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What To Look Out For - May 2018

  • Sun 13th May, 2018

May is my favorite month of the year, the newly emerging bright green leaves and the longer days are life affirming, but most of all I love listening to the songs and calls of our wonderful birdlife. Resident birds such as Song Thrush are still blasting out their chorus alongside new arrivals such as Willow WarblerWillow Warblers spend the winter in Africa and by early May most will be on their breeding grounds in the UK. They nest on the ground in, or on the edge of woodlands great and small within a mosaic of low shrubs or young trees. In our region they are still relatively common especially in the North Yorkshire Forests. Look and listen for them where there are glades with new trees regenerating, where older ones have fallen or after forestry operations.  This is the best month of year to find one as their sweet song carries on the breeze through the forest. Listen for a rippling cadence with a slight rise before falling away at the end.

Willow Warbler © Richard BainesWillow Warbler © Richard Baines

Old English names for birds are fascinating. Willow Warblers and the similar Chiffchaff used to be called Featherpaults, still a common name for them at the turn of the 20th Century. This was derived from their habit of building dome shaped nests made from soft feather.

Turtle Dove at Sutton Bank May 2018 © Richard WillisonTurtle Dove at Sutton Bank May 2018 © Richard Willison

Another bird with a highly distinctive song is the Turtle-Dove. The North York Moors NP and Howardian Hills is one of the last places in the north of England where these birds can be seen. The recent massive decline in population has left one of our most popular birds on the brink of extinction from the UK. The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project has been set up to survey and conserve numbers by working with many partners and landowners across the region.

Their soporific purring song can be heard from mid-April to late summer. Look out for them in any of the forests or on the edge of small villages between Scarborough and Ampleforth. Several pairs nested close to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre last year so check out the bird feeders outside the coffee shop! The most distinctive feature to look for is their highly contrasting black and white tail. The diamond shaped outer tail is a white band which is fanned to great effect during their display flight. The best time of day to hear and see these wonderful birds is for the first two hours after dawn. This is peak singing, display and courtship time for the doves before they move on to a seed rich breakfast later in the morning. Evening can also be good as activity increases again after a mid-day siesta! 

Turtle Doves have a rich history in myth and folklore. They were sacred birds to the Greek gods Demeter and Aphrodite and their purring song was even mentioned in the Bible. Their long association with love comes from their habit of forming monogamous pair bonds which can last several for several years. They have an amazing ability to navigate back to the precise location they bred in the previous year.  Titan a male Turtle Dove satellite tracked to Africa and back in 2014/15 landed only a few kilometers away from where he had nested the previous year!  

Latest Sightings:

Turtle Doves are back at Sutton Bank! Four were seen near the bird feeders at the back of the visitor centre on the 29th April.  

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature