Scotland is widely regarded as an excellent destination for bird watching. The rich variety in landscape types and ecosystems over a relatively small area means that nature lovers can see a huge variety of birds – both native resident and migratory species. Let’s take a look at some of the very best bird watching sites in Scotland.
WHAT IS THE BEST BIRD WATCHING LOCATION IN Scotland?
1. The Cairngorms National Park
Several remaining remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest are found within the breathtaking Cairngorms National Park. There are a number of bird species that breed only in this ecosystem and nowhere else in the British Isles. These include the western Capercaillie, the common goldeneye, the Parrot crossbill and Scottish crossbill, and the European crested tit.
Climbing high into the national park’s peaks and onto its high plateau, you may be lucky enough see a range of other iconic bird species such as snow buntings, ptarmigan and dotterels, as well as seasonal mountain visitors like the ring ouzel.
2. RSPB Abernethy Forest Nature Reserve, Strathspey
Within Cairngorm’s National Park, one particular destination deserves to be singled out for special mention. The RSPB Abernethy Forest Nature Reserve is one of the largest nature reserves in Europe. On the shores of Loch Garten, the Loch Garten Osprey Centre is one of the very best places to see these majestic birds of prey. Here there is a nest cam which allows birdwatchers to observe nesting behaviour and young, and the chance to spot the birds diving for fish.
3. Forsinard Flows RSPB Reserve, The Flow Country, Caithness & Sutherland
Another large RSPB reserve is the Forsinard Flows. This is part of an area that is known as ‘The Flow Country’ – a large area of deep blanket bog that is home to an array of bird species, including red and black throated divers, greenshanks and golden plover that all nest here, predated upon by golden eagles, merlin and short-eared owls.
4. Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
Speaking of golden eagles, you may also catch a glimpse of one in Glen Affric, said to be one of the most picturesque glens in the country. As in the Cairngorms National Park, here you can also find remnants of ancient Caledonian forest, and may spot some of the native forest birds. You may also be lucky enough to spot osprey around Loch Beinn a’Mheadhain.
5. ‘ Eagle Island’ – The Isle of Mull
Another great spot to look for eagles is the Isle of Mull. This is one of the best places in the British Isles to look for Golden Eagles. The island is also well known for its white-tailed sea eagle population. The two birds of prey are often seen flying together. But Mull is not only known for its eagles, but also for being a great place to spot a wide range of other bird species, including seabird species such as puffins, fulmars, guillemots, shags, kittiwakes and gulls. Birdwatchers can also see numerous divers on inland lochs during the summer months, and many woodland birds in tree-covered, sheltered spots.
6. The Nature Reserves of the Orkney Isles
The Orkney Isles offer yet more impressive birdwatching opportunities, especially within the thirteen RSPB reserves dotted around the islands. On Orkney, not only will you be able to see many seabirds, wetland birds and moorland birds, you will also get the opportunity to see a wide range of migratory birds passing through in large numbers, including rare birds not usually spotted on mainland Scotland. As the climate changes, new additions to migratory flocks have included Iceland gulls, glaucous gulls, green and blue winged teals, ring necked ducks, and red breasted geese.
7. Scottish Seabird Centre, Bass Rock & The Isle of May
Birdwatchers that are particularly interested in seabirds should be sure to stop by the Scottish Seabird Centre. In the Firth of the River Forth, small islands play host to some of Scotland’s most important seabird habitats. At the Scottish Seabird Centre you can visit a discovery centre and take seasonal boat rides to find out more about these important nature reserves. Separating East Lothian, near Edinburgh, from the Kingdom of Fife, the Firth of Forth is a haven for birdlife, most particularly on the two islands – Bass Rock and the Isle of May.
Bass Rock is home to more than 150,000 gannets. This is the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets and it has been described by naturalists as one of the wildlife wonders of the world. The Isle of May is home to a diverse range of birds, including puffins, terns, razorbills, shags and cormorants. During the height of the breeding season, over 200,000 seabirds of 14 species nest on the island.
8. Caerhaverock Wetland Centre, Dumfries & Galloway
This centre on the northern shore of the Solway Firth is one of the best places in the UK to see geese and swans. Virtually the entire Svalbard population of barnacle geese overwinters here. Each autumn, thousands flock here to south west Scotland to take advantage of the relatively mild climate and abundance of food.
Yet of course, this diverse wetland environment is also visited by and home to a huge range of other birds and other wildlife. More than 140,000 wading birds, including pink-footed geese, goldeneyes, dunlins, grey plovers and golden plovers have been recorded in winter and many others of birds pass through. In summer, around 45-50 different bird species breed here, including shelducks, redshanks, curlews and oystercatchers.
9. Knockshinnoch Lagoons Wildlife Reserve, Near Cumnock, Ayrshire
This reserve is a diverse mosaic of islands, lagoons, marsh, reed beds and wet woodland created by surrounding coal bings on the upper River Nith Valley. It is home to a wide range of breeding birds including water rail, whinchat and reed bunting, and many migrating species can be seen here too in winter. This is just one of many such smaller and less well known reserves that are also excellent spots for birdwatching in Scotland.
10. Gretna Green, Dumfries & Galloway
Gretna Green may be more famous for runaway weddings, but it is also a famed birdwatching destination amongst those in the know. This place is not known for its diversity of bird species,nor for being a spot to see rare species. Instead, this is a place to see one of the best birdwatching spectacles that there is to see – starling murmurations. Sweeping clouds of up to 50,000 birds can be seen here in the autumn and winter months, making this one of the best places to see this spectacle in the British Isles.
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