With a landmass covering 535 square miles, at no point more than 5 miles from the sea and lochs penetrating deep inland towards a huge and spectacular mountain mass, Skye allows you to experience a whole range of species in an unsurpassed setting.
It is quite possible to sit with Golden Eagles and Ptarmigan on the Cuillins and with a good scope, watch rafts of Manx Shearwaters on Loch Scavaig below. It is equally possible to see either Golden Eagles or White Tails from virtually any public road on Skye. The scattered crofting communities of Skye are host to a wide range of species and the towns of Broadford, Kyleakin, Portree and Dunvegan, provide shelter from the vagaries of the weather and additional feeding opportunities. Garden birds may include Twite and Reed Bunting as well as regular appearances by Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Raven and Merlin. Rarities regularly turn up at garden feeders. It is therefore well worth looking out for birds anywhere on the island. As many species are under-recorded, and many areas totally unwatched, your observations could be vitally important for future conservation.
The following are examples of sites which have been watched regularly over the last few years. All can be viewed easily, but a good telescope is certainly helpful as many are coastal sites.
Click the points marked on the google map to the left for more information about the birds in that area.
Not for the faint-hearted, the northernmost point of Skye (NG410768), is well worth a visit, but requires an awkward scramble. The coastal scenery is spectacular and it is the best place on Skye to observe breeding seabirds. The site can be reached from several footpaths originating at Duntulm and Kilmaluag. Access to the point is reached by a steep path which descends from a gap to the west of Meall Tuath (NG411763). As this walk features in many of the excellent walking guides to Skye, it is suggested you consult one of these in the first instance.
There are spectacular cliffs in the area which contain breeding Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Shags. However, on the east side of Hunish are several stacks and arches affording spectacular views of breeding Fulmars, Shags, Guillemots and Razorbills. This is also a prime location for seawatching, with the chance of seeing passerines on the move. The cliffs are regularly patrolled by Peregrine Falcons.
Located at Ellishadder (NG505650), this roadside loch just south of Staffin provides excellent feeding for diving ducks. There is a public car park located on the east side of the roads which provides access to fine viewpoints across the sea to Raasay and Wester Ross.
Little Grebe are often on the dubh loch beside the car park as well as on the main loch. A good location for diving duck including Tufted and Pochard, as well as Goldeneye. There are resident Greylag Geese and Whoopers have summered here in the past. From the neighbouring car park at Kilt Rock ou are likely to see Fulmars, Kestrels and maybe even a Peregrine along the sea cliffs.
This site is best at low tide when the mudflats at the mouth of the Skeabost River are exposed. The Free Church car park at Bernisdale (NG406490) is a good observation point. I have found it best during late summer and autumn but it would benefit from more regular watching.
Favoured by good numbers of Lapwing, presumably on passage, because it is not a common bird in Skye. Other common waders are present including Greenshank, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. It is a good site for Goosander and usually holds small flocks of Teal and Wigeon. Loch Snizort is good in winter for Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern and Red Throated Diver.
There are several sites in the Dunvegan area which are worth looking at and these are outlined below. It is also worth mentioning the policies of Dunvegan Castle contain some attractive mature woodland with a rich variety of passerines. It is an area which would merit a special effort especially during Spring and Autumn as it is likely to pick up some scarce migrants.
1. Pool Roag (NG275435) is a small area of intertidal mudflat. Though rarely containing large numbers of birds it is a good place to see Shelduck. It also picks up waders on migration including Knot, Black and Bar Tailed Godwits, Greenshank and Dunlin. Easily viewed from the access road from Roag village to Ardroag.
2. Loch Dunvegan (NG250470) normally provides a selection of common waders and wildfowl. Eider breed on the islands opposite the castle and there are normally a few pairs of Shelduck.
3. Loch Suardal (NG240510) is a bit of a gem. Use the car as a hide. There are invariably Whoopers in winter. Over the years it has picked up a number of scarce wildfowl including Garganey and Green Winged Teal, so check everything thoroughly. Nearby Loch Corterach is good for Goldeneye.
4. Claigan and the Coral Beaches (NG233540). The fields at Claigan often contain good flocks of Barnacle Geese which spend most of the winter on the nearby island of Isay. The walk to the Coral Beaches and Groban na Sgeire is always worthwhile with the chance of picking up Turnstone and Ringed Plover on the shoreline, as well as Great Northern Diver, Eider and Black Guillemot in the sea.
The westernmost location in Skye overlooking the minches, and probably one of its best seawatching points. There is a public car park (NG133478) at the end of the unclassified road which goes to the west from Glendale. From the car park steep stairs and a path descend to the lighthouse. There are various good observation points to afford excellent views of seabirds some of which breed nearby. Nearby Loch Mor is always worth checking.
