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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. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Richard Baines focuses on the common crossbill.  

April is a great time to look-out for common crossbills in the North York Moors National Park. Here’s a story hot off the pine press! Natural discoveries on our birding tours at the end of March this year.

Common Crossbills Credit Richard Baines

We are all ears as we walk silently through the Great Yorkshire Forest, straining our drums for the first ‘chip’ call. It doesn’t take long for us to find our first billy. “Listen…” the still air creates a wonderful atmosphere and we hear that strong social call under an oak tree. A bright orange young male crossbill sits at the very top of the tree, on the lookout, scanning the view across his city.

We just manage to focus our telescope onto the male for a few seconds before he flies, vanishing into the trees beyond. We continue along the path listening again. Standing under a pine tree we hear the distinctive sound of cracking cones. 

Without realising we stop under a female crossbill feeding on cones in a Scots pine tree. She is very close so we can hear her snipping the cone sheath with her scissor like bill. Flakes fall to the ground under the tree. This is a perfect close encounter, she isn’t really interested in us, allowing us to soak up the experience.  

Crossbill credit Barry and Richard BainesI have watched crossbill in these forests for many years and become fascinated by their annual preference for different trees. An excellent study by The Forestry Commission monitored seed dispersal (coning) by three species of conifer; Scots pine, Norway spruce and Sitka spruce. They discovered an annual cycle of coning in Scots pine but a four-year maximum seed cycle in Norway and Sitka spruce. This may explain why some years I see crossbills favouring other species of tree, but this year everywhere I see them feeding on Scots pine. Perhaps this year is a poor spruce cone year so they are more dependent on Scots pine…

Walking back along the path later in the day we stop again to record phone-scope video of these wonderfully unique birds. A female interacts with a male performing what may be pair bonding, a bit of bill rubbing? Looking carefully at the video it reveals what appears to be the female taking food from inside the mouth of the male, it may be whilst the female is brooding, the male supplements her diet by bringing her seed as she concentrates on rearing her clutch…

Crossbills drinking from pool in oak tree Credit Richard BainesThe recent dry weather has evaporated the puddles leaving very little drinking water for these birds. Crossbills feed mainly on dry conifer seeds, consequently a good supply of water is really important. When the puddles are full of water, we notice how crossbills drink throughout the day with no real peak of activity. Many other birds use the puddles including chaffinches, bramblings and yellowhammers, but these birds mainly arrive during the middle of the day.

Towards the end of our walk, we ponder how these crossbills find water in the dry conditions. Suddenly 30 birds fly into a larch tree, they move quickly into the nearby Scots pine to feed. 

A close ‘chip’ call and we notice a pair of crossbills in the oak tree very close to us. “Aha! look quick” I whisper. A male and a female drink from a hollow in the tree.

This was yet another great insight into how these birds use their city of trees. Older and gnarled trees are great for collecting water during periods of dry weather.