Thinking of birding in Assynt? Covering around 475 square kilometres and having a coastline approaching 120 kilometres long Assynt, on the north-west coast of Scotland, is simply a must visit destination whatever your birding abilities.
It is possible to spot birds from your car, your living room, one of the pristine beaches, the local peat track or the top of some of the most stunning mountains in Scotland. So you choose; a short stroll or a hard days climb, either way the results cannot fail to please.
We can’t of course guarantee you a sighting of one of Assynt’s breeding Golden Eagles but it is possible to see one of these birds from virtually any spot in Assynt, so don’t forget to look up.
The more wooded areas of Assynt – around Nedd, the Culag Wood at Lochinver, along the River Inver, Glencanisp and Little Assynt offer the sight and sound of many small migrant and resident song birds including Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart, Bullfinch and Siskin. Don’t forget to listen out for Cuckoo in these and many other areas of Assynt.
Assynt’s townships are good places to look for garden birds with some more unusual sightings possible at feeding stations – Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Rosefinch.
No matter where you decide to go birding in Assynt, have a great time but remember to park with care and consideration. You will, for the vast majority of your time, be on single track roads so drive carefully, do not park in passing places and keep gates clear.
The locations suggested here are some of the more regularly watched and easily accessible in Assynt but may require a bit of a walk over rough, stony ground to access them and if you are walking on a single track road be very aware of the proximity of traffic.
Enjoy your birding and please help us to help you by sending your sightings to email@example.com.
1. BAY OF CULKEIN AND RUBH’AN DUNAIN
Bay of Culkein (NC039332) This is arguably one of the best birding locations in Assynt particularly during the spring and autumn passage. Many species of wader including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits are regular on passage and vagrants such as Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper have been recorded recently. Good numbers of White Wagtail can be seen here on passage. Offshore look out for Eider, Common Scoter, Divers, Black Guillemot, Brent Goose and Long-tailed Duck.
The croft land behind the Bay is always worth a look with four species of grey geese having been recorded as well as Barnacle Goose, Jack Snipe, Golden Plover and Corncrake.
Rubh’an Dunain (NC0434) a headland approximately 15 minutes’ walk north-east from the Bay of Culkein offers top sea watching as does the walk itself. Three species of Diver are regularly seen from here together with auks, Gannet and Kittiwake. This is also a good location for Rock Dove and Rock Pipit.
Both of these locations offer distinct possibilities for good views of otters feeding at low tide. Harbour Porpoise, Common Dolphin and Basking Shark can often be seen off Rubh’an Dunain.
2. STOER HEAD LIGHTHOUSE AND POINT OF STOER
Stoer Head Lighthouse (NC004326) There is good parking here, with an honesty box for camper vans, and there is also a community owned composting toilet at the car park, for which there is a small charge to cover the upkeep of the facility.
This site is mainly about sea watching so a scope is very useful here. Great Skuas or “Bonxies” are a common feature and quite often just drift over your head at the car park. Arctic Skua, although not as common, is recorded every year out from the lighthouse. This is also a good location to watch for Manx Shearwater skimming over the top of the waves.
A short uphill walk from the car park to just beyond the lighthouse will give intimate views of breeding Fulmar as they soar and wheel on the up draught created by the cliffs. This is also a good spot to look out for Peregrine as they patrol the cliffs and heathland for prey. On the rocks below can often be seen large numbers of shags drying their wings. Sightings of White-tailed Eagle have increased in this area.
The elevation of this spot offers superb cetacean viewing out over the Minch with Harbour Porpoise, several species of dolphin, Minke Whale and Orca possible. It is a designated Shorewatch site forming part of a Scotland wide, shore based, monitoring network of cetaceans by trained volunteers for Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Basking Shark are another marine species often recorded here.
Point of Stoer (NC0235) The 7 kilometre return walk from the lighthouse car park is rewarded with views of nesting Fulmar, the possiblity of puffins feeding on the sea below you and again keep watching for skuas. The Point is a main landmark for many sea bird species which nest on off shore islands including Handa which can be seen to the North East.
Just before reaching the Point you will pass the Old Man of Stoer, a 70 metre high sea stack.
Other species to look and listen out for are Skylark and Meadow Pipit which means you should also keep an eye open for Merlin.
3. BALCHLADICH BAY AND LOCH NA CLAISE
Balchladich Bay (NC0230) A spectacular bay looking south-west and affording the opportunity of sighting Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers. There is also a good possibility of recording Black Guillemot or ‘Tysties’ both summer and winter.
On the shoreline waders seen include Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit. Sand Martin has been recorded several times at this location and a small breeding colony has recently established itself a few kilometres from here.
Loch na Claise (NC0330) Just a short walk eastward along the single track road from Balchladich Bay this is one of the few lochs in Assynt which holds the correct water conditions to attract several species of water fowl – Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Moorhen are regular here with Pintail, Scaup and Coot being rare visitors. Good numbers of Greylag Geese also make use of the Loch.
