Ardrossan to Brodick “Pelagic”

Location and Access

The Calmac ferry to the Isle of Arran goes between Ardrossan and Brodick and offers the chance to see birds out in the Firth of Clyde on a trip that takes just under an hour each way. The ferry is big and only gets bumpy in really bad weather. There is outdoor seating on various decks for observing (it is even possible to look out of the windows in the cafeteria and observation lounge:-).

On Saturdays during July and August the North Ayrshire branch of the RSPB have a stand at the rear of the ship to show passengers the wildlife en route (and do a very successful RSPB recruitment!).

Ferry is equipped with lift to transport wheelchair users from car deck to upper deck.

Birds

As the boat leaves Ardrossan harbour you get a decent view of Horse Island (NS213427). This is an RSPB reserve with a large colony of Eider and Lesser Black-backed Gull, with Cormorant, Shag and Greylag Goose. There is no access to the island, so the ferry makes a good vantage point. Ardrossan Harbour is also a good location for seeing Black Guillemot at close range.

When in mid-firth the birds to look out for include Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel (especially in autumn), Gannet (on fishing trips from Ailsa Craig), Fulmar, the three commoner species of Diver.

As the ferry approaches Brodick you pass the refuse tip with its attendant gulls. In winter these are obviously worth scanning for white-winged gulls such as Glaucous and Iceland.

The ferry is also good for other marine wildlife: e.g. porpoise, Atlantic grey seal, common seal, Minke whale. The Firth is also important for the enigmatic Basking Shark.

Additional Information

For more general information on Arran (e.g. ferry details) please see the Arran page.

Shewalton Area

Location and Access

This part of south Irvine is actually a collection of six areas good for wildlife all within two kilometres of each other. These are mostly managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. For convenience they can be split into two groups which we’ll call North and South.

North Shewalton

For this group it is recommended you park in the small reserve layby just off the A737 at NS 26 70: heading north into Irvine from the Shewalton junction of the A78 it is on the right just after Shewalton Cemetery.

Area One: Shewalton Sandpits

From the layby go down the path to the reserve. There are a couple of ponds surrounded by scrub and reeds. This area was reclaimed from disused sand and gravel works. It is particularly interesting for plants and butterflies. Extensive work done by the SWT in 2009-10 has restored this area, especially the ponds and cleared the network of paths. These go round the ponds and over to the River Irvine.

Area Two: Trocol Pond

From the layby walk back and cross the A737 and enter the area via a gate at NS 25 71. A circular path goes round a pond with stretches of wood, gorse and scrub. The pond has Coot, Moorhen and breeding Mute Swan. In winter it also attracts Whooper Swan. The trees (a mixture of conifer and deciduous) support Siskin, various tits, finches and the commoner summer migrants.

South Shewalton

The second group is on the other side of the A78. For this group it is recommended you park in the small SWT reserve car park near the paper factory at NS 7 57. From the Meadowhead Roundabout head towards the paper factory and pass the water treatment works on the left, after which a small track on the left goes down to the car park. This is on National Cycle Route 7.

Area Three: Shewalton Woods

From the car park follow the cycle path to start a circular walk that would take roughly an hour. Almost immediately take a track on the left and follow a water pipeline to some ponds at NS 49 61. The ponds and surrounding scrub have Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler in summer, and the adjacent fields have Whooper Swans, Teal, Redwing and Fieldfares in winter. Map 

The path continues and enters a section of birch woodland which has Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Redpoll. You emerge from the trees into a large expanse of rough grassland on the former raised bog, remnants of which persist close to the capped landfill site in the centre of, but not officially part of, the reserve. Buzzards breed and Hen Harrier is a winter visitor over the Moss. Foxes and Roe Deer are commonly seen. Keep your eyes peeled for adders basking on the edge of the path. The Moss is where I always get the first singing Skylark of the spring.

