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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.

Background

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 the sea.



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 gullies

Birds

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 be seen.

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.


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