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April

Farndale daffodils by Catriona McLeesFarndale daffodils by Catriona McLees

Nature suddenly bursts into life bringing fresh green shoots, leaves and flowers, the heady scent of wild garlic in woodlands, while the sounds of bird song and bleating lambs fill the air.

The famed Farndale wild daffodils appear alongside the river Dove in time for Easter, subject to the weather of course! They're said to have been planted by the monks from nearby Rievaulx Abbey. Wild daffodils are smaller and more delicate, and the trumpet shaped flower is a paler yellow.

Our tip

Head to the coast to see kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, gannets, fulmar, shag and everyone’s favourite – the puffin – returning to the Yorkshire cliffs after spending the winter out at sea. Kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmar nest on Cowbar Nab headland, sheltering the picturesque fishing village of Staithes.

Head further south to Flamborough Cliffs and Bempton Cliffs to enjoy the sight of puffins nesting, or marvel at the only mainland gannet breeding colony in England at Bempton Cliffs. These large streamlined white birds are renowned for plunging into the sea at astonishing speeds when they hunt for fish. They pair for life and return to the same nest. By midsummer the huge colony is an amazing sight, sound and smell!

Also look out for:

  • Blackthorn, one of the earliest trees to blossom, with a froth of clustered white flowers on thorny branches appearing before the leaves have burst bud. Make a note of it flowering now in woodland, scrub and hedgerows, then remember to come back in the autumn to harvest some of its fruits – sloes – to make traditional sloe gin! 
  • The soft, bubbling call of the curlew really heralds the start of spring. This ground nesting bird prefers wet marshlands, rough grassland and moors. Look out for overhead flocks – easy to spot with their long curved beaks. The North York Moors has the UK's highest density of breeding curlew on open moorland so you've got a good chance of seeing them on any moorland walk. You'll also find them in the Howardian Hills in the Coxwold-Gilling Gap, Dalby Bush Fen and the River Derwent floodplains.
  • Ring ouzels will be arriving on the moors around Rosedale, Farndale and Spaunton having flown back from their wintering grounds in Spain and north west Africa. This bird is in decline and this is one of just a few upland areas where they still breed. See a blackbird with a distinct white bib flying up out of the heather? It’s a ring ouzel. They favour dense ground cover so count yourself lucky if you see this charismatic little bird. Find out how the This Exploited Land of Iron landscape partnership project is supporting these birds.
  • Emperor moths are spectacular orange and yellow day-flying moths with striking eyespot patterns on their four wings, emerging from cocoons on the moors on warm April days, having fed on heather the previous year. Spot them in the Hole of Horcum or at Fen Bog, near Goathland.

Walk of the month

Follow our famous Daffodil walk from Low Mill to Church Houses; you'll find them along the riverbanks and in the churchyard at Church Houses.

Fantastic wild daffodil displays also appear in Rosedale and Hell Bank Wood near Appleton le Moors. Equally stunning are the planted displays in the grounds of Castle Howard in the Howardian Hills or along the riverbanks in Helmsley.

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their advice on what else to look out for this month.

a great start to spring with late March sunshine it’s time to discover some of our new arrivals in Yorkshire’s wildest corners. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Richard Baines focuses on birds nesting in our harshest places.

Curlew copyright Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureIn the north of the county four species of wading birds nest in the North York Moors National Park. Curlews are one of the most well-known birds in our country; their wonderful bubbling song is as welcome a sign of spring as the high flying skylark. By the time early April arrives curlew on the moors will be brooding eggs. 

On the nearby rocky coast however many of the curlew we see in April are likely to be heading back over the North Sea to breeding grounds in Scandinavia. I have seen small flocks of curlew flying at dusk in tight formation straight out to sea on their way to northern Europe.  

On the highest open ground of the moors listen out for golden plovers singing their beautiful courtship song. They can be difficult to see as they can climb to a great height above their territory. The birds here are some of the most southerly nesting golden plover in Europe. Many more nest as far north as the Arctic tundra where they seek out open wet ground with moss and shallow pools.

Lapwing copyright Dan LombardBy the side of the moors' roads near closely grazed turf is often the best place to look for lapwing. Their spectacular bottle green feathers can be seen in good light along with their wonderful head crest. They have been a popular bird in folklore for centuries with many alternative vernacular names: peewit, green plover, flopwing and old maid being a few.

The most difficult to find of the four waders is the secretive common snipe. Whilst they are not as prolific as they used to be they can still be found in good numbers close to waterlogged ground on the moors. Get up early because the best time to spot them is just after dawn. Look out for the males as they sit out in the open often on top of a post or wall making their ‘drumming’ song. This sound is made by their tail feathers flapping fast like tiny flags. The sound was recorded by researchers when snipe climbed up to approximately 50m and then dropped at speeds of between 31 and 56mph. The special feathers are then stuck out and vibrate to produce the sound.

The faster they fly, the higher the sound, but the adaptation of narrower feathers in different species of snipe produces a greater variety of pitch.

Wheatear Copyright Steve Race, Yorkshire Coast NatureAmongst the wading birds and sheep, look out for a small songbird a little bigger than a robin standing upright on a rock or open ground. Most northern wheatears arrive from Africa in April. They increase in numbers on the North York Moors throughout this month but most of these birds are actually moving through on migration. 

Wheatears nest as far north as Greenland and many of our spring birds are on their way north. These northern birds have evolved longer wings for their extended journeys. They also have greater and brighter colour on their breast and sometime onto the belly. A few southern birds do stay to nest in our region where they seek out rocky places and stone walls.

When driving across the North York Moors National Park at this time of year, please be very careful on the roads. As well as lambs and sheep, many birds such as lapwings can easily be hurt or killed by careless road users.