I should have done it ages ago, but yesterday I, at last, got round to suggesting Middle Marsh Nature Reserve as a hotspot on the global bird-sightings database (and website and phone app) that is e-Bird, so it is now possible for anyone with an e-Bird account to enter sightings of birds seen at Middle Marsh, or to view data about sightings from there, made by other birders.
In case you haven't heard of it before, e-Bird is an online database which was set up in 2002 by the famous 'Cornell University Lab of Ornithology'. Since then over a billion bird records have been submitted to it by over 2 million people around the world. I've had an e-Bird account since 2018 but until recently didn't use it very much. Since September I have been using my phone to record all of my birding trips on e-Bird and am now going through my old notebooks to enter all my old data from Middle Marsh, the site in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough that was designated as a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) in 2020, under the name Middle Marsh Nature Reserve.
So now I'm going to tell you a bit more about Middle Marsh than (I think) I have told you before.
Middle Marsh is a 'brownfield site' (meaning a site which has previously been developed but which has returned to nature) in east Middlesbrough, immediately south of Middlesbrough Dock and the Riverside Stadium (home to Middlesbrough F.C), and just across the A66 from North Ormesby. I've been going there since 2016 and in that time have seen or heard 68 species of bird, as well as 220 species of flowering plant, 13 butterflies, three dragonflies and various other insects and wildlife.
|Middle Marsh in the wider context - the red line is the current boundary of the |
Local Wildlife Site (LWS). The purple lines are around two extra areas
which I'm hoping will be added to the LWS in the future, and the blue line is
Ormesby Beck (photo ⓒ Google Earth 2022)
Historically (going back before the railway was built in the mid 19th century, when North Ormesby was just a few houses) the area would probably have been nearly all saltmarsh, and tidal mud with two streams, Ormesby Beck and Middle Beck, running through it into the River Tees. I've not been able to find any detailed maps from before the railway was built but I think the two becks would have entered the Tees separately. A third beck, Marton West Beck, now joins Ormesby Beck at the south-west corner of the nature reserve and I think probably did in those days too (but I can't be sure). After the railway was built the courses of the three becks were altered so that they all now flow into the Tees at the same point, but the saltmarsh persisted for a little longer, first with the name Great Marsh, and later (by the 1890s and maybe earlier) with the name Middle Marsh.
|The Ordnance Survey Map from 1853, overlaid onto a recent aerial photo, and showing the boundary of Middle Marsh Nature Reserve. The course of Ormesby Beck was slightly different than it is today and Middle Beck was still above ground (ⓒ Google Earth 2022 (aerial photo) and the Ordnance Survey 2022 (map))|
|The Ordnance Survey Map from 1893, showing the name change for the marsh and the onset of industrial development. At some time after this map was made Middle Beck was culverted from the Trunk Road (A1085) to where it runs into Ormesby Beck. (ⓒ Google Earth 2022 (aerial photo) and the Ordnance Survey 2022 (map))|
At some point (or more likely several different points) after the 1890s, the level of the land on both sides of Ormesby Beck was raised by the importation of large amounts of soil and other 'fill' and the area that is now Middle Marsh Nature Reserve (apart from the beck itself) was gradually covered by industry and housing. In the late 20th century, when all the industry on the south side of the beck had ceased, and the A66 road had been built, the area was landscaped and returned to nature, with a pond and thousands of new trees along the beck. At this point the area of grassland and scrub would have been much bigger than it is now, before the Middlehaven Gateway Retail Park and its massive car park were built. What is left now has mostly been left unmanaged from the turn of the millennium until the Local Wildlife Site was declared in late 2020, and it has developed its own character, with a mosaic of woodland, wetland, scrub and grassland.
Since the designation of the LWS several new ponds have been dug (the old one had gradually got filled in over the years), the path along the beck has been reinstated and a hedge planted along two of the roads forming the boundary of part of the site. Also, the tidal barrage on the beck, just downstream of the Navigation Inn, is in the process of being removed by the Environment Agency (who own it) and the beck is now tidal up until at least as far as Shepherdson Way.
Although Middle Marsh is actually quite small, as birding sites go, and the number of species encountered on a visit can be quite low (often less than 20), it often includes some really nice birds - for example, Kingfishers, Little Egrets, Sparrowhawks and Kestrels (and, although I haven't seen them myself there, Barn Owl and Peregrine).
Some of the best spots for birds are shown in the map below ( ⓒ Google Maps 2022), and described below that.
The Yellow Bridge - A little footbridge, leading over to the (permanently locked) back of the Chemoxy factory, hidden underneath the A66 flyover and my favourite place to start a walk around the reserve. Despite the noise from the dual carriageway overhead, there are often birds to be seen, and even heard, here, so keep your eyes and ears open (and be quiet as you approach the bridge or everything might fly away before you get there)
Reedbed and ponds - The reedbed and new ponds, and the scrubby woodland around them provide habitat for birds such as Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and, occasionally in the winter, Snipe. Goldfinches love feeding in the Alder trees at the northern end of this section. As the ponds develop I am expecting them to become rich in insect life which will provide food for more birds.
Main grassland area - The only records of Barn Owl (seen from a moving car) and Wheatear so far, have been from this area, and a Kestrel sometimes hunts here. It's also a fantastic spot to look for butterflies and wildflowers in the summer. The new hedge borders it on two sides and will, hopefully, become a good habitat for nesting birds in years to come.
Woodland walk - a stroll along this recently reinstated path, starting by the yellow bridge, can yield several species of small birds including Bullfinch, various tits and Goldcrests in winter - these birds are often in small, mixed-species flocks. It's also worth listening out for the piercing, high-pitched call of a Kingfisher as it flies along the beck, and if you're lucky, in the winter you may see a Woodcock here.
Shepherdson Way Viewpoint - looking west from here over Ormesby Beck is a really good place for seeing lots of small birds, plus waterbirds including Kingfisher and Little Egret. Also it’s a good vantage point for seeing over-flying flocks of geese and other migrants . You might need to bring something to stand on though if you’re less than about 6 feet tall as the wall is quite high.
Heath Road Bridge - this is the only place I’ve seen Water Rail at Middle Marsh but is also good for Kingfisher, and for hearing Chiff-chaffs and Blackcaps singing (although they can be heard anywhere on the reserve in summer).
Railway Strip - this strip of land on the north side of Cargo Fleet Road, is owned by Middlesbrough Council (despite what the old signs say) and is part of the Nature Reserve. Access is currently at your own risk but it holds some nice dry grassland and scrub and is a good place to see Whitethroat (a summer visiting warbler), and the scarce Dingy Skipper butterfly.
Teesdale Way Section - the beck downstream of The Navi holds the only intertidal mud in the reserve and is the best place to see Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher and waders such as Redshank and Common Sandpiper. I’ve also seen Little Grebe, Teal and Gadwall here. The path here is part of 2 long distance footpaths - The Teesdale Way and the English Coastal Path
Six Medals Grassland & Navigation-A66 scrub - these two areas, outlined in purple on the map above, are currently not part of the Local Wildlife site but I still include them in the 'recording area' for Middle Marsh Nature Reserve and they hold two of the most reliable spots for hearing Lesser Whitethroats singing in the summer. The Six Medals Grassland (named (by me) after the pub across the road from it) includes some nice damp bits and is one of the places where I have seen Common Snipe in the winter.
If you would like to put your bird records from Middle Marsh on e-Bird (go to https://ebird.org/home
) , you will first need to set up an account (it's free) and then make sure that you choose "Middle Marsh NR" as your location.