Mammals

An overview of the mammals of the Filey area

To report mammal sightings, please visit the recording page.

FBOG has been publishing mammal records since 1978, with full species accounts appearing annually in the Bird Report since 2007. The area has great appeal for the mammal specialist being blessed with diverse terrestrial habitats and a productive shoreline and marine environment.

Fox at the Dams (Pete Dunn)

Fox at the Dams (Pete Dunn)

The species list spans the whole spectrum from shrews to whales, and though there is little evidence, probably includes many extinct animals and others which have retreated to the Continent. Most records come from casual observation, regular counts at seal haul-out areas and small-mammal trapping sessions. Bat detectors have been used occasionally and some work has been carried out on caches of owl pellets.

Species list

It is unclear when Grey Squirrel first reached Filey; not recorded prior to 1978, the species was well established in all suitable habitats by 2007 and is now regularly seen at the Dams, Church Ravine, Primrose Valley and elsewhere throughout the year.

Water Vole (Mike Day)

Water Vole (Mike Day)

The Voles are represented by Bank Vole, Field Vole and Water Vole. Bank Voles are easily trapped in Longworth traps and can constitute the majority of the catch on occasion. Field Voles are less frequently caught, always in single figures, but paradoxically outnumber their cousins fourfold in owl-pellets. Neither species is easily observed, but both occur widely through the area.

Water Vole is a key priority species at Filey Dams nature reserve. Hard to see in the field, the species can be heard munching through the Glyceria from the pond-dipping platform (and patience can pay off with an audience there). A survey in 2001 revealed many latrines in the densest wetland vegetation throughout the reserve; by 2013 this distribution had pulled back to the Bur-marigold pool and the reedbed at the north end of the main pool. There are occasional records from Primrose Valley and also from Reighton ponds.

Until 2008, when one was live-trapped on the top fields, Harvest Mouse held a mythical appeal, with single dead animals having been found in the Dams car park, outside the Foords public house in the town and on Ravine Hill, the latter caught by a cat. In 2009 another was trapped in the reedbed at the north end of the main pool at the Dams. Nests have been found mainly around the top scrub/fields area though there is a report of one from Reighton.

Wood Mouse (Mike Day)

Wood Mouse (Mike Day)

In sharp contrast, Wood Mouse is ubiquitous, seemingly common in all areas, and usually dominates the catch at small-mammal trapping sessions. House Mouse is the rarest of the three (the species found in most sheds and gardens being Wood Mouse). A pair were live-trapped on the top fields in 2009.

Our biggest rodent, the much maligned Common Rat, is widespread but rarely seen. Most records are of road casualties though the species does occur at the Dams where it takes advantage of spillages from bird tables. Regularly seen on the Brigg in the early 1970’s, where it shared the old wooden seawatching hide with the birders.

Rabbit, Carr Naze (Mark Pearson)

Rabbit, Carr Naze (Mark Pearson)

Rabbits can be found throughout the area in variable numbers, creating burrows along the thickest hedgerows, railway cuttings and on both sides of Carr Naze as far east as the seawatch hide. Precarious entrances high in the bay corner cliffs seem to be abandoned but were shared with Little Owls in the ‘70’s. Small colonies, such as those in Arndale, can be wiped out in a season by breeding Stoats.

Brown Hares favour the wide spaces of the top fields and use the cover afforded by areas such as Newbiggin Wood, the Old Tip and the Rocket Pole Field for breeding. Double figures can be counted here, with a record 15 picked out from the snow-fields in 2010. Other reports come from Reighton and Hunmanby Gap. Hedgehog is found throughout the area, visiting estate gardens, churchyards and fields and is often recorded in the country park.

Sleeping Hoglet, Top Scrub (Mark Pearson)

Sleeping Hoglet, Top Scrub (Mark Pearson)

Referred to as common in publications last century and unusually abundant in 1938, Moles were however under-recorded in the Filey area until 2009. From then a simple transect of the Country Park has been used, with monthly counts of mole hills. Most of the activity is in the winter months, declining in summer. Live animals on the surface are sometimes seen, including once halfway along Carr Naze.

Common Shrew populations fluctuate widely but Longworth trapping sessions have shown them to be densest around the Country Park and less common at the Old Tip and Dams. Dead animals are frequently found in the open, especially in late summer. Pygmy Shrew is widespread though scarce, recorded once a year on average, though in 2007 five dead animals were discovered at Primrose Valley. Trapping in 2013 produced four in the top scrub part of the Country Park.

Water Shrew (Mike Day)

Water Shrew (Mike Day)

Water Shrew is also widespread with fluctuating populations, and this species played an important role in gaining YWT reserve status for Filey Dams. Trapping there in 1986 and 1987 produced 16 animals at each session; after then numbers crashed, but in 2013 eight individuals were trapped in each session constituting a welcome recovery. Other records come from Primrose Valley, Reighton, Arndale Ravine and Church Ravine.

