After our main holiday of the year in Finland, Jem and I started to look at options for a short summer break in the UK. Naturetrek’s Yorkshire Coast and Moors tour fitted the bill perfectly. It would take in Bempton Cliffs so that Jem could see the seabirds that she hadn’t seen yet, and the North Yorkshire Moors which should get me my first Red Grouse. Nightjars were also a target in the evenings and there would be opportunities for some interesting raptors too.
The Tuesday was mainly spent travelling up to Scarborough on the train, but after we’d met up with Alan the tour guide and got settled into our rooms at Wykeham, he suggested we go out for some afternoon birding at the nearby Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint. It was a quiet afternoon in the sunshine, with few birds of note apart from a distant Buzzard, but right in front of the viewing area we found some Ringlet butterflies and a basking female Adder.
Day Two was spent mostly at the very windy coast, although some of us went out to Wykeham Forest before breakfast to see if we could find some Crossbills. We failed with those, but we did get a very nice Yellowhammer and a Common Whitethroat instead. We started the main part of the day at Bempton, noting the Tree Sparrows around the visitor centre, before reaching the clifftop path in time to see our first Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins. Having had very good views of these a few years back on the Farne Islands, I was mainly here for the Gannets. I’d only had brief, distant views of them before, so the large numbers of birds hanging in the wind here was a spectacular sight. Being quite large birds, and quite exotic-looking, they provided great photo opportunities.
After this we moved on to Flamborough Head. There were plenty of large Gulls here, a handful each of the same species we’d seen at Bempton, a Common Seal in the waves, and and unexpected but very welcome Corn Bunting in the long grass.
After lunch in the nearby cafe we moved on to Filey Dams. There were a number of gulls, ducks, etc, a Little Grebe, various hirundines, and most excitingly, a pair of young Barn Owls in the nesting box that looked ready to fledge. Sadly for us they decided not to fledge, but were very showy anyway. Then we checked out Filey Brigg, where we got a brief Peregrine flying past the car park, a few Common Scoters on the water (my best views to date of this species), a couple of Grey Seals, some distant Eiders and a Sparrowhawk getting a good mobbing from an assortment of small passerines.
After dinner we went out to Wykeham Forest again to look for Nightjars. Unfortunately it was still too windy, and there weren’t many insects around. Aside from some interesting moths and a couple of Pipistrelle bats and a baby Common Toad, there wasn’t much to report.
Day Three was mostly spent on the North Yorkshire Moors. It wasn’t really rainy, but there was a cool dampness in the air, and for the first part of the morning we found little other than a few Pipits and a Kestrel. Alan was starting to look a bit anxious after we’d failed with Nightjars and we were now struggling with Red Grouse, but we persisted in the light drizzle and drove from spot to spot. Eventually we had some luck, and I’m happy to say that it was me who saw the grouse first, as I scanned the area with my binoculars and noticed a little head poking up like a periscope above the heather. We moved closer to it and saw there were several birds, including some chicks, and we spent a great half-hour or so watching them. This was my first new life tick of the tour.
Soon after this we added a few more interesting species. There was a young Golden Plover with its parent nearby, a fairly distant Wheatear (my first of the year) and a Whinchat. After a picnic lunch we went through Goathland, where Heartbeat was filmed and the rail station used in the Harry Potter films is located, but instead of spending time here we all agreed we’d prefer to look for more wildlife. This took us to Fen Bog – a small reserve on the moors near to the RAF Fylingdales radar – where the weather was keeping most species down but we did get several interesting moths, including lots of newly-emerged Burnetts.
On the way back towards Wykeham we went through Dalby Forest and then back to a spot in the valley below the Raptor Watch Point to see what was around. Again, the weather was keeping most species away, but we did enjoy a close-by Common Whitethroat nest where we observed some newly-fledged young in the bushes. We stopped at a birdwatcher’s car park to see if anything was at the feeders, and that brought several woodland species, most notably a Coal Tit and a Jay.
After dinner some of us went back out to Wykeham Forest to try for Nightjars again, but we were out of luck. There was less wind and more insects around this time – especially storm flies which wouldn’t stop landing on our faces – but still no Nightjars. We did have a brief Woodcock which flew out of the brush and over our heads into the forest, and we heard a Tawny Owl hoot a couple of times, but that was all.
The final morning saw us head out to the Crossbill site again – and still nothing was around – before we relocated to the Raptor Watch Point again. Here we got another Coal Tit, a Siskin was seen by much of the group, and Crossbill and Bullfinch were heard. The Adder from Tuesday afternoon was still there, basking in the sun, and there were a couple more Common Lizards, more Ringlets, and a Small Skipper. Bird-wise we had distant Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk over the plantation in the valley below us. Just before we left Alan noticed a very distant raptor, but after they’d disappeared it eventually became clear that there were actually two birds over the horizon, and we’d not all been looking at the same bird. I was watching a Buzzard-like raptor holding its wings in a shallower V than usual: a Honey Buzzard. The other bird had been a Goshawk, although I personally didn’t manage to get a good enough look at it before they both disappeared from view.
As lunchtime approached it was time for Alan to take us back to Scarborough and bring the tour to a close. On the way we had great views of a Common Buzzard being angrily mobbed by a Kestrel, and that was a fitting end. Jem and I spent a couple of spare hours by the seafront, watching the Herring Gulls on their window-ledge nests.
In summary, it had been another very good tour. Missing out on the Nightjars was a disappointment, which meant I only came away with one new life tick, but the seabirds were excellent, as were the Red Grouse. The Barn Owls and Adder were a great added bonus too, and the Gannets were great for photography.