Some of the most important remaining undeveloped coastal wetland on the Firth of Clyde is in North Ayrshire coupled with an extensive upland area.
Between Largs and Ardrossan there are several hot spots including in Largs itself at Noddsdale Mouth (NS198605). Here look out for Gulls with Mediterranean Gull being regular plus Purple Sandpiper.
A few miles further south is Fairlie Sands (NS206546) which is good for waders such as Godwits whilst inland behind this area are several Glens worth exploring which have a variety of common woodland birds plus Stonechat, Whinchat and Red Grouse on the highest ground.
The very highest ground is found in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park (NS319360) where there are breeding Hen Harrier plus good chances for Merlin, Cuckoo, Red Grouse plus a wide variety of the commoner upland birds.
Further south again you will find Portencross (NS176486) and Hunterston (NS211520). Here there is good sea watching with Skuas, Manx Shearwater and Black Guillemot, areas of scrub with Stonechat and summer warblers, cliffs with breeding Fulmar and pockets of woodland which can catch migrants such as Pied Flycatcher. There is a nearby breeding colony of Sandwich Terns and rarities such as Rosy Starling, Killdeer and Little Bunting have been recorded.
A short drive further south brings you to Seamill shore (NS202471) with a wooded glen behind. The shore is best in winter with Water Pipit, Shore Lark, Snow Bunting and Black Redstart all recorded in the past plus at the right time Skuas and even Little Auk offshore. Jack Snipe are regular in winter but elusive.
The three towns
Saltcoats (NS245410) and Stevenston along with Ardrossan are known locally as ‘the three towns ’. Saltcoats sea wall north of the harbour is now the top spot in Ayrshire for spotting Skuas with a regular and sometimes spectacular passage of Long-taileds . Pomarine , Arctic and Great Skua are annual visitors and sea duck and Purple Sandpiper are also regular. Gulls include Glaucous and Iceland but rarities such as Franklins and Laughing have also been recorded.
Stevenston Point (NS271476) also catches some of the above, has occasional Slavonian Grebe, plus it has habitat for waders which have included Phalarope. Nearby Auchenharvie west loch has a large winter Scaup flock.
Ardrossan along with Stevenston hosted Britain’s first Snowy Egret in 2001.
To the North of Irvine harbour stretches the last remaining undeveloped area of mudflat and saltmarsh known as Bogside (NS312383) part of which is an SSSI. This is a prime site best visited at one hour before high tide. Good all year round for waders including Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint, flocks of wintering duck, breeding Water Rail with the bonus of raptors such as Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin, Short eared Owl and even occasional Marsh Harrier. This is an extensive area parts of which have awkward access but it’s worth the effort. Ayrshire’s first Pallid Harrier was a recent tick. A quick look off the breakwater at the river mouth could be worth it for sea duck and Gulls. Included in this complex is Garnock Floods nature reserve (NS305418) which is worth a look for Garganey and occasional Black Tern.
A short drive inland will take you to Capringstone Flash (NS356385) a seasonal pool that can attract anything passing and has had a variety of unusuals including Garganey, Green winged Teal and even Bean Geese. Just south of Irvine is Dundonald Camp (NS340330) where flooded grazing land has produced American Golden Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper and Glossy Ibis in recent years.
A stretch of rocky coast north of Ardrossan from Waterside Inn to Seamill. This site is best in winter. Tidal zone: Rock Pipit, passage White Wagtail, wintering Greenshank. Offshore islets: Shag, Cormorant, Eider, and Purple Sandpiper. Seaward: Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot, record of Little Auk. Fields/shoreline: Common & Jack Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing; Sedge Warbler, Stonechat, Black Redstart.
Bogside Flats & Harbourside
An area of mudflat & salt marsh of special scientific interest at the confluence of River Irvine & River Garnock on W, seaward, edge of Irvine, best scanned from the harbour wall at NS 315 383 Best at high tide minus 1 hour. Good most of year, but especially for wintering/passage wildfowl & waders: Redshank, Greenshank, Turnstone, Lapwing, Curlew, Whimbrel, Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit; occasional Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Large wintering flocks of Wigeon & Red-breasted Merganser. Raptors: Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, occasional Marsh Harrier. Harbour mouth seabirds:Eider, Shag, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, terns, gulls, divers. Rarities: American Wigeon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Pomarine Skua, Avocet, Black-headed Bunting, Ross's Goose, White Stork. Pond behind Leisure Centre: Scaup, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, gulls. Good beach & grassy hinterland habitat. Former racecourse on Flats for Short-eared Owl & Water Rail: scan from grid ref above.
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