Six species of bat have been detected at Filey, mainly by analysing echolocation calls. Daubenton’s and Noctule almost certainly visit the Dams and nearby Long Plantation; watch this space for the results of further studies. Serotine was suspected in 2000 at Glen Gardens and a Leisler’s Bat flew with Pipistrelles at Lowfields Farm in the same summer. Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were ‘everywhere’, at least in 2000; it is hoped, with extended study, that new species are added to this list.

Fox is fairly common, though mainly nocturnal, taking advantage of all suitable habitats, including urban streets and gardens. Most reports come from Filey Dams, where breeding succeeds most years. An opportunistic hunter, foxes take waterfowl, small rodents, game birds etc. and the cubs can become remarkably approachable given a good food supply, taking food from the hand on one occasion in Church Ravine. Mortality is high in the first year but the population seems stable.

Fox at the Dams (MIke Day)

Fox at the Dams (MIke Day)

Badgers are rarely seen in Filey, but much more common further south with sets in Primrose Valley and at Reighton Gap, and they are known to visit gardens at Hunmanby Gap. A large sett beside the A165 (west of the town at the eponymous ‘badger bends’) so undermined the road some years ago it had to be ‘relocated’.

Mustelids are represented by the Otter, Stoat and Weasel. An Otter was seen on two freezing days in February 2005. A brief sighting of another in March 2011 prompted a search of the reserve; fresh spraint was everywhere along with signs of amphibian and fish predation. Stoats are uncommon, seen occasionally throughout the area; in 2007 a pair bred in the Country Park and systematically wiped out the Rabbit warren in Arndale feeding their young.

Stoat (Mike Day)

Stoat (Mike Day)

Weasel is widespread and has produced a few interesting records. In 1987 one on the brigg was photographed carrying fresh-caught blennies under the seawatch hide; an individual was caught in a Longworth trap in 2009 and another two in 2013. One was trapped in a mist net in 2010 and in October 2012 migrant passerines were chased around Carr Naze, and another was seen carrying a Mole.

Common Seal and Grey Seal are both seen in the bay, on the Brigg and hauled-out at Gristhorpe cliff. Common Seal is counted, usually in single figures, at Gristhorpe and is much the scarcer of the two species around the Brigg and bay. A tagged individual seen in 2007 had been in care at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire.

Grey Seal numbers peak in autumn and are approaching 100 individuals, the breeding season absence coming in March/April. Yearling pups are often found on the brigg, a tagged individual having been released from care in the Wash, Norfolk three months earlier. Another, captured in 1927, was exhibited for 14 years as “Bonzo – the largest seal in England”.

Roe Deer is fairly widespread from Reighton, through Hunmanby Gap, Primrose Valley and on to the top fields and is frequently seen at Filey Dams, where it has bred. Road casualties are probably annual. Usually found singly, in pairs, or small groups of up to six animals.

Roe Deer (Dan Lombard)

Roe Deer (Dan Lombard)

Cetaceans are an always enthralling sight from our stretch of coast. Records from Filey were summarised by Colin Howes in the FBOG 1997 report, and in most annual reports since then; the earliest account chronicles the stealing of a great whale from the port of Filey by the burgesses of Scarborough in 1274. In 1972 an extremely rare adult Sowerby’s Beaked Whale unfortunately stranded between Hunmanby Gap and Primrose Valley.

Minke Whale was first recorded in 2001, and has been recorded (usually as brief, lone sightings) on a handful of occasions since; until the summer of 2013 that is, when an unprecedented influx of multiple animals occurred in July. Coinciding with ideal feeding (and indeed viewing) conditions and bringing several other cetacean species to our area, up to ten were seen simultaneously and attracted visitors from far and wide to enjoy the spectacle.

The 2013 summer bounty also brought our only record of the globally-threatened Sei Whale, which cruised north on the afternoon of 16th July. In contrast, Harbour Porpoise is the most frequently seen cetacean, usually on the north side of the brigg but often also in the bay; single figures are the norm but up to 27 have been logged as recently as 2000. We need to go back to August 1903 for Filey’s only record of Killer Whale: three animals which spent thirty minutes close in off the Emporers Bath on the north side of Carr Naze.

The first White-beaked Dolphin came in 1926 and in recent times it has become the most frequently observed medium-sized dolphin. Pods of any size make a spectacular sight and vary from three or four individuals to eight or even twelve. Strandings are quite frequent and sadly bring the best opportunity to study the animal.

Minke Whale off Filey Brigg, July 2013 (Mark Pearson)

Minke Whale off Filey Brigg, July 2013 (Mark Pearson)

Far rarer along inshore waters, Atlantic White-sided Dolphins have occurred at Filey on two occasions: a single was stranded in January 1986, and somewhat more happily, a pod of five ploughed south in July 2013. Bottle-nosed Dolphin, first recorded in 1933, is a less than annual visitor with, for example, pods of 12 in 2009 and c.15 in 2010. In summer 2013 an individual was identified by the distinct shape of its dorsal fin, having spent the last several summers on the Moray Firth.

Jack Whitehead