The varied landscape of South Ayrshire with its predominantly rugged coastline, river valleys, forests and hill country means there is always plenty to see if you know where to look.
The coastal section from Barassie shore (NS325285) to Troon (NS323333) and then on to Powburn , Prestwick Bay (NS3428) , Newton upon Ayr (NS342250) and Ayr Harbour (NS332236) provides a superb opportunity to observe the full range of Ayrshire coastal birds with very easy access and convenience facilities. Sea ducks, Auks and Gulls can be seen in abundance plus Red throated Divers, Manx Shearwaters and Purple Sandpipers at the right times.
Troon Harbour and its headland are excellent for unusual Gulls plus, at the right time, Storm and Leach’s Petrel . The nearby sands at Barassie attract many waders and these have included Buff breasted Sandpiper, White rumped Sandpiper and American Golden Plover in the past.
Powburn is easily reached from Prestwick Airport or Station and is a good spot for Kingfisher and waders. Rarities here include Spoonbill and Surf Scoter and it often attracts Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier in the winter.
Newton upon Ayr is a good place to look for Red-necked Grebe and Ayr harbour has breeding Black Guillemot and regular Iceland Gull.
Doonfoot and Greenan (NS324195)
This stretch of coast has, arguably, the longest list of species recorded in Ayrshire. Consisting of the mouth of the River Doon with riparian woodland, a sandy beach with a small dune system and nearby farmland with scrub and woodland its only failing is it can suffer from disturbance. It is a prime site for waders (32 species), Ducks and has a regular Gull roost (with occasional Ring billed Gull). Large finch flocks occur in winter and it can be a good place to catch up with those awkward species like Kingfisher and in summer Lesser Whitethroat. Recent rarities include Firecrest, Buff breasted Sandpiper and Ivory Gull. Access is easy with free car parking and a cycle way.
Culzean to Dipple
This is another excellent coastal strip with a mix of rocky seashore, sand flats, cliff top woodland, shingle beaches and a prominent headland.
Culzean Country Park (NS2310) is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and provides easy birding in woodland and includes a section of cliff and a small lake. A good selection of common birds can be seen here plus Water Rail, if you are lucky, and breeding Fulmar and Raven. There is an entry fee unless you walk in from Maidens.
Maidens beach and harbour (NS215080) attracts a wide range of passage waders and Brent Geese in winter. Curlew Sandpiper, Water Pipit, Jack Snipe and even Dotterel have occurred here.
Turnberry Point (NS196073) is excellent for sea watching. To access this area requires a walk in from the road on level tarmac of about a kilometre. Sometimes the road gate is locked and you have to climb over. Your reward can be Skuas, Auks, a variety of passing waders, Manx Shearwater, Leach’s and Storm Petrels and numerous small birds on the adjacent Golf Course and dunes including Twite and Pipits. Ayrshire’s first Richards Pipit was found here recently and White rumped Sandpiper has occurred in the past.
Dipple shore (NS201024) is good for offshore birds and all three commoner species of Diver can be seen here as well as common waders and flocks of Twite.
The ‘Craig’ is a 338metre high volcanic plug rising from the sea 19km west of Girvan (NX020998). This is a major Gannet colony with breeding Gulls and Auks including Puffin. It can attract rarities (Alpine Swift, Bluethroat, Woodchat) but access requires an arranged boat trip and it’s a steep climb with impressive cliffs. Organised trips on the paddle steamer Waverley, often with a bird guide on board, is a good way to view without landing.
South to Glen App
The coast here is mainly rocky but is easily viewed from the main road. This is a good stretch for Diver watching with good numbers of Great Northern and in particular Black–throated. Anything could turn up along here (witness the two Harlequin Duck that made a shock appearance near Kennedys Pass in 1996).
Balantrae spit (NX082825) once had an important Tern colony but is still worth a look.
A frequently overlooked part of the deep south is Glen App (NX052724) just before the Dumfries and Galloway boundary. This Glen often catches migrants in the spring and its high ground has Twite, Hen Harrier and Merlin. The nearby cliffs have Peregrine and Raven and offshore Divers are regular.
Blairbowie farm pool (NS326113) is definitely worth a look if flooded with rare Waders, Geese and Ducks possible. Failford Nature Reserve (NS460262) is a good place to experience the birds of Ayrshire woodlands plus a beautiful stretch of the River Ayr. Pied and Spotted Flycatcher are possible along with Redstart as well as Dipper and Kingfisher. At Knockdolian Hill (NX113848) you may be able to go one better with Wood Warbler and in the Girvan Valley (NS270014) the variety of habitat could produce Hobby and possibly Red Kite and Honey Buzzard.
This is a volcanic plug rising 338 m from the sea 19km W of Girvan. View cliffs from sea or land and explore shingle/rocky beach by arrangement with boat from Girvan. It has a major Gannet colony. Also Lesser & Greater Black-backed & Herring Gull and Kittiwake. There are Fulmar, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and a few Puffins.
River Ayr Gorge, Failford
Scottish Wildlife Trust managed woodland on W bank of River Ayr, down stream from Failford (grid ref above). Located on B743 Ayr-Mauchline road, 10km inland. Reserve open at all times. It consists of a Sandstone river gorge flanked by rich, well-established deciduous & coniferous woodland with network of paths for circuitous walks of 1-3 hours duration. Breeding Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Redstart, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Dipper, Jay, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and many others. It is rich in bird song in spring. Buzzard, Sparrowhawk are all present.
The lighthouse is 1 km along a track over Turnberry golf course from the A719 starting at NS 206 068 about 1km south of Maidens village. Park at golfers' car park on old runway & proceed on foot. Excellent sea-watching: shearwaters, petrels, scoters, divers, grebes, skuas on passage; Gannet, auks, gulls, terns in season. Foreshore good for wide variety of migrant waders: records of White-rumped & Pectoral Sandpiper and Grey Phalarope. Track side grass & scrub for small birds: Wheatear, Stonechat, Twite, warblers, pipits.
Troon and Barassie Shore
Stretch of coast including Troon headland & harbour and N & S Sands, from Stinking Rocks (grid ref above)off Barassie (N Sands) to Meikle Craigs (NS325285) (S Sands). Ferry signs lead from A76/77. N Sands: major Ayrshire wader & gull site. Huge gull roosts here & on Meikle Crags (S Sands); Iceland, Glaucous & Mediterranean regular in winter. Large autumn build up of waders: Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ringed & Golden Plover (Stinking Rocks); some wintering Sanderling; records of Buff-breasted & White-rumped Sandpiper. Harbour: active fishing fleet attracts gulls, Black Guillemot, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser. Headland: good sea-watching: Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Storm & Leach's Petrel, all 3 divers.
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