North York Moors

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May

Roseberry Topping with bluebells by Colin CarterRoseberry Topping with bluebells by Colin Carter

Long warm days coupled with lush trees and hedges alive with the sound of birds, plus carpets of bluebells, one of spring's defining moments.

Our tip

Birdsong is really noticeable now, particularly at dawn and dusk, as birds clamour to partner up with mates, stake out their territories and nest. As birds begin to arrive from the continent to stay in the rich feeding grounds of the North York Moors over summer, competition for good nest sites really hots up. Get up early and head to woodland half an hour before dawn – you'll be amazed by what you hear. Also look out for events around International Dawn Chorus Day in May, Ryenats usually hold one and guests are always welcome.

Also look out for:

  • The beautiful but nationally declining turtle doves, now on the ‘Red List’ of conservation concern. Mainly found in south eastern England, they are occasionally seen on the southern edges of the National Park, and for the last few years at Sutton Bank. Turtle doves, often seen in pairs so fondly referred to as the ‘bird of love’, are only around for a short time, usually in late April/May through to mid-August before they migrate. If you see turtle doves – and people have spotted them in their gardens – then let us know, as recording bird sightings and behaviours helps in the battle to save one of the most cherished of birds.
  • Visit a riverside on a still warm day to see the annual hatch of mayfly, where the insects emerge from the water for the briefest of lives: some have under an hour in which to mate, lay eggs and then die. Watch trout jumping to gorge on them. Swallows swoop in low constantly, along with robins, chaffinches, grey wagtails and dippers, and at dusk bats will take their fill too.
  • Over on the coast, it’s breeding time for shore crabs and the female crabs have to moult their shells prior to breeding – so look out for lots of old shells washed up on the shore.
  • Head to Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint for a chance to see many different birds of prey. From goshawks with distinctive 'sky dance' courting to common buzzards, kestrel, sparrowhawk, peregrine, red kites and rare honey buzzards, a delight to watch with their curious ‘wing-clapping’ flight displays.
  • Watch out for the speedy merlin too flying low over the tops of heather hunting for small birds. Fylingdales Moor Conservation Area, managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust, leaves stands of mature heather as safe nesting zones for these agile flyers.
  • The North York Moors is the furthest north you’ll find the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, supporting 10% of the UK’s remaining colonies. Find cowslip and primrose growing in an open sunny woodland clearing in a limestone area (in the dales near Hawnby is one such place) and you may spot this rare little orange and brown butterfly.

Walk of the month

It's a quintessential spring experience as carpets of bluebells cover the floor of ancient woodlands, creating a soft, dreamy blue haze. A soothing sight and a heady scent, also drawing in insects looking for food in the nectar rich flowers, a visit to any bluebell wood is a treat.

Take your pick from Riccal Dale, near Helmsley; Newton Wood and Cliff Ridge Wood near Roseberry Topping; Garbutt Wood with its dramatic view over Lake Gormire, near Sutton Bank; and Pretty Wood at Castle Howard and East Moor Banks which can both be enjoyed on a circular walk from Welburn (pdf).

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

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

Colour in natural history is an endless treasure trove of discovery and May is a month of vibrant jewels. One of our favourite colours of the year is the sparkling green of hawthorn leaves as they burst into life. Anglo-Saxons called it Haegthorn relating to its use in hedges. It has also been called whitethorn which helps separate it from the similar blackthorn which has a much darker black, almost purplish bark and often has fewer thorns. The beautiful white blossom flowering in May has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries benefiting the heart and circulation.

English Bluebell (c) Dan LombardEnglish bluebells are flowering this month! One of our most popular flowers and there are some fantastic bluebell woods in Yorkshire, try the Grosmont to Beck Hole walk in the North York Moors National Park. 

These woods are home to English bluebells but their place in our countryside is at risk by colonising non-native Spanish bluebells. These are often bigger with larger flowers and leaves. The best ways of telling them apart is that the English bluebell has flowers mostly on one side of the stem which are drooping, or nodding at the top. They also have a sweet smell.

Most migrant birds will have returned onto their breeding grounds by early May and one of the most dashing songbirds is the common redstart. When the males arrive back they are pumped up with energy ready to set up territory and court a female. There can be few birds with such a fantastic design from its fiery tail and orange breast to the smart black mask and white forehead. They are hyper alert and don’t often allow close approach but they do habitually sit on an exposed perch eager to watch for flies. 

Redstarts nest in a hole in an old tree stump or stone wall; they can also use nest boxes. Try looking out for them in Dalby Forest where they can be found in low numbers in many open forest glades.

Rockpools are home to animals with many amazing colours. One of the more spectacular molluscs is the blue-rayed Limpet. Look out for this tiny creature attached to kelp on rocky shorelines such as Robin Hood's Bay in the National Park. Keep your eyes peeled though they are easy to miss measuring only 0.5 - 1.5 cm long. When young they are fully transparent with three bright iridescent blue lines across the top of the shell.

Red Fox (c) Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureThis is the month to look out for red fox cubs as they take their first steps into the unknown world outside the den. For the first few weeks after their birth they are dependent upon the female for food and warmth with the male providing food. This photo was taken in May; try to count how many moles this fox has in its mouth! 

The female often only produces one litter in her lifetime at about 10 months old. Despite this and their high mortality rate they are very successful as a common native mammal. The cubs can be surprisingly dark brown in colour when they are very young, before they moult into their gorgeous orange coat of fur.

Some of our most colourful animals are often very small and the green hairstreak is so easily overlooked. They very rarely rest with their wings open but when closed they reveal an intense vivid green colour. The scales on the wing overlap in a similar way to roof tiles; the iridescence we see is the interference caused by sunlight hitting the wing interacting with light reflected off the wing. Look out for male green hairstreaks as they defend breeding territory often flying back to the same or similar perch. Choose warm and sunny still days and try looking for them on a walk amongst the heather of the North York Moors.