Moray & Nairn

European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria ©Andrej Chudý Website

Moray & Nairn SOC Recording Area covers one of the 32 Local Government council areas of Scotland, Moray and the Highlands old ‘district’ council area of Nairn, more or less contiguous with the historic county of Nairnshire. It lies in the north-east of the country, with coastline on the Moray Firth. It borders the SOC recording areas of Highland to the west and Northeast Scotland to the east. The district stretches along the southern shore of the Moray Firth from Cullen in the east. The area then extends southwards in a broad triangle with its apex in the Cairngorm mountains.

Birding Moray & Nairn

Nearly half of the land exceeds 250m altitude and is therefore upland in nature. Higher hills, exceeding 600m, represent a good proportion 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 the sadly scarcer 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.

This page is sponsored by Birding Ecosse

Top Sites
  • Buckie shore

    Satellite View
    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

    Satellite View
    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.
  • Lossiemouth

    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

    See Below

County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 291

    County Bird - Crested Tit Parus cristatus
Useful Reading

  • Rare and Scarce Birds in North-East Scotland

    | Edited by Ian M Phillips | 1997 | Hardback | 192 pages, 32 colour plates, 60 illustrations, distribution maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780953125906 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of Moray and Nairn

    | By Martin Cook | Mercat Press | 1992 | Paperback | 264 pages, 24 b/w photos, 36 line illustrations, 27 maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781873644058 Buy this book from
  • Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

    | By Mike Madders & Julia Welstead | Christopher Helm | 2002 | Paperback | 297 pages, b/w illustrations, maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780713656930 Buy this book from
Birding Aps
  • Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

    Apple iOS | Android
    This app will help beginners and experts alike to discover hundreds of the best places to see and enjoy birds around the country.

    Where to Watch Birds in Scotland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club's free mobile app for Apple and Android devices, now has over 580 sites. New sites will continue to be added and existing ones updated as far as possible. The app launched in April 2019 and since then has been downloaded by more than 15,000 users and amassed over 750,000 site views. It won 'Product of the Year' in Birdwatch and BirdGuides' 2019 Birders' Choice Awards, and the BTO/Marsh Award for Local Ornithology 2020.
  • Findhorn Bay Wildlife Watch

    Findhorn Bay offers superb birdwatching opportunities throughout the year, including the spectacular migratory Osprey from March to September each year. In the autumn, winter and spring, thousands of Pink-Footed Geese, on their way to and from their breeding grounds in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland, and also Greylag Geese from Iceland, roost and feed on Findhorn Bay.
  • Moray Bird Club

    The Moray branch of the SOC
  • North Sea Bird Club

    Facebook Page
    The North Sea Bird Club was formed in 1979 as the result of the efforts of a few individuals in the oil industry and Aberdeen University, who saw a unique opportunity to obtain long-term data from offshore on birds and other wildlife.
  • SOC Branches Moray

    We hope that the branch provides an opportunity for those who share a common interest in birds to meet for regular social occasions. At our indoor meetings we usually have a speaker and the emphasis is on local birds and birding – with plenty of time to get to know those whose names we may recognise but faces we do not!

Abbreviations Key

  • F&LS Culbin Forest

    WebpageSatellite View
    Crossbills and crested tits are relatively common in Culbin…
  • F&LS Ordiequish Earth Pillars

    WebpageSatellite View
    This lovely wood is a maze of old paths and tracks. Follow the trail through pines and heather to discover steep-sided Ordiequish Burn, great views and the dramatic red Earth Pillars. There are Capercaille lek sites in this wood, active during the months of March and April.
  • F&LS Roseisle

    WebpageSatellite 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…
  • LNR Findhorn Bay

    WebpageSatellite View
    The natural environment of Findhorn Bay is internationally important for threatened habitats and species. This has been recognised by the award of several important designations (SPA, RAMSAR, SSSI & LNR).
  • NP Cairngorms

    WebsiteSatellite View
    In the very south of Moray & Nairn lies the noerthern part of the Cairngorms National Park. There are 14 species of raptor (18 if you include owls) within the moorlands and forests of the National Park. Some are resident here all year, while others, like the osprey, fly thousands of miles to breed or winter here, making the Cairngorms National Park an area of European significance for raptors.
  • RSPB Culbin San

    WebpageSatellite View
    Stretching along part of the Moray and Nairn Coast Special Protection Area (SPA), remote and windswept Culbin Sands is a unique reserve where you can get away from it all. At low tide, bar-tailed godwits, oystercatchers and knots feed along the shoreline, while high tide brings sea ducks close to the sand dunes.
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Visit the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre for the chance to see the amazing bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth. Enjoy beautiful walks along the tumultuous River Spey, spot a seal or osprey.
  • WT Monaughty Wood

    WebpageSatellite View
    Good for seeing small woodland birds and watching buzzards circling above the margins of the wood…
  • WT Quarrelwood

    WebpageSatellite 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.
  • WT Whiteash Wood

    WebpageSatellite View
    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…
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecosse

    Tour Operator
    Your tour guide during your holiday will be Dave Slater a born and bred Scot that has been offering fully guided birding tours, tailor made for you, for six years. No more missing the birds because you are stuck at the back of a minibus, no more waiting in line to view a bird, no more missing birds as the guide was busy speaking to someone else and definitely no sub standard food and accommodation. Here at Birding Ecosse we pride ourselves in using only the best hotels and guest houses in the area, and keeping group size on our bird watching breaks to a maximum of 6 ensures a very personal experience with your guide.
Places to Stay

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

  • 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.
Other Links
  • Birds in Moray and Nairn

    This is the place to find out everything to do with birds and birding in Moray and Nairn.
  • Nairn Wildlife & Nature

    Your guide to discovering Nairn
  • Seamus Mcardle - The Nairn Birder

    Last update 2022
  • Dave Slater - Birding Ecosse

    This blog will follow all my trips and tours, so if you have been out with me recently the chances are very high you will make an appearance! Most of the pictures on the blog are my own, however if I do use a third parties pictures I will have obtained their permission and will give them full credit.
Photographers & Artists
  • Nairn Birder Photography

    You'll find a selection of my photos of the scenery, flora and fauna from around Nairn and the Highlands of Scotland, most of which can be made into prints or lovely handmade greetings cards that you can purchase through this site.

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