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Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix ©Nigel Blake Website

The district of Moray & Nairn stretches along the southern shore of the Moray Firth from Cullen in the east to Nairn in the west. The area then extends southwards in a broad triangle with its apex in the Cairngorm mountains. Nearly half of the land exceeds 250m altitude and is therefore upland in nature. Higher hills, exceeding 600m, represent 7% of the land; and this includes the arctic-alpine Cairngorm plateau, home to Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel. The extensive lower moorlands hold a good variety of scarcer species such as Merlin, Twite, Ring Ouzel and Whinchat. Golden Plovers are locally numerous, joined by a few Dunlin in wetter bogs.

There are extensive woodlands largely composed of conifer plantations. In many areas however these are sufficiently mature to have been colonised by Crested Tits, Siskins and crossbills. Capercaillies persist in very small numbers. Younger moorland plantations sometimes hold breeding Black Grouse and Short-eared Owl. The birchwoods of the upland glens ring with the song of Willow warblers, Tree Pipits, Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers in spring.

Two wonderful rivers, the Spey and the Findhorn, lend much to the character of the area and many smaller rivers and streams drain the interior into the Moray Firth. Typical breeding species are Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. Goosanders inhabit the smaller upland tributaries with a few Red-breasted Mergansers breeding on the lower reaches. There is relatively little standing water in Moray & Nairn but Lochs Oire, na Bo, Loy and Spynie provide winter wildfowl interest; Loch Spynie in particular holds a spectacular winter goose roost, and a rich wetland breeding bird community in summer. The coastline consists of a rich mosaic of habitat types. Short stretches of cliff run from Hopeman to Covesea and from Portknockie to Findochty. Here may be found good populations of Fulmars and Kittiwakes with a smaller number of Shags and Black Guillemots. The best rocky shores are between Burghead and Hopeman, at Lossiemouth and between Portgordon and Findochty. Winter waders, which include Purple Sandpipers, are often well accustomed to people and easily watched. There are three muddy estuaries, the wide expanse of Findhorn Bay and the smaller, but more intimate and easily watched, estuaries of the Lossie and Spey rivers. A wide variety of wildfowl, gulls and terns feed and roost on the estuaries and fishing ospreys are a regular feature in summer. Offshore, Burghead Bay and Spey Bay are well known for their flocks of wintering sea ducks with impressive rafts of scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Eider.

Top Sites

Buckie shore

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Rocky shore extends for 7km eastwards from Portgordon to Portessie. Continuous access is simple from the A990 and A942. In winter the rocks hold numerous Turnstones, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers. Ringed Plovers, Curlews and Knot can also be expected in smaller numbers. The gull flocks are worth checking for Glaucous and Iceland, especially around Buckie harbour where the first Ross's is long overdue! Strathlene, just to the east of Portessie, has banks of gorse along the shore below the golf course. This area provides by far the best site in Moray & Nairn to search for displaced passerine migrants when wind and rain are in the east in spring and autumn.

Burghead Bay

Satellite View

This is a wide, shallow bay extending for 8km between Findhorn and Burghead. The best viewing points are from the dunes at Findhorn, the Forestry Commission picnic site in Roseisle Forest and from Burghead promontory. Divers of all three commoner species can be seen in autumn and winter as well as Slavonian and, sometimes, Red-necked Grebes. Long-tailed Ducks and scoters often number in thousands in winter and careful scrutiny of the flocks will often reveal at least one Surf Scoter.

Covesea Cliffs

Satellite View

These are three kilometres of sandstone cliffs with extensive gorse on the cliff tops. Access can be gained from the Clashach Quarry road, east of Hopeman, or from the gated road leading to the coastguard lookout at Covesea. Viewing the seabird colonies from above is not easy and they are best seen from the beach below. Great care is needed however on a rising tide as access back to the cliff top path is not easy. Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls form the bulk of the colonies but a few pairs of Shags and Greater Black-backed Gulls also breed. Stonechats inhabit the cliff top gorse.

