Located in the south-east corner of Whitburn Coastal Park (NZ413632), a purpose-built ‘sea-watching’ hide provides Durham Bird Club members with a fantastic vista overlooking the North Sea. Increasingly popular, the hide keeps out the worst of the elements, allowing observers to continue even during the worst weather the north-east coast can produce.
In the right conditions, with a strong, northerly wind, birds, such as, Shearwaters, Auks and Wildfowl, are often pushed closer to the shore. Depending on the time of year, impressive counts of their movements can be observed. The late summer and autumn period is the most productive; however, birds are moving off-shore constantly and can be observed throughout the year.
While the more common and expected birds entertain in the scopes of the sea-watcher, there is occasionally a star record that makes those viewing from the hide gasp. In recent years, Fea's Petrel, Bridled Tern and King Eider have all been clocked from the hide. On 29th June 2017, a first for the county was observed: Black-browed Albatross!
Long-tailed Skua (Mark Newsome)
Short-eared Owl (Mark Newsome)
It’s not just the prospect of encountering a rare seabird that attracts folk to the The Observatory, the hide is also perfectly situated to watch another spectacle within the natural calendar: Autumn Migration. Arriving directly in-off the sea, a host of continental birds, including Woodcock, Owls and Winter thrushes, can be observed making their arduous journey across the North Sea.
Over the years, the site around the hide, has produced some interesting records, with vagrants including Common Rosefinch, Richard's Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler and Buff-breasted Sandpiper being found. On the morning of 14th May 2006, the remarkable discovery of an Isabelline Shrike, produced quite a stir in the birding scene!
The dedication of the local observers has made the hide a hotspot for cetaceans sightings. Encounters with Harbour Porpoise are a regular occurrence while, White-beaked and Bottlenose Dolphins can be picked up more often during the Summer. During periods of calm weather and flat seas, superb displays can be witnessed as whole pods can continuously breach the water as they pass by the hide.
Occasionally, something special occurs and the likes of Minke and Humpback Whales can be observed. Recently, an Orca was recorded!
Isabelline Shrike (Mark Newsome)
The Observatory bird hide is free to use; however, it does require a key for entry. The key can be purchased at the nearby National Trust Souter Lighthouse site.