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May

Turtle doves at Sutton Bank Credit Chris DownesTurtle doves at Sutton Bank Credit Chris Downes

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.

The colours of spring are everywhere in this wonderful month of May. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Richard Baines focuses on four of our most contrastingly coloured butterflies to look out for on a country walk.  

Common Blue copyright Richard Baines Yorkshire Coast NatureCommon blue has two broods one in late May/June and one later in the summer from August onwards. The spring brood is often less numerous. Despite this, butterflies flying in May often have a greater impact as the vivid blue of the males are a treat to the eye after the grey days of winter. 

Female common blues are brown on the upper wings but often have a flush of blue on the inner wing close to the abdomen. 

Look out for these butterflies in unimproved meadows or roadside verges anywhere in North Yorkshire, especially where one of their favourite caterpillar food plants bird's-foot trefoil grows.  

Many species of blue butterfly have an association with ants. The caterpillars secrete a chemical which attracts the ants which then carry the larvae to their nest. This amazing behaviour allows the species to benefit from the protection the ants bring from predators.

Orange tip copyright Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureFrom bright blue to Jaffa orange! The male orange tip butterfly is often seen in damp grasslands or wet-woodland edges where its caterpillar food plants lady’s smock or garlic mustard grows. A great site for these spectacular insects is Ashberry Pasture, a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) nature reserve near Helmsley. May is just about the only month they are on the wing, further south they may have a small second brood in late summer. The female does not have the bright orange wing tips but does have the same underwing patter as the male. The caterpillars of orange tips feed on seed pods from the flowers but can eat other things even each other!

Green hairstreak Credit Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureGreen hairstreak is found in very different habitats to the previous species. The caterpillar food plant, bilberry grows on acid heaths often in association with heather. 

They are widespread in the North York Moors National Park where these plants are very common. In East Yorkshire sites such as Allerthorpe Common and Skipwith Common YWT nature reserves are good places. Warm sheltered habitats or open woodland glades with sun drenched hollows are favoured by this beautiful butterfly.

The bright green can be surprisingly difficult to spot as they nestle amongst low vegetation beneath our feet, their flight is fast and jerky, making them difficult to follow but when they do land they rest with their wings closed showing off their vivid colour.

From three unmistakable species to one very well camouflaged butterfly, the well named dingy skipper. The small adults are similar in size to hairstreaks but when they rest they often spread their wings to soak up the energy of the sun. They can be found in grassland, often sparse with lots of bare earth or stones where they can benefit from the dull colours protecting them from predation. The caterpillars feed on various species of vetch, sharing the same food plants with the common blue. The dingy skippers wide distribution means it can be seen almost anywhere in the UK and it is the only species of skipper to be found in Ireland.