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Birding The Cleveland Way – Battersby Moor to Captain Cooks Monument

Sat 29th Jun, 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.  

We arrived at Bankfoot just as the sun was warming the hillside, this was a great time to enjoy the amazing view and a small number of butterflies. Several Speckled Wood and a single Small Tortoiseshell appeared to follow us up the slope.

The path left the woodland and we were back on the expansive open moor where we left the trail in May. The warmth of the late morning encouraged many Tiger Beetles onto the dirt track. Their bright emerald green wings are always a joy to behold.

It didn’t take long until we heard our first Eurasian Curlew of the day. The distinctive loud alarm call as an adult flew up from the grassland adjacent to the path was a strong indication this bird had chicks. A quick scan with my binoculars and there it was a smaller than expected chick right next to the path. In June Curlew chicks have normally grown larger than this tiny bundle of feathers. This female Curlew must have laid her eggs later in the season. We didn’t hang around for very long, it was best to keep marching onwards and allow the adults to return to their youngster.  

Small Copper butterflies were out in force. I counted ten individuals as we stomped onwards towards Warren Moor. Then I caught sight of a new butterfly for our walk, a Small Heath. Luckily it landed on the track in good light for a quick photo, perfectly camouflaged against the sandy soil and stones. Small Heath are a high priority conservation species due to population losses across their range. Learn more about these butterflies on the Butterfly Conservation website Click Here.

Above Baysdale Farm the track joins a minor road flanked by moorland. A Red Kite drifted low over the hillside to our west. Its always a thrill to see these magnificent raptors. I remember when they were rare in the UK and, as a young birder I travelled all the way to Wales to see them.

The trail then follows the road downhill towards Kildale village. On the hillside a pair of Stonechats were feeding their juveniles. The combination of grassland, small trees, bracken and fences provided just the right habitat structure for these charming birds. After a short walk through Kildale the path leaves the road towards Church House Farm. A family group of Long-tailed Tits appeared in the hedge nearby. Several juveniles wearing their brown 'Zoro' masks raced through the branches to keep up with the adults.  

A family group of Barn Swallows were busy catching insects over a hay meadow which had been left uncut giving these wonderful birds a bounty of food for their newly fledged chicks which were lined up on a wire above the road. This was becoming a day dominated by new bird life arriving into the world.

After Kildale the trail climbs again past Kildale Hall and Sandbeds Plantation into the woodland of Coate Moor. At the top of the hill, as the path evens out, the woodland habitat opens up with some wide rides and lots of sunlight creating excellent conditions for woodland butterflies.

In this area I could hear a Spotted Flycatcher singing and after a search I found an adult perched characteristically on the edge of a sunny glade waiting for passing flies. The habitat here looked good for Nightjars. I made a note to myself to return next spring at a suitable time of day and listen for any sign of these charismatic birds.

After Coate Moor woodland the landscape opens up again on the plateau as you arrive at Captain Cooks monument. The wide, expansive view is really impressive here. On the lower slope to the north, I could hear a Tree Pipit singing. The young Spruce and Birch trees amongst Billberry and Heather created just the right habitat for these birds. Their song is often delivered in flight ending in an impressive parachute drop with wings held out and all feathers fluffed to their maximum extent. However, the male I found preferred to sing from the top of a Spruce. In September this bird will be leaving North Yorkshire to start his migration to Africa. He will spend the winter south of the Sahara returning to the UK in late April.

On the walk down to Gribdale Gate car park the path was flanked by damp grassland. In amongst the grasses were some fabulous Common Spotted Orchids and a small number of Marsh Orchids.


Late June proved to be a great time for watching wildlife on the Cleveland Way. Butterflies on the moor, African migrant birds in the woods, freshly fledged birds in many places and these very impressive Orchids.


We ended the walk at the car park which is only a few miles from the beautiful village of Great Ayton and a well-deserved ice cream!

© Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast Nature