The path continues along the side of the Troon-Kilmarnock railway line (still in use, though only occasional trains pass) and rejoins the National Cycle Route at the south end of the paper factory. The trees here have Woodcock as well as the usual suspects. In 2009 15 hectares of conifer circling the reserve were felled to convert the area to native broad-leaved woodland. This is rapidly being colonised with wild flowers, and native tree species. A project The Shewalton Wood Tree Nursery is underway to provide a source of trees grown from seeds of Ayrshire provenance for use in local reserves.

In winter at dusk it is worth visiting the paper factory carpark to watch the roosting Starling flocks come in. These often attract Sparrowhawks which adds to the excitement!

Area Four: Meadowhead Pit

From the car park walk back towards Meadowhead Roundabout and opposite the pumping station (NS 6 59) take the cycle path to the left (signposted to Irvine Station). After about 200m the flooded pit appears on the right (NS 3 63). Gulls rest here after a busy scavenge in the local tip. Cormorant, Coot and Little Grebe all breed. In winter ducks such as Tufted Duck, Scaup, Pochard, Goldeneye are common as well as occasional visitors such as Goosander and Long-tailed Duck and swans (Mute, Whooper and even Black!).

Area Five: Gailes Marsh

By continuing along the cycle path from Area Four a foot bridge crosses the A78 and emerges at a busy minor road. Cross this and turn right towards the mini-roundabout. Continue along the cycle path as it heads left. After 400m on the left is Gailes Marsh: another SWT reserve. It is also possible to park on the grass verge at the edge of the reserve near the water pumping building.

Cross the style to enter the reserve which comprises coastal grassland, open water, marsh and woodland combine that supports a diversity of plant and animal life. It is particularly important for plants, amphibians and butterflies (work to re-introduce the Small Blue started in 2010).

In 2010 an artificial Sand Martin colony was constructed at the south of the reserve. This proved to be an immediate hit with 15-20 pairs moving in that spring.

Area Six: Oldhall Ponds

It is easy to overlook this SWT reserve as it hides away in the area north-west of the Meadowhead roundabout on the B7080. It consists of a couple of ponds connected by a path leading to a viewpoint. Although not a major attraction on its own, when combined with the other sites in this group, it nicely rounds off a visit. Parking is a little tricky as this road is busy: the best idea is to park nearer the paper factory and walk. Map of boundary 

The ponds attract the usual waterfowl including Whooper Swan in winter, and Kingfisher. The scrub area is also good for the usual summer migrants.

Irvine Harbourside and Bogside

Location and Access

This is an area of mudflat and salt-marsh at the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock. Part of it is a SSSI. The best place to view is from the car parks along the Harbourside at Irvine, NS 15 83. Irvine rail station is 0.5km away. Walk along the path to the harbour mouth.  

A second viewpoint is from the old stable block beside the old Irvine racecourse (NS 07 400). Get here by following the road for Bogside Golf Club and where the road doubles back to the clubhouse continue on for 200m to park (beware of the deep potholes and show courtesy to golfers). This area had been marked as the site of a land-raise dump but a public enquiry imposed sufficiently strict constraints to dissuade North Ayrshire Council from proceeding to date.

A third viewpoint is at the old ICI bridge at NS 298 99. This is reached by walking round the old racecourse from the second viewpoint. This point provides good views of the upper Garnock and its roosting waders and wildfowl. Do not cross the bridge to the industrial area.

Lots of parking spaces; disabled parking bays at Magnum. Flat paved surfaces alongside harbour wall. Pond behind Magnum: several places to park, paved flat surfaces. Racecourse: park on rough ground, good view over racecourse from car.

On local cycle route and National Route 7. This forms part of the Irvine Circular Trail.

Birds

The Flats are good at most times of the year (although summer is quiet). The best time to go is two hours or so before high tide as the waders get pushed up onto the mud in front of the car parks (note that the tide comes in quickly in the estuary and usually covers the saltmarsh by the time of high tide). The mudflats are great for passage waders (e.g. the amazing 69 Curlew Sandpipers in autumn of 1999) as well as Greenshank, Turnstone, Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit. The Garnock is good for large numbers of Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser over the winter. The large numbers of waders often attracts a Peregrine or two who can typically be found perched on trees washed down on to the salt marsh. Rarities have included Marsh Harrier, American Wigeon, Avocet, Pomarine Skua and Black-headed Bunting and the UK’s first accepted record of Barrow’s Goldeneye. An escaped Ross’s Goose has also spent some time in the area. A White Stork also flapped over the golf course as a highlight of the 2001 Bird Race.