As Shags, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots and Razorbills all breed nearby they are constantly on the move. It is a superb spot for watching Gannets which feed close inshore. Good movements of Shearwaters occur through the Minch, both Manx and Sooty, as well as Great and Arctic Skuas. Dedicated watchers will no doubt be rewarded with a few ‘firsts’ for Skye. There is also some passerine movement through the area, including Wheatears, Pied Wagtails and Robins. It will be worth checking any area which provides cover, such as the nearby gardens at Waterstein. Glendale and Milovaig have also hosted a number of Skye 'firsts'.
The River Drynoch enters Loch Harport at NG406314, creating a small estuarine habitat with some saltmarsh. Nearby pasture is an added attraction to feeding wildfowl and waders. The area is well contained and can be easily watched from the nearby B8009. A good site in autumn and winter.
Greenland Whitefronts, Barnacles and Greylag Geese have been recorded. One of the best locations for Teal. Goosander occur regularly. A good site for common waders. Loch Harport normally has good numbers of Great Northern Diver and a Velvet Scoter recently wintered.
This site includes the Harbour and Portree Bay generally. The main feeding area for wildfowl and waders is at the south end of Loch Portree and the birds roost on various small spits and islets exposed at high tide. It is best watched from the side of the A87(T) (NG475414). The Harbour area can be easily watched from the nearby streets. The entrance to the Bay can be viewed from an attractive public path which commences near the entrance to the Cuillin Hills Hotel at NG490438.
Good numbers of common waders such as Curlew and Oystercatcher occur as well as regular Greenshank and Bar Tailed Godwit. It is a good spot for wintering Wigeon and Red Breasted Merganser. There are always huge number of Gulls in the Harbour area and in winter you are likely to find both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. You should also see a selection of Auks, Kittiwakes and the occasional Skua in the outer bay. If the weather is inclement the Aros Centre provides refreshments for body and soul, as well as an RSPB Sea Eagle display and cctv link to a nest site.
This is probably the best birding spot on Skye, and because of its location and feeding opportunities, regularly picks up migrants on brief stopovers as well as the occasional scarce vagrant. The Bay itself can look pretty empty at times, but there are many nooks and crannies such as Ardnish, Ashaig and Camas na Sgianadin which are well worth exploring, and which are all part of the wider Bay ecosystem. The weather here, as elsewhere on the island, plays its part, and the Bay can often be relatively sheltered when gales are belting in from the west.
The area lies to the north of the A87(T) public road, the main throughway from the Skye Bridge to Portree. There are a number of areas worth observing:-
1. Camas na Sgianadin (NG625255), easily observed from large roadside lay-by or from the forest walk which starts beside the cemetery.
2. Broadford Bay (NG650250), can be watched from numerous points including the New and Old Pier, and the Co-op Car Park. The east end is probably best for wildfowl and waders at high tide, especially at Harrapool and Waterloo.
3. Ardnish (NG670240) is best accessed from the end of the Waterloo road at NG665240 or from Lower Breakish (NG672235) – please note there is no parking at either! The walk round Ardnish is always worthwhile and affords a number of excellent observation points. The islands at the east end of Ardnish are the main roosts for waders and gulls.
4. Ashaig (NG688244), is easily accessed and there is ample parking near the cemetery. At low tide it is possible to wade across to Ardnish. There is an excellent coastal walk eastwards to Lusa where it is possible to do some sea watching from various vantage points.
This site has potential all year. Though the intertidal zone is not extensive, it probably provides some of the best feeding grounds along the north west seaboard, hence it is a favoured stopover point during spring and autumn migration. Though never large concentrations of birds, the turnover can be significant, so it values regular watching. Again because of the location, birds travelling south are liable to be funnelled into the area, at any time, so the occasional vagrant is inevitable. Probably best in April/May and from July to November but also good in winter.
Waders include Black Tailed and Bar Tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Knot, Grey Plover, Greenshank, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Whimbrel. Curlew Sandpiper are recorded annually and Broad-billed Sandpiper was a recent first. Wildfowl recorded include Scaup, Pintail, Common and Velvet Scoter, Greenland Whitefronts and Brent Geese. There is a small wintering population of Slavonian Grebes and it is often possible to see three Diver species, with up to 25 Great Northerns. There are often huge numbers of auks and Kittiwakes offshore. During northerlies in autumn Petrels, Shearwaters and Skuas are blown into the Bay. Little Auks are probably regular in winter off Lusa. A wandering Sea Eagle will occasionally spice things up.
