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East Ayrshire

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia ©David Mason Website

With no shoreline and having a landscape heavily influenced by coal mining and latterly wind farms you might expect East Ayrshire to be less than ideal place to check out. Luckily there are still some places that resist development and the remote nature of some areas leads to a restricted but very important avifauna.

Loudoun Hill (NS613379)

The only reliable place for passage Ring Ouzel in Spring but also Raptors all year and Brambling in winter.

Knockentiber to Springside (NS400396)

A tarmac cycleway on an old railway line acts as a transect across typical Ayrshire farmland. Local rarities such as Grey Partridge and Tree Sparrow occur here along with a good cross section of common residents.

Martnaham Loch (NS403173)

This is a large area of freshwater straddling the boundary between South and East Ayrshire with reasonable road access. Wintering flocks of Duck, Geese and Swans with the occasional rarity such American Wigeon, Ring necked Duck and Lesser Scaup. Passage waders can be of interest if the conditions are right and flocks of Whimbrel are regular in May. Black Tern and, on one occasion, Caspian Tern, have been seen here.

Knockshinnoch Lagoons (NS617138)

Created by the dumping of mine waste this area is now an SWT reserve . Mainly consisting of flooded rough grazing with several pools and extensive regenerated Birch woodland this site unfortunately does not always live up to its potential. Water Rail breed here and a passing rarity is always possible. Past stars include Spotted Crake and Wilson’s Phalarope.

Glen Afton (NS632080)

An impressive upland Glen with a river running through good mixed woodland, spruce forest, open hillside and a rocky mountain plateau. Redstart and Flycatchers are present in the woods with Willow Tit an outside possibility. Dipper are on the river and Crossbills in the conifers. The higher reaches have Raven, occasional Merlin, Peregrine, breeding Golden Plover and in the first two weeks in May the highest point on Blackcraig plays host to trips of Dotterel.

Muirkirk uplands (NS697265)

The speciality for this area is breeding Hen Harrier which are under the protection of the RSPB. The same moors have Golden Plover and Red Grouse and Black Grouse can be found in surrounding forestry. Merlin, Short-eared Owl and the last breeding Dunlin in Ayrshire occur in this area. Access is not easy and its best to stick to roads and lay-bys except at Muirkirk where you can walk to Cairn Table the highest hill in this area.

Ness Glen (NS476013)

This is a spectacular gorge that acts as an outlet for Loch Doon. A rough path can be walked from Loch Doon Dam downstream to a small bridge allowing a walk back on the opposite bank. Dipper, Goosander and Grey Wagtail all may be encountered and summer breeders include Tree Pipit, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and possibly Wood Warbler. Crossbills occur in the Scots Pines.

Loch Doon and Galloway Hills (NX476942)

Loch Doon is 9km long and can be a forbidding place often grey and wet and a haven for midges in summer. Despite this it is the gateway to the Galloway Forest Park which includes some real wilderness. The usual upland species can be encountered and Black Grouse are plentiful though difficult. Great Grey Shrike and Great White Egret have turned up in the past and there are plenty of remote places for surprises to hide.

Top Sites

Martnaham Loch

Satellite View

This is a large inland lake, southeast of Ayr. Scan from lay-bys at E end (see grid ref above) or on S hillside (NS 403 173). Good for wintering wildfowl & birds on passage. There are wintering flocks of Goldeneye, Wigeon, Pochard, Teal; possible Shoveler, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall; Greylag Goose & Whooper Swan. There are also many gulls, possibly Glaucous, Iceland, Mediterranean shelter from storms. Passage flocks of waders can include Whimbrel, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, and Black-tailed Godwit. Breeding Great Crested & Little Grebe. Notable for rarities: Smew, Ring-necked Duck, Black Tern, Lesser Scaup, Hobby, American sub species of Teal.

Whitelees Windfarm & Eaglesham Moor

Satellite View

The high upland of Eaglesham Moor straddles the border between the South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire council administrative districts. Covering a massive area, it encompasses moorland, wetland and woodland, with a diverse range of bird and animal species co- existing with Whitelees Windfarm- the largest facility in Europe. While not a nature reserve as such, the operators of the windfarm have taken steps to mitigate the impact of their facility, at least to date. The impact of their latest expansion remains to be seen, and windfarms in general remain contentious issues for birders. The on- site Ranger service is a major plus- point for the site, however, and have been happy to answer queries regarding birding visits. As of July 2011 their site list was 95 different bird species. The car park at the windfarm offers a good starting point for a day’s birding and walking, heed the car park closing times though. Skylark are in abundance in all areas, becoming more bold farther away from the visitor centre. Meadow Pipit are also present in good numbers. Wheatear have been recorded on the vicinity of the turbines themselves.

The major water bodies are recommended for waders and wildfowl, with snipe and curlew recorded. Raptors, as expected, are present, with kestrel and buzzard being the obvious ones. Less common, but still recorded, are hen harrier and peregrine. Finches have been recorded near the visitor centre and at the wooded areas on site. The forests are worth a look for visiting great grey shrike. The path system covers over 70km in total, although by no means all offers birding opportunities. If you are intrepid enough, there are, though, areas to go ‘off trail’, - care should be taken in areas of marshy ground (I was once mobbed by a pair of curlew while stranded knee deep in a marsh) The site is used extensively by walkers and cyclists, although it could not be described as crowded. In short, a more than decent site, which provides good birding in perhaps an unexpected setting.


County Recorder

Fraser Simpson

4 Inchmurrin Drive, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KA3 2JD


Useful Reading

Ayrshire's Upland Birds (includes Ayrshire's Moorland Birds and Ayrshire's Upland Forest Birds)

Angus Hogg, Robin Heaney and Ken Jackson Running time: Approx 124 minutes on 2 cassettes. Sounds Natural - Contains samples of 51 species including Curlew, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Dublin Snipe, Redshank, Buzzard, Raven, Siskin, Stonechat, Whinchat, Wheatear, Grey Wagtail, Red & Black Grouse, Dipper…to name a few.

ISBN: 140172

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

Mike Madders and Julia Welstead - 297 pages, b/w illus, maps - Christopher Helm

ISBN: 071365693X

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Forums & Mailing Lists


Mailing List

List contact: ayrshirebirding-owner@yahoogroups.com

A forum for news on bird sightings (rare, unusual or just interesting) and birding events in Ayrshire, UK. To subscribe send a blank email…

Trip Reports


Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

Other Links

Ayrshire Recording Areas


South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire (excluding Arran and the Cumbraes)

Birding in Ayrshire


This website exists to provide information of value to all with an interest in the wild birds of Ayrshire and in birding in this area, whether resident or visitor. The site is sponsored by SOC Ayrshire (the Ayrshire residents of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club)…

Fraser's Birding Website


Personal site with trip reports, info on local patches, recent sightings, photographs and butterflies/dragonflies in Ayrshire…