Behind the Magnum leisure centre is the boating pond (NS 08 78). In winter this can be good for ducks including Scaup, Wigeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck as well as Mute Swan, Little Grebe and roosting gulls.

From the harbour mouth you can look into Irvine Bay to get terns, Eider, Shag, Manx Shearwater, Gannet and various divers in winter. In recent years this has been a favoured location for a male King Eider.

The race course area is superb for Short-eared Owl in the winter (up to 7 birds at a time, often very close). The marsh area is also good for hearing Water Rail. The Garnock upstream of the bridge over to the ICI plant is good for waterfowl (including a recent American Wigeon) and waders (particlarly Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit during passage).

RSPB Reserve

In March 2009, RSPB Scotland acquired a new reserve at Irvine, North Ayrshire with the support of SNH. The 19 ha site forms part of the Bogside Flats SSSI, designated for its saltmarsh and mudflat habitats and is the area between the railway and the River Irvine, behind the old Ayrshire Metals Factory (now housing development). The reserve is mainly grazed floodplain within a flood defence bund although there is also a small area of saltmarsh. The rough grassland is used as a foraging area by Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl and the site provides a roost site for wintering wildfowl and waders.

This reserve is located within the Irvine Bay Urban Regeneration Area. This area has historically come under considerable development pressure, which continues today with ongoing pressure for new housing, industry and tourism development. Management by RSPB Scotland will ensure this area of the SSSI is protected from damaging development.

Other Information

The Harbourside has lots of pubs selling decent beer and food. The Maritime Museum, Magnum Leisure Centre and the recently refurbished Harbour Arts Centre are worth visiting.

Kerelaw Glen and Glen Banks

Location and Access

Much of the lower part of Kerelaw Glen is sparsely wooded and marred by signs of anti-social behaviour – especially vandalism and littering; however, the stretch of wooded glen upstream from Kerelaw Castle is one of Stevenston’s greatest natural assets. The wood is comprised mainly of Sycamore and Beech, and boasts a few impressive specimens. Although the relevant length of pathway is relatively short (200m), it is worth visiting – not just for the birdlife, but for the picturesque glen, attractive river cliffs, and historic castle and bridge.

It is possible to park in the neighbouring council estate – Campbell Avenue is the nearest street to the castle. Alternatively, one can park in the town centre and walk up to Kerelaw by following the river pathway starting at NS 267 421. If travelling by bus, one can alight at Stevenston Cross or in the neighbouring Hayocks housing estate (the No. 18 goes through Hayocks).

Upstream from Kerelaw Glen it is possible to follow the burn for a few hundred metres (look for the gap in the fence at NS 269 431). However, the path is informal at best and the birdlife in this Hawthorn scrub is not often inspiring. It is quite a pleasant stretch though and is worth exploring.

Glen Banks lies a kilometre upstream from Kerelaw. Unfortunately, one cannot simply follow the Stevenston Burn upstream to reach Glen Banks; from Kerelaw, it can be reached by following the network of country roads for one mile from Kerelaw (NS 269 431), under the bypass (NS 266 436) to the ford (NS 264 438). Glen Banks lies just upstream of the ford. This wooded glen is deceptively long and can be followed upstream for over 500m. Unlike Kerelaw, the wood consists almost entirely of Beech, Elm, Ash, and Hawthorn. Geological features such as river cliffs and a small waterfall add to the glen’s beauty. There is no formal footpath along the glen: it’s a bit of a scramble.

Birds

Some of the more interesting breeding birds at Kerelaw include Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Mistle Thrush, Tawny Owl, and Grey Wagtail. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk are seen throughout the year. Outside of the breeding season things are a lot quieter, but Tit/Finch/Treecreeper/Goldcrest flocks can often be encountered and Great Spotted Woodpecker are occasionally seen. Buzzard frequent the nearby countryside and occasionally visit the glen in winter.