The reed beds around the loch come alive in summer with singing Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting while the surrounding croft land holds a small number of breeding Lapwing and Redshank. Marsh Harrier and Common Crane have been recorded here too.
4. BAY OF CLACHTOLL AND BAY OF STOER
The best parking for both of these locations is at the Highlife Highland’s Countryside Ranger Information Hut at Clachtoll (NC039273) where, from April to October, there are also public toilets available.
Bay of Clachtoll (NC0327) Two small bays make up this location are they are regular haunts for Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser together with small numbers of waders such as Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher. Knot is also occasionally recorded here.
Off-shore you are likely to see Eider, Razorbill, Guillemot and the occasional Puffin. Good fishing means that Common and Arctic Terns can be seen so a number of Great Skua are often around harassing the terns for their catch.
Walking towards the Norman McLeod Memorial and following the ‘walkers welcome’ signs will take you out onto grazing land bordered by some spectacular slipped rock formations. The small marshy area here can offer up Teal, Lapwing and Redshank along with Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler. Continue walking north and, as you pass the Iron Age Broch, the Bay of Stoer will come into view. On the rocks and grazing look out for Whimbrel, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin and Golden Plover.
Bay of Stoer (NC0328) This bay, which is constantly being remodelled from sand to rock to sand by the westerly storms, plays host to Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Eider and auks. Gannets are regular visitors to the Bay and can be seen diving for food just off shore.
The bay is a good location for Whimbrel on migration as well as Curlew throughout the year.
This Bay and the machair just behind it often holds good numbers of Common and Herring Gulls. The gulls are always worth a closer look as Iceland and Sabine’s Gulls have been recorded here.
The easiest route back to Clachtoll is south on the B869 where you will pass Loch an Aigeil on your left (NC0428) – worth a look for possible Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Moorhen.
On your way through Clachtoll look and listen out for the flock of 40 – 50 Twite which are regulars here.
5. ACHMELVICH AND LOCH ROE
Achmelvich (NC059247) Ample parking is available at the Highland Council Ranger’s Information Hut where. The Blue Flag Award Beach at Achmelvich is a superb spot to watch for Red-throated Divers and Common Terns diving into the clear water. Waders to be seen on the nearby rocks and machair include Golden Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin.
Good numbers of Common Gull feed on the croft land near the SYHA hostel and Ring-billed Gull has been spotted with them. Otter are frequently seen swimming across the Bay.
A short walk back up the road takes you past some trees, reeds and shrub areas; look out for Long-tailed Tit, Reed Bunting, Stonechat, Sedge Warbler and Yellowhammer.
Loch Roe (NC0624) A sea loch, just a few minutes walk from the car park at Achmelvich, which can reward you with Common and Arctic Terns; the former have bred on the small islands in the Loch. Shag, Wigeon, Oystercatcher and Redshank make use of the shoreline and islands for roosting and feeding.
It is also worth checking the islands for Common Seals which regularly haul out here.
6. LOCHINVER AND CULAG WOOD
Lochinver (NC0922) The settlement of Lochinver itself is well served for birding opportunities with Loch Inver and the Rivers Inver and Culag giving both salt and freshwater habitats. The greater number of gardens in the area also supports a good selection of the more common garden birds, although Common Rosefinch has been recorded at a feeding station in the village.
Species regularly recorded in and around Lochinver include three species of diver, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Grey Wagtail with Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Slavonian Grebe and Dipper being irregular sightings. Grasshopper Warbler can be heard ‘reeling’ behind the Tourist Information Centre.
Glencanisp is an easy, but uphill, walk from Lochinver starting just north of the pedestrian crossing at the south end of the village (NC 094223). The walk starts with mixed woodland and continues on to moor and lochs.
A good chance of Common Redstart, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler combined with Stonechat and Whinchat and possibly Whitethroat and Black-throated Diver make this walk well worthwhile.
Culag Wood (NC0921) You can walk to this mixed woodland from Lochinver or there are two small parking areas on the road to Inverkirkaig at NC094219 or further on at NC093214.
The good network of paths which lead through this wood give opportunities to see Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Goldfinch and all four tit species. Several of the paths can be used to make your way to the White Shore, a small pebbly beach which Common Sandpiper frequent.
At the right time of year this wood is also a superb location for many species of fungi, dragonflies and damselflies.
7. LOCH KIRKAIG AND RIVER KIRKAIG
Loch Kirkaig and River Kirkaig (NC0719) Some parking is possible on the minor road which runs along the east shore of the Loch. Alternatively, park at the small car park near Achin’s book shop (NC085193). Remember if you cross the bridge just beyond this car park you will leave Sutherland and Assynt – turn around!
These two locations make for a good easy walk along the road where the trees hold Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, thrushes, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest and Lesser Redpoll. Kingfisher and Dipper have been seen on the river as viewed from the bridge near the car park.
