Teesmouth Bird Club
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Weary Bank by Ali McLee


In this feature, Ali McLee takes a look at a less well-known Cleveland site he frequently visits in the well-wooded valley of the River Leven, downstream of Weary Bank, near Yarm. This highly scenic area can produce a good array of woodland and riparian species during the spring and summer, including all three woodpeckers.


Background

The Tees has surprisingly few tributaries of any size in its lower reaches, the main one being the River Leven. The Leven rises on the northern edge of the North York Moors National Park and wends its way west and then north through Stokesley and Hutton Rudby over flat, floodplain farmland. From Hutton Rudby and onwards via Crathorne, the stream has cut itself a young valley all the remaining way to the Tees. The river is very diverse in this stretch, with stony riffles and glides, interspersed with deep pools with gravel or mud bottoms. As the river meanders, the outer bank edges are steep and constantly eroding. Depending on the contours of the land by the riverside, there is either tree cover or pasture. The riverside is lined with Alders and Crack Willows, while the woodlands on the North Yorkshire side have a good range of species, including Oak and Ash. On the more open slopes, Hazel and Hawthorn scrub predominates and there is a large patch of Gorse below the Castlelevington earthworks.



Location, Access and Strategy

Weary Bank lies about 1.5 kilometres to the southeast of Yarm and is accessed from the east via the A1044 Leven Bank Road/Green Lane or, from the west, along the B1264 (Green Lane), both of which skirt the southern edge of Yarm. Turn off Green Lane a few hundred metres from the A67/A1044 Kirklevington roundabout and head south along the minor road for several miles, cross the A19 and park near the bridge at Weary Bank by the river.

You can then follow the Leven downstream on the public right of way as far as the A19 viaduct, though an OS map is advised. If one wishes to walk the full length, a second car at the opposite end may be useful to save having to retrace your steps. If you choose to go along the public footpath further downstream than the confluence with Brewsdale Beck, then the river will have to be forded (usually a wellie job in summer), to pick up the path on the other side. Up- and downstream from the Weary Bank bridge, the river forms Cleveland boundary with North Yorkshire on the right hand bank. Upstream of the bridge, on both sides of the Leven, is the private Crathorne Estate.

Birds

The best birding time to visit is early morning in Spring, before the canopy is too leafy. Even if you don’t want to walk the full stretch, simply standing on the bridge and staying alert can be rewarding. I find this my favourite spot to hear Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling and drumming just over the boundary in Yorkshire and a sighting is always possible. Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker are much more likely, however. Remember to check under the bridge for otter spraint and tracks. This is a typical spot but all muddy edges along the banks should be scrutinised. Sadly, Water Voles are long gone, thanks to the Mink. Look upstream to see the Grey Herons commuting to and from the heronry in the Crathorne Estate. Walking downstream keep your eyes open for Kingfishers darting over the water and hopefully their call will prepare you for the “bolt of blue” fly-by.

Goosander breeds in the area and the incubating adult females fly up and down, calling others off the nest to assemble a fishing team to feed collectively on the River Tees. If you do come across a brood on the water, please not to approach too close and split up the brood. The same goes for Mallard. Further downstream, on the steep, grazed valley sides, there are ant nests and here is the best place for your third woodpecker – the Green. On the rocky stretches of the river, you will be unlucky not to see Grey Wagtail, which is a local speciality. However, its partner bird, the Dipper, has never bred here and I believe the watercourse is too slow and not rocky enough but they may turn up in winter.

As you amble slowly along, a good range of woodland and riparian birds will introduce themselves – warblers, thrush species, titmice (including Willow and Marsh), Moorhen, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Common Buzzards have recently started to appear in the area and may eventually breed, as there is ideal habitat available for them. Below the ancient earth works of Castlelevington is a natural amphitheatre, which, on certain evenings, attracts large numbers of hirundines and I cannot believe that these do not attract Hobby on occasions. I have had fleeting views of a falcon species, which provoked a massive response from swallows, which a Kestrel would never do. Hobby is now nesting further north in the area so…..

A dusk visit to the bridge area will reward you with a sight, or at least the call, of a Tawny Owl and I am advised by the gamekeeper that there are still a few Woodcocks to be seen roding in the failing light. Sadly, like many other places in our region, the Turtle Dove is now gone. This used to be heard calling all day downstream at Brewsdale Beck. Daubentons Bats quarter the river here and I have seen overhead Noctules racing around when the day shift of Swifts has clocked off. The river downstream of the ford towards the viaduct sports similar woodland species and Jays are more regular. The deciduous woodlands here are more ancient and botanically more interesting.

I hope this brief account will encourage you to visit this charming, hidden little patch and you will share your sightings with the Club’s Recorder.

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