The Best Birdwatching Spots in Scotland – These Vagabond Shoes

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My number of ten of the most effective birdwatching places in Scotland.

As I’ve beforehand admitted on this weblog, I’m an avid birdwatcher, and whereas I’m no knowledgeable at figuring out totally different species and deciphering their behaviour, I believe there’s one thing in regards to the curiosity to look, hear and be taught a bit of extra about them that builds a deeper connection along with your environment whenever you go to a brand new place.

sebird colony
Hundreds of gannets swirling across the seabird metropolis of Bass Rock within the Firth of Forth. Picture by Ingi Finnsson from Pixabay.

Throughout Scotland there are some unimaginable alternatives to get near nature, whether or not you’re an skilled birder, an enthusiastic newbie, or an entire newbie. From sprawling sea hen cities stacked onto coastal cliffs, and huge estuaries and wave-washed shorelines, via native forests and glowing lochsides, to heather-clad hillsides and wild mountain plateau. I hope this listing sparks some inspiration for together with birdwatching in your subsequent journey to Scotland, or to attempt one thing totally different subsequent time you discover the outside.

See more: Best birdwatching sites in scotland

So right here’s my suggestions for the most effective locations to go birdwatching in Scotland.
barnacle geese
Barnacle geese in flight. Picture by Nature Pix from Pixabay.

Caerlaverock Wetland Centre

Location: Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire

Caerlaverock, the land of the skylark, is a liminal panorama; not fairly the open water of the Solway Firth, but not absolutely dry land both. Below huge skies, the rise and fall of the tide exposes and covers huge mudflats, winding tidal creeks, offshore sandbars, coastal saltmarsh and swamp woodland, making a wealthy mosaic of habitats for a variety of hen species.

caerlaverock castle
The ruins of Caerlaverock Fort, like one thing from Recreation of Thrones, are positioned near the Wetland Centre. Picture by Neil Morrell from Pixabay.

The Wetland Centre is a prefect spot for newbie birders to get an introduction to waders and wildfowl. There’s a number of hides throughout the reserve, together with one overlooking a wildfowl feeding space, the place it’s attainable to get an in depth up have a look at the whooper swans which migrate from Iceland for the winter. The hides have scopes, binoculars, and reside cameras to get to know the residents of the reserve, plus interactive interpretation to be taught extra in regards to the hen species and the challenges they face on migration.

All paths within the Wetland Centre and Nationwide Nature Reserve are liable to flooding through the highest tides of the yr, so you’ll want to test the tide time data displayed on the reserve.

Greatest time to go to: Between October and March for overwintering wildfowl and wading birds. The wild swan feed takes place each day throughout this season.

Birds you would possibly see: Oystercatchers; bar-tailed godwit; knot; redshank; curlews; lapwings; wigeon; teal; water rail; shelducks; barnacle geese; pink-footed geese; whooper swans; ospreys; skylarks; home martins; kingfishers.

Different wildlife: Natterjack toads; otters; badgers; butterflies; dragonflies and damselflies.

Scottish Seabird Centre

Location: North Berwick, East Lothian

Round 32km (20 miles) east of Edinburgh, the seaside city of North Berwick on the Firth of Forth is house to the Scottish Seabird Centre, an excellent and accessible introduction to the birds of the coast for freshmen. A variety of reside cameras related to seabird colonies on the close by islands of Fidra, Bass Rock, and the Isle of Might, enable an unimaginable eye-level view into the each day lives of gannets, puffins, and shags. Interactive interpretation provides deep perception into marine ecosystems and conservation work, and the relatedness between seabirds and the well being of our seas.

bass rock
The gannet colony at Bass Rock considered from Tantallon Fort, close to North Berwick. Picture by Michaela Wenzler from Pixabay.

The centre additionally gives seasonal boat journeys from North Berwick harbour: to Bass Rock, house to greater than 150,000 gannets (10% of the worldwide inhabitants of northern gannets) on the peak of the breeding season, leaving the distinctive rock trying prefer it’s on the centre of a snowy blizzard; and additional afield to the Isle of Might, a Nationwide Nature Reserve off the coast of Fife.

Greatest time to go to: April to July for breeding seabirds; gannets may be seen on Bass Rock between January and August.

Birds you would possibly see: Puffins; razorbills; guillemots; gannets; fulmars; kittiwakes; herring gulls; nice black-backed gulls; Arctic skuas; frequent terns; sandwich terns; Arctic terns; redshank; turnstone; dunlin; oystercatchers; herons.

