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Yorkshire’s top 10 wildlife & where to spot it
Yorkshire spans some of the most varied landscapes in the country; including wolds, dales, moors and a spectacular coastline. These different habitats support a variety of wildlife species. To celebrate Yorkshire Day this year, I’ve listed my favourite with tips on where to go to see them.
1. Barn Owls
There’s nothing more breathtaking than the sight of a barn owl gliding silently against a darkening sky and in Yorkshire you don’t have to travel far to see one.
Where to see barn owls in Yorkshire
Barn owls are prevalent across the Yorkshire countryside, in farmland and across the Dales and Wolds. I recommend Sunk Island, on the Humber Estuary where they are easy to spot hunting over the rough grassland of this flat landscape.
When to see barn owls in Yorkshire
August is the best time to spot a barn owl as the newly-fledged chicks are out of their nests. Look for them in the evenings and after heavy rain when they will be out hunting. Their white wings glow against darkening summer skies, making them easy to spot.
Nothing makes a heart beat faster than seeing a hare race across farmland. These mammals are the fastest in the UK, reaching speeds of up to 40mph. They are solitary animals and only group together to mate, so if you see a group it’s worth your while to stop and watch. When hunkered down in arable or grass fields they look like a row of molehills but be patient and see them explode into action as they chase, box and posture to earn the right to mate. Groups of eight to a dozen are readily seen and I’ve even seen 51 together. Read more about how I watched this group one bitter winter.
Where to see hares in Yorkshire
The Yorkshire Wolds is one of the best places in the county to see hares boxing. Hares love the fast-draining land and rough grasslands. Look out for them loping along farm tracks.
When to see hares in Yorkshire
March is the peak time to see hares boxing but they actually box all year round and in winter it is easier to spot them since the crops are short. In summer look for the tips of their ears peeking above the crop line.
3. Red Squirrels
Red squirrels are a delight to watch. They are so inquisitive and cheeky. Sadly, due to a severe loss of habitat and a killer disease known as squirrel pox, they are only a few surviving colonies in the UK. Thankfully, one of these is in Yorkshire!
Where to see red squirrels in Yorkshire
The best place to see red squirrels is at Cotterdale, a tiny hamlet deep in the Yorkshire Dales, near Hawes. Drive through the village and wait quietly next to the river in view of the stone walls. You’ll soon see them running long the top of the stone walls next to the road where residents put out food for them. Click here to read about the snowy week when I watched them from a private hide here.
When to see red squirrels in Yorkshire
I’ve seen them in March, but they are about all year round.
4. Black Grouse
The mating ritual of black grouse, known as a ‘lek’, is spellbinding. The males fan out their tales, circle and leap into the air, their iridescent feathers glittering, in order to win a female. This ritual is very rare to watch but is one of the most fascinating if you get a chance – and the good news is that if you visit Yorkshire you can! Read about the day I watched this exotic-looking bird dance and see my photographs here.
Where to see black grouse in Yorkshire
The moors on the Yorkshire Dales are one of the few places in the UK where you can see black grouse lek. Look out for their shiny black plumage as they spring in the air above the height of the grasses.
When to see black grouse in Yorkshire
The best time to see the lek is between March and May
A flash of electric blue is all most people get to see of a kingfisher. But if you are patient it is worth stopping and waiting to watch where it goes. These tiny, iridescent birds are Britain’s most colourful. And here in Yorkshire there are plenty to see.
Where to see kingfishers in Yorkshire
Look out for them beside any river, canal or stream. In particular I recommend Melbourne in East Yorkshire and Howsham, in north Yorkshire. I often spot them along the walk between Howsham Bridge and Kirkham Abbey, which flanks the river Derwent. Listen out for their high pitched call, this is the first sign you will get of their presence.
When to see kingfishers in Yorkshire
Summer is the best time, just after the chicks have fledged. But it is also worth looking after the leaves have fallen off the trees because you get better views of the river.
Puffins are everybody’s favourite seabird and its not hard to see why. With their smart black and white plumage, comical walk and bright orange beaks, these small birds really stand out. And there’s no better place to see them then along the chalk cliffs lining the East Yorkshire coastline.