The scrubby stretch of river immediately upstream from Kerelaw Glen supports a typical variety of breeding birds, including Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, and Song Thrush. In autumn, the vegetation provides feeding for flocks of Goldfinches and winter thrushes.

Glen Banks supports pretty much the same variety of birds as Kerelaw; however Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, and Goldcrest are more often encountered at Glen Banks.

In winter, the stubble fields between Kerelaw Glen and Glen Banks attract Linnet, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, and the occasional Yellowhammer.

Notes

  • Scrambling up the glen at Glen Banks can be quite physically demanding: the burn has to be crossed several times, there is usually a lot of mud to be walked through, and there are several low-hanging tree branches to duck under or climb over. Choosing to explore the glen when the ground is dry will make things a lot easier.
  • Although there is no formal footpath at Glen Banks, cows sometimes graze in the glen and so there is a muddy livestock path leading almost all the way upstream. However, this is more of a hindrance than a help because it simply creates more mud to contend with.
  • For those who don’t fancy walking up the glen, there is often a surprising amount of birdlife in the area around the ford and it is worth spending a few minutes wandering about here.
  • Because of the small size of the woodland at Kerelaw, winter birding can be pretty hit-or-miss.

Garnock East

Location and Access

Garnock East boasts a wide variety of habitats: an area of mature woodland, consisting mainly of Sycamore, Willow, Ash, and Pine species; a flooded Alder wood; a sizeable area of almost impenetrable Hawthorn/Bramble/Gorse scrub; 8 large ponds and several smaller ones; marshland; extensive sedge and iris beds; a large stretch of estuary; and pockets of rough grassland and heathland.

Formerly owned by ICI, this site was once off limits to the public. However, nowadays people are allowed to walk around the site freely. There are various informal pathways and old industrial tracks to follow.

If travelling by car, one can park in the informal car park beside Bogside Racecourse (NS307400). Follow the old racecourse track northwest and one can access Garnock East from the northwest or southwest corners of the racecourse. If travelling by bus, one can alight beside Irvine Royal Academy. Walk along Sandy Road, crossing the railway (at NS311402) and Bogside Golf Course before reaching the aforementioned car park at NS307400. The Cunninghame Cycleway runs nearest to the site at NS312403.

The Upper Garnock Estuary

Breeding Season

The estuary is at its quietest during late May and June. Shelduck, Eider, and Mute Swan breed along the estuary. There is a large Sand Martin colony in the sand cliffs along the estuary. Common Sandpiper breeds a little bit further upstream. By early June Lapwing are already beginning to congregate for return migration and a sizeable moulting flock of Goosander is starting to build up.

Autumn and Winter

During an autumn high tide, the upper estuary’s saltmarsh is a hive of activity. Several hundred Lapwing roost here along with a few dozen Curlew. Greenshank numbers remain in double figures throughout most of autumn passage and they can usually be seen roosting with the Lapwing on the saltmarsh. Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe, and Common Sandpiper are some of the more frequently encountered species at low tide; Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, and Little Stint have all been seen on the upper estuary during return passage.

Wildfowl passage is also noticeable during autumn, with small numbers of Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pink-footed Goose, and Whooper Swan stopping off on migration. By October, large numbers of Teal, Wigeon, and Mallard are present. Goldeneye, Little Grebe, and Red-breasted Merganser are present throughout the winter and small parties of Shoveler and Whooper Swan occasionally drop in. A wide variety of other wildfowl have been seen: Great Crested Grebe, Scaup, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Bewick’s Swan, and American Wigeon have all been recorded on the upper estuary.

During winter, most waders favour Bogside; however, Greenshank shows a distinct preference for the upper reaches of the estuary and this stretch of river supports a significant wintering population. Small groups of Common Snipe can usually be seen roosting or foraging between the saltmarsh and the mudflats.

