Thursday, November 22, 2012

A walk along the promenade

Today's Guardian Country Diary describes a visit to the coast just north of the mouth of the river Wear at Sunderland. 

Roker pier, at the mouth of the river, is a good place to watch turnstones that hang around waiting to pick up tit-bits that anglers on the pier drop when they re-bait their hooks. These birds have become remarkably tame, unlike their conspecifics a little further along the coast (see below) that are far more wary.

The first hint of a fishing line being reeled in and food becoming available and the turnstones close in ....

A little further along the coast, at Cannonball Rocks, there's a promenade cafe where you can get more than a splash of milk in your cup of tea if you're not careful, but it's a sunny, sheltered spot to sit and watch shipping entering and leaving the harbour....

.... and to warm your hands around a mug of tea.

As soon as you get onto the promenade at Seaburn you meet these very attentive flocks of starlings .....

.... loitering around the benches, waiting for someone to chuck them a chip from their fish 'n' chips. There's a bit of a dependency culture developing amongst some bird species along this coast.

Our destination was Whitburn rocks, always a good place to watch waders as the rising tide pushes them further up the beach. This little group of sanderlings raced down the beach following every retreating wave, picking up invertebrates, .....

....then raced back again, just keeping ahead of boiling surf that threatened to engulf them

At this end of the promenade turnstones behave the way they are supposed to behave, flipping over seaweed and stones in their hunt for food.

The rich mottled brown plumage on their backs blends with the piles of wracks and kelps, providing ...

... excellent camouflage, in comparision to paler sanderlings that were forced to join them in the pools between the piles of seaweeds, while they waited for the tide to fall and expose their preferred sandy habitat again.

If you just sit on the shingle beach here and wait for the tide to push the sanderlings towards you they approach quite closely, but they move so fast that the closer they get, the harder they are to follow. Lovely little birds, though.

And finally, more free-loading birds - gulls following an inshore fishing boat as it heads out of the Wear into the North Sea on the flood tide.


  1. I remember that cafe as a child, visiting when my father worked in Sunderland for while and on match days too.

  2. It's still very popular Mark - a nice sheltered spot under the cliffs - but now Sunderland play at the Stadium of Light it doesn't get much passing trade on match days ....