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. This joint Seabirds and Whales adventure 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 (September 2018 only), and from Staithes join Yorkshire Coast Nature or Three Sisters Sea Trips. Minke whales are spotted regularly, but sei, fin and even large humpback whales have been seen in recent years.
- Badgers and go badger watching in North York Moors forests at a brand new purpose built hide, as the families go foraging and the cubs play boisterously. Join the organised watch from May until September. Please contact Hidden Horizons for more information.
- 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
Opportunities for spotting cetaceans on the Yorkshire coast have caught the eye of the press this summer. There have been increased sightings (based on previous years) in the zone between Long Nab Scarborough, Filey and Flamborough. The majority of these sightings have involved Minke Whales but there have also been lots of Harbour Porpoise and smaller numbers of White-beaked Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Several sightings of Humpback Whales and possible Fin Whales off Flamborough have been even more exciting.
During July, the southern end of the cetacean zone was basking in fins, but the northern end between Staithes and Whitby experienced lower numbers in July than previous years. With so many people out looking from the shore, combined with boat trips from Staithes, we were able to establish a pretty clear pattern of distribution throughout the month.
In August things started to change as we saw more Minke Whales from boat trips in the Staithes area and a wonderful pod of White-beaked Dolphins on the 6th which also entertained locals watching from the shore in Saltburn.
Rough weather at the end of July meant some boat trips were cancelled but small numbers of Minke Whale were still being seen daily. However things were about to change dramatically as the fish stocks increased and the weather changed.
Rarely do we get a calm, predictable forecast for a whole week but the last week of August looked great for our boat trips. Tuesday 28th was a classic trip with our first Minke Whale in view after only 30 minutes. Our trip plan often involves searching in traditional areas between 3 and 5 miles and then 7-8 miles from shore. Remarkably we have found whales in almost exactly the same spot year after year. After spending time in a feeding area, drifting with the engine switched off, we then move to a new area to ensure we keep disturbance to a minimum.
I decided it would be interesting to log the number of encounters based on each time we saw a whale. It’s quite often tricky to tell if we are seeing the same animal so at least this would give us an indication of how good a trip was. Seven hours later we had logged 205 encounters from approximately 26 Minke Whales! With 15-16 individuals present on the 31st and the 1st, the density of whales was very high during the whole week. Drifting quietly in the boat can really pay dividends as occasionally a Minke Whale will come within a few meters to check us out. On the 31st August one of our clients was fishing for Mackerel when he saw a large shape swim beneath the boat!
The sea had calmed down even more creating a beautiful silky, glass like texture. This was photography heaven and a wonderful opportunity to see Jellyfish such as the Lions Mane up close in the crystal clear water. Two Minke Whales seemed to brush each other as they rose out of the water together, an Atlantic Grey Seal popped up and gave us the beady eye and then two Northern Wheatears flew past the boat on their long migration across the North Sea. UK wildlife watching doesn’t get much better than this.
The northerly wind, which blew a week ago, also brought us large numbers of Manx Shearwaters, something we don’t often see at this time of year. Local seawatching birders had been counting them from the cliffs the previous weekend and sure enough we found a fantastic flock of over 100 on the 28th giving us a great opportunity to photograph them against the backdrop of the North Yorkshire coastline.
The same hardy seawatchers had also reported a probable Humpback Whale on the 26th so we were on the lookout for anything really big. On the 31st we had a glimpse of a larger whale and then on the 1st September our boat crew led by Yorkshire Coast Nature guide Jono (Jonah) Leadley thought they had got lucky as they saw several distinctive blows which would be very unusual for Minke Whale. Brief views of what looked like a larger whale were ultimately inconclusive but may have been the elusive Humpback…
By the end of the week, the Manx Shearwater numbers had dropped but a Sooty Shearwater and several Arctic Skuas livened up the show on the 1st, hopefully signs that Skua numbers are increasing. Atlantic Puffin numbers remained fairly consistent throughout the week with between 12 and 15 birds, all juveniles apart from one adult.
A daily show of diving Northern Gannets, flopping Atlantic Fulmars and bombing Bonxies kept everyone snap happy at the back of the boat as the chum was cast adrift.
September is often a great time to look out for whales in our part of the North Sea, as the Herring numbers reach their peak. If you’re unsure about being on a boat, Minke Whales and other cetaceans can be seen from the shore, try Cowbar to the north of Staithes or Old Nab on the cliffs immediately to the south, these are great places to watch from. If you do see any please send your sightings in to Seawatch Foundation.
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