Garnock East Ponds (NS 299 412)

The ponds support a large (and noisy) breeding population of Water Rail. Little Grebe, Mallard, Moorhen, and several pairs of Mute Swan also breed. There are about 100 territories each of Willow and Sedge Warbler, concentrated around the ponds. Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Bunting, and Whitethroat also breed around the ponds.

Mallard flocks can become quite large during autumn and close inspection sometimes reveals the odd Gadwall. The ponds support surprisingly little in the way of wintering wildfowl. However, a few Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Mallard, Wigeon, and Teal can usually be found – the latter being particularly fond of the flooded Alder wood.

Garnock East Woods (NS 298 405)

The woodland contains a good variety of breeding birds, including Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch, and Goldfinch. The scrubbier, eastern parts of Garnock East boast Stonechat, Common Whitethroat, and Lesser Whitethroat.

The Garnock East wood is often busy in winter. Flocks of Goldcrest, Treecreeper, and Long-tailed Tit are usually encountered. Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, and sometimes Redpoll can be found feeding among the Alders. Bullfinch is frequent in the dense scrub at the south east of the site. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are often encountered.

The Garnock East Farm Pool (NS 00 419)

The pool supports breeding Coot, Moorhen, and Mallard. Teal turn up throughout the summer, although breeding hasn’t been confirmed. The pool is good for Green Sandpiper on passage. Garganey and Black-tailed Godwit have also been seen. The pool can be very quiet in winter, but Teal and Wigeon can sometimes be seen and Common Snipe are often flushed.

Notes

  • In this article, I give the label Upper Garnock Estuary to the stretch of estuary upstream of the disused McGowan Bridge at NS 99 297.
  • A visit to the upper estuary during any phase of the tide cycle can be productive. However, when the tide is at its lowest, the upper estuary becomes a patchwork of silt islands and small creeks/rivulets and birds are often hidden in the contours of the exposed river bed.
  • As the tide rises, the flooding saltmarsh becomes a magnet for dabbling ducks. It can be quite a spectacle to see the many hundreds of ducks congregate in such a relatively small area. It is at this time – when the ducks are most active – that you can often pick out rarer ducks that were previously elusive (e.g. that were perhaps hidden in a nook in the saltmarsh or roosting inconspicuously with some Wigeon). But note that high tide isn’t always high enough to flood the saltmarsh.
  • During frosty weather, when inland water bodies are frozen, duck numbers inflate significantly and there is a greater chance of encountering some of the more unusual wildfowl species.
  • The Garnock East farm pool is usually surrounded by a large number of bulls. Care should be taken when going anywhere near these animals.
  • Unlike most of the former ICI grounds, Garnock East is open to the public. It should be noted that the energetics industry is still active across the river on the Ardeer Peninsula, and if, by way of vandalised security fences, one has the opportunity to wander onto the peninsula over one of the old bridges – don’t take it!

Ardeer Fen and River Garnock at Stevenston

Location and Access

Ardeer Fen is an area of fenland 1km in length and (at its widest) slightly over 200m in breadth. It is bordered by a large area of industrial “wasteland” (the old ICI grounds), now largely reclaimed by nature and consisting of many square miles of woodland, grassland, heathland, and wetland. The River Garnock, where it first turns distinctly estuarine, flows near the fen and into the grounds of ICI, emerging two kilometres downstream at Bogside.

There is a small parking area at NS287422, beside which is an access gate to Todhill Country Centre Community Woodland. A path leads through the plantation to the fen. A good view over the area can be had from the top of the old bridge at NS291419. After crossing the bridge, one can scramble down the embankment on the right to get onto the sand quarry’s access road. (One can also scramble down the embankment on the left, follow the foot-worn path along the ICI boundary fence, and emerge further down the access road). Head east (away from Stevenston) along the access road until it crosses a small burn (at NS294421). At this point step off the road (to your right) and into the livestock field. Keeping right, follow the edge of the field for about 250m until you reach the River Garnock.

Birds

In summer the area is jumping with passerines: Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Stonechat are all present. Wheatear can be seen on passage. During the breeding season, Common Sandpiper is present on this stretch of the River Garnock. Mallard, Moorhen, and Water Rail breed in the fen.

