Finding wildlife in Aberdeen City and Shire

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VisitScotland Aberdeen City and Shire What to See and Do Guide
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  • A red squirrel perched amongst some purple heather
    A red squirrel
  • A glimpse of Balmoral Castle nestled beside the River Dee looking up through the Dee Valley.
    A view of Balmoral and Royal Deeside
  • RSPB Troup Head Reserve, near Pennan © Lorne Gill/SNH
    RSPB Troup Head Reserve, near Pennan © Lorne Gill/SNH
  • Man walks his dogs along St Cyrus beach
    St Cyrus beach

From the rich green landscapes of Royal Deeside to rugged coastlines, Aberdeen City and Shire provides shelter to some of many of Scotland’s most important species. These can be seen on the area's many nature reserves found in forests, wetlands or around the desert-like wilderness at Forvie. You can also take a wildlife cruise from various harbours to spot dolphins and seals out in the North Sea.

Lined by fertile lowlands along its North Sea shore, threaded by fish-rich rivers and rising to moors and mountains, this area has a huge variety of habitats in which to watch wildlife.

Coastal wildlife

Look out over Aberdeen harbour, especially in the early part of the year, and you might see some of the bottlenose dolphins that use the inshore waters here and give spectacular displays. In summer, you could meet some of the animals again and more (including seals and occassional killer whale sightings) on boat trips from a number of harbours along the Banff and Moray Firth coast, the 'Dolphin Coast'.

North of Aberdeen, near Newburgh, the estuary of the River Ythan has a road along much of its length from which you can watch thousands of eider ducks feeding on mussel beds or grey seals lounging or swimming off Newburgh beach. Then move upstream to see wading birds such as curlew in summer, golden plover in autumn and lapwing in winter.

Birdwatchers should also watch the gannets at Troup Head, Scotland's only mainland gannet colony. This 'city' of seabirds nesting in the high cliffs can also be viewed from the sea, reached by a boat tour from the town of Macduff.

Scottish desert

Close to the Ythan, the astonishing Sands of Forvie are like a desert in the midst of Scotland. Walk along the tracks from the Forvie Centre to see some of the more than 350 kinds of flowering plants that have been recorded here. These are great nectar sources for many different butterflies, moths, bees and other insects. Forvie's dunes and moorland also boasts the biggest breeding group of eider ducks in Britain. In winter, parties of snow buntings feed among the dunes while in summer, shelducks nest in the abandoned rabbit burrows.

Inland lochs

Head inland to the Muir of Dinnet, a National Nature Reserve between Ballater and Aboyne with gorgeous birchwoods beside heathland and open water. The Dinnet lochs host hordes of greylag geese and other wildfowl in winter, as does the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve between Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

Pine forests in Royal Deeside

Along 'Royal' upper Deeside, Glen Tanar near Aboyne and Mar Lodge near Braemar have some of Scotland's largest surviving native pinewoods. There's scope to see red squirrels and crossbills here at any time of the year. Above the old woods, some of the country's finest moors - watch for red grouse on rocks and tussocks - are bathed in purple heather in August and September. Come October, travel the many quiet minor roads in Deeside and Starthdon to hear red deer stags bellowing in the rut.

National Park

The staggering natural beauty of the Cairngorms National Park protects around a quarter of the UK’s most rare and endangered wildlife. With five of the six highest mountains in the UK and Scotland’s second longest river, the River Spey, this beautiful part of the world is perfect for spotting wildlife. From badgers, red squirrels and otters to pine martens, red deer and wildcats, there are numerous opportunities to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. The Cairngorms National Park is also home to all of Britain’s grouse species, as well as ospreys, golden eagles, buzzards and falcons.

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