Culbin Forest and the Nairn & Culbin Bars

Satellite View

Formerly a wide expanse of sand dunes and shingle ridges, the area has been transformed by extensive pine plantations. The Nairn Bar is of shingle, well vegetated with scrub and some stunted trees. Culbin Bar is sandy, covered only with marram and other low-growing grasses and herbs. Between the bars and the forest is extensive coastal marsh with mud and sand flats exposed at low tide. Access to the Bars is from the carpark [NJ034640] at Kingsteps, 1km east of Nairn. The forest is best entered from the Forestry Commission car parks at Cloddymoss or Wellhill, northwest from Forres. In the forest listen out for Crested Tits that are quite numerous and most easily located by call. Also present are Siskins, crossbills (apparently Parrot as well as Scottish); Stonechats and, in summer, a few Tree Pipits and Redstarts. Around the bars in summer can be found breeding Shelduck and Eider but the seaduck and wader flocks between autumn and spring are the main interest. Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit and the main species but this is also the best site in the area for Sanderling and Grey Plovers.

Findhorn Bay

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Situated at the mouth of the River Findhorn, the bay empties almost completely at low tide to leave wide expanses of mud and sand. Access is straightforward from the B9011 between Kinloss and Findhorn villages. The spring and autumn wader passage seasons are most rewarding here with an annual scatter of scarcer species such as Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank, and several rarities have occurred in recent years. Ospreys regularly fish the shallows between April and late September. In winter large skeins of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese fly in to roost each evening. Many other wildfowl can be seen in good numbers although shooting is a problem.

Kingston and Spey Bay

Satellite View

Kingston village overlooks the small muddy estuary of the Spey. Offshore, Spey Bay [NJ400645] extends between Lossiemouth and Buckie, bordered by sandy beaches in the west but largely shingle to the east. The Spey estuary is easily viewed from car parks at Kingston to the west and Tugnet (at Spey Bay village) to the east. Spey Bay can be accessed from Lossiemouth and from the Spey mouth car parks as well as from the foreshore of Lossie Forest (although vehicle access to the forest is not permitted). Breeding species around the mouth of the Spey include Shelduck, terns and Ringed Plovers. The main interest is to be found between July-September when Ospreys fisf the river mouth and wader passage, although light in terms of numbers, often includes scarcer species such as Whimbrel, Greenshank, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Offshore Spey Bay holds an important moulting flock of Red-throated Divers in autumn when hundreds may be present. Great Northern Divers are regular in summer plumage in spring. Sea ducks are less numerous than formerly but good numbers of scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders can still sometimes be seen.

Loch Spynie

Satellite View

This is the most important freshwater site in the area. Extensive areas of reed, marsh and willow scrub surround the open water in this privately owned SSSI. The wetlands surrounding the loch are not open to the public although permission to view the loch from the wooded eastern side is usually given to organised groups and bona fide birdwatchers. In spring and summer large populations of wetland species such as Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and Water Rails breed in the marshes. Migrant species pass through in good numbers and locally scarce and rare species are found here almost annually. Wildfowl flocks peak in winter when hundreds of Teal, Wigeon and Mallard are present with many other species likely in smaller numbers. The evening arrival of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese to roost is a spectacle that never fails to thrill.


Satellite View

The River Lossie flows out to the sea at the East Beach through an estuary in which sand and mud are exposed at low tide. There is a rocky shore between the West Beach and the harbour. The headland just west of the harbour provides the area's best vantage point for sea-watching when conditions are favourable, notably north or northeasterly gales in autumn. Access is straightforward to all parts of the shore. Due to the small size of the estuary and ease of vehicle access, shorebirds are easily viewed. In winter a few Sanderling join the commoner species and during autumn passage Whimbrel, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper may drop in. Gulls are abundant at all seasons, especially in autumn and winter when there is a good chance of Glaucous or Iceland. The East Beach dunes hold a small flock of Snow Buntings in winter.


