Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla ©Ashley Beolens Website
Birding Cleveland

Cleveland is extremely varied geographically. The Tees estuary is highly industrialised and urbanised. Much of the remainder of the lowland parts of Cleveland is farmland. East Cleveland marks the northern end of the chain of cliffs that runs along the North Yorkshire Heritage Coast. South Cleveland is extremely hilly, forming the escarpment of the North York Moors. One of the best known symbols of Cleveland is the distinctive hill of Roseberry Topping, which overlooks Newton under Roseberry on the Great Ayton to Guisborough road. Its original roughly conical form was undercut by extensive mining, giving it a jagged appearance that many have thought reminiscent of the Matterhorn mountain.For a very small county (which in fact no longer officially exists) Cleveland has an impressive bird list, both quantitatively (348) and qualitatively. Hartlepool Headland is an outstanding sea-watch point – there can be few rivals in the country as a place to see autumn skua movements and all the other seabird groups are well represented except for the larger shearwaters which remain very scarce, much to the frustration of the many dedicated sea-watchers. Staithes in the extreme south of the county offers almost as good sea-watching and South Gare, near Redcar, though set in a deep bay, can be surprisingly good in the right winds. Sea-watching depends very much on the winds coming from the northern quarter, preferably with some east, the stronger the better.

The county has a large estuary, and the extensive marshes, water meadows and inter-tidal mudflats to the north of the river Tees (between Port Clarence and Seaton Carew) together with Coatham Marsh to the south (nr. South Gare) attract large numbers of all the common waders. Many of the scarcer waders e.g. Pectoral Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint are pretty much annual and the list of rare waders is mouth- watering e.g. Long-toed Stint, Great Knot, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (3) amog a long list, though the failure to record two relatively common Americans, Lesser Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitcher, is something of a puzzle. The same general pattern of occurrence is true also for wildfowl (and only this spring Lesser Scaup was added to the county list); additional attractive sites for wildfowl are Scaling Dam and Lockwood Beck reservoirs in the south of the county and Crookfoot reservoir in the north. Constant reference to the north and south of the county hints at a serious, but friendly, rivalry between birders from either side of the river, a rivalry that also extends to an annual football match (currently honours are shaded by the north).

As at any east coast location passerine migration in spring and autumn is eagerly awaited at the coastal hotspots – Hartlepool Headland, North & South Gare, Boulby cliffs and the usual suspects are frequently recorded. Again a long list of rarities has been recorded. The county exerts a strange attraction on Paddyfield Warblers – 5 to date, as it seems to do also on Thrush Nightingales (5); Ross’s Gulls (6); Broad-billed Sandpipers (12) and White-rumped Sandpipers (14).

With extensive moorland to the south, one or two largish reed beds, and open country in the hinterland, common breeding birds are plentiful and varied though only very rarely do any very scarce breeders grace the scene. There are several nature reserves in the county run by the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and one major reserve, Teesmouth National Nature Reserve, which lies at the core of a wildlife site designated (via EU Special Protection Area and Ramsar site classification) as being of international importance for birds, though it is hoped that the long awaited Teesmouth International Nature Reserve at Saltholm will soon join these. Much of the county is heavily urbanised and industrialised and bird watching surrounded by chemical and steel works or peering into people’s front gardens can strike the visitor as rather strange.

County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 355

    County Bird - Shelduck Tadorna tadorna [or at least the emblem of the Teesmouth Bird Club]
Useful Reading

  • Where to Watch Birds: Northeast England

    | By Dave Britton & John Day | Christopher Helm | 2014 | Paperback | 416 pages, B/w line illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9780713668261 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • Cleveland Bird Report

    From: Colin Dodsworth, 63 Stokesley Crescent, Billingham, TS23 1NF 01643 551223
  • Cleveland Naturalists' Field Club

    The Cleveland Naturalists' Field Club is probably one of the oldest clubs in the Teesside area. It was founded in April 1881, the name of Cleveland Naturalists' Field Club has been used since 1886. The United Kingdom has a long history of these local natural history groups and they provide the backbone of knowledge for local and national surveys of the flora and fauna of Britain.
  • Durham Wildlife Trust

