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SEATON CAREW CEMETERY by Colin Dodsworth

Colin Dodsworth reviews a hidden gem tucked away behind the centre of Seaton Carew that has produced some excellent birds over the years and a place that he loves to visit during peak migration times.

 BACKGROUND

Holy Trinity Churchyard in Seaton Carew, or ‘Seaton Cemy’ as it is fondly known in local birding circles, is situated just inland from Front Street at the southern end of the town. The current church lies on the site of the former village chapel and was consecrated in 1831 and restored in 1891. The churchyard itself consists of little more than 20 to 30 mature trees, mainly sycamores, and an area of overgrown vegetation in the north-west corner, with a few smaller trees, such as alder, poplar and a single, stunted apple tree. As expected, this area holds very few species in summer and winter; however, despite the gradual encroachment of a new housing estate, which means the site is now completely enclosed, it still attracts passage migrants in spring and autumn. Although nowhere near as productive as nearby Hartlepool Headland, it is still worth checking in ‘fall’ conditions.

BIRDS

Resident birds are limited to locally breeding urban species such as Woodpigeon, Magpie, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Starling, Wren, Robin, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. The real attraction of this site is the possibility of encountering passage migrants in spring and autumn. Seaton Cemy seems to fair much better in autumn with Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart all occurring on a regular basis when onshore winds are blowing. The mature foliage can also attract a number of warbler species, such as Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. The short grass and leaf litter around the gravestones below the sycamores in the main section of the cemetery often has migrant thrushes, mainly Blackbirds and Redwings in the autumn, along with regular sightings of Brambling, Chaffinch and sometimes Siskin. Occasional visitors also include Woodcock, Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Fieldfare. Wood Warbler has occurred in both autumn and spring and scarce warblers are also a spring possibility, as evidenced by a singing Marsh Warbler in 1995. As expected with a coastal migrant trap, a number of unusual birds have occurred, most notable of which was Cleveland’s first record of Dusky Warbler in 1981. Other scarcities have included Red-backed Shrike (1994), Siberian Stonechat (1991), Red-breasted Flycatcher (1984 and 1989), Icterine Warbler (1980 and 1995), Barred Warbler (1989) and Ortolan (1995). Yellow-browed Warbler has also occurred in at least 13 autumns, so this site gives birders the ideal opportunity to find their own good birds whilst everybody else converges on the more popular Hartlepool Headland. Seaton Cemy is often under-watched, so who knows what else slips through undetected. The mature trees and leaf litter strewn areas of short grass seem ideal for Olive-backed Pipit and it doesn’t take much to imagine a Red-flanked Bluetail flitting from gravestone to gravestone. Although the encroachment of a new housing estate has undoubtedly reduced its appeal, it still has the potential to produce something good. If Hartlepool can throw up a White-throated Robin and a Western Orphean Warbler, why can’t Seaton Cemy provide us with a true autumn mega? Who knows, it could even be a Forest Wagtail!

ACCESS AND STRATEGY

Access is via Church Street, off Front Street, but parking on the street here is very limited therefore the best tactic is to park in one of the seafront car parks and walk to the cemetery: that way you can also pick up a bag of chips when you have finished! Please don’t be tempted to park in the private car park within the church grounds and always be respectful and quietly leave if the church is holding any kind of function. The churchyard itself backs on to the playground of Holy Trinity Primary School so if you intend on spending time here during school hours it is worth popping into the school’s reception to let them know, as unannounced birders lurking about in the undergrowth have caused concern in the past. As for strategy, it is simply a case of slowly covering all the trees in the churchyard. The higher trees require a modicum of patience, as you just need to listen for calls and scan the canopy for movement. Fortunately, a lot of the birds (including some of the good ones) seem to favour the overgrown area in northwest corner behind the car park, which is easier to work.

 


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