Martin Cook

Rowanbrae, Clochan, Buckie, Banffshire AB56 5EQ

01542 850296

County Recorder

Martin J H Cook

Rowanbrae, Clochan, Buckie, Banffshire. AB5 2EQ

01542 850296


Number of Species

Number of bird species: 291

County Bird - Crested Tit Parus cristatus

Useful Reading

Birds in Moray & Nairn

County report produced annually, Available from the Recorder

Rare and Scarce Birds in North-East Scotland

Edited by Ian M Phillips 192 pages, 32 col plates, 60 illus, distribution maps. ISBN: 0953125904 Out of Print

The Birds of Moray and Nairn

by Martin Cook, Paperback - 269 pages (12 November, 1992) The Mercat Press

ISBN: 1873644051

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

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Pal


Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

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.

Places to Stay

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Burnside and Mill Lodges - Self Catering


Burnside and Mill Lodges are situated only 4 miles from the seaside town of Nairn and 16 miles from Inverness, the Highland Capital. Country walks and a secluded trout fishery are on the door step, and there are a great many other attractions in the local area. Both lodges have ramped accesses, wide doors for wheelchairs and grabrails in the bathroom. Burnside has a paved area in front while Mill Lodge has a timber deck, both with picnic tables.

Curlew Cottage - Burghead


A warm, friendly and very comfortable 4 star cottage which sleeps 4. From autumn to spring Burghead Bay is a birdwatcher`s paradise – look for long-tailed duck, eider, bar-tailed godwit or the occasional Iceland gull, as well as commoner winter residents. Not only that but the nearby forests and moorland make for wonderful walking and watching, too! Then, at the end of the day come back and relax in front of an open fire!

Taigh-togalach - Burghead, Moray


Taigh-togalach is a 3 bedroom semi-detached self catering cottage situated in the historic coastal village of Burghead, Moray, Scotland. The village is set on a promontory on the site of a Pictish Fort, looking out across the Moray Firth, an area renowned for its temperate climate and long hours of sunshine. This holiday cottage provides an ideal base for golfing, fishing, or walking holidays; touring Moray, Grampian, NE Scotland and the Scottish Highlands; or for just enjoying the 7 miles of sandy beach that stretches between Burghead and Findhorn & Kinloss and the 7 miles of rocks, pools and cliffs between Burghead and Lossiemouth.


Moray Bird Club

Martin Cook, Rowanbrae, Clochan, Buckie, Banffshire AB56 5EQ.

North Sea Bird Club


Andrew Thorpe, Aberdeen University, Culterty Field Station, Newburgh, Ellon, Aberdeenshire AB41 0AA 01358 789631 nsbc@abdn.ac.uk


Culbin Forest


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Crossbills and crested tits are relatively common in Culbin…

Culbin Sands RSPB


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Large numbers of sea ducks can be seen offshore in winter. Bar-tailed godwits, oystercatchers and knots flock at high tide…

Monaughty Wood


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Good for seeing small woodland birds and watching buzzards circling above the margins of the wood…

Ordiequish Earth Pillars


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Capercaille lek sites in this wood. Active during the months of March and April…



Satellite View

For a woodland walk near to Elgin, Quarrelwood offers the ideal choice. Take a leisurely stroll through oakwood, pines and larch, or a gentle climb to viewpoints overlooking the Moray Countryside. Explore quietly and you may well see roe deer, red squirrels and a wide variety of woodland birds.



Satellite View

Winter birdwatchers have a good chance of seeing common and velvet scoters, and long-tailed and eider ducks. Waders include dunlin, redshank, ringed plover and bar-tailed godwit…

Whale & Dolphin Conservation Centre


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WDCSs Moray Firth Wildlife Centre is based at the mouth of the River Spey on the southern side of the Moray Firth on the east coast of Scotland…

Whiteash Wood


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Whiteash Wood is one of the few remaining areas in the north east where a population of Capercaillie still exists. Ospreys have successfully nested in this wood for over 25 years. The adults are frequently seen fishing for salmon at the mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay…


Dave Slater - Birding Ecosse


Birdwatching for beginners Workshops. These relaxed and enjoyable workshops will be held on dates at end of March beginning of April 2011 in the Moray area….

Other Links

Moray Firth Biodiversity Action Plan


The Moray Coastline encompasses 45 miles of sweeping sands, estuaries, cliffs, coves and fishertowns. It includes areas of great natural beauty and valuable wildlife resources…