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Aberdeen & Grampian Highlands Wildlife, Birdwatching Holidays

The sandy beaches, shingle strands and cliffs that flank the coastal fringe of this huge area have excellent wildlife-watching opportunities. Mouths of the main rivers are hotspots for waders, wildfowl and seals. Dolphins can pass offshore at any time. Inland, native woodlands of pine and birch and some of the world’s finest heather moors are highlights of glens that run deep into the core of the mountains in the Cairngorms National Park.


Guillemots Galore

Wild noise and full-on seabird spectacle: that’s what you can experience in summer at the Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve, south of Stonehaven. As many as 130,000 birds breed on the sandstone cliffs. You can see (and smell) the largest guillemot colony outside Handa here, plus tens of thousands of kittiwakes, thousands of razorbills and small numbers of puffins, shags, herring gulls and fulmars. Walk from car park or take an evening boat trip from Stonehaven from (May – July) to see the bird cliffs from below.

Flowers in the Sand

The Sands of Forvie, 12 miles north of Aberdeen, is Scotland’s flowering desert. You can see an amazing array of plants on moorland and dunes here in summer, including several kinds of orchid. The many butterflies include the uncommon small pearl-bordered fritillary (flies June and July). More eider ducks breed here than anywhere else in Britain, plus many terns. Tracks lead from the Forvie Centre (open April - October), off B9003.

Eider Duck Haven

At low tide the Ythan estuary, by Newburgh to the north of Aberdeen, is the place for eider ducks. You can get grandstand views of thousands of eider feeding on submerged mussel beds in summer. The river mouth is also popular with eiders in winter, plus other seaducks, such as scaup and red-breasted merganser. The A92 follows the estuary for much of its length. Park at the Waterside Bridge, north of Newburgh, to access a track leading to a hide.

Wild Goose Place

Landlocked by a gale that blew sand and shingle across a sea inlet in 1720, the RSPB’s Loch of Strathbeg reserve, just south of Fraserburgh, is now one of the best places in Britain for wintering pink-footed geese. Visitor centre (with wide views), trail between hides (one with wheelchair accessible screen). Plants include Scots lovage and the rare creeping spearwort (possibly brought here from Iceland on the feet of migrant geese).

Red squirrels and Crossbills

Choose from a network of waymarked trails to explore the most accessible Caledonian pinewoods in Deeside at the Glen Tanar estate, near Aboyne. Creeping lady’s tresses orchid and chickweed wintergreen are widespread in summer, and you’ll have a chance all year of seeing red squirrels, plus Scottish crossbills at one of their main Highland havens. The Braeloine visitor centre includes a special-needs trail guide. If you fancy a longer hike, the Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar, is a pine-studded gateway to the eastern Cairngorms.

Ospreys up-close

Strike it lucky, and you could sip a drink beside a Findhorn village pub or café while watching an osprey fish the shallows of Findhorn Bay. Work off lunch with a stroll along the spit of sand and shingle seaward of the village to watch terns and day-flying burnet moths in summer or look out to the Moray Firth for seaduck, seals and bottlenose dolphins in winter. Public hide beside main road near the Findhorn community eco-village.

Low-down on Dolphins

The Moray Firth Wildlife Centre at Tugnet, where the River Spey meets the North Sea at Spey Bay, is a prime site to find out more about the Moray Firth’s famous resident group of bottlenose dolphins. Look offshore at any time in hopes of seeing the real thing. Goosanders, goldeneye, geese and other wildfowl use the river mouth. Use a central track through the Spey Bay reserve (good for flowers and butterflies) on the opposite side, beside Kingston, to get an impression of the second-biggest shingle strands and gravel dunes in Britain.

Shorebirds by the Harbour

The River Lossie is a tiddler in length, but big on bird interest where it meets the North Sea at Lossiemouth. Have a picnic beside one of the tables beside the caravan site, to the east of town, to overlook narrows with year-round gatherings of gulls, waders and ducks. Explore the town harbour area from late summer to spring, when purple sandpipers (in from the high Arctic) often huddle on the harbour wall.

Mountain hares and Red grouse

Scottish moorland is world famous. Take a drive or bike-ride over the A939 between Grantown-on-Spey and Ballater to get superb panoramas of some of the finest heathery hills on the planet. Look out for mountain hares near the Lecht ski area (café and other facilities in winter) and red grouse posing on tussocks in early summer or flying in packs in winter. August is the best time for purple flowers of ling heather.

Mountain Hare, Tom Marshall, RSPB Images