Different wildlife: gray seals; frequent seals; bottlenose dolphins; humpback whales. Fluffy gray seal pups may be seen on the Isle of Might cameras between October and January.

Isle of Might Nationwide Nature Reserve

Location: Off the coast of Fife

The Isle of Might claims the title of Scotland’s oldest Hen Observatory, based in 1934, and now the Nationwide Nature Reserve is managed by NatureScot. Rangers and volunteers collect information on hen numbers, which may be as much as 200,000 nesting seabirds (together with 90,000 puffins) yearly, and provides talks for guests as they arrive. Often uncommon vagrant birds will flip up on the island, often migratory species making the passage between Scandinavia and areas additional south. Along with the wildlife, the island has a wealthy cultural heritage, from Pictish and Viking connections to the primary completely crewed lighthouse in Scotland.

lighthouse isle of may
The previous Isle of Might Low Mild is now the house of the hen observatory. Picture by scotography from Pixabay.

Mendacity 8km (5 miles) offshore from the east coast of Fife, the Isle of Might is simply accessible by boat. In the course of the season, a ferry runs a number of instances a day from the seaside city of Anstruther in Fife, and tour boats provide wildlife watching cruises that embrace time exploring the Isle of Might run from Anstruther and North Berwick, via the Scottish Seabird Centre. The island is closed to guests from the start of October, because the resident gray seal inhabitants take over to rear their pups and moult their coats.

Greatest time to go to: Ferries and boat excursions go to the Isle of Might from North Berwick and Anstruther between April and September. There is no such thing as a public entry outwith this season.

Birds you would possibly see: Puffins; razorbills; guillemots; fulmars; kittiwakes; shags; cormorants; herring gulls; nice black-backed gulls; Arctic skuas; frequent terns; sandwich terns; Arctic terns; eider geese.

Different wildlife: gray seals; frequent seals; harbour porpoises; bottlenose dolphins; minke whales; humpback whales.

Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre

Location: Montrose, Angus

Montrose Basin is an unlimited enclosed estuary on the sting of the city of Montrose in Angus, with a wide range of bird-friendly habitats inside its bounds. The Customer Centre supplies scopes, binoculars, and reside cameras to get to know the inhabitants the Basin, in synthetic roosts, and on backyard hen tables and ponds, and interactive shows and interpretation to grasp their behaviour. Highlights embrace ospreys, which fish within the Basin between Might and September, sand martins, which breed within the synthetic colony over the identical interval, and kingfishers, utilizing ponds and swimming pools between September and February.

eider drake
Eider geese reside on the Basin year-round. Picture by Dr. Georg Wietschorke from Pixabay.

The mudflats are an essential resting level for hen species on migration, shifting between excessive latitude breeding grounds in Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia and hotter wintering climes, providing a secure haven for roosting and feeding throughout their passage. In winter, greater than 80,000 pink-footed geese go via the character reserve in October and November on their manner south, making a magical spectacle as they take off within the late morning twilight.

Along with the viewing areas on the Customer Centre, there are a number of hides, viewing areas and strolling trails in numerous places across the Basin, giving a glimpse in to a variety of habitats from tidal mudflats to saltmarshes and coastal grazing marsh to fenland and riverside reedbeds, all house to totally different arrays of birds and wildlife.

Greatest time to go to: Between October and March for overwintering geese, swans, and geese.

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Birds you would possibly see: Oystercatchers; snipe; knot; redshank; turnstones; lapwings; frequent terns; Arctic terns; eider geese; wigeon; teal; shelducks; pink-footed geese; greylag geese; ospreys; sand martins; kingfishers.

Different wildlife: Otters; frequent seals; salmon; frequent eels; mussels and different mudflat invertebrates.

Isle of Rùm Nationwide Nature Reserve

Location: Rùm, Small Isles

Some of the sensational birding experiences on Rùm is an encounter with the Manx shearwater inhabitants, dove-sized black and white seabirds that winter within the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil. In the course of the breeding season, a whole lot of 1000’s of the birds collect within the water round Rùm each night, ready for nightfall to return ashore to enter nesting burrows on the very best slopes of the Rùm Cuillin. The susurrus of wingbeats within the darkness and their reedy calls within the northern summer time evening gave rise to the legend that the island was haunted by stressed spirits.

rum from morar
Views of the Small Isles from Morar, dominated by the peaks of the Rùm Cuilin. Picture by Tina Koehler from Pixabay.

