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Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn - Wildlife, Birdwatching Holidays

Whatever you think about its monster potential, Loch Ness and the land and estuaries not far from it are a great area for wildlife. The reality of red squirrels and crossbills in the woods, deer on the moors, red kites over local villages and ducks, dolphins and seals in the inshore waters could be the stuff of your wild travellers’ tales for years to come.

 

Red squirrel trails

Opposite the monster-seekers-magnet of the western shore, the single-track B862 road between Dores and Fort Augustus straddles the less-visited side of Loch Ness. Travel it to enjoy the beauty of the roadside birch trees at any time of the year. At Inverfarigaig, the woodland trails can be good places to look for red squirrels and crossbills.

Ancient alder woods

Urquhart Bay Woods, on the fringe of Drumnadrochit and not far from the prime monster-lookout at Castle Urquhart, has an impressive swamp of alders and other trees. Wear wellies, and use the signed access beside Old Kilmore graveyard to search for great spotted woodpeckers among the trees and dipper, goosander, wagtails and grey heron along the River Endrick.

Above Loch Ness

Walk for hours, or just take a short amble, on the network of woodland trails at Abriachan, off the A82 between Drumnadrochit and Inverness. Community owned woods on the higher ground merge with woods rich in hazel, birch and oak, owned by the Woodland Trust, on slopes down to the main road. Go a few hundred metres west of the village hall to follow signed access to a boardwalk through conifers to a lochan-side hide, watching for goldcrests, fungi, dragonflies and perhaps Slavonian grebe. Or use the steep trail between Abriachan Nursery and the Clansman Hotel to see multi-stemmed hazels.

Slavonian grebes up-close

See a Slavonian grebe in summer, and you’ll long remember the beauty of its golden head plumes. One of the best places in Britain for these superb waterbirds is Loch Ruthven, just a few miles east of Loch Ness. Get access off the B851 at Croachy and take a small trail from the car park to reach a hide. Watch for red grouse on the surrounding moors and roe, sika and red deer at the fringes of local woods.

Ancient pinewoods

To savour the scenery and wildlife in the largest surviving Caledonian pinewoods beyond the Cairngorms, go west of Loch Ness. Several beautiful glens run through the hills here. The network of road and trails is particularly good at beautiful Glen Affric, off the A831 at Cannich. Use the paths near car parks at Dog Falls and Affric Falls to appreciate the massive woodland restoration work being done here. Look up in hopes of seeing a golden eagle, or in the pine trees for crested tit and Scottish crossbill.

Dolphins, kites and seals

The narrow sea channel between Inverness and the Black Isle is a prime spot for bottlenose dolphins and common seals. Look seaward from South Kessock (on the Inverness side), North Kessock village (refreshments) or the North Kessock picnic area and tourist information centre (first on left northwards on the A9 just beyond the Kessock Bridge). See nesting red kites on a video link from the centre in summer. There’s another popular dolphin lookout place at Chanonry Point, beside a lighthouse at the end of a peninsula between Fortrose and Fort George. Use the road through the golf course. Dolphin-linked trip with accredited operators are available from Inverness, Avoch and Cromarty.

Wildfowl by the shore

If you’re daft about ducks and wading birds, then pull-ins on the north-east edge of the Black Isle, are good to visit. A few hundred metres west of Jemimaville, a roadside hide overlooks Udale Bay – part of a wader and wildfowl supersystem that includes Nigg Bay near the northern shore of the Cromarty Firth. Hear redshank, oystercatcher, lapwing and curlew in summer and be boggled by many thousands of wigeon and pink-footed geese, plus the occasional merlin or peregrine, in winter.

Forested sand dunes

Trails through Culbin Forest, accessible from a car park at Wellhill, near Forres, lead through a massive, tree-covered sand dune system. From 1686 onwards, successive gales smothered the once-fertile farmland here. Now Corsican pines and other planted trees are home to scattered crested tits, crossbills and red squirrels. See some of the finest lichen-rich heath in the north softening the ground beneath the conifers. Plus an amazing array of wintergreens and creeping ladies tresses orchid. See the listing for Nature Reserves in Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn.

 

Scottish Crossbill, RSPB images