Redcar-Marske Stray by Graham Megson
Graham Megson reviews the birding potential the Redcar - Marske Stray. Probably
under-watched, this coastal strip provides good birding all year round, but particularly
in autumn and winter. It offers seabirds, shorebirds, migrants, wintering passerines
and a few breeders, including one of the few Sand Martin colonies in Cleveland.
Redcar and Marske are typical of many seaside towns in that they have convenient
parks and gardens close to the first landfall of tired migrants. The area covered
by this mini-guide covers the coastal strip from Majuba Road car park at the western
end of Redcar to St Germaine’s Church in Marske. It includes four kilometres of
foreshore and sand dunes, The Stray, the extensive coastal fields and hedgerows,
and the wooded gully known as Fox Covert. It has been watched for many years and
is a good mix of park and garden, seashore and open field birding, although disturbance
is an issue.
The Stray foreshore
Location, Access and Strategy
This is a good area to cover on its own or after visiting South Gare or Locke Park.
Starting in Redcar stop/park in Majuba Road car park, which is pay and display if
you are leaving a vehicle. Walk the beach and dunes or view the sea.
Continuing through Redcar along the esplanade, there are roadside bays to stop and
scan the shore, for example near the roundabout at NZ 613249. At low tide the scars
are exposed and hundreds of waders and gulls will be foraging. At high tide scan
the sea for seabirds. There is a good cafe on The Stray should you fancy any refreshments.
Continue east on the A1085, Coast Road, and just before the end of the built up
area turn right on to Green Lane at NZ 621238.
Green Lane ends at the sports ground but a track with a double hedgerow continues
inland and then follows the railway corridor eastwards to the sewage treatment works.
From Green Lane, The Stray can be explored and the coastal fields viewed, although
to fully cover the latter a number of viewing points will need to be visited. There
are two very public car parks and toilet blocks overlooking the sea.
At the eastern end of the coastal fields is the Fox Covert (NZ 630232), a narrow,
well vegetated, shallow ravine owned by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. The
TBC is currently working with the Council to advise on the future management this
site and return it to its former glory days, when the ringing group ‘worked’ it.
In its present state, it is neglected, impenetrable and over-mature.
On the Marske side of the ravine is Bylands School, with a large playing field and
as the buildings start The Stray comes to an end. The old part of Marske has a narrow,
green corridor which runs from the beach up into the town.
For a good sea watching location, follow Coast Road until reaching St Germaine’s
church, of which only the steeple remains. This offers a good vantage point over
Beyond the town there is continued good access to the cliffs and shore all the way
to Saltburn, with a footpath and some interesting dunes, boulder clay cliffs and
Many of us wish for a repeat of 5th October 1892, when, at Windy Hill Farm, an adult
male Macqueen’s (then named Houbara) Bustard was present. This individual was shot
and is preserved at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle but a repeat would be treated
somewhat differently. Until writing this article, I had always assumed that this
sighting was on the coastal fields between Redcar and Marske but examination of
the OS map shows that Windy Hill Farm actually lies between Marske and Saltburn
and, although this is just outside the main scope of this site guide, it is worth
a mention simply because it is only 1km from my house! Interestingly this article
also includes another very rare bird, so read on.
The foreshore and sea at Majuba Road car park are good for seabirds and ‘scoping
the sea during the winter may reveal grebes and divers, although seemingly not as
many as in years gone by. I walk this stretch every month as part of the co-ordinated
Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) count and Snow Buntings are often present in winter near
the car park, although these are fewer in number than formerly and do range a kilometre
or so down to South Gare. I have seen Little Auk and all four species of skua from
here over the years, the most memorable occasions being 4 Pomarines flying down
the beach one October and, another year, an adult Long-tailed Skua doing the same.
