Focusing on Nature

Supporting Conservation

Find out how your bookings help wildlife and communities.

Why not buy a Gift Voucher?

Back to Blog

Birding The Cleveland Way – Lordstones to Battersby Moor

Sun 26th May, 2024

Growing up on the northern edge of the North York Moors National Park, Richard has always wanted to walk the entire length of the Cleveland Way, to explore the landscape, birds and wildlife along this fabulous National Trail. His plan is to walk a different section every month over the course of 2024 and write a blog in the process. Joining him on these leisurely walks is artist Jo Ruth.  

The western escarpment of the North York Moors National Park is a truly stunning place to visit, and the route of the Cleveland Way is an ideal way to experience this expansive landscape. On this clear morning, our first sight of the view was driving up Alum House Lane from the village of Carlton in Cleveland. Looking north from the top of the road, we could see many local landmarks such as Roseberry Topping, Captain Cook's Monument, and even the North Sea.

Starting our walk at Lordstones Country Park allowed us to slowly build up momentum for the many hills on this part of the route. Our leisurely pace provided ample time to enjoy the birds and wildlife. The first sound that greeted us as we stepped out of the car was a Song Thrush belting out its loud and varied song.

As we made our way to the first marked viewpoint, we followed the trail up a gentle slope on the edge of Cringle Moor. Upon passing through a gate onto the hillside, I heard several Common Whitethroats singing, and a male Stonechat rushed past with a beak full of insects. Wrens, Yellowhammers, Meadow Pipits, and Common Linnets added their calls and songs to the morning chorus.

The habitat on this slope, dominated by grassland and Bracken, had been allowed to go wild, creating a fantastic environment for small songbirds. Many small Rowan trees were growing amidst the tall vegetation, providing excellent lookouts and song posts for male Whitethroats and other birds.

Above the Rowan trees, a male Common Kestrel hovered above the crags, a sight we would enjoy several times throughout the day. The light breeze and dry weather created perfect hunting conditions, and by the end of our walk, we had seen at least eight Kestrels.

In the small valley just below the Wain Stones, we heard our first Eurasian Curlew song of the day. In the fields just south of Garfit Gap, the combination of grassland, pasture, and moorland created the ideal habitat for these wonderful waders.

Clambering through the Wain Stones was great fun but not an easy place for birdwatching. However, we did find two Red Admiral butterflies basking in the sun in a warm rocky refuge. After the Wain Stones, the path runs across Bilberry and Heather moorland before dropping down again on the steep slope by Hasty Bank.

Along the trail, we frequently encountered Meadow Pipits, their characteristic "seep" calls were a sweet and constant reminder of their presence. Many were carrying food for their hungry chicks, a noticeable theme for most of the walk, with many resident songbirds either feeding nestlings in their nests or newly fledged chicks out and about.

On the way down Hasty Bank, a new sound caught my ear—a singing Ring Ouzel just south of the route on the rocky slope towards Hasty Banks Farm. This was a great song to hear and the first Ring Ouzel for our Cleveland Way bird list. I am very fond of their old English name, the Mountain Blackbird, which describes their habitat very well. By the end of the walk, we had seen all four thrush species that nest in the North York Moors: Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, and Ring Ouzel.

Walking east on Urra Moor was spectacular for views looking north but quiet for wildlife sightings, until we reached Greenhow Moor. Here we encountered our first European Golden Plovers. The mournful, haunting sound of a pair of "goldies" caught the breeze, making us look around to see if we could find them. We were in luck, as a male and female were relatively close to the trail. Both birds were alarm calling, and before long we could see why.

A very small chick, a delicate golden nugget, raised its head briefly above the heather, just enough time for a quick photo. We made sure to move on quickly before the family became too alarmed by our presence. Not far away, we found another pair. I noticed the male had a blacker neck than the previous bird, a common variation that helps identify individual birds during the breeding season.

We also encountered several families of Red Grouse with tiny young. The females often stood on prominent rocks to keep a close eye out for danger.

Just before Bloworth Crossing, we joined the old cinder track. This raised bank is the route of an old railway line which carried ironstone from Rosedale. The line closed in 1929, and since then, the vegetation has recolonized with a wide range of flowers. On our walk, we found a great display of Speedwell, Early Dog Violet, Black Medick, Cuckoo Flower, and a new species I had not seen before, Changing Forget-me-not. With such a wide variety of flowers, there were also more butterflies, our highlights being Small Copper and a single Wall.

After walking north over the moor at Tidy Brown Hill, we finished the day by following a footpath down the hill through pine woods to Bank Foot cottages. The sound of Cuckoos singing on the edge of the moor was still audible as we reached our car.

© Richard Baines, Director

Yorkshire Coast Nature