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Top Tips for Spotting Scottish Birds

The UK has more than its fair share of beautiful birdlife – but if we had to choose, we'd say Scottish birds were best.

Yes – our crags, beaches and lochs are teeming with avian treasures. For birdwatchers, it's like every day's a birthday.

Fancy trying a bit of birdwatching for yourself? Read on – we've got you covered.

What you'll need

What you'll need

One of the best things about birdwatching is its accessibility. You don't need expensive equipment to get started. You don't really need anything except a pair of eyes.

The only other thing we'd call 'essential' is a warm, weatherproof outfit. Scotland is notorious for its rain – and birdwatching spots can quickly become boggy and unpleasant, especially during the colder months. So make sure you pack a cosy, hooded jacket, some water-resistant trousers and a pair of mud-friendly boots.

That said, investing in some professional equipment can pay dividends. If you're serious about spotting Scottish birds, add these to your wish list:

  • A pair of binoculars: unless you're really lucky, you'll be doing most of your birdwatching from a distance. So if you want to see those feathers ruffle, treat yourself to a decent pair of binoculars.
  • A field guide: also known as 'bird identification books', field guides can help you tell your pintails from your pochards. A must-have for budding bird nerds.
  • A notebook and pen: so you can jot down your spots.
  • A digital camera: for photographic evidence. You could use a smartphone, but they tend to be a little awkward for spur-of-the-moment snaps.
  • A hide and scope: if you want to go pro, consider investing in a hide and scope. A hide is a bit like a portable, camouflaged tent, while a scope is just what it sounds like – a small telescope.
The best places to spot Scottish birds

The best places to spot Scottish birds

Right. Equipment sorted. Now it's time to plan where you'll set up your birdwatching spot.

For this list, we've focused on locations in and around Argyll and Lochaber. It's our home, after all, so we know the area like the backs of our beaks. Plus, if you want to get cosy after your spotting spree, you can always head to Kilcambe and bag a place by our log fire.

Loch Sunart

Loch Sunart

We simply had to mention Loch Sunart. Not only is it an excellent location for spotting Scottish birds, but it's also on our doorstep. Literally.

In fact, we're so close to the loch, you could probably do some spotting from the comfort of your room. Just make a cup of tea, grab some binoculars and – bingo. There's your afternoon sorted.

For the best view, though, you'll have to take a short stroll over to the shore. From here, you might see wood warblers, oystercatchers and perhaps a golden eagle or two.

And it's not just Scottish birds that visit Loch Sunart. There are myriad mammals to spot too, including pine martens, red squirrels and stags. Or, if you take an early trip to the local Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide, you might even glimpse an otter on its morning hunt. Aww.

The River Lochy, near Fort William

The River Lochy, near Fort William

The late angler John Ashley-Cooper once described the Lochy as 'the queen of Scottish rivers'. And though he was writing from a fisherman's point of view, the river is just as impressive as a birdwatching spot.

It's beautiful, of course – the river trails past Ben Nevis and affords stunning views of the local landscape. But it's the sheer variety of Scottish birds that makes it a birdwatchers' paradise.

Our advice: set up camp close to where the river meets Loch Linnhe. From here, you can spot a bounty of local and migratory birds, including glaucous gulls, red-throated divers and a diverse range of ducks.

Otters often fish here too, and occasionally hop onto the islands in the river mouth. Bring binoculars if you want to catch a good glimpse.



Staffa is a tiny island located about 20 miles off the coast of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. To get there, you'll have to take a six-hour boat cruise from Kilchoan, which is around an hour's drive from our hotel.

Is it worth the effort? Yes, absolutely. Especially if you love puffins.

Between April and early August, Staffa is absolutely teeming with puffins. They come to the island to nest in summer, before heading off to the North Sea for their winter retreat.

And when they arrive, it's a real event. People come from all around the world to see these bright-beaked birds do their migratory thing.

It seems the puffins are quite used to the tourists too – they'll come right up to you, as long as you stay still and keep quiet.

Love marine wildlife? If you're lucky, you might spot some dolphins, seals or even an orca whale. Fingers crossed.

The Isle of Mull

The Isle of Mull

Mull is Staffa's bigger, better-known neighbour. It's also easier to get to – there are regular ferries that run from Kilchoan, Lochaline and Oban.

What's the best thing about Mull? From a birdwatching perspective, we'd say it's the varied and interesting landscapes. With its beaches, lochs and mountains, Mull crams the best of the Highlands into a relatively small area.

This means there are plenty of habitats for Scottish birds. Head to the shore and you're likely to see wading birds like greenshanks, snipes and whimbrels. Visit a freshwater loch and you might spot a few red-throated divers bobbing gently on the waves. Make the effort to climb Ben More and you may just glimpse a golden eagle soaring across the horizon.

While you're on the island, make sure to visit its 'capital' – the picturesque town of Tobermory. If you're of a certain age, its colourful seafront might look oddly familiar. (Hint: Balamory.)

When's the best time to spot Scottish birds?

When's the best time to spot Scottish birds?

If you've got your eye on some particular Scottish birds, it's really important to plan your visit accordingly. Turn up in winter expecting to see a wood warbler and you'll only be disappointed.

Yes, some birds live here all year round, while others only visit for a seasonal sally. But don't worry – we've put together this wee calendar to help you plan your birdwatching break:

All year: golden eagles, oystercatchers, red-breasted mergansers, snipes.

Spring/Summer: common scoters (inland), greenshanks, puffins, red-throated divers, Slavonian grebes, whimbrels, wood warblers.

Autumn/Winter: glaucous gulls, goldeneye ducks, goosanders, Iceland gulls, long-tailed ducks, scaups.

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