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November 2013

3rd, An autumnal walk in the Wolds
On a gloriously sunny but breezy morning we headed up to one of my favorite corners of the Yorkshire Wolds near the small community of Huggate and here we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the winding and contrasting dales of Tun Dale and Frendal Dale. The temperature was near perfect for walking with the mercury hovering around 9 C (48 F) and I don't know about you but it is nice to feel a chill in the air again after what has been a long summer and very mild autumn thus far. Indeed November is probably one of my favourite months of the whole year and in this part of the world at least it is usually when the autumn colours reach their glorious climax, though sadly it looks like this autumn is not going to be quite as spectacular as last year. However with a few chillier nights recently and the ever dwindling daylight hours things are finally starting to move along and hopefully a few of the photos in this post will convey some of the beautiful colours which are now on show up here on the roof of the Wolds.

Our walk began above the largely wooded dale of Tun Dale and as we headed down the winding woodland track we entered a beautiful autumnal world with golds, yellows and reds positively glowing in the low November sunshine. Indeed it was like entering a pre-raphaelite painting by the likes of Millais and as we continued ever downwards one began to see the track as a long nave in a cathedral dedicated to the glories of creation and the natural world, the golden leaves acting like stained glass and giving the whole area a beautiful glow.

Eventually we reached the point where Tun Dale turns sharply to the left and here, near the lowest point of the walk, the woodland track became predictably muddy after all the recent rains. A large group of mountain bikers overtook us at this point, all of them splattered in the aforementioned mud, though they proved a friendly group whom didn't seem to mind me taking a few quick shots as they negotiated the muddy woodland ride.

From this point we split away from the main path and headed up the other side of the dale, leaving behind the woodlands of the first part of our walk and entering the very different world of the grass covered and sheep grazed downs which so typify most of England's chalk hills, the Yorkshire Wolds forming the most northern part of a crescent shaped chain of chalk hills which stretch down and along eastern and southern England. My love affair with these gentle hills was initially a slow burner, as having grown up in the Yorkshire Dales and Pentland Hills of Scotland I was used to an altogether wilder and more dramatic landscape, but as is so often the case it is these initially unpromising relationships which in time become the most long lasting and valuable and though I often flirt with other parts of this beautiful island nation it is Yorkshire and the Wolds in particular which I always return too, this part of the region being almost as familiar to me as the back of my hand.

After stopping for a pleasant cup of reinvigorating tea we reached the point where Tun Dale meets Frendal Dale, and after what had otherwise been a largely gentle stroll we began to climb upwards once more along this particularly deep and perhaps historically important valley. This valley which faces south-west is a haven for butterflies and wildflowers in the summer months, whereas in winter it is fantastic place to watch birds of prey and a number of mammalian species such as Hare, Stoat and Roe deer, all of which were indeed spotted today with the exception of Stoat. A flock of chattering Fieldfare were also seen in the hawthorn scrub near the top of the dale, the first I've seen this autumn/winter, while a variety of grassland fungi species were noted in and around Huggate dykes.

Huggate dykes itself is a surviving fragment of ancient earthworks which were constructed some 3,000 years ago (probably) the purpose of which is unknown though a number of theories have been put forward over the years. Indeed the Yorkshire Wolds is an area rich in archaeological remains with many finds dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods and even today reminders of the past can be found thanks to preserved barrows, the huge standing stone at Rudston (which incidentally is the tallest such megalith in Britain), extensive earth workings and evidence of a large Neolithic ritual complex in the Great Wolds Valley, which together all point to the importance of this area in pre-Roman England.

6th, Whoopers at North Cave
This afternoon we found ourselves with some free time and despite the grey and overcast skies we decided to pop across the Wolds to the little nature reserve at North Cave. With the reserve pretty much to ourselves we were able to take our time and enjoy the grey November afternoon with no one to bother or disturb us (a rare luxury indeed!), and we also got to see plenty of interesting birds and whatnot despite the otherwise unpromising overhead conditions (though at least the rain held off till after we left the reserve shortly before nightfall).

The first good bird of the afternoon came soon after departing our vehicle with a probable Peregrine seen hunting over Dryham Ings but sadly this bird quickly headed away to the south and would not be seen again during our walk around the reserve. Settling into the hide we found the Main Lake to be unusually quiet with just a few Teal, Tufted Ducks, Grebes, Cormorants, and Gulls to be seen, while around the edge of the lake 'excitement' was proved by a few Redshanks and Lapwings.

However after quarter of an hour or so the sound of geese to the north caught our attention and it was then that we noticed that coming ahead of them were 5 Whooper Swans, a very welcome treat indeed. Having been fortunate enough to spend time in the area near the Ouse Washes when I was younger I have always loved to see these wild swans (as well as their smaller cousins the Bewick's) and as soon as I heard that distinctive 'whooping' call I was instantly transported back to cold and wintry days birding at places like Welney and Welches Dam.