This sheltered sea loch (NG550280) is easily watched from various parking spots alongside the A87(T), though a telescope is helpful. The unclassified road at NG543268 also provides various vantage points to overlook the mudflats at the west end of the loch. This unclassified road continues through Moll to eventually rejoin the A87(T) at Sconser Golf Course, providing excellent views to Scalpay and Raasay. I have counted all three species of divers on this loop including over 30 Great Northerns in winter.
There are often large numbers of Guillemots, Razorbills and occasionally Puffins in the loch, particularly when northerlies are blowing. Divers have already been mentioned and it is a regular winter haunt of Slavonian Grebe. Eider, Goldeneye and Red Breasted Merganser are regular in good numbers. Cormorants, Shag and Gulls are attracted by the fish farm. This is a good spot for Iceland Gull. Golden Eagles breed in the neighbouring hills and there are several pairs of breeding Greenshank.
This is the peninsula which lies between Lochs Slapin and Scavaig in the south west of Skye and is reached by following the A881 from Broadford, through the villages of Torrin and Elgol. This is a spectacular setting and the drive through the Red and Black Cuillin is one of the most popular on the island. There are a variety of habitats including native woodland, estuarine, open sea, and montane. Again, it is a drive on which you might see either species of Eagle from the car. The Red Hills are one of the best locations on the island to see Ptarmigan. Specific locations always worth a visit are as follows.
1. Loch Cill Chriosd (NG610214) This reedy roadside loch is always worth a look at any time of year. In winter it is a good place to see Whoopers, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck. Reed Bunting and Little Grebe breed. Moorhen and Coot, extremely rare on Skye, formerly bred here and both have been seen again in recent years. In late summer evenings Swallows and Pied Wagtails can be seen coming to roost in the reed beds. Good numbers of Lapwing breed nearby in Suardal.
2. Loch Slapin (NG565220). The head of the loch can be easily watched from a number of roadside vantage points. It is worth watching all year round and Greenshank, Turnstone and Ringed Plover can usually be seen. Wildfowl include Wigeon, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. However, in favourable conditions in late spring, Scaup, Shoveler, and Brent Geese have dropped in. It is a good area to see Black Guillemot at any time of the year. Access to the lochside is also possible further west at Kilmarie (NG565170) from where it is possible to walk westwards along a coastal path to Drinan and Glasnakille. In late summer this is a super area for Auks, Gannets and Gulls. Autumn and winter bring all three species of Divers with counts of 20 Black Throats and 30+ Great Northerns.
3. Strathaird Point (NG530114) This headland is properly known as Rubha na h-Easgainne and is accessed via an indistinct coastal path from the west end of Glasnakille or by the coastal link from Elgol. This is an area of spectacular limestone cliffs, which along with Eilean na h-Airde, have scattered breeding colonies of Shags, Black Guillemots and increasing numbers of Fulmars. Strathaird Point is excellent for sea watching and Pomarine Skuas have been recorded in May. Arctic and Great Skuas are regular in summer and autumn when the areas hosts thousands of Shearwaters from Rum, as well as huge numbers of Auks, Gulls and Kittiwakes.
4. Camusunary (NG585186) Reached via a good path which starts at the car park beside the road near Strathaird Farm (NG545173), this is a spectacular location, set in the heart of the Cuillins. During the summer there is every likelihood of seeing Merlin or Golden Eagle. Golden Plover are scarce but listen for them on Am Mam or neighbouring hills. The bay is a good spot for Turnstone and Ringed Plover as well as other waders such as Dunlin which enjoy brief stopovers. In spring and autumn Pink Feet Geese stream over the Cuillins during migration. In winter the coastal path to Elgol is excellent for viewing Great Northern and Black Throated Divers in nearby Loch Scavaig.
Sleat, the long peninsula which stretches from Kinloch to Armadale, and eventually on to the Point of Sleat, enjoys a relatively sheltered position from which derives its reputation as the ‘garden of Skye’. It contains a number of remnant woodlands of oak, ash, hazel and birch as well as formal gardens and scatterings of exotics at Armadale Castle and other locations along its eastern edge, adjacent to the A851. You will therefore find woodland species here which are difficult to find on other parts of the island, and the greater density of species probably reflects the available shelter and cover. There are public footpaths to a number of these woodlands. Some of the remnant woodlands are more challenging but well worthy of exploration.
The coastal fringes only provide limited feeding in the intertidal zone, though offshore can always be rewarding and the Point of Sleat is an excellent spot for sea-watching and local migration.