The area is much quieter in winter. Redwing, Fieldfare, and Starling are frequent in winter, roosting in large flocks. Hen Harrier has been seen hawking in winter, and Marsh Harrier has been seen on passage. In previous years, the fen held large numbers of Snipe and the occasional Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank; however, succession at the site has led to a decline in wader species. Outside of the breeding season, the River Garnock, where it enters the old ICI grounds, holds Cormorant, Red-Breasted Merganser, Goosander, Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, and Goldeneye, as well as some of the commoner waders, such as Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, and passage Greenshank.

Grey Heron are present in good numbers all year round. Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, and Kestrel are also highly visible throughout the year.

Notes

  • Todhill Community Woodland is a good place to get views of obliging Grasshopper Warbler: the site holds many reeling males and birds frequently perch on the young saplings. Indeed, the saplings and fence posts in the plantation provide ample opportunities to digiscope Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, and Meadow Pipit.
  • When approaching the River Garnock across the livestock field, care should be taken to remain hidden behind the hawthorns which separate the field from the river – a clumsy approach can send most of the birds on the river skiting back into ICI. Similarly, viewing the birds from further upstream is usually a good idea.
  • The noisy trucks that transport sand from the quarry on site do not run at the weekend.
  • In winter, the Fen can be very unproductive. It is at its busiest in May.

Ardeer Quarry

Location and Access

Ardeer Quarry (also known as Ardeer Recreational Grounds and Stevenston Park) encompasses a variety of habitats: there are several areas of marshy grassland, a small loch, an even smaller pond, areas of scrub, and a large tree plantation (planted around 1990). Those with a vehicle can park in the small car park at the end of Moorpark Road East. Pedestrian/cycle access can also be had at the other end of the grounds, at the very bottom of Dubbs Road/ Highfield Drive.

A concrete path circles the loch and the Cunninghame Cycleway runs through the area. Walking around the disused playing fields allows closer inspection of the plantation in front of Highfield Drive.

Birds

In summer, the main loch holds Mallard, Moorhen, a pair of Mute Swan, and, in some years, Little Grebe. In winter, these birds are joined by a small flock of Tufted Duck. By the middle of winter, one or two Goldeneye are usually present. Teal visit occasionally, especially during cold weather. Every few weeks a Pochard or a Scaup drops in. Unusual records for the loch include Great Crested Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Shoveler, Wigeon, and Little Auk. The main loch’s contributory ditch occasionally turns up Water Rail and Kingfisher.

The small pond further east holds breeding Mallard, Moorhen, and Little Grebe. In winter it is largely deserted, save for a few Mallard.

As well as the common tits and finches, the woodland and scrubland hold breeding Bullfinch, Blackcap, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. The rough grassland holds several pairs of Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, and Grasshopper Warbler.

In winter, Bullfinch can often be found in the trees bordering the cycle path. The Alders often attract large flocks of Siskin and Goldfinch. Small flocks of Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, and Treecreeper are also frequent. Winter thrushes are often encountered. Great Spotted Woodpecker is present throughout the year.

Snipe or Woodcock are regularly flushed – often by straying dogs – from the ditches and damp woodland around the site.

Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, and Kestrel are often seen.

Notes

The best time to visit Ardeer Quarry is during calm, frosty weather in winter. Duck numbers/variety increase slightly, Water Rail can turn up, and tit and finch flocks are relatively easy to locate.

Many birders stop off only briefly at Ardeer Quarry to inspect the birdlife on the main loch, parking in the nearby car park and often setting up their telescopes only a few metres from their car. However, some of the loch’s more unusual wildfowl can often be found behind the island so it is well worth taking the short trip to check this side of the island out.

A short trip along the cycle path from the main loch to where the path crosses the contributory ditch (at NS 274 415) is your best bet if you want to maximise your chances of encountering Water Rail or Kingfisher. Water Rail are particularly fond of the stretch of ditch upstream of the cycle path.

Car park at edge of park. High kerbs. Metalled footpaths, narrow and muddy in places, one steep slope near pond.