    The Cleveland Wildlife Trust aims to ensure the sustainability of natural wildlife. They do this by working in co-operation with developers, planners, industry and the public to maintain and improve essential wildlife habitat resources within new and existing urban and industrial use. The Trust manages 14 reserves in a mixture of rural and industrial areas including Coatham Marsh, probably the most ecologically valuable wetland area on the south banks of the River Tees, incorporating 50 acres of ancient marsh, traversed by fresh water fleets.
  • Friends of Red Kites in the North East of England

    The Friends Group was established in 2009 to encourages an active interest and community involvement in the protection and welfare of the red kite
  • RSPB Cleveland Members Group

    RSPB Cleveland Members Group was formed in 1974 and its aim is to bring together those interested both in the conservation and study of birds and in conservation in general. Their members consist of a broad age range who have wide knowledge of birds and allied subjects. Beginners and experts are equally welcome. Throughout the year the group meets for a variety of events, outings and lectures in the form of illustrated talks…
  • Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

    Tees Valley Wildlife Trust is part of the influential UK-wide partnership of 47 Wildlife Trusts. The Trust has worked for more than 30 years to protect wildlife and wild places, and educate, influence and empower people. We manage 15 Nature Reserves and help others to manage their countryside sites. Our work is helping to secure the future of many important habitats and species, which might otherwise be lost.
  • Teesmouth Bird Club

    The county has a thriving bird club - Teesmouth Bird Club - with a very active membership and first rate records committee responsible for the annual publication of an excellent report. Perusal of this would give the flavour of Cleveland birding and copies can be obtained from Colin Dodsworth, 63 Stokesly Crescent, Billingham, TS23 1NF.
  • The Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club

    The Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club was founded in 1958 and membership is open to all with a beneficial interest in ornithology. The recording area for the club comprises Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle upon Tyne.

Abbreviations Key

  • RSPB Reserve Saltholme

    WebpageSatellite View
    Four wildlife viewing hides, along with viewing screens and the viewing gallery in the visitor centre, to help you get closer to the wildlife that calls Saltholme home.
  • Teesmouth National Nature Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    Saltholme will be a fantastic new wildlife experience for the north of England and is currently being created in the Tees Valley. You can find out more about this exciting project here and don't forget to visit our diary page for monthly progress reports from the project team…
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Cleveland Birds

    @clevelandbirds - any thing to do with the birds of cleveland and if you need info on sites or where to see birds in cleveland just ask plus all nature in general in Cleveland
  • NorthEastBirding

    Mailing List
    This group is for everyone interested in birds and birding in North East England (Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, County Durham, Cleveland, North Yorkshire). It is a discussion forum for all aspects of birding - sightings, trip reports, census work, personality profiles, bird race and Big Day records, lists - and jokes. Although its primary focus is birding in the North East, all other bird-related topics are welcome. However, this is NOT a forum for character assassination, slander or libel.
Trip Reports

Click on WAND to see Fatbirder’s Trip Report Repository…

  • 2009 [05 May] - Nick Mason - North East England (Northumberland, Durham & Cleveland)

    Bright sunshine and a gentle easterly greeted our arrival at Seahouses on the Northumberland coast. A quick look at the harbour rocks gave us Oystercatcher and Turnstone. The dual island boat trip headed out to Staple Island first, with hundreds of auks giving great views from the boat as we approached their nesting rock stacks.
Other Links
  • Cleveland Way

    Birds can be hard to see among the trees and mammals may be hidden, but they will use the Cleveland Way as well, so look out for signs
  • David Brown's Birdwatching and Wildlife Gallery

    Teesside offers some of the best birdwatching in the county and is one of my most visited areas. My recording area for Teesside starts from Scaling Dam and South Gare, which is on the southern side of the River Tees and goes as far north as Hartlepool Headland and Crimdon Dene. The whole of Teesside can be an excellent place to visit at any time of year and is especially during spring and autumn when birds pass though the area heading towards their breeding/wintering grounds. The area can be very productive during these months and at times, can be an unforgetable experience. This is especially the case when there has been a recent fall of migrants.

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