Birds in Findhorn Bay and Moray
Moray in the north-east of Scotland has a wonderful variety of habitats for birdwatchers ranging from the high tops of the Cairngorms with breeding Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel, through the heather moorlands, forests and onto the Moray Firth coast.
Much of the coastline consists of long sandy beaches often backed by some nationally important pinewoods. Areas of low lying cliffs particularly in the east of Moray provide habitats for small colonies of sea birds. In between these features are 3 estuaries formed by the major rivers in the region. The Spey and Lossie estuaries are relatively small but can provide some good birdwatching.
By far the largest though is Findhorn Bay which is a spectacular, almost land-locked tidal bay covering some 6 square kilometres. The importance of this bay for waders and wildfowl has been recognised by its designation as a Special Protected Area under a European Community Directive. In 1998 Findhorn Bay was also established as a Local Nature Reserve.
Like anywhere, the seasons vary for birdwatching and although the summer is fairly quiet as water-sport activities take over much of the bay, there can still be some good birdwatching available for anyone visiting the area. More details on where to go birdwatching on the bay can be found on the birdwatching page.
In late summer and autumn the bay really comes to life as large migrations of waders start.
Towards the end of August numbers of Redshanks rise rapidly to well over 400 and most will stay in the bay over winter. At the same time a 1000 or more Dunlin arrive forming spectacular flocks.
Large flocks of waders flying around the bay can also a sign that there is a Peregrine Falcon hunting on the bay, which they do throughout the year. At low water the bay almost dries out so the sand and mudflats provide a valuable source of food from the worms, crustaceans and molluscs. Knot can also be quite numerous at times but their numbers fluctuate throughout the winter.
Small numbers of Sanderling are often present with the Dunlin.
Some waders also migrate through the bay stopping for a while to take advantage of the food available. The Ringed Plovers are most numerous in the spring and to a lesser extent during the autumn migrations, occasionally rising to 600 or more. Only around 30 remain over winter and a few also stay on for the summer and breed on some of the nearby shingle banks.
Black-tailed Godwit occasionally appear, particularly in the autumn, as they move to and from their breeding grounds in Iceland but Findhorn is too far north for them to stay over winter. The Bar-tailed Godwits do however remain for most of the year but not in any great numbers.
Other waders breed locally and are present year-round including Oystercatchers and Curlew, although even these will drop in number for a while in the summer. But by August several hundred of each can be seen. The Golden Plover breed on the moors inland and by October their numbers are often over 300.
Other less commonly seen waders include Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Grey Plover and Curlew Sandpiper.
Ducks in Findhorn Bay
The bay, as well as providing a haven for waders, is also well known for its wildfowl. Apart from Mallard and Shelduck that are present year-round and breed locally, most of the duck will not arrive until September.
Wigeon are the most numerous and will typically reach 2000 plus but even this number is well down on the figures that were being seen 20 years ago.
By contrast, only a handful of Pintail could be seen 10 years ago, but in the winter of 2016/17 there were regularly over 500 and their numbers seem to be steadily increasing year after year. Teal and Goldeneye will also be around all winter, but in smaller numbers.
A few other types will be seen on an occasional basis including Shoveler, Gadwall, Scaup and Tufted Duck.
Sea Ducks and Divers
A short walk from the bay, Findhorn Beach provides good birdwatching over the Moray Firth for many of the sea ducks that over-winter. Eiders can often be seen feeding off the mouth of the bay where there are large areas of mussel banks.
Long-tailed Ducks arrive offshore in October and at the same time Scoters, both Common and Velvet, start to appear in good numbers. Most of these species will stay out at sea, but a few will venture into the bay and close up views can be obtained. Also out at sea over the winter will be Divers: Red-throat, Black-throat and Great Northerns. The Black-throats always seem to keep fairly well off shore but the others will come in much closer and occasionally will even venture into Findhorn Bay.
The Great Northerns do not breed in the UK at present and return to Iceland in summer, but some of the Black and Red-throats breed on the lochans inland, particularly up in the north-west of Scotland, and some non-breeders are occasionally seen offshore during summer.
Around the start of October large numbers of geese arrive from their summer breeding grounds in the arctic regions. In the past there was usually a mix of species with many Greylags included. Today, the vast majority are now Pink-footed Geese and at the height of their migration 20,000+ can be recorded on the bay. These numbers drop as the winter progresses and many continue their migration to estuaries further south, but several thousand remain.
When they arrive, other species such as Barnacle, Bean, White-fronted and Snow Goose are occasionally mixed in with them. Flying in and out of the bay at dawn and dusk the geese provide a memorable sight and sound on a winters day.
Gulls, Terns, Ospreys and other migrants
As one would expect, the bay also provides a home for many gulls and other sea-birds. Herring and Common Gulls are abundant and around 20-30 Great Black-backed Gulls are usually present. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls though are relatively uncommon, in contrast to the situation further south in the UK. Black-headed Gulls do not breed in the area, but outside the breeding season several hundred are present. Terns are another summer visitor, but these too do not breed in the Findhorn area. Sandwich Terns arrive in the spring before going off to their breeding sites and then returning for a while before starting their migration to over-winter further south. Common and Arctic Terns are also present in good numbers and occasionally Little Terns can be seen.
As mentioned earlier, the summer is the quietest time of the year but it is also when one of the most spectacular birds is present – the Osprey. The females arrive at the start of April, followed by the males and nest in many of the surrounding forests. They can be seen flying around the bay throughout the summer, with sometimes as many as 10 or more fishing or perched on logs and posts in the bay. The last birds depart in mid September for their migration to southern Europe and western Africa.
Just occasionally some more unusual birds turn up in the bay and in the last few years we have seen Pectoral Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper (which coincided with a Little Stint), Little Egret and most recently several Spoonbills.