Mediterranean Gulls on the Durham Coast of England by R.J. Penson
With the development work around the River Tyne and a housing estate now occupying the waste ground in Sunderland Docks, the best place to observe Mediterranean Gulls at close quarters is now Whitburn Steel. This is an area of inter-tidal rocks and pools where the gulls gather prior to high tide.
Access is straightforward, off the main A183 coast road between Sunderland and South Shields. Heading north from Sunderland, follow the signposts to Withburn and South Shields. Go past Morrisons Supermarket and an amusement arcade on the left. Further north, there is a row of small cottages on the right hand side of the road. After the cottages end and just before a petrol station, turn right into a car park at grid ref : NZ 408 614. From here, follow the clifftop footpath northwards, stopping to check the rocks below.
The best time to visit is two hours before high tide as the gull flock is then concentrated on the rocks immediately below the cliff. The area where the dark rocks come to an abrupt end, replaced by smaller yellow pebbles is the last point to be covered by the rising tide. A small depression in this vicinity, formed by the remains of a coast guard hut, offers a sheltered site to watch from. The gulls sit out the high tide in Whitburn Bay and most then fly south to feed around the sewage outfall in Sunderland south docks. There is no close approach in the south dock without a written permit from the Port Authority. The gulls roost in the docks and can be seen from the north dock promenade at NZ 409 584 where there is a car park, but views are likely to be very distant. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls are often here in winter (December to early March).
Whitburn Steel is heavily disturbed, especially in summer and at weekends. A weekday visit is recommended, disturbance levels being lowest in mid-winter. Mediterranean Gulls are present in small numbers (up to 6) throughout the winter, leaving by the second week in March. There is a small passage of first-year birds lasting into May. The first Adults re-appear from mid-July and numbers peak in August when Dutch ringed juveniles have been seen.
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