North York Moors

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August

Honey Bee on heather by Tammy AndrewsHoney Bee on heather by Tammy Andrews

Take in the scent of summer. Our moors will soon be a magnificent purple blaze as the heather flowers, alive with the buzz of honeybees, damselflies, moths and butterflies.

From mid to late August and into September, the moorland is an unsurpassed attraction when all the tiny flowers of heather burst into bloom and the landscape in transformed into a seemingly endless carpet of pink and purple. Three types, ling and cross leaved heath, together with deep dark pink/purple bell heather, provide the most continuous and extensive display compared to anywhere else in England.

Our tip

Take a closer look at Fylingdales Moor, the vast heather moorland inland of Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar. Notice anything special? Unlike most other moorland in the National Park, grouse-shooting isn’t permitted here and instead it’s managed as a conservation area.

That means it’s home to over 90 bird species (including birds of prey like the merlin, Britain’s smallest falcon), plus otters, water voles, orchids, butterflies, moths and adders – forming a wonderful web of moorland wildlife. And of course it’s a great place to have a wander amongst the heather at this time of year. It’s open access land, which means that walkers don’t have to stick to footpaths or other public rights of way (unless they are accompanied by a dog). Follow the Jugger Howe nature trail and you may be lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse of a merlin.

Also look out for:

  • Bilberries fruiting on the moors. Globe-shaped, pink flowers appear among the green shoots of this low shrub from July to September. The flowers mature into small, globular black berries that have a bluish, waxy ‘bloom’, like grapes. Go bilberry picking for cooking in bilberry tarts - delicious with cream!
  • Day-flying moths as well as butterflies abound this month, making the most of summer’s nectar rich flowers; beautiful yellow-underwing moths feed on the moorland heather. Why not set a moth trap overnight, and see the plethora of moths that are drawn to the lights? Returning to the trap in the morning to discover what’s inside is always fascinating.
  • Porpoise, dolphins and seals. If it’s a still day when you’re out at the coast and the tidal surge on the North Sea isn't strong, it’s worth keeping an eye on the water, especially from sea-top cliffs. With few cresting waves, it’s easier to spot the tell-tale fins of harbour porpoise and dolphins swimming offshore. If you’re lucky you may also see the bobbing head of a seal or two. You may also spot the Great Skua and Arctic Skua offshore as they migrate along the eastern coast back to Africa for winter. Binoculars are useful here!
  • Go on a spot of fossil hunting too. The coast around Whitby and Staithes is also renowned for its rich seams of fossils encased in the rocky cliffs and in pebbles on the shore.

Responsible fossil hunting

Fossil hunting is great fun but please do follow our guidelines to prevent any unnecessary damage to our natural heritage.

  • Look for fossils in loose beach material
  • Only collect a small number
  • Keep detailed records (what, where, when)
  • Keep hammering to a minimum
  • Avoid disturbance to wildlife

We always recommend that you check local tide times. You can buy a copy of the tide timetable at the Gateway Centre in Staithes and various shops up and down the coast. Find it in the Bayfair newspaper or check the tide times online. Set out at least an hour before low tide to give yourself enough time to walk out and explore before heading back.

Stay well away from the base of steep cliffs and wear appropriate footwear and clothing.

Walk of the month

Take advantage of the long summer days to enjoy the National Park in a nutshell on a longer 11 mile walk from Ravenscar to Robin Hood's Bay. From the craggy heights of Ravenscar, the route runs across Howdale Moor for some classic moorland scenery before dropping down to the old Scarborough-to-Whitby railway line and along to the famous smugglers' haunt of Robin Hood's Bay. Both here and at nearby Boggle Hole you can indulge in a spot of rockpooling, before returning along the clifftop for exhilarating sea views along the Cleveland Way National Trail.

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's Richard Baines' pointers on what else to look out for this month.

Puffins – Getting into the groove

On 16 July 2020 we sailed on calm seas from the fishing village of Staithes down the beautiful coastline of the North York Moors National Park. I was guiding on one of our Yorkshire Coast Nature Seabird and Whale boat trips. On the trip I photographed lots of Atlantic Puffins with a wide variety of bill sizes and colours. After the trip I decided I needed to refresh my knowledge of these fantastic birds.

Juvenile puffin on YCN seabird & whale trip 2020 copyright Richard Baines

Migration away from the breeding colony really gets going in August with many birds moving long distances.

A study using geolocators fitted to Puffins in a Welsh colony found an amazing range of wintering sites were used.

During the winter these Puffins moved about significantly travelling to far flung places as far apart as Greenland to the Bay of Biscay.

However initially, the tagged birds nearly all migrated to the same destination they had visited in their previous autumn before moving on to other areas.

Interestingly this research also discovered small groups of Puffins were more likely to gather together on the sea early in the non-breeding season i.e. July/August. After which time September – February they were mostly solitary. So maybe the younger birds are learning from other Puffins after leaving their burrow. If they are, they don’t have long to learn everything!

Puffin groove

On our boat trip I photographed Puffins with different bill sizes and colours. So how do you age a Puffin?

The answer has a lot to do with that groovy bill! In a Puffin's first late summer and winter as a juvenile, it has a dark small bill with little sign of colour or any grooves. The following year, known as its first year, is when the first groove starts to develop along with those beautiful bill colours we love so much.

The groove becomes a little more defined in its second year but by the third year most Puffins have one and a half grooves.

In their first few years of life many Puffins visit a variety of breeding colonies before finally settling down to one colony.  A Puffin aged four should have two grooves and maybe even signs of a third when it’s older than four. At this two-groove stage most Puffins start breeding, settling down into a very different family groove.