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December

Snow buntingSnow bunting

Midwinter and the year's shortest day beckons, but the robins will still be singing and there's plenty of bird activity still. Wrap up warm and you'll still find lots going on or if you prefer a warmer option, we've bird watching facilities inside both our centres at Sutton Bank and Danby.

Our tip

Waxwings: These colourful invaders from Scandinavia may well arrive in large flocks – or ‘iruptions’ during the winter here on the hunt for ripe winter fruit. A beautiful peach and russet feathered bird, with a pronounced crest, black mask round its eye, it has yellow wing tips which are visible once you get the binoculars on them. Busy and flighty, they will be in a flock, gorging on berries like rosehips, rowan, holly and hawthorn. Head into Troutsdale for a chance to see them. With a curious ‘bubbling trill’ of a call you’re likely to hear them before you see them. 

Also look out for:

  • Bramblings, fieldfare, redwings and chaffinches which also make themselves at home in Troutsdale.
  • Snow buntings which will be overwintering on the North York Moors' coastline now, taking advantage of the good winter feeding grounds. Visit the Yorkshire coast and you may well see these birds making landfall as they fly in from over the North Sea. A busy flock of soft white snow buntings is a wonderful sight.
  • Birds of prey out hunting during the short daylight hours, including merlin, buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks, barn owls, short-eared owls. It's worth heading to Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint again to see what's around. Tawny owls are still very vocal at dusk. Listen out for their haunting hoots to one another. They will be well camouflaged against the brown barks of trees, but now is a great opportunity to see one, when the trees are devoid of leaves.
  • Lapwings, mallard, teal, wigeon, tufted duck, coot, goldeneye, goosander and greylag geese at Scaling Dam.
  • Red foxes as fox vixens come into season in December and January, you may well hear haunting screams and barks in the night as the foxes make their intentions loud and clear. Look out for dog and vixen foxes together, running across the fields.

Walk of the month

Hutton le Hole is as pretty as a picture in the snow, but even without the white stuff, this is a charming walk on country lanes and moorland tracks, returning across the Spaunton escarpment for some lovely sweeping views. A cracker for a crisp day, with a country pub in both villages!

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

Here's what else Richard Baines, the expert from Yorkshire Coast Nature, say you should be looking for this month.

Mid-winter may not be the month you might think about looking for cetaceans (collective name given to whales and dolphins) on the Yorkshire coast. Well think again! On a calm sea our smallest and most mysterious cetacean, the harbour porpoise can be seen almost anywhere and, as their name suggests, often close inshore.  

They can live up to 23 years but more usually only to around 12 and feed primarily on small fish and cephalopods, diving for up to six minutes in search of prey.

Harbour Porpoise Credit Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureWhen they surface the small body and low, gently sloping dorsal fin create a distinctive shape. But you have to be quick to spot them and even quicker to photograph them! The word porpoise comes from the Latin word for pig; porcus. The name is thought to originate from the pig-like, puffing snort porpoise give when they surface to breath.

On our seabird and whale cruises from Staithes in the North York Moors National Park, we regularly see harbour porpoises within 1.5 miles of the shore. I took this photos on one of our trips in August of this year. 

Scarborough seafront by the castle is the other place to look out for them and if you are on Facebook I highly recommend you check out the ‘Scarborough Porpoise’ page where there are daily updates. As I write this, three porpoise were seen this morning from the seafront!

Curlew copyright Steve Race, Yorkshire Coast NatureWhilst you’re on the coast look out for curlew. They are one of our most popular breeding birds, but in the winter our coastal curlews may not be the same nesting birds that sing their beautiful cascading song over our moors and wolds. 

Ringing studies carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology have found Scandinavian curlews wintering here on the coast. So, it may be that the majority of curlews on our rocky National Park coast migrate here every autumn from Scandinavia.  

Winter is also a great time to look out for some of our more difficult to see woodland birds. 

Treecreeper copyright Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureWhen the leaves are on the trees, small brown birds such as treecreeper are tricky to pick out behind the foliage. Treecreepers are with us all year round and feed exclusively on invertebrates, so they suffer badly in a very cold winter. Look out for them anywhere where there are large trees. They really love older trees with peeling bark or dead branches. Dead branches and dead standing trees are very valuable habitats for a large range of animals. 

Treecreepers feed by climbing up the main trunk and when finished on one tree they fly to the bottom of another tree to start their upward journey again.  

Our British treecreepers are a warmer tone than the frostier appearance of the white toned Northern European birds of the same species (nominate subspecies familiaris). Incredibly these tiny birds do occasionally make it across the North Sea. One of these beautiful birds was found by the late Martin Garner in a small Woodland Trust site at Flamborough in January 2014. To read more about Martin’s find and his excellent photos see Birding Frontiers.