From Main Lake we made our way around the reserve in our usual clockwise manner, and as we passed the newer part of the reserve at the end of Dryham Ings we noted that the five Whooper Swans had dropped in and were bathing as a family at the far side of the lake. In the trees a few Fieldfares were spotted feeding on the abundant haws, while roving bands of mixed tits were additionally noted, and as we continued onwards along the lane a single Stoat was briefly observed at it ran across the track (one of two Stoats we would see during our afternoons walk). The rest of the afternoon passed with little further event with a distant female Goldeneye and a healthy number of Wigeon being the best of the rest.

10th, Red Kites
We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the Yorkshire Wolds this morning during which we had numerous and repeated views of both Red Kites and Buzzards, though it wasn’t until we reached the public highway that we would get some great views of these birds of prey with two beautiful Red Kites circling right over our heads for a minute or two. For a change I actually remembered to bring along my long lens and after a bit of fumbling and cursing as I changed cameras I was able to fire away a few shots before they drifted away and out of sight.

12th, Moths
Juniper Carpet (NFY) x1, Red-green Carpet x4, Light Brown Apple Moth x2, & Ashy Button x3.

12th, North Cliffe Wood
This morning we headed down to North Cliffe Wood in the hope of getting some autumnal scenes with our cameras, and with largely sunny and clear skies conditions were very promising when we arrived shortly after 10am. In the fields beside the reserve the farmer was lifting the Neeps and on the way to the wood we also saw a farmer pulling a trailer full of recently harvested carrots, a delicious sight indeed. However all this agriculture is straying away from the main purpose of our visit and this was to enjoy the autumnal scenes in the woodland.

The first real highlight of the morning came courtesy of some stunning golden Aspens (at least I think they were Aspens) which really did glow in the November sunshine, and as we walked along the western path we went through a short tunnel of these wonderful trees which perhaps have the best autumnal colours of any native British tree.

Continuing onwards through the wood we encountered a few specimens of Fly Agaric, always a pleasing sight, while on the edge of the heath a clump of Parasol Mushrooms were found in varying stages of development, some still shaped like clubs while others had fallen over and were beginning to rot away. Indeed throughout the morning we would come across lots of fungi still going strong despite recent frosts, most beyond my shamefully woeful mycology knowledge, but despite this I enjoyed looking at these fascinating and all too transient organisms.

Heading into the core of the woodland we heard the distant call of a Jay somewhere deep within the trees, while in the wetter areas of the birch woodland we flushed a Woodcock beside the footpath, one of my favourite woodland birds. In fact we would flush another Woodcock later during our walk in a different part of the wood and it would seem that these very handsome but very secretive birds are back in numbers for the winter. Other birds of interest included plenty of Redwings, Marsh Tit, a Tawny Owl, Buzzards, and Treecreeper, whilst the warmish sunshine even meant that odonata interest was still provided courtesy of a late Common Darter on the edge of the heath.

17th, Moorland gold
The autumn colours up here in the North York Moors National Park are now reaching their climax and during a pleasant walk up in the hills and valleys around Goathland and Beck Hole we found some stunning golden hues above the route of the old Esk Valley railway. The Larch was particularly spectacular as it positively glowed in the late November sunshine, whilst the woodland floor was decorated with a patchwork of autumn leaves which have begun tumbling down following the first frosts of the season. This truly is a beautiful time of year to explore & appreciate this corner of north-eastern Yorkshire.

22nd, North Cave Wetlands
This afternoon we managed to get out for a couple of hours and headed down to North Cave Wetlands on what was a cold and showery afternoon. A Black-throated Diver had been reported here on the previous three days but sadly by the time we made it down to the reserve it had departed, which was disappointing as BT Diver is the only species of Diver I have yet to see, but having been cooped up for a few days it was nice just to be out. The reserve was pretty quiet to be honest though a large number of Wigeon were seen and heard, indeed I'm not sure I've ever seen so many Wigeon at North Cave, and Teal were also very numerous, though due to time constraints we were unable to complete a full circuit of the reserve and undoubtedly we missed a few interesting birds as a result.

24th, Nettledale
We went for a short stroll in the Wolds today with the small and compact valley of Nettle Dale providing a pleasant circular walk. Nature wise the walk provided little interest, though a sizeable flock of Fieldfares was seen, and a flock of at least 1000+ Wood Pigeons was also observed overhead, no doubt spooked by shooting nearby. Pheasants were also numerous, a small number being of the attractive dark variety which are so prized by some shooters, and out on the open arable fields a few Hares were spotted as well as a Roe deer at one point. However the stars of the morning were the handsome and friendly Highland cattle whom along with Galloway and Shorthorn breeds are amongst my favourite types of cattle (not for me the delicate and highly strung beasts which many farmers breed these days what with their associated problems with calving, increased feeding costs, and in some cases aggression).