Bird watching vacations may not be the average person's first thought when planning a trip to Scotland. But if you are a lover of wildlife, this is an ideal way to combine your passion for nature with a tour of the country.
VisitScotland, the Scottish tourism marketing organization, proudly describes Scotland as "Europe's Leading Wildlife Destination", and a large part of this reputation is accounted for by the many opportunities for bird watching that the country offers.
For this reason, bird watching vacations in Scotland, if properly planned and organized, can provide you with the experience of a lifetime. (As if to reinforce that statement, as I was writing that last sentence a little red-breasted robin landed on the fence just outside my window!)
Almost anywhere in the country, you don't have to go far to see a wide variety of birds, whether seabirds, other waterfowl, raptors, i.e. birds of prey, and many different kinds of indigenous and migratory birds.
I happen to be very fortunate in that the town of Wigtown where I live borders on a so-called LNR or Local Nature Reserve, which is absolutely full of birds. The most spectacular in the spring and summer months are the ospreys, a type of eagle that feeds mainly on fish.
The ospreys migrate to Scotland from western Africa each spring, and can be observed at a number of sites around the country. Here in Wigtown you can watch them hatch and rear their chicks via CCTV (closed circuit television) from a viewing room atop the iconic Wigtown County Buildings. While you're up there, you also get a "birdseye" view of the salt marshes and Wigtown Bay!
Some other interesting birds that migrate to Scotland (apart from the more "typical" swallows, swifts and house martins, some of which build nests around our house in the summer) are the puffins, those strange seabirds that look like parrots with their brightly coloured bills. I once saw a TV documentary that showed how they actually "fly" under water, as opposed to swimming.
A bird watching vacation that includes these little fellows is an absolute delight. Each year nearly a million of them arrive from the open ocean and settle into their burrows around the coast.
While some of the larger colonies are to be found on remote islands, you can also see them at more accessible locations, such as Inchcolm and the Isle of May (each a day trip from Edinburgh), Staffa and the Treshnish Isles off Mull in the west, and small numbers at St Abbs Head, Fowlsheugh and, not far from my home, the Mull of Galloway, Scotland's most southerly point.
Puffins can be observed in Scotland from April to July, as they lay their eggs and then fly to and from their burrows with food for the chicks, so they fit nicely into a summer bird watching tour of Scotland.
Another type of seabird that can be observed in their thousands are gannets, for example on Bass Rock in the outer Firth of Forth near North Berwick in East Lothian, and on Ailsa Craig, another huge, volcanic rock rising out of the sea off the western coast of Ayrshire in the Firth of Clyde. You can take boat trips to both of these colonies, that are two of the biggest in the world.
Your Scottish bird watching vacation wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick, where you can watch wildlife all year round and control live interactive cameras to see puffins and gannets with chicks in spring, and also seals with pups in winter, and occasional sightings of dolphins and whales as a bonus. By the way, some of the cameras can be viewed online!
Just to the west of Edinburgh, you can also take a trip on the Maid of the Forth from South Queensferry to Inchcolm Island, site of an historic abbey and home to puffins and seals.
By the way, migratory birds do not only visit Scotland in the spring and summer, it works the other way too! In the fall, the Scottish autumn, thousands upon thousands of barnacle geese, Icelandic whooper swans, Siberian Bewick's swans as well as pink-footed, white-fronted and greylag geese come down from the arctic latitudes to descend on Southern Scotland and stay here right through the winter.
So bird watching vacations are also a viable option at this time of the year if it fits in better with your schedule.
Most of these birds come to the region where I live, on the Solway Firth. Here the entire breeding population of barnacle geese from Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle – some 25,000 of them – spend the winter on the meadows, salt marshes and mud flats, most of them at Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve next to historic Caerlaverock Castle (besieged by Edward I in 1300), six miles south of Dumfries.
Here at Wigtown you can also see masses of geese in the season.
As I mentioned, raptors are also seen in increasing numbers in Scotland.
Bird watching vacations that take in Dumfries and Galloway in the southwest should definitely include the Galloway Red Kite Trail around Loch Ken, from Castle Douglas up to New Galloway, and taking in Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre (near one of the two Bruce's Stones in the area) and Raiders Road Forest Drive, an old cattle rustling route used by the "Border Reivers" of yesteryear.
Further north, golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, peregrines, harriers and sparrowhawks, and as mentioned, more osprey birds, can be observed, either directly or from a number of CCTV viewing facilities.
The examples I have named here are just a tiny cross-section of the options available in Scotland for planning really enjoyable bird watching vacations.
To help you plan your bird watching tour of Scotland, let me show you how to get your own copy of a FREE guide to the best places in Scotland for bird watching and for viewing wildlife of any kind. With details of access and prices where applicable, as well as specialist tour operators on location who can give you the heads up on "their" patch? Would that be something you're interested in? I'm sure it would!
So, to get your own personal copy at absolutely no cost to you, just enter your name and email address below and I'll not only show you where and how to get your FREE copy of Wildlife Scotland, I'll also let you know where you can get a whole lot of other information to help you plan perfect Scotland bird watching vacations, as well as provide you with ongoing tips and updates. Just fill out the details and click on the button below!