At high tide, waders roost half way to South Gare but can also be seen along the
line of the flowing tide. Sanderlings have crashed in numbers in recent years and
now a flock of 50 is notable. Turnstones, Redshanks, a few Knot, occasional Bar-tailed
Godwits and Oystercatchers can be logged. Looking out from the Regent Cinema, there
are usually five or six immature Eiders, Cormorants and, in the winter, Red-breasted
Mergansers. On favourable days, Common Scoter and flocks of Wigeon and Teal can
Majuba Road car park itself holds a flock of opportunistic
feeding Black-headed Gulls and Starlings.
The boating lake, renovated in 2008-09, used to hold a
high tide roost of 100-200 Redshanks but these have not reappeared since the work
was completed. In October 1993, 3 Long-tailed
Ducks appeared on the lake and gave stunning, close range views, but Canada Geese
and Mallards are now more frequent.
At low tide, the scars provide feeding grounds for waders
and gulls. Long-tailed Ducks were also present on the sea near The Stray cafe for
a few days one winter and Grey Phalaropes have been found ‘dancing’ in the surf
on a number of occasions.
The sandy Stray has itself produced some good
birds over the years, with the commoner pipits, wagtails, finches, Lapland Buntings,
thrushes and Wheatears on passage and, on 19th February 1986, one of Cleveland’s
few Arctic Redpolls, which was caught and ringed.
There is a Sand Martin colony in the exposed face of the boulder clay ‘cliff’
near the northernmost car park and in 2008, this contained 30 pairs.
At high tide, waders forage on the short turf and roost on the
fenced off playing field of Bydales School.
Gulls join them and are worth checking for Mediterranean Gull.
Green Lane can be fruitless, but then so are most places
when there are few birds visible. I have always fancied it for passage warblers
and redstarts but haven’t seen much more than winter thrushes and in the summer
singing Whitethroats and Blackcaps.
Wintering Tree Sparrows are worth looking for.
The coastal fields are a magnet for birds,
especially when they are left with stubble for the autumn and winter. Grey Partridge
is resident and various feral-type pigeons forage, along with numerous more ‘natural’
Wood Pigeons. Check through these for
Stock Dove. Lapwing and Golden Plover
numbers build up in the autumn and these frequently attract the attention of Sparrowhawks
and Peregrines. Merlins occasionally
hunt the passerines. Not surprisingly
the ‘Goldies’ have pulled in rarer waders and both Buff-breasted Sandpiper and American
Golden Plover have been expertly picked out.
Once well known for larks and buntings, including Lapland Bunting, the coastal fields
have recently been relatively poor in this respect.
Snow Buntings still occur but the regular, small, wintering Twite flock is
no longer present. On occasions, geese
visit the coastal fields and these have recently included Brent Goose.
On to the Fox Covert, which in its heyday, attracted passage
migrants and vagrants. I recall seeing
a Red-backed Shrike in the scrub and ringers caught one of the early Cleveland Radde’s
Warblers here. But now on to that other ultra-rare bird for this section of coast. The last net round of the evening,
on 23rd September 1975, produced a real shock for one ringer, with the capture of
a Black-billed Cuckoo. This North American vagrant was roosted overnight as per
BTO guidelines and released in Locke Park, Redcar the following day. A true red-letter
day for some of the Club’s older members! More recently, a Marske back garden held
a Booted Warbler in September 1993 for two days.
Finally to St Germaine’s, where, in the spring,
hirundines stream past and at other seasons the sea’s bounty of birds may be glimpsed
through spray and rain! However, one
memorable February day was a mill pond of a day and on view were Great Crested,
Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes, Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated
Divers, Eiders and Common Scoters.
As shown by this article, surprises are always a distinct
possibility and this whole area would benefit from greater birder coverage.
Mammals and Insects
No article is complete without reference to non-bird wildlife,
as other animals can help to round off a good day out in the field.
At sea Grey and Common Seals can be seen, along with the occasional Harbour
Porpoise, especially in calm sea conditions.
On land, Brown Hares are common on the coastal fields.
The common butterflies are present in the right months and occasionally ‘in
off’ the sea migration of Painted Ladies can be witnessed.