Garnock East

Location and Access

Garnock East boasts a wide variety of habitats: an area of mature woodland, consisting mainly of Sycamore, Willow, Ash, and Pine species; a flooded Alder wood; a sizeable area of almost impenetrable Hawthorn/Bramble/Gorse scrub; 8 large ponds and several smaller ones; marshland; extensive sedge and iris beds; a large stretch of estuary; and pockets of rough grassland and heathland.

Formerly owned by ICI, this site was once off limits to the public. However, nowadays people are allowed to walk around the site freely. There are various informal pathways and old industrial tracks to follow.

If travelling by car, one can park in the informal car park beside Bogside Racecourse (NS307400). Follow the old racecourse track northwest and one can access Garnock East from the northwest or southwest corners of the racecourse. If travelling by bus, one can alight beside Irvine Royal Academy. Walk along Sandy Road, crossing the railway (at NS311402) and Bogside Golf Course before reaching the aforementioned car park at NS307400. The Cunninghame Cycleway runs nearest to the site at NS312403.

The Upper Garnock Estuary

Breeding Season

The estuary is at its quietest during late May and June. Shelduck, Eider, and Mute Swan breed along the estuary. There is a large Sand Martin colony in the sand cliffs along the estuary. Common Sandpiper breeds a little bit further upstream. By early June Lapwing are already beginning to congregate for return migration and a sizeable moulting flock of Goosander is starting to build up.

Autumn and Winter

During an autumn high tide, the upper estuary’s saltmarsh is a hive of activity. Several hundred Lapwing roost here along with a few dozen Curlew. Greenshank numbers remain in double figures throughout most of autumn passage and they can usually be seen roosting with the Lapwing on the saltmarsh. Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe, and Common Sandpiper are some of the more frequently encountered species at low tide; Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, and Little Stint have all been seen on the upper estuary during return passage.

Wildfowl passage is also noticeable during autumn, with small numbers of Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pink-footed Goose, and Whooper Swan stopping off on migration. By October, large numbers of Teal, Wigeon, and Mallard are present. Goldeneye, Little Grebe, and Red-breasted Merganser are present throughout the winter and small parties of Shoveler and Whooper Swan occasionally drop in. A wide variety of other wildfowl have been seen: Great Crested Grebe, Scaup, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Bewick’s Swan, and American Wigeon have all been recorded on the upper estuary.

During winter, most waders favour Bogside; however, Greenshank shows a distinct preference for the upper reaches of the estuary and this stretch of river supports a significant wintering population. Small groups of Common Snipe can usually be seen roosting or foraging between the saltmarsh and the mudflats.

Garnock East Ponds (NS 299 412)

The ponds support a large (and noisy) breeding population of Water Rail. Little Grebe, Mallard, Moorhen, and several pairs of Mute Swan also breed. There are about 100 territories each of Willow and Sedge Warbler, concentrated around the ponds. Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Bunting, and Whitethroat also breed around the ponds.

Mallard flocks can become quite large during autumn and close inspection sometimes reveals the odd Gadwall. The ponds support surprisingly little in the way of wintering wildfowl. However, a few Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Mallard, Wigeon, and Teal can usually be found – the latter being particularly fond of the flooded Alder wood.

Garnock East Woods (NS 298 405)

The woodland contains a good variety of breeding birds, including Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch, and Goldfinch. The scrubbier, eastern parts of Garnock East boast Stonechat, Common Whitethroat, and Lesser Whitethroat.

The Garnock East wood is often busy in winter. Flocks of Goldcrest, Treecreeper, and Long-tailed Tit are usually encountered. Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, and sometimes Redpoll can be found feeding among the Alders. Bullfinch is frequent in the dense scrub at the south east of the site. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are often encountered.

The Garnock East Farm Pool (NS 00 419)

The pool supports breeding Coot, Moorhen, and Mallard. Teal turn up throughout the summer, although breeding hasn’t been confirmed. The pool is good for Green Sandpiper on passage. Garganey and Black-tailed Godwit have also been seen. The pool can be very quiet in winter, but Teal and Wigeon can sometimes be seen and Common Snipe are often flushed.

