Autumn is fading and winter starts to take hold, leading to beautiful misty mornings. Acorns and other nuts litter the woodland floor. Many migratory birds have headed off while others start to arrive from the continent, making the North York Moors their home for the winter.
Leaping salmon, now it's time for the annual salmon and trout runs as they return from the North Sea to the rivers of their birth, heading to their breeding grounds to spawn. The river Esk is one of only a few rivers in Yorkshire that supports salmon. Females lay eggs in gravel bedded streams and the male fish fertilise them. The fittest fish can leap an incredible 3 metres to negotiate waterfalls and rapids on their journey upstream. In some places specially designed fish ladders have been put in to help them climb up weirs. Salmon Leap point on the river Esk in Sleights is a good place to see salmon launching from the water to breach the weir, when the water is running fast and high.
Also look out for:
- Grey seals come ashore and can be seen from the clifftops giving birth to their pups in November. Around half of the world’s grey seals live in UK waters, and many are found breeding on the National Park coast every winter. It may seem odd to be breeding in the harsh conditions at this time of year, but the cow seals are in an excellent condition after a rich summer's feedings. The pups will be weaned on fat-rich milk for a month by their mothers before heading out to sea with the colony. Like the common seals earlier in the year, a good place to spot one of our largest mammals is at Ravenscar. Brace yourself for a chilly breeze and enjoy the sight of the gorgeous pups and their soft white coats while you can. Take care not to disturb this small colony.
- Stoats in northerly climes moult their russet summer coats, and take on pure white ermine fur now for winter camouflage. Though snows are less frequent, this winter change is hardwired into the stoat’s nature. Seeing a pure white stoat bounding across the ground on the hunt for rabbits and voles is a striking sight. They’re so quick you won’t see them for long! Stoats will make their home in the many hedges and drystone walls found throughout the North York Moors but the ones found in Mount Grace Priory are the most famous. The priory is open at weekends over winter and is a good place to start.
- Acorns which rain down from mighty oak trees, before being eaten and dispersed by hungry squirrels and jays. Jays are in the habit of burying stores of acorns, their favourite foodstuff. A single jay can bury thousands of them in a single season. They have an extraordinary facility for remembering where they’ve left them, even digging through a foot of snow in the winter to retrieve them. But inevitably some of their acorn caches go forgotten and eventually sprout into oak trees. For that reason jays are one of the prime agents in the survival and spread of oakwoods.
- Horse chestnut trees laden with conkers. Collect these shiny jewels in their spiky cases, and leave the rest for deer.
- Unusual fungus Plicatura crispa, which grows prolifically in deciduous woodlands here, including Gilling Wood. Appearing on dead or dying wood, it resembles many miniature bracket fungi in clusters, but has wrinkles, not gills or pores on the underside. More commonly reported in Scotland, it’s very unusual to see it thriving this far south in the UK.
Walk of the month
Get a birds-eye view of gorgeous Harwood Dale from the escarpment edge on a circular walk that starts and finishes in Broxa Forest and follows mostly good stone and gravel tracks, good for this time of the year. Tree-felling has opened up the views on the first part of the walk, and you really feel on top of the world as the path swings round the scarp edge.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
Here's what else Richard Baines, one of the experts from Yorkshire Coast Nature, say you should be looking out for this month.
Big-eyed birds from Bulan*
Birds can crash into your life when you least expect it, even from outer space! One of the craziest birds in the UK has to be the Eurasian Woodcock. During daylight hours or when dazzled by bright lights, they seem to have no sense of danger or direction. I remember seeing a Woodcock appear in the centre circle of a flood-lit St James’s Park at Newcastle United Football ground during an evening match in 2006. The game was stopped as one of the players carefully wrapped the Woodcock in his shirt and carried it off to release it, safely away from flying football boots. The arrival of Woodcock on a clear night led to an old superstition that they arrived from the moon…
Their kamikaze behaviour seems even crazier when you consider that Woodcocks have a mega pair of eyes. They are large and located very high up the side of the head creating a unique opportunity to see more than nearly any other bird; often cited as the only bird with almost 360˚ vision. This is a great adaptation for keeping a beady eye out for approaching predators or hunters.
Another woodcock crazy encounter happened on 26 October this year as I stood on the edge of Flamborough Headland watching migrating birds arrive on one of our Birding Discovery Day tours. An inbound Woodcock flew up and over the cliffs within a hair’s breath of a friend’s ear, we all heard the whistling feathers as it zoomed past us at great speed.
Look out for these awesome birds anywhere on the coast in the next few weeks, they are arriving from Europe to spend the winter on our island but watch out they can drop in anywhere! Once they arrive they seek out earthworms in old woodland and grassland habitats. If you flush one from the ground they may sit tight until you are very close then fly up almost under your feet.
Woodcock are one of many birds which benefit from wildlife corridors, habitat links stretching from the coast many miles inland. The North York Moors National Park is a fantastic example of a landscape with large areas of habitat creating many opportunities for wildlife to thrive. Imagine how pleased a Woodcock would be having flown 500 miles across the North Sea to simply drop into a woodland rich in invertebrates close to the cliffs.
Return of the Berry Boozers
In the last 10 days, the first few waxwings have arrived on our eastern shores from the wild forests of Scandinavia. The Bohemian Waxwing is one of the world’s most charismatic bird species; from their unique trilling call to their wonderfully confiding nature, they are always great to see. After arriving in the UK, they often move inland quickly, seeking out areas of the country rich in berries from trees such as Rowan or Cotoneaster.
As these berries ferment with the first frosts of winter, Waxwings have been known to overdose on alcohol causing them to fall out of the sky or collide with buildings!
Fortunately they do have a very useful adaptation; a larger than normal liver to help them cope with getting drunk. Young birds are thought to be more vulnerable as adults appear to be able to avoid older more powerful berries.
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