Scotland's Bird Islands
Scotland's West coast islands are simply a wildlife spectacular, with eagles, otters, corncrakes, thousands of wintering geese and a spectacle of breeding waders in the spring. To help you get the best experience, RSPB's Kat Jones explains some places to visit.
Famous for its wildlife as well as its whisky, Islay has two RSPB reserves to visit, each with a distinct character and species. Loch Gruinart is one of the top wildlife sites in Scotland, with a wide range of habitats and RSPB's largest in-house farming operation. In spring the lapwing and other nesting waders fill the air with activity and, on the ground, the rare corncrake can be found. For one of nature's spectacles, head to Islay in autumn, when Loch Gruinart really comes to life with tens of thousands of Greenland barnacle geese and Greenland white-fronted geese arriving en-masse to over-winter on Islay, along with ducks like pintail and shoveler and waders such as golden plover and black-tailed godwit.
Loch Gruinart has trails, a hide and a small visitor centre with information about the reserve, April to October we run expert-led weekly guided walks. For more information https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/find-a-reserve/reserves-a-z/events.aspx?reserve=Loch%20Gruinart
The Oa is a more rugged reserve with moorland and cliffs. It is here that you have the best chance of seeing a golden eagle, or a chough. You will also meet our resident reserve managers, the Highland cattle, who keep the habitats in perfect condition for the moorland and grassland species. There is a circular walk which will take around an hour with spectacular views and is the site of the American Monument which commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918 with the loss of over 600 lives.
Between April and October there is a weekly guided walk at the reserve. For more information check here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/the-oa/
This small rocky island with spectacular beaches punches above its weight for wildlife. In spring the machair, flower-rich shell sand meadows, are alive with the sound of corncrakes and waders, and the rocky moorlands host hen harriers. There is a circular walk and a tiny unmanned visitor centre at the RSPB reserve at Totronald. The RSPB reserve has an abundance of farmland birds and the garden outside the visitor centre is one of the best places to get a chance to see a corncrake if you just sit quietly and wait....
Mull has become the wildlife watching capital of Scotland due to reliable viewings of sea eagles and otters, among other things. You can see sea eagles from almost anywhere on Mull, as well as from the ferry, but to get the best chance to see them and to learn about the eagles and their story join Mull Eagle Watch at Craignure Golf Club. There you can get RSPB-led walks to a viewpoint of a sea eagle nest with chances of otter sightings. Walks are at 11am and 2pm and booking is essential.
The machair of the Uists and Benbecula are famous for their beautiful wildflowers, their breeding birds and their great yellow bumblebees, an extremely rare species only found on these species flower-rich shell-sand meadows. RSPB Scotland's nature reserve at Balranald offers a great chance to see machair species as well as birds of the coastline with a tern colony and other seabirds. There is a small interpretation centre at the site and a beautiful circular walk.
During the summer season there are weekly guided walks. For more information check here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/balranald/