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Jun 2019+

RSPB™ Wildlife Reserve & Discovery Park.

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It's an RSPB™ Wildlife Reserve & Discovery Park, alright, but not something you might expect to find given the environs but more on that in a minute.

A two-mile loop with a couple of diversions and a handful of hideaways, it's largely given over to the wetland but there's enough whistling wildlife in the bushes should you have forgotten the binocs.

Ex-Springwatcher  Kate Humble cut the ceremonial ribbon on the door of this eco-friendly Visitor Centre in 2009 and curly-haired Kate (41) opened the gate to half-a-million people and counting as of mid-2015.

There's a small shop and café inside and a modern, curvy viewing area overlooking a man-made lake that sports some floating rafts to help out passing terns who happen to fancy a nest, not shown.

There's another celebrity association with the Wildlife Garden designed by Gardeners' World's  Chris Beardshaw (age unknown) but you'll have to wait until the way out for that.

Not unless, that is, you go against the conventional and loop out in a clockwise direction but, either way, 400 hectares worth of outside awaits.

Four hundred hectares? Now, in old money, that's just shy of 1,000 acres. Now, an acre? Is that two football pitches or half a one? Can never remember so will just have a quick check...

Five hundred football pitches, including throw-ins, worth of outside awaits.

The café will do you a Chip Bun[1] for £2.50 and this very northern sounding offering was a new one despite hailing from even more north of here. This is very much the North, alright, Hartlepool is just up the road and is as famed as Rome's Colosseum as the testing ground of a warrior's mettle.

Numerous football pundits have said re: Messrs Viera, Suarez et al... 'He's got all the tricks all right but would he fancy it on a cold and wet Wednesday night in Hartlepool[2] with the wind whipping in off the North Sea.', probably.

[1] Yes, this is just some chips in a bun.
[2] See also Grimsby and if you're Scottish, Arbroath and Montrose work equally well.

Doing, what could be considered, a bit of casual birding there are no 5 AM alarm calls here. This is just something for the weekend and even then only when the weather's set fair. Let a member of staff clock your binocs, however, and he'll greet you like a seasoned pro...

'You've just missed a black-backed (gull) take a (tern) chick. The parents tried to see it off but it dropped in the water then a crow flew in and finished the job.'

That means it's not all fluffy feathers and feeding stations so to lighten the mood a little, here's a little  reed bunting.

And look! Here he is again.

Show-off!

This is all bang in the middle of an oasis in, what's left of, Teesside's chemical industry. Nearby Seal Sands is as seductive as it sounds but if you follow the sign from Saltholme, you'll end up at the metal fence of an oil depot.

If it's grey, aquatic and barking you want, you'll need to head north a bit on the A178 and walk out from the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve car park.

It's fairly well known that local lad  Ridley Scott claimed that when driving down the A19 one night, the view of the belching toxicity inspired the futuristic visuals of the film  Blade Runner he'd go on to direct.

What's not so well known is that there exists a rarely seen director's cut of the director's cut that contains footage actually filmed here.

It's true, honestly, towards the end of Blade Runner, Harrison Ford's character is chased down by Rutger Hauer's robotic 'replicant'. In a desperate attempt to see off his seemingly invincible nemesis, Ford lures Hauer to...

EXT. NIGHT: A cold and wet Wednesday night in Hartlepool with the wind whipping in off the North Sea.

Meanwhile, back in Saltholme, those 400 hectares are getting a right good looking at. On the lakes, it's largely swans, ducks and geese at this time of year and there's a rare  garganey in town, somewhere.

On the man-made islands, gulls trying to eat tern chicks, as is already known, with the gulls themselves keeping an eye out for the peregrines who are fond of their young.

The occasional wader has to settle for worms but they won't arrive in their numbers until September[1] when this place really comes alive.

Even seasoned pros will tell you that waders are a tricky bunch. They're similarly beaky, you see, and this pair of amateurs couldn't tell you the difference between a sandpiper and a sanderling, yet.

[1] Some on their way to Africa.

Hides provide the chance to sit and gaze at the lakes or to take in Middlesbrough's, unexpectedly eye-catching, 'cityscape' despite it not being a city.

It's no New York or Shanghai but the famous Tees  Transporter Bridge on the right there and it's still in operation. That came as news as it was now thought to be in  Arizona?

Out in the fields and the hedgerows, the stonechat, of course, and this one is unmistakably male. So called from their call, said to sound like two pebbles being tapped together 'chak, chak'[1].

It fired off a few but not in an alarming sounding way due to an encroachment. No, more of an irritated 'tut, tut' as in 'Have you not got that photograph yet?'

[1] Yes, some people really have phonetised these.

A confession has already been made to some casual birding but that was before this visit and the relationship has very much moved on to the next stage. There's now a third party involved and everybody's living happily together.

That's right, Coxton's Bird Watcher's Logbook! 'The original and still the only logbook for the serious... ornithologist.' The cover even has a bird flicking through a logbook of birds who themselves are probably... this hobby will blow your mind!

Check out those rows, 50 pages of every recorded species of bird in Britain and Ireland since 1950. Check out those columns, one for each month of the year and don't forget your 'Life List'. Tick 'em all off then come back next year and do it all again.

It's off to a great start, page one and the  great crested grebe but let's not get too optimistic about ticking them all off. Top of page 35, 'Struthio camelus'...

That's an ostrich!