Teesmouth Bird Club
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Seaton Common / North Gare Pier / Seaton Snook and Seaton Channel by Ian Forrest

Background

This area covers the north side of Tees Estuary forming part of the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve. Habitat is mostly salt marsh and sandy beaches with a line of sand dunes separating the two areas. North Gare pier extends a short distance into the Estuary.

Location, Access and Strategy

Located by the A178 Tees Road one mile south of Seaton Carew and five miles north of Haverton Hill.



Public have open access to the beach areas either side of North Gare Pier south to Seaton Channel. Lying behind the sand dunes is the salt marsh of Seaton Common bounded by Seaton Carew golf course to the north and Hartlepool power station to the south. The A178 Tees Road forms the western boundary. Some areas of Seaton Common are open and others fenced off. Foot access to the Common is mostly around the margins apart from the access roads for North Gare and Zinc Works Road. The southern boundary of this area is Seaton Channel where Greatham Creek enters the River Tees. Seaton Snook is an area of dunes in the Estuary mouth on the north side of Seaton Channel. It is connected to the coastal dunes by a sandy ridge artificially reinforced though erosion has taken its toll I the last few years.

The area can be split into three areas for bird watching - North Gare Pier, Seaton Common and Seaton Snook each of which can be covered individually or combined in one or two trips.

North Gare Pier/Seaton Common

The pier is the north boundary of the Tees Estuary. It is shorter and less impressive looking than South Gare Pier which with the steel works at Redcar dominates the skyline to the south and east. There is little in the way of finesse, the pier is an oblong slab of concrete jutting 250yds into the sea.

Access can be gained by walking south along the beach from Seaton Carew but if visiting by car it’s more convenient to use the pier car park. Traveling one mile south from Seaton Carew you reach the sign posted access road to the car park. It is set back with two impressive stone column gate posts proclaiming ‘North Gare’ between which is a cattle grid. There is a metal barrier, but it is rarely closed. The road runs for about one mile through the salt marsh of Seaton Common.

The north side of the track is unfenced open salt marsh with many wetland areas and unobstructed views of Seaton Carew. Grazing cattle are usually along the track. The south side has a wooden rail fence alongside the road, bounding more salt marsh which has some permanent water holding areas. At the end of the road is a large car park capable of holding a number of coaches as well as cars.

From the car park foot access to North Gare Pier is by a hard core path across a narrow strip of golf course - so mind your heads! Golfers are generally very careful but it's not unknown for unwary visitors to be hit by a ball. With such good sandy beaches, this area is a very popular and can become quite busy with people who have no interest in the bird watching – especially in summer. Following the path leads you through the sand dunes and onto the pier itself from where most of the Tees basin from Hartlepool to Redcar and up river to Middlesbrough can be viewed.


photo: Zink Works Road and Seaton Common

Seaton Snook and Seaton Channel


To the south of North Gare further into the Estuary is Seaton Snook. It lies inside the Estuary itself on the north bank of the River Tees at the confluence with Greatham Creek. This area of the water is known locally as Seaton Channel.

The beach area between Seaton Channel and North Gare is a vast expanse of sand ½ mile wide. The whole beach can become covered with water on Spring tides but usually even during high tide the beach is mostly left uncovered. The Snook lies immediately on the edge of Seaton Channel and ¼ mile from the line of dunes that stretch along the coast from Seaton Carew to Seaton Channel. It comprises an area of sand dunes held in place by maram grass. It is connected to the mainland by a low sandy ridge reinforced by manmade shingle i.e. blast furnace slag! It used to be a continuous ridge 200m long and 2m high with a paved walkway on top, however years of erosion have breached it in several places. Whilst the Snook itself is never covered by the tide, the shingle ridge often is in places.

Further upstream the channel becomes Seals Sands a vast area of mudflats during low tide. Behind the line of sand dunes is the Power Station separated from the dunes by a large grassy field grazed by cattle and horses which keep the grass quite short. On the edge of the field by Seaton Channel is a concrete blockhouse left over from the war which can be a good viewing place for the Channel and Seal Sands.

To reach Seaton Snook the easiest access is via Zinc Works Road. Travelling south along the A178 from Seaton Carew 100m after the turning for North Gare is Zinc Works Road. Follow the road to its end and park in the small parking area or verges by the sand extraction site. There is a public right of way through the site either following the main track to the beach or turning left over the stile and passing behind the buildings and then turning right until you reach the sand dunes. Paths then lead you onto the beach or you can follow the dunes south towards Seaton Channel. Worth mentioning are the ‘migrant bushes’ which lie behind the sand dunes at the end of Zinc Works Road. They often trap migrating Warblers especially in the Autumn passage.

Birds

A good selection of birds can be found in the area.

In winter the Estuary is a nationally important area for wintering waders. The list is extensive but some of the species routinely found here include Redshank, Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Knot, Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Cormorant, Shag, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Eider Duck, Common Scoter, Shelduck, Guillemot, Razorbill, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe. Most winters Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe and Red-necked Grebe area found as well. Wintering geese tend to be low in number apart from on passage but include Greylag, Pink-footed, Canada and Brent. The dunes also hold wintering Twite, Snow Bunting and Merlin with the occasional Hen Harrier as well. Short-eared Owl are seen most years and occasionally Barn Owl. Large numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing pass through each year.

Spring and Autumn passage migrants regularly include Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler, Lapland Bunting, Artic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Shearwater, Arctic Tern and Roseate Tern, Osprey, Marsh Harrier and Rough-legged Buzzard. Many scarcer migrants turn up each year as well. In years past Bluethroat and Shorelark were regulars here.

Additional species found on the marshes – Snipe, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Grey Heron, Skylark, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Little Egret, Teal, Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Shoveler, Mallard, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon and Sparrowhawk. Large numbers of gulls and Starlings roost on the marshes as well. Summer breeding migrants also include Swallow, Swift, Sand Martin, House Martin, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Cuckoo. Little Tern, Common Tern and Sandwich Tern all breed in the area.

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