The heather is holding on but it's a month of change as summer draws to an end and wildlife starts to prepare for the approaching winter, eating more or stockpiling reserves. Breeding waders (golden plover, lapwings and curlew) will be thinking about leaving for the coast or the lowlands.
Start with a morning spent at sea whale-watching and porpoise-spotting on Real Staithes’ traditional fishing boat ‘All My Sons’. Then it’s back to land for a totally different perspective, observing from a coastal watch point with the experts from Yorkshire Coast Nature, where you can expect to see species not seen from the boat. You can even try your hand at pulling lobster pots! This joint Seabirds and Whales tour runs during the summer too.
Also look out for:
- Whales. In the autumn, whales move south along Yorkshire's coast, following the shoals of mackerel and herring. Late August through to early November is the best time to look for them, and regular whale watching cruises run from Whitby with Whitby Whale Watching. Minke whales are spotted regularly, but sei, fin and even large humpback whales have been seen in recent years.
- Wildlife making the most of the autumn food glut with abundant rowan berries and blackberries. Bright red rowan berries will be hanging heavy on the trees in woodland edges, moorland and hedgerows. Keep a note of where they are and remember to visit later in winter to see hungry birds like redwing, fieldfare, ring ouzels and waxwings gorging on the fruits. Blackberries are at their best too – across the North York Moors and Howardian Hills many woodland-edge and field-edge footpaths are next to brambles offering a good harvest. Don’t forget to leave a few for the small mammals and birds! Mice, voles, foxes and badgers have a taste for them.
- Apple orchards, with late September being the best time to visit one. Sample some of our best native varieties, and possibly the refreshing cider made with them. Orchards are a fantastic place to see birds, too, and are a great habitat for bees, moths, butterflies and hoverflies, all feasting on the fallen fruits. This abundance of insects also attracts feeding bats. From the picturesque village of Ampleforth, uncover the story of Ampleforth Abbey’s award-winning cider on one of its behind the scenes tour of its historic orchard of 2,000 trees where 40 different varieties are grown, before heading to the Cider Mill to see how Ampleforth’s cider and cider brandy is made. There’s a tasting or two, not to mention a slice of Ampleforth’s famous cider apple cake.
Walk of the month
Enjoy sweeping views across to Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook monument while also seeing the ancient woodland restoration work in Greenhow Plantation on our Clay Bank walk. Alder, rowan, willow, oak and birch have taken over quickly where conifers have cleared, with rowan berries and other autumn bounty to be found on this short walk.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
September is the month when many naturalists become excited about animal migration. From graceful fulmars leaving their coastal breeding ledges to weave their way to the Bay of Biscay, to delicate red admiral butterflies crossing the North Sea to reach Yorkshire’s shore, migration is amazing!
In our gardens wherever we may live we can find migrant insects. One of the most spectacular is the migrant hawker dragonfly. You can look out for them almost anywhere there are warm woodland garden or hedgerow habitats rich in insects; they don’t always need to be near water. They can be found well into autumn, even into November when all other dragonflies have usually disappeared. As with many other insects migrant hawkers breed in England but in September numbers increase as we receive many more continental migrants.
With close views, the pale blue spots and yellow flecks, dark blue eyes, and pale yellow and blue patches on the thorax can be seen on the male. The female has yellowish spots with brown tinted eyes. If you get a really close view, look out for the toothed jaws used for catching small insect prey.
A very distinctive butterfly to look out for this month is the aptly named comma. A small white comma shape can be seen on the underwing giving of this bright orange butterfly similar in size to a small tortoiseshell. Commas have two broods, one in spring and one in late autumn with numbers often peaking in September.
Many of our familiar songbirds can be seen in large flocks this month. East and North Yorkshire are great for tree sparrows which have declined in many other parts of the country. In September numbers are swelled by juveniles from the breeding season. An irresistible urge to migrate pushes small flocks to the coast where they can be seen rising high into the sky before swirling around in what looks like hesitation before some birds leave the group and move south. At this time of year these birds are often counted by birdwatchers on the coast and compared with previous years' totals.
A scheme is underway at Filey Bird Observatory (in partnership with BTO and RSPB) to colour ring juveniles, which can then be seen and registered by birdwatchers further afield to give a clearer idea of their migration. If you see a bird with a light blue ring on its leg this will have been rung at Filey. If you do see one, we would be very pleased to know where you saw it, the date and how many birds. You can send the information in by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Out on the coast seabirds which have bred in northern Europe and the Arctic are making their way south past our shores.
One of the most brutal and exciting of these is the great skua. These fantastic birds are nicknamed bonxie which comes from an Old Norse name meaning bunke heap or a dumpy body. Bunke heap certainly seems appropriate when you see one sat on the sea! In the air they are very agile and powerful attacking anything for food even the massive great black-backed gull in this photo taken at sea near Staithes in late August 2016.
Accompanying these seabirds on their flights south from the Arctic are hundreds of thousands of wading birds. Many species of wader finish their breeding season and leave as quickly as possible before the hard weather sets in and food becomes scarce. It’s this food which is the biggest driver as a migration trigger and it doesn’t take long for food to decline as the temperature drops. On the rocky North Yorkshire coast look out for knot, turnstones and curlew.
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