East Ayrshire

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia ©David Mason Website
Birding East Ayrshire

East Ayrshire is one of thirty-two council areas of Scotland. It shares borders with Dumfries and Galloway, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. With South Ayrshire and the mainland areas of North Ayrshire, it formed the former county of Ayrshire.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.
  • Michael Howes

    | michael_howes@lineone.net

County Recorder
Useful Reading

  • Ayrshire and Galloway Upland Forest Birds

    | Narrated by Angus Hogg, Robin Heaney & Ken Jackson | Sounds Natural | 2011 | CD | Run Time 62 Mins | #220553 | ISBN: Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

    | By Mike Madders & Julia Welstead | Christopher Helm | 2002 | Paperback | 297 pages, b/w illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9780713656930 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • RSPB Central Ayrshire Local Group

    All RSPB Central Ayrshire activities appear on the Ayrshire Birders website. This covers Central and North Ayrshire local groups indoor meetings, field trips and any other special events held individually or jointly with the two groups and with the SOC Ayrshire.
  • SWT Ayrshire Local Group

    Ayrshire extends for over 60 miles along the shore of the Firth of Clyde, rising from coast to a crescent of hills and moorland. The Scottish Wildlife Trust Group works to support all types of wildlife in its 15 reserves and throughout the wider countryside.

Abbreviations Key

  • CP Dean Castle

    InformationSatellite View
    The country park, covering over 200 acres, is nestled in the heart of Kilmarnock. It boasts beautiful woodland walks.
  • LNR Catrine Voes

    InformationSatellite View
    In 2006, the so-called Catrine Voes (the reservoirs to the former cotton works), the Radical Brae and the Chapel Brae were designated as a Local Nature Reserve. The river provides an ideal habitat for Atlantic Salmon as well as being home to water voles, otters, kingfishers, heron and dipper.
  • SWT Dalmellington Moss

    WebpageSatellite View
    Dalmellington Moss is a raised bog on the floodplain of the River Doon. Hummocks of heather and deergrass are interspersed with waterlogged hollows full of Sphagnum mosses and cottongrass, allowing beetles, moths and dragonflies to thrive in these conditions.
  • SWT Knockshinnoch Lagoons

    WebpageSatellite View
    The open water, islands, marshland, reedbeds and willow carr make this reserve important for birdlife in the Nith Valley. Migrant birds favour the valley in the autumn. Plant and insect enthusiasts can enjoy the partially vegetated coal spoil heap in the main public area of the reserve.
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Ayrshire Bird News

    Sightings & News
    Email reports to recorder@ayrshire-birding.org.uk for publication in the Ayrshire Bird Report. Tweet to @ayrshirebirds and use the #AyrshireBirds hashtag
  • Ayrshire-Birding

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

    Sightings & News
Trip Reports

Click on WAND to see Fatbirder’s Trip Report Repository…

  • 2018 [07 July] - Fraser Simpson

    For our staycation this year we headed home to Ayrshire for two weeks. With the Mediterranean weather, it felt just like Spain or Greece, without the more exotic birds though. The main birding activity involved surveying two farmland Red List species: Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow. Focusing on an area of 106 square kilometres from Kilmarnock west to Irvine and south to Troon and Symington, 112 singing male Yellowhammers were located. A slightly larger area, taking in areas on the east side of Kilmarnock, located 40 pairs of Tree Sparrows. All of this was completed by bike (185 miles), utilising all roads, unclassified country back roads and cyclepaths. This network allowed me to cover a large area however the true numbers for both species will hopefully be higher as many farms are only accessible via private roads, so for Tree Sparrow in particular, many nests would be unlocated. Below is a list of all species recorded in the farmland, as well as those from other habitats visited for more general birding.
  • 2020 [01 January] - Fraser Simpson

    After missing a winter and Christmas visit home last year, I was looking forward to getting back to my old haunts in Ayrshire. The intention was to concentrate on surveying farmland birds (particularly Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers) but after a few scouts around it soon became clear that the stubble fields were pretty dead. Small numbers of Tree Sparrows were located along the Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line but no Yellowhammer flocks were found. Still, I headed out on my (borrowed) bike for six days between Christmas and New Year's Day and below is list of species located at various sites in central Ayrshire between Kilmarnock and the coast, many of which I've written up as site guides for the SOC's Where to Watch Birds in Scotland App. Every day, bar the glorious Hogmanay, was covered with thick cloud and frequent showers but as I cycle to work whatever the conditions anyway, this did not put me off.
Other Links
  • 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

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