Where to see puffins in Yorkshire
RSPB Bempton, near Bridlington is the place to go. You can either look down onto their nests from the top of precipitous chalk cliffs that plunge into the sea or take a boat ride from Bridlington and watch them dive into the water beside you as they hunt for sand eels to take to their pufflings on the cliffs above.
When to see puffins in Yorkshire
You need to plan your trip between March and July when these birds are breeding. After July they fly out to sea where they remain for the rest of the year.
7. Red Stags
The red stag rut is one of the most exciting wildlife spectacles in the UK. This is when stags compete for females, locking antlers in dramatic displays of strength. Between fights, the stags roar loudly, roll and stamp – and even decorate their antlers with moss like Christmas chandeliers.
Where to see red deer in Yorkshire
Studley Royal near Ripon is set in breath-taking parkland graced with ancient sweet chestnut, beech and oak trees. Here stags roar as they parallel walk to assess their opponents’ size and strength. Fights involve a dramatic clash of antlers. Don’t get too close!
When to see red deer in Yorkshire
October is the red deer rut
Otters are very elusive, but thanks to extensive conservation efforts, they are now present in every waterway in Yorkshire. Its easier to see sea otters, look for their heads bobbing above the waves, than fresh water ones. If you spot one, be patient, it may have cubs and if you wait long enough you could be rewarded with the sight of them playfully splashing in the water.
Where to see otters in Yorkshire
Tophill Low Nature Reserve near Watton village is a good place to be sure of a sighting. Look out for them from the Southern Marsh hides. Their wake in open water or a row of bubbles usually gives the game away. Listen too for their high-pitched birdlike calls.
When to see otters in Yorkshire
You can see them all year round. Early mornings and evenings are best.
9. Red Kites
Red kites put on the most spectacular aerial displays. Their swoops and dives are incredible to watch – all the more so when you think that these birds of prey are only visible today thanks to a massive conservation effort that has brought them back from the brink of extinction.
Where to see red kites in Yorkshire
See them at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, where a handful of red kites from Europe were released in 1999. These birds went on to establish a colony. Watch them as they swoop over the landscaped grounds of this stately home.
Nunburnholme, near Pocklington, is also a fantastic place to watch them, the birds that established this colony are thought to have come from Harewood.
When to see red kites in Yorkshire
See them on winter afternoons when these birds of prey come together to roost. They gather a few hours before dusk and become very active at this time, swooping and diving above the roost and chasing one another through the skies.
Woodcock are secretive woodland birds and are easy enough to spot when flushed out by hunters, but are so difficult to see on the ground that they are considered one of Europe’s most elusive birds. They only come out to feed at night and their plumage, which mimics a woodland floor, makes them really difficult to spot.
Where to see woodcock in Yorkshire
I’ve watched woodcock at Cropton Forest in North Yorkshire, but I recommend Spurn Point, which is one of the most easterly spots on the Yorkshire coast. They can be found in large numbers here shortly after having migrated to escape the harsh winters in Scandinavia.
When to see woodcock in Yorkshire
Legend has it that woodcock fly in to the UK on the night of the November full moon. But the timing of their arrival from Scandinavia is actually dependent on the winds. They arrive exhausted and hungry so this is a good time to see them as they are out feeding during the day, sometimes just by the roadside, frantically probing the ground for worms.
And Finally – Weasels & Stoats
It’s a list of 10, but I can’t really finish off without mentioning weasels & stoats.
Both mammals are so fast and lithe that all most people ever see of one is a slim outline as it dashes across a road. Tiny, but ferocious, they are prevalent across Yorkshire, but sadly their tenacity and expertise as hunters has earned them a reputation for being ruthless killers and they are despised by many in the countryside.
After studying them closely for a number of years now, I’ve discovered there is much more to them.
Where to see weasels & stoats in Yorkshire
My gallery, The Robert Fuller Gallery in Thixendale. I have hidden secret nesting chambers throughout my garden and wired each with cameras so that visitors can watch these miniature mammals as they go about their daily lives.
When to see weasels & stoats in Yorkshire
The cameras are trained on weasels all year round, but you are most likely to see in them in spring and summer when they are nesting.
Author: Robert E Fuller