Birdwatching in Edinburgh & The Lothians

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  • a large seabird flies over open water
    A gannet flies near to the Bass Rock
  • a bright green and orange, long-beaked bird sits on a branch
    The kingfisher (image courtesy of RSPB/ Mike Richards - rspb-images.com)
  • The Water of Leith Walkway, Edinburgh
    The Water of Leith Walkway, Edinburgh
  • Ducks and moorhen feed in the shallow waters of a reed bed
    Wildfowl amongst the reeds (image: James Carney)

Whether inland or along its lengthy coastline, Edinburgh & The Lothians boasts a surprising variety of species and habitats to keep birdwatchers interested all year round.

Along the coast

The region is perhaps best know for its seabird colonies resident on several of the small islands out in the Firth of Forth and there are several options for taking boat trips out into the Firth to explore these up close. The island of Craigleith is home to nesting puffins in spring and summer, while the dramatic Bass Rock is a volcanic island graced by 100,000 gannets which come to breed each year and can be seen throughout many months.

Fidra, another of the small, rocky islands and believed be Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for Treasure Island, is home to a range of breeding seabirds including over 1,500 pairs of puffins, 500 guillemots, 100 razorbills and 150 shags.

If you don't fancy taking to the waters, you can also watch much of the avian activity on all the islands thanks to the live video feeds at at one of the region’s top attractions, the fantastic and informative Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick.

Moving a little further east along the coast, Tyninghame Bay is the estuary of the River Tyne that flows into the North Sea just north of the coastal town of Dunbar. John Muir Country Park covers much of this scenic area, providing access to many square miles of saltmarsh, shore and woodlands, and is very popular with birdwatchers, with more than 200 different species identified in the area.

There are interesting birds to be seen here at all times of year, but especially in winter and at migration times. Beautiful white whooper swans and wild geese, including stately black and white barnacles, stop in to feed in the safety of the estuary or on the surrounding farmland. Another wonderful white visitor is the little egret, a dainty heron that is sure to light up any day as it fishes in the creeks and shallows of the bay. Waders such as whimbrel, greenshank and curlew sandpiper drop in to the estuary in spring and autumn, while winter brings large numbers of dunlin, knot, curlew, golden plover and other migrants.

Inland

Closer to the city of Edinburgh itself, there are still plenty of fascinating species to be found. The scenic Water of Leith, which flows all the way from Balerno on the south west edge of the city to the Shore at Leith, is home to willow warblers, chiffchaff, great spotted woodpeckers, grey wagtails, dippers, grey herons and even kingfishers.

In Holyrood Park you'll find ravens, buzzards and sparrowhawks while on nearby Arthur’s Seat there's a chance of seeing snow buntings in winter. Take a walk around Duddingston Loch which sits in the shadow of the ancient volcano to see a variety of birds including grey herons, which nest in a colony on specially constructed platforms in the trees by the lochside.

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