Black Guillemots (Photo Erni/Shutterstock)
Black Guillemots (Photo Erni/Shutterstock)

10 of the best places for Scottish wildlife watching

Scotland is a magnet for nature lovers.

We have so many wonderful creatures to be seen, in our seas, on land and in the skies.

Over the next few weekends, we will bring you 50 of the top spots from which to view it.

1. Insh Marshes, Kingussie – Marsh Harrier

Billed as one of the most important wetlands in Europe, Insh Marshes is a National Nature Reserve and also an RSPB site. Marsh harriers are a relatively rare sight, but there’s a good chance of spotting one on the reserve, especially during winter.

2. Tore Roundabout, A9 – Red Kite

When you’re heading up or down the A9, pull into a layby near the Tore roundabout and keep your eyes pointed skywards. Red kites are a regular sight around Muir of Ord and the Black Isle, with their triangular rudder-like tails and pointed wings making them easy to tell apart from the buzzards in the area.

3. Chanonry Point, Black Isle, Bottlenose Dolphin

Arguably the best place in the UK to watch bottlenose dolphins as they hunt for fish where the Inner Moray Firth meets the outer firth. The East Coast pod of dolphins entertains thousands of tourists each year as they jump out of the water and play in the turbulent tides.

4. Holyrood Park, Edinburgh – Tufted Duck

Sometimes it’s good to enjoy the simpler pleasures of wildlife watching, such as heading down to St Margaret’s Loch and watching the tufted ducks diving beneath the surface. See if you can spot the wee tuft that gives the duck its name.

5. Sumburgh Head, Shetland – Fulmar

One of the best places in Scotland to watch seabirds just became even better following the opening of the enhanced visitors centre at Sumburgh Head, just a stone’s throw from the airport. You can view an array of birds from the reserve, including the graceful fulmars – similar to mini albatrosses gliding on the wind.

6. Oban Harbour, Black Guillemot

Black Guillemots (Photo Erni/Shutterstock)

Black guillemots are beautiful seabirds with distinctive red bills and legs. Common guillemots are a regular sight at most of Scotland’s seabird colonies, but their cousins, the black guillemots, are just that wee bit special – and you don’t even have to go on a boat to see them, just take a stroll along the harbour and keep your eyes peeled.

7. Louch Gruinart, Islay – White-Fronted Goose

Islay is a great island on which to watch wildlife, but Loch Gruinart is worthy of particular note for the large numbers of white-fronted geese that visit the RSPB reserve each winter from Greenland. A noisy but fascinating spectacle.

8. Mousa, Shetland – Storm Petrel

Few sights – or sounds – can match the arrival of the storm petrels to the broch on the island of Mousa. The birds spend the day fishing far out in the North Atlantic and then fly back to the stone roundhouse to roost, making eerie noises as they land. A boat runs trips during high summer to the island to see the birds.

9. Birsay Moors, Orkney – Hen Harrier

Hen harriers are one of Scotland’s most dramatic birds of prey, hunting for grouse and songbirds on the moors. Park the car or the bike in one of the laybys and look out for the ghostly shapes quartering the heather.

10. Findhorn Bay – Osprey

Most tourists’ will view ospreys through a telescope or on a video screen at one of the excellent visitor centres around Scotland. But Findhorn Bay offers a different option, with the birds regularly hunting for flat fish in the bay. Try the bird hide or sit on the terrace of the Kimberley Inn with a pint, keeping your eyes on the water.