough. The reserve opened in 2009 and currently has five hides and trails for you to explore and it is home to one of the largest inland breeding colonies of Common Tern. The Saltholme Pools hide has recently undergone renovation turning it into a two tier hide with the upper tier giving you three hundred and sixty degree views across the reserve.
It was a cloudy and damp day when I arrived at Saltholme and I headed first to the visitor centre to check the latest sightings board and the bird feeders at the side of the building. Around the bird feeders I could see several Starlings and Stock Doves as well as Tree Sparrows and Greenfinches. I walked through the visitor centre shop and through a sliding door, past the walled garden and to the 0.9 mile long Dragonfly path. This path takes you down towards the Saltholme Pools hide and a hundred or so yards before the hide the path turns to the left and on the right are two viewing screens.
I could only see Black Headed Gulls from the first one but when I looked through the second one I could see four Dunlins landing on the edge of the water scurrying about before flying off over the path behind me. I now walked the short distance to the hide where the northern half looks out over West Saltholme Pool and the southern half over Back Saltholme Pool. I sat down looking northwards and on the edge of an island in front of me I could see a Dunlin making its way back and forth probing for food before flying off.
It landed over to the far left hand side where there were three more Dunlins and back over on the island in front of the hide a Ringed Plover landed in the middle of the island. It spent a few minutes moving around the island before flying off eastwards to the far side of West Saltholme Pool. A pair of Canada Geese swam across from the right before wading through the water where it was too shallow to swim.
I made my way up the spiral staircase to the upper level of the hide where on the grass beyond the pool to the north I could see several Canada Geese and a Hare hunkered down against the wind. I moved round to look out on the southern side where there was a Little Ringed Plover on an island as well as a couple of Coots in the water nearby. There were also a few House Martins and Swallows flying round the circular hide swooping back and forth in front of me. After a few minutes I walked back down the stairs and headed back along the trail to the visitor centre.
I went upstairs and visited the cafe for my lunch where there are floor to ceiling windows giving you views over a large lake with a couple of islands in the middle. The islands were full with Black Headed Gulls and a trio of Common Terns were sat on wooden posts at the edge of the right hand island. On the water I could see Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Mute Swans and a lone Great Crested Grebe swimming between the islands.
To the right hand side there is a Sand Martin wall which was busy with Sand Martins coming in and out at regular intervals and flying low over the water catching food. A Lesser Black Backed Gull landed on the water and was immediately mobbed by several Black Headed Gulls trying to get it to leave but without success. On the grass banking just in front of the visitor centre there was a pair of Canada Geese with several young in tow.
After lunch I headed out along the Lake Walk towards the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide and as I neared the hide a Robin sang from the top of a bush. I continued on and arrived at the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide where on the water I could see a Little Egret at the far side as well as a couple of Mallards and standing like a statue in the middle was a Grey Heron. A Pochard landed briefly at the far left hand side of the water before being chased off by a Mallard whilst over to the right hand side was a pair of Canada Geese walking along the waters edge with several chicks following them.
To the right of the hide are some bird feeders which were being visited by Blue Tits, Goldfinches and a rather fat and dishevelled looking Greenfinch. The Grey Heron now started to move across the water and disappeared into the reeds. I left the hide and continued along the Lake Walk until the path split in two with the left hand path continuing on the Lake Walk and the right hand path being the start of the Kestrel Trail.
I took the right hand path and after a few hundred yards a small lagoon appeared on my right where there were Shelducks, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens. Moving through the reeds was a trio of Reed Warblers whilst perched at the top of the reeds were several Swallows busy preening themselves. I continued along the Kestrel Trail as it turned southwards with Swifts and a Skylark flying overhead. A little further along on my right I spotted a Meadow Pipit sat on the top of a wooden post singing away.
It moved from post to post occasionally dropping down into the grass before popping back up and landing on another post. In the field on the other side of the fence were several Cows with a few Swallows perched on a wire fence beyond them. The path now turned to the left heading east towards the Paddy's Pool Hide which faces south over Paddy's Pool. The path rejoins the Lake Walk around a hundred yards from the hide turning south east and perched on a bush amongst the tall grass was another Meadow Pipit.
As I moved past the bush the Meadow Pipit moved up the bush right to the top before flying off westwards. I walked on to the hide where I could see over a hundred Black Headed Gulls on an island over to the left whilst in the water I saw Canada Geese, Gadwalls, a lone Shoveler and a Little Grebe. A female Mallard swam across the water in front of the hide with fourteen chicks trailing behind her. I left the hide and followed the path until it reached the Dragonfly Path and turned right onto it heading down to the Saltholme Pools hide for a second visit of the day.
About half way along the path I spotted another Meadow Pipit perched yet again on a wooden post. It flew off back towards the visitor centre, briefly perching on another wooden post before dropping down into the grass. The water round the Saltholme Pools hide was very quiet so I headed back along the path towards the visitor centre and as I got near I saw an Oystercatcher to my right.
From the visitor centre I walked round the car park to the Phil Stead hide where I could see Mallards, Coots and Moorhens with several Sand Martins flying low over the water. A pair of Grey Herons took off from my right and flew westwards over the water and out of sight. Before I headed home I walked the short distance to a viewing screen where a Ruff had been sighted earlier in the day. Just in front of me I could see Greylag Geese and out on a small pool of water in the distance I could see a Green Sandpiper and the Ruff.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to RSPB Saltholme.