The island was additionally the placement for the primary part of efforts to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle (sea eagle) again to Scotland. Between 1975 and 1985, 82 younger birds from Norway had been launched from the island, spreading out throughout the Hebrides, then the mainland. There’s now greater than 100 breeding pairs throughout Scotland, and they’re usually seen across the isle of Rùm.

A difficult hillwalk over Bealach a’Bhaig Bhig to Guirdil bothy provides a number of the greatest sightings of white-tailed eagles and golden eagles, in addition to the island’s purple deer and feral goats. The route is unmarked and vague in locations, taking round 4 hours a method. The Northside Nature Path and stroll to the Otter Cover are shorter routes extra suited to day visits to the island.

Rùm is served by the Caledonian Macbrayne Small Isles ferry service from Mallaig 4 instances every week via the summer time, and the M.V. Sheerwater operates passenger journeys from Arisaig and sightseeing cruises across the island between April and September.

Greatest time to go to: 12 months spherical, however Manx shearwater exercise happens between March and September.

Birds you would possibly see: Golden eagles; white-tailed eagles; buzzards; merlins; peregrine falcons; red-throated divers; Manx shearwaters; bonxies (nice skuas); guillemots, kittiwakes, shags.

Different wildlife: Purple deer; feral goats; mountain hares; otters; gray seals; harbour porpoises.

RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre

Location: close to Boat of Garten, Strathspey

The RSPB Osprey Centre is positioned within the Abernethy Forest Nationwide Nature Reserve, some of the spectacular areas of the Cairngorms Nationwide Park, defending remnants of the Caledonian Forest proper as much as the tundra-like plateau of the second highest mountain within the UK. Loch Garten is without doubt one of the greatest locations to see ospreys, charismatic fish-hunting raptors that migrate between Scotland and West Africa, returning each spring to breed.

fishing osprey
Fishing osprey. Picture by Iain Poole from Pixabay.

The Customer Centre has screens displaying the feed from distant viewing cameras within the osprey nests, letting you might have an outstanding face-to-face encounter with the grownup birds as they re-establish pair bonds after migration, and with the chicks, as they hatch out and develop up via the summer time. When you can’t go to in individual but, try the reside webcam feed right here. There’s additionally a viewing platform trying in the direction of the nesting space, and plenty of birdfeeders to tempt in small woodland birds, purple squirrels, and financial institution voles for a better look.

When you’re hoping to identify capercaillie, the easiest way is to stroll close by forest trails early within the morning, as they typically go to the paths to collect grit. Keep in mind that will probably be between 4am and 5am in Might, June and July on this a part of Scotland. The Two Lochs Stroll in Abernethy Forest, linking Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie, has good capercaillie recognizing potential.

Greatest time to go to: A stroll in Abernethy Forest is rewarding at any time of yr, however the Customer Centre is open seasonally when ospreys are in residence between mid-March and September.

Birds you would possibly see: Ospreys; crested tits; coal tits; siskins; Scottish crossbills; tree pipits; nice noticed woodpeckers; goldeneyes; teals; wigeon; greylag geese; pink-footed geese; capercaillie; black grouse; ptarmigan; golden eagles.

Different wildlife: Purple squirrels; pine martens; purple and roe deer; otters; dragonflies and damselflies; frogs and frogspawn.

RSPB Loch of Strathbeg

Location: Crimond, Aberdeenshire

The Loch of Strathbeg is an internationally essential wildlife web site; the most important dune loch within the British Isles, surrounded by wetlands, sand dunes, and unimproved meadow grasslands. It supplies an ideal winter house for 1000’s of wildfowl, together with as a lot as 20% of the worldwide inhabitants of pink-footed geese, and a service-station for 1000’s extra birds passing via between the Arctic and hotter climes in Southern Europe and West Africa.

lighthouse rattray head
The distinctive lighthouse at Rattray Head, simply offshore from the Loch of Strathbeg. Picture by Chris Sansbury from Pixabay.

A spotlight of visiting in summer time is the prospect to see frequent cranes performing their elaborate mating shows; complicated pair dances of bobs, bows, and birls. These statuesque birds had been as soon as frequent throughout the UK, however turned extinct within the 1600s. They’ve slowly returned, and Loch of Strathbeg is at the moment the one location in Scotland the place frequent cranes breed.

A round stroll of round 6km leads from the reserve Customer Centre via the spectacular sand dune system, which is understood to have engulfed small settlements over historical past, to the huge and wild golden sand seashore and putting lighthouse at Rattray Head mendacity simply offshore.

