A guide to wildlife spotting in North Yorkshire

18th May 2017

It’s no secret that Yorkshire is home to an abundance of wildlife including birds of prey, dolphins, seals and rare butterflies. In March, Channel 5’s Yorkshire: A Year In The Wild showcased the diverse landscape and its inhabitants, including a grey and common seal colony below Raven Hall.

With so much to see in every season, we’ve created a handy guide to wildlife spotting in North Yorkshire so you know exactly what to look out for and when.

Top wildlife spotting locations

Buzzard North Yorkshire

From peregrine falcons to seals, many species call the seas, land and skies of North Yorkshire home. Tom Marshall, Nature Tourism Manager at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, shared his top wildlife watching locations near Ravenscar.

Porpoises in Scarborough

Porpoises in Scarborough

Just below the castle in Scarborough you may be lucky enough to spot harbour porpoises. “Look out for a dark grey dorsal fin breaking the surface,” suggests Tom. “Calm mornings and evenings are best, with young porpoises also spotted regularly under the close watchful eye of their mother.”

Whales in Whitby

From August to October, 30ft long minke whales make their way to the Yorkshire coast in search of mackerel and herring. According to Tom, these gentle giants are among the most inquisitive of whales, so you stand a good chance of spotting one. He added: “Boat tour operators at both Whitby and Staithes can get you close to this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be prepared for a few hours at sea, but it’s well worth the wait for that eye-to-eye moment.”

Peregrine falcons at Scarborough Castle

Peregrine falcon near Robin Hood's Bay hotels

As the world’s fastest bird, you’ll have to stay focused to catch a glimpse of the peregrine falcon. Luckily, these remarkable birds have frequently been spotted at Scarborough Castle. Tom said: “From their high-rise residence on the rocks, look out for these unrivalled birds of prey capable of dives quicker than a Formula 1 racing car. In late summer enjoy the training flights of the youngsters.”

Birdwatching at Wykeham Valley Raptor Watchpoint

A few miles inland from Scarborough, discover Wykeham Valley and Troutsdale. The valley is a maze of fields, hedgerows and forests and offers an excellent platform for birdwatchers. Tom recommended: “The Forestry Commission raptor watch point on the southern side of the valley provides a great vantage point for buzzards, kestrels, migrating ospreys or real treats like goshawks, red kites and in some years even passing white-tailed eagles!”

Grey seals below Raven Hall

Grey seals in Robin Hood's Bay

Just below Raven Hall, a growing seal colony of both grey and common seals can frequently be spotted. During your stay, you can wander down to the shore to observe these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat. According to North York Moors National Park, you have a great chance of seeing common seal pups in June and July and grey seal pups in November.

While it’s an exciting experience to get up close to wildlife in the region, Catriona McLees, Head of Promotion and Tourism at North York Moors National Park, warned not to disturb the colony when observing them: “While it’s absolutely fantastic that the colonies are growing, our rangers and the National Trust are concerned about the growing number of people going down to see the seals and potentially disturbing them.” Catriona offered the following advice:

- Do not get too close to the seals

- Never feed or pet the seals

- Do not take dogs near the seals and always keep them on a short lead

- Too much disturbance may upset the seal pups

Best nature reserves near Raven Hall

Water vole in Yorkshire

There are many spectacular nature reserves close to Robin Hood’s Bay hotels. Whether you’re willing to explore 20 minutes or an hour away from Raven Hall, here are some of the best nature reserves for wildlife spotting.

Little Beck Wood

With woodland canopies formed of oak, ash, alder and cherry trees, Little Beck Wood is a beautiful nature reserve just a 20 minute drive away. Protected from the often wild weather of the moors, the reserve is divided into two sections, dissected by the river of Little Beck. Look out for bluebells and purple orchids in the spring and summer, as well as wildlife including deer, brown hares, water voles and rare birds including the treecreeper and dipper.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Fen Bog 

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly in North Yorkshire

If you are eager to explore the famously moody moors of Yorkshire, take a stroll at Fen Bog. Nestled between the summits of Tom Cross Rigg and Crag Stone Rigg, this open piece of moorland is often coated in vibrant purple heather. Tom Marshall of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust added: “Yellow spikes of bog asphodel are joined with delicate marsh violets and heath spotted orchids. The round-leaved sundew is one of the most fascinating plants as it is one of our few carnivorous flora, with its irresistible dew-like sticky petals, this plant is deadly to insects.”