The Loch and its shores are a good spot for Pied and Grey Wagtails, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Greenshank, Red-breasted Merganser, Black-throated Diver and several species of gull including Lesser Black-backed and Iceland.
8. LITTLE ASSYNT AND ALL ABILITIES PATH
Little Assynt and All Abilities Path (NC1525 – NC1625) The good path network throughout the Little Assynt Estate can be accessed from two points on the north side of the A837 at either NC153252 or NC174264. Both have good parking available.
The All Abilities Path is accessible from the latter location. This 1.5 kilometre circular route is suitable for wheelchairs and those of limited mobility and gives easy access to several lochs, a loop around a small wooded area and a magnificent viewpoint – also two ingenious eco-loos!
Black-throated divers are regularly seen on several of the lochs passed on these walks. Other possible sightings include Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Teal.
Look and listen for Red and Black Grouse and in the wooded areas for Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Tree Pipit. Reed Bunting can often be seen around the margins of the lochs.
9. ELPHIN TO INCHNADAMPH
Elphin to Inchnadamph (NC2111 – NC2521) Elphin holds the only population of Jackdaw in Assynt, look out for them where sheep or cattle are grazing. The Cam Loch and Ledbeg River flowing from it often hold Whooper Swan from early September through to mid-March. Osprey are frequent visitors to the large lochs in this area where they can be seen diving for fish.
As you journey north towards Inchnadamph keep an eye out for Golden Eagle as an immature, Assynt born female, which had a radio tag fitted while on the nest, keeps turning up in this area. For more details see www.roydennis.org/golden-eagle.
Several of the walks in to the hills along this road e.g. the ‘bone caves’ up Allt nan Uamh (NC2617) and the caves up the River Traligill (NC2720) give the possibility of seeing and hearing Ring Ouzel.
Good parking is available at the Walkers’ Car Park near the Inchnadamph Hotel.
This is a good spot for Sand Martin which feed in numbers up and down the rivers flowing into the head of Loch Assynt. Also watch for Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper and, if you are lucky, you might spot Barn Owl at dusk or dawn as they are frequently seen around the Inchnadamph area.
10. KYLESKU AND LOCHS
Kylesku and Lochs (NC2233) Take time here to view and possibly walk, with care, over the Kylesku Bridge.
Common and Arctic Terns can be seen flying under the bridge as they feed in Loch a Chairn Bhain. From the vantage points of either the bridge or the car park on its north side (this is not in Assynt!) Guillemot and Razorbill can also be seen feeding in this sea loch.
Also in this area sightings of White-tailed Eagles are becoming more frequent as the various successful reintroduction programmes steadily increase the numbers of our largest eagle.
11. LOCH NEDD AND GLENLERAIG
Loch Nedd and Glenleraig (NC1431) A small amount of parking is available near the cattle grid at Nedd Bridge (NC148316).
This sheltered, tree lined sea loch is a good location for Little Grebe, Teal, the occasional Cormorant and a small number of waders such as Oystercatcher, Greenshank and Ringed Plover.
The abundant tree cover at these locations is home to large numbers of Willow Warbler with Chiffchaff and Wood Warbler making an appearance along with Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. Mistle Thrush is likely to be seen or heard here and the frequent Sparrowhawk keeps all these birds alert.
Otters may be seen feeding on eels in the river as it runs through the salt marsh area just west of Nedd Bridge.
12. OLDANY ESTUARY AND CULKEIN DRUMBEG HARBOUR
Oldany Estuary (NC103331) Limited parking is available off the B869 just north-east of the estuary (NC104330).
The estuary plays host to good numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls with up to 100 being present in late autumn. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls have also been recorded here.
Because of the mixed habitat a good list of species is always possible with Greenshank, Redshank, Whimbrel, Curlew, Little Grebe, Teal, Grey Wagtail, Grey Heron, Woodcock and Treecreeper being just a few examples.
Culkein Drumbeg Harbour (NC110338) With some parking available near to the jetty, this spot will allow you to see the outer part of Oldany Estuary but will also open out the viewing to include a few off shore islands.
One of these islands holds a small number of breeding Arctic Terns with attendant breeding Great Black-backed Gulls! The terns can be seen fishing in the sheltered bay just off the jetty and occasionally they rest on a local creel boat or some of the buoys.
This sheltered location can also hold Wigeon, Shelduck, Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringer Plover with downy young and Great Skua patrolling for a meal.
The surrounding croft land has a variety of habitats so other possibilities include Snipe, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler.
Both these locations give great views of the good number of Common Seals which shelter here and no doubt a few of them will come and have a look at you looking at them. Otters are also frequently sighted near these locations.
All photographs D. Haines
We hope this page has been useful and if you would like more information on the bird species which can be seen in Assynt visit the List of Bird Species page on this website. Alternatively there is a checklist produced by the Assynt Field Club, Birds of Assynt 3rd Edition (1998), which you can purchase from several shops in the Parish or directly from the Field Club by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org