1. Kinloch (NG700166). This is the car park which gives access to Forest Enterprise woodlands and an enjoyable walk to the deserted village of Leiter Fura. The area contains some mature hardwood stands and much of the modern forestry planting will eventually be replaced by hardwoods as part of a larger millennium forest project. A good area to look for warblers and flycatchers in summer. One of the few areas on Skye where there are resident Great Spotted Woodpeckers. You are always likely to see Eagles, Merlin or the occasional Peregrine. Nearby Loch na Dal is always worth a scan for Divers, waders and wildfowl, especially Teal.
2. Armadale Castle Policies (NG640047) Though full of exotic tree species this is an excellent sheltered garden, good for warblers and other passerines in spring and summer. A number of species, scarce elsewhere on the island, are likely to be found including ChiffChaff, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, and Wood Warbler.
3. Point of Sleat (NG563992) This involves a moderate walk, round trip 6 miles, by track and footpath to eventually reach the lighthouse. The final section can involve a little loop, approaching via the beautiful sandy beach at Camas Daraich, and returning via the lovely natural harbour near Acairseid an Rubha. This is an excellent location for sea watching from spring through to autumn with Shearwaters, Skuas, Gannets, Auks and Gulls high on the list. It is also an arrival and departure point for other migrants ‘island hopping’, including birds of prey, wagtails, Twite and Pipits, as well as waders. An excellent place to see good numbers of Whimbrel in early May. A location which is rarely watched but which could reap good pickings for those prepared to make the effort.
4. The Tarskavaig – Ord loop road (start at either NG650062 or NG673104) This unclassified road is a spectacular drive in itself with wonderful view of the Cuillins. In winter many of the lochs here hold Whooper Swans. There is a high probability of spotting a Golden Eagle from the car, as well as Hen Harrier or Merlin. The bays at Tarskavaig, Tokavaig and Ord are good for Great Northern Divers and Red Breasted Mergansers as well as Turnstone and the occasional Purple Sandpiper. From this route there is a beautiful walk to Coille Dalavil which starts at NG622068 - well worth the effort.
This interesting peninsula, a classic example of a tombola, is easily accessible from Gedintailor, Braes at NG525350. An easy walk gives access to Camas a Mhor-bheoil and Balmeanach Bay, and a scramble to the dun at the end of the Aird. This affords terrific views over the Narrows of Raasay. Though there is a breeding colony of Shag and Black Guillemot, the area comes into its own during stormy weather as a seawatching point. Northerly winds are preferable and huge numbers of Grey Phalarope were recorded here in October 2008. Other records have included Storm and Leach's Petrel, Sabine's Gull, and several species of Skuas and Divers. See also http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/skye/anaird.shtml
In many respects the birdlife of Raasay is a microcosm of its bigger island neighbour. However, it is a special island well worth a visit in its own right with some superb walks through contrasting landscapes. A regular ferry service leaves from Sconser (NG525323). The ornithology of the island was well documented over a century ago and would benefit from regular recording. There are two pairs of Golden Eagles and regular sightings of White-tailed Eagle. Red-throated Divers breed on several of the hill lochs. Great Skua has recently colonised the north of the island. The Sound of Raasay is excellent for sea-watching. South Rona is also well worth a visit and there are regular boat trips in summer from Portree Harbour.
The Cuillins mountain range is a mecca for climbers and walkers. Easy access is available from a number of centres such as Sligachan and Glen Brittle. Regular boat trips from Elgol bring visitors to the heart of the Cuillins and the spectacular Loch Coruisk, seen in the photograph. This is a stark landscape and it is difficult to see how much wildlife can survive. The area is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Golden Eagles and has 8 pairs in the wider Cuillin area. White-tailed Eagle are also established on the coastal fringes. Other mountain species include Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover and Ptarmigan. Greenshank breed extensively in the valleys and Red-throated Divers on some of the lochans. Snow Bunting may have bred in the past and are occasionally recorded in winter. Don't expect to see huge numbers of birds but what you do see may be extremely rewarding.
Ferries and Boat Trips are an ideal way to see wildlife in and around Skye. Calmac operate a number of services and all provide fantastic opportunities to see birds and cetaceans. Probably the best is the Minch crossing from Uig to the western isles which regularly turns up rarities. The Armadale to Mallaig service provides links to the Small Isles with daily crossings in summer to Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna, so a day trip from Skye as a foot passenger is perfectly feasible and usually rewarding. In addition there are boat trips from private operators throughout the island and from the mainland. Though many of these are geared to see cetaceans, they will provide opportunities for good birding though the knowledge of crews varies considerably. We regularly receive reports from MV Brigadoon out of Portree, from MV Shearwater out of Arisaig and from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin cruises out of Gairloch.
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