Fen Bog’s abundance of plant life supports many creatures, according to Tom: “Look out for the orange wings of the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly in summer, and in winter the red grouse or short-eared owl.” Fen Bog is around half an hour from Raven Hall.

Burton Riggs

Burton Riggs’ huge open lakes make this reserve the ideal spot to look out for wildfowl and waders. Set in the Ryedale area just 30 minutes from Robin Hood’s Bay, the reserve is home to an array of birds, particularly during autumn migration and the winter months. Wander around the woodland and grassland along the freshwater lakes, keeping your eyes peeled for egrets, tufted ducks and great crested newts. If you are patient and visit at dusk, you may even be lucky enough to spot a short-eared owl.

Chafer Wood 

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Chafer Wood sits in a peaceful valley, just a 40-minute drive from Raven Hall. As you wander through the woodland, look out for passing roe deer. When you reach the top of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the Vale of Pickering. On your stroll, keep an eye out for rare species of crane fly as well as birds such as the nuthatch, blackcap and great spotted woodpeckers.

Ellerburn Bank

The landscape at Ellerburn Bank is typical of Yorkshire. On sunny days, many species of insects can be seen darting through the air above the limestone grassland. Small copper butterflies and day-flying moths can be seen fluttering through the meadows as skylarks soar overhead. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust recommends visiting in June and July and keeping a watchful eye out for rabbits, foxes, badgers and roe deer.

Filey Brigg and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Filey Dams

Near its namesake seaside town, Filey Dams is a beautiful wetland teeming with dragonflies and butterflies in the summer; wading birds and waterfowl also visit here. Filey Brigg is a spectacular rocky peninsula nearby, as Tom explains: “The large rocky outcrop of Filey Brigg offers a unique opportunity to explore the low-tide rock pools, whilst in late summer and early autumn, the cliffs above provide a spectacular vantage point for whale spotting.”

What to look out for in every season

Minke Whale North Yorkshire coast

The North Yorkshire coast welcomes an array of wildlife in every season. Richard Baines and Steve Race of Yorkshire Coast Nature, a small independent nature tourism company, shared which species to look out for throughout the year:

Spring

Birds on migration: Wheatear, ring ouzel, willow warbler, chiffchaff, redstart, spotted flycatcher, whinchat, tree pipit, swallow, house martin, sand martin, whimbrel, bar-tailed godwit

Woodland flowers: English bluebell, early purple orchid, wood sorrel, wood anemone, wild garlic

Summer

Birds: Kittiwake, gannet, fulmar, golden plover, lapwing, curlew, red grouse

Other wildlife: Adder, slow worm, minke whale, green hairstreak butterfly, dingy skipper butterfly

Autumn

Birds on migration: Puffin, razorbill, guillemot, gannet, manx shearwater, sooty shearwater, goldcrest, yellow-browed warbler, pied flycatcher, redwing, fieldfare, short-eared owl

Butterflies: Red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, painted lady

Winter

Birds: Oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, turnstone, purple sandpiper, red-throated diver, great northern diver

Fulmar Yorkshire coast

Richard and Steve said: “We saw a humpback whale in September 2014 on our Seabird and Whale trip from Staithes, we usually see minke whales on most of our trips, but the humpback was very special. We also spotted a storm petrel and Balearic Shearwater in 2015, these birds are rare on the Yorkshire coast.”

If you’re eager to spot whales and native birds, Yorkshire Coast Nature’s tours are an excellent way to do it. The Seabird and Whale trip is perfect for seeing whales, puffins, fulmars, shearwaters and petrels in their natural habitat. To learn more about the region’s birdlife, head out on a Birding Discovery Day, designed by local experts so you can see the best birds of the season. If you want to brush up on your wildlife photography skills, professional photographer Steve Race leads several workshops.

So now you’re armed with the knowledge of North Yorkshire’s best wildlife spotting locations, relax and enjoy exploring the region on your holiday in your Robin Hood’s Bay hotel.

Image credit: Peter Trimming, Airwolfhound, Niki Clear, Bob Coyle, Mark Davison, Steenbergs, Richard Baines