Greatest time to go to: Any time of yr, however throughout October / November and March / April large numbers of migrating geese, swans, and geese may be seen on passage migration.

Birds you would possibly see: Snipe; golden plovers; lapwings; frequent terns; Arctic terns; eider geese; wigeon; teal; barnacle geese; pink-footed geese; greylag geese; whooper swans, starlings, frequent cranes.

Different wildlife: Otters; konik ponies; frogs and frogspawn; dragonflies and damselflies; gray seals; frequent seals; bottlenose dolphins.

North Harris Eagle Observatory

Location: Meavaig, Isle of Harris

The Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan Siar) assist the very best densities of golden eagles in Europe, and the North Harris eagle observatory is without doubt one of the greatest locations to observe a resident pair going about their enterprise. White-tailed eagles are additionally guests to the realm, having efficiently re-established themselves after reintroduction within the late Nineteen Seventies and early Eighties. The realm additionally helps a wide range of different raptors, like buzzards, kestrels, and merlins, and different birds, like golden plovers, greenshanks, and corncrakes.

white tailed eagle
White-tailed eagle, recognized in Gaelic as Iolaire Suile na Grein, the eagle with the sunlit eye. Picture by Andrei Prodan from Pixabay.

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The observatory is positioned a brief distance on a effectively surfaced monitor from the settlement of Miavag (Miabhag), between Tarbert and Hushinish (Huisinis); the out and again stroll takes roughly an hour. A ranger is readily available at sure instances to share details about latest wildlife sightings and assist with figuring out birds and deciphering behaviours.

The North Harris Eagle Observatory is a part of the Outer Hebrides Hen of Prey Path, a self-guided route linking essential birding places alongside the archipelago from Barra within the south to Ness on the northern tip of Lewis. Discover extra details about it and tips on how to plan it right into a Hebridean journey right here.

Greatest time to go to: The Eagle Observatory is open yr spherical, however spring is the most effective time to see golden eagle exercise. Sea eagles are seen most frequently in Autumn and Winter.

Birds you would possibly see: Golden eagles; white-tailed eagles; buzzards; sparrowhawks; hen harriers; kestrels; merlins; peregrine falcons; short-eared owls; long-eared owls; greenshanks; golden plovers; red-throated divers; corncrakes.

Different wildlife: Purple deer; Atlantic salmon; brown trout; mountain hares.

Handa Island

Location: close to Scourie, Sutherland

The island of Handa is a shocking location for a birdwatching journey, and a worthwhile addition to any tour of the North Coast 500 route. It has a wealthy historical past, getting used as a burial web site for crofting villages on the mainland, and internet hosting an interesting native lifestyle that ended with emigration through the Highland potato famine. It’s now managed for seabird conservation by the Scottish Wildlife Belief.

handa island
Arriving on Handa Island. Picture by M W from Pixabay.

After touchdown on the attractive silver sand seashore, you’ll be able to go to the stays of the village, then observe a round path across the island, taking in views of the spectacular Nice Stack, Puffin Bay, and Ballot Gloup, an ideal gap within the island fashioned by the collapse of a sea cave. The well-worn route is round 6.5km, and can take round 3 hours to stroll. Sturdy footwear is advisable.

Handa is reached by ferry from the tiny harbour of Tarbert, simply north of the crofting village of Scourie and south of Laxford Bridge. The crossing takes round 10 minutes, plus you’ll obtain a security briefing and a chat introducing the character reserve on board. It may be moist, so a water-resistant or windproof jacket is advisable. The ferry doesn’t run on Sundays, and will not function in antagonistic climate situations, so you’ll want to plan forward.

The Scottish Wildlife Belief has alternatives for volunteers to help with managing the island, which embrace the prospect to remain on Handa for every week or two, and even your entire season.

Greatest time to go to: The Handa Ferry operates from early April to September, however between April and July is greatest to see breeding seabirds (mid-Might to July for puffins).

Birds you would possibly see: Puffins; razorbills; guillemots; fulmars; kittiwakes; bonxies (nice skuas); Arctic skuas; Arctic terns; snipe; oystercatchers.

Different wildlife: Otters; gray seals; frequent seals; bottlenose dolphins; killer whales; basking sharks

Hermaness Nationwide Nature Reserve

Location: Unst, Shetland

On the northernmost tip of the island of Unst, the northernmost island of Shetland*, overlooking Muckle Flugga and Da Shuggi (Out Stack), the rocky isles and skerries which might be the northernmost outpost of the British Isles, Hermaness is a wild place, typically battered by wind and waves. Dramatic sea cliffs turn into a high-rise metropolis that’s house to round 100 thousand seabirds over the nesting season via to the late autumn, and the clifftop moorland is a haven for a lot of extra.

