Location and Access
Kilbirnie Loch (NS 0 545), situated in the floodplain between Kilbirnie, Glengarnock and Beith, runs south-west to north-east for almost 2 km and is about 0.5 km wide for the most part. It can be accessed by following the B777 to the Lochshore Industrial Estate. This provides ample parking but the last several hundred metres of road which leads to the boat launching area in the south-west corner of the loch is very badly potholed.
The unclassified road (“Kerse Road”) which runs between Beith and the A760 enables access to the northern shore of the loch but parking along the roadside should be undertaken with care. At the railway bridge (NS 8 552) there is a rough track which leads down to the lochside – parking in this area should be undertaken with great care. The track and the area at the bottom are used by the local water-skiing club sobirders need to be aware that they do not impede access for others. Access to the land along the north shore is dependent upon the good will of the landowner (Kerse Bridge Kennels).
Lochridge (NS 28 553) is an elevated vantage point where, with the use of a telescope, one can check the mouth of the Maich Water and the north-east corner of the loch.
The nearest train station is about 1.5 km from the boat launching area in the south west corner of the loch (Kilbirnie town centre is about 1.5km from the station and Beith town centre km from the station).
As well as providing birding opportunities the loch is also used by canoeists, waterskiers and fishermen and the maintained area at the southern end is used by dog-walkers and model aeroplane fliers. In past years the loch has had spoil, effluent and other pollutants discharged into it when the Glengarnock Steel Works were operational. Over the last few years the loch has become eutrophic as a result of high levels of nutrient input which can result in algal blooms in the summer which can be dangerous to humans and pets. There has been some debate as to the source of this input but wherever it comes from there is good news in that there is the possibility that a reedbed will be established to act as a filtration system. This would be particularly beneficial as the loch is rather poor in terms of invertebrate quality under present conditions.
From National Route 7, Irvine to Glasgow, passes the south end of the Loch; the north end can be reached by following byways from the cycle path.
The open water of the loch is surrounded by a variety of habitats. At the southern end there are large areas of shortly mown grass with plenty of well grown bushes.
Along the western shore for the first 0.75 km substantial Willow planting has been carried out – there are also some older deciduous trees. Beyond here, and continuing round the loch into the very north-east corner, farmland surrounds the loch. Along the western part, the ground slopes quite steeply down to the loch and is, therefore, reasonably well drained. The northern shore itself is level and there is more marshy ground. On the eastern side of the loch is a narrow strip of reedbed.
Kilbirnie Loch is now an official Wildlfe Site in terms of the Local Biodiversity Action Plan.
Interest on the loch itself is mainly from the late autumn through winter. Although there may be some of the commoner waterfowl such as Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot and Mute Swan throughout the year it is late September before numbers and species begin to increase. Winter brings Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal and possibly other species such as Goosander with occasional Swew and Scaup. Gulls – check for Iceland or Glaucous Gull – are a usual feature on the open water as often are Cormorant with Grey Heron patrolling the banks.
Unfortunately, the waterfowl tend to prefer the northern reaches of the loch which makes viewing from the southern end pretty unsatisfactory.
Although it is possible to walk along the eastern shore of the loch there is little in the way of cover to shield the observer from the birds. This is reedbed habitat but is so confined that it does not provide an extensive environment for marsh specialists. However, one would still expect to find Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting.
Along the western shore the mixture of planted Willows, other deciduous species and scrub provides good cover for both the birdwatcher and the birds and should provide a good selection of tits, thrushes, finches, and warblers and other passerines – and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The beginning of the farmland at the northern end of this section represents, roughly, the half-way point and it is now possible to get better views of the waterfowl as well as the possibility of spotting a few more passerines such as Yellowhammer.
The north-eastern corner and the north shore provide a shallower, marshier habitat and in these areas there is the possibility of finding waders such as Common Snipe, Redshank, and Curlew. There is also plenty of Hawthorn and other tree cover in this area providing cover and feeding for finches, tits, and thrushes. It is worth keeping an eye open in this area for Sparrowhawk. A Great Grey Shrike was seen here in December 2001.
Historical Birding Interest
A trawl through Statistical Accounts and other publications provides an insight into species recorded at Kilbirnie Loch and surrounding areas in the past. Storm and Leach’s Petrel, Ruff, Puffin and Kittiwake were all recorded in the period 1889 to 1915, for example.
Any notable sightings at Kilbirnie Loch during WeBS counts will be posted on the grapevine bulletin board at Lochwinnoch RSPB Nature Reserve.