Charismatic favourites of many birders, puffins are recognized domestically as Tammie Norries in Sheltand. Picture by MustangJoe from Pixabay.

A path from the Lighthouse Shore Station close to Burrafirth meets a boardwalk crossing the blanket bathroom in the midst of the reserve, to achieve the highest of the pink granite and gray gneiss cliffs on the western aspect of the headland. This route is round 5km, taking about 2 hours return, nevertheless it’s attainable to proceed on a grassy clifftop path across the Taing of Looswick for higher views of the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Walkers ought to keep away from going past the ruins of the outdated semaphore hut, the place red-throated divers are recognized to nest, and return on the identical route. The clifftop route is unfenced and provides an extra 5km / 2 hours to the stroll.

*the right kind is at all times Shetland, or the Shetland Isles or the Shetland archipelago, and by no means the Shetlands, or a neighborhood will at all times be sure to clarify precisely why you’re improper.

Greatest time to go to: Mid-Might to mid-July for watching seabird colonies at their peak.

Birds you would possibly see: Gannets; puffins; bonxies (nice skuas); Arctic skuas; razorbills; guillemots; fulmars; kittiwakes; red-throated divers (red-throated loons); snipe; dunlin; golden plover.

Different wildlife: Gray seals; orcas; minke whales; humpback whales.

High Birding Ideas

Are you model new to birdwatching? Or fully affled by the attraction of birding? Learn my submit on why I believe you need to give it a attempt in your subsequent journey and my recommendations on getting began.

Birdwatching doesn’t want a lot; trying and listening are sometimes sufficient simply to get an thought of what’s happening round you. A discipline information helps with identification, as will a pocket book to jot down or sketch your sightings. Entry degree binoculars may be discovered for round £50 to£100, and first rate pairs are sometimes out there second hand.

Gannet gathering nesting materials. Picture by Dave Hostad from Pixabay.

Sturdy footwear and heat, waterproof clothes will make life extra snug outdoor, particularly when strolling in additional rural areas. A packed lunch, or a number of snacks and a drink make it simpler to remain longer in hides or good recognizing places, and with birding, endurance is commonly key. Be sure you take gloves, thick socks, and a heat hat in winter, and a flask with a scorching drink, as being nonetheless, ready for wildlife to indicate can shortly cool your physique down. A small foam mat to sit down or kneel on will maintain you insulated from the bottom.

A number of hen species may be fairly aggressively territorial throughout their nesting season, particularly terns, gulls, and skuas. Keep away from approaching any nesting areas carefully, and it could be advisable to put on a hat to guard your head. A strolling pole tucked into your backpack will cease any low swoops from getting too shut for consolation.

Ten of the most effective birdwatching spots in Scotland

  1. Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, Dumfriesshire
  2. Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick, East Lothian
  3. Isle of Might NNR, close to Anstruther, Fife
  4. Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre, Angus
  5. Isle of Rùm NNR, Small Isles
  6. Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Boat of Garten, Strathspey
  7. Loch of Strathbeg, Crimond, Aberdeenshire
  8. North Harris Eagle Observatory, Meavaig, Isle of Harris
  9. Handa Island, close to Scourie, Sutherland
  10. Hermaness NNR, Unst, Shetland

Outside Entry and Birding in Scotland

In Scotland, we have now a proper of entry to most land, which permits us to take pleasure in actions in lots of areas like hills, moorland, and mountain, forests, seashores and coasts, parks, and a few farmland, as long as we behave responsibly. This implies there’s an enormous space out there to go birding and wildlife watching, not simply the places on this listing. To make sure the safety of habitats and wildlife, you need to observe the Scottish Outside Entry Code and any recommendation from land managers and conservation organisations on indicators.

At sure instances of yr, often between April and August, it’s best keep away from leaving the paths in forests, moorland, and coastal areas, as you might be inadvertently disturbing floor nesting birds or damaging fragile vegetation underfoot. Typically canines aren’t permitted in hen hides or nature reserves, and must be below shut management or on a brief lead through the nesting season. In areas the place capercaillie could also be current, canines must be saved on a lead always.

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Have you ever visited any of those places? Which birds would you most wish to see in your journey to Scotland? Let me know within the feedback beneath.
Impressed by what you’ve learn? Why not pin this submit to your journey planning board for later?
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