Notes

  • In this article, I give the label Upper Garnock Estuary to the stretch of estuary upstream of the disused McGowan Bridge at NS 99 297.
  • A visit to the upper estuary during any phase of the tide cycle can be productive. However, when the tide is at its lowest, the upper estuary becomes a patchwork of silt islands and small creeks/rivulets and birds are often hidden in the contours of the exposed river bed.
  • As the tide rises, the flooding saltmarsh becomes a magnet for dabbling ducks. It can be quite a spectacle to see the many hundreds of ducks congregate in such a relatively small area. It is at this time – when the ducks are most active – that you can often pick out rarer ducks that were previously elusive (e.g. that were perhaps hidden in a nook in the saltmarsh or roosting inconspicuously with some Wigeon). But note that high tide isn’t always high enough to flood the saltmarsh.
  • During frosty weather, when inland water bodies are frozen, duck numbers inflate significantly and there is a greater chance of encountering some of the more unusual wildfowl species.
  • The Garnock East farm pool is usually surrounded by a large number of bulls. Care should be taken when going anywhere near these animals.
  • Unlike most of the former ICI grounds, Garnock East is open to the public. It should be noted that the energetics industry is still active across the river on the Ardeer Peninsula, and if, by way of vandalised security fences, one has the opportunity to wander onto the peninsula over one of the old bridges – don’t take it!

Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park

Location and Access

Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, in west central Scotland, extends from Greenock in the north down the Clyde coast to Inverkip, Largs and West Kilbride in North Ayrshire and inland to Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire.

(Editor’s Note: This Park covers three local authority areas: Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire. If you are submitting records from a visit to the Park, please check which area you are in and send them to the appropriate County Recorder).

The Park covers over 100 square miles of magnificent countryside that includes mixed woodland, moorland, lochs, wetlands and coastline ideal for seeing a wide variety of birds.

A day trip could take in three habitats (wetland, woodland and moorland) by combining a trip to the RSPB Lochwinnoch reserve with a walk in Parkhill Wood (part of Castle Semple Country Park) and a visit to Muirshiel Visitor Centre and Country Park. (Lochwinnoch is just north of Beith, North Ayrshire on the A737)

  • Castle Semple Loch/RSPB Lochwinnoch: Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull, good wintering wildfowl e.g. Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Water Rail.
  • Parkhill Wood: spring/summer – Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler on lochside
  • Muirshiel: Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Raven, Stonechat, Wheatear, Dipper, Grey and Pied Wagtail, Red Grouse, Cuckoo. Possible: Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Short-eared Owl. Hen Harrier CCTV viewing project with guided walks and dedicated Project Officer runs April to August.

Or stop in a car park on the A78 Largs coast road at the mouth of he Noddsdale Water before heading up Brisbane Glen to the open moorland of the Renfewshire Heights SSSI (confirmed in January 2007 for its breeding Hen Harriers) and native woods of Shielhill Glen and the Park’s Cornalees Visitor Centre (Inverclyde).

A Countryside Ranger Service works throughout the Regional Park covering education, conservation and access promotion. There is an information desk, gift shop, toilets, woodland walks and nature trails at each Visitor Centre as well as an event lists that includes outdoor activity courses and taster sessions, children’s activities, guided walks, green-wood working displays and exhibitions.

View west

Castle Semple Visitor Centre

Bluebells in Parkhill Wood

Cornalees Visitor Centre

Loch Thom and Corlick Hill

Path to Windy Hill

Birds

Resident breeding species:
Finches (Chaf, Bull, Green, Gold, Linnet); Tits (Great, Blue, Coal); Thrush (Song, Mistle); Blackbird, Robin, Meadow Pipit, Pheasant, Red Grouse, Grey Partridge, Owl (Tawny, Barn, Short-eared); Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Curlew, Woodcock, Common Snipe, Stonechat, Kestrel, Stock Dove, Cuckoo, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Wagtail (Pied, Grey); Tree Sparrow, Treecreeper, Siskin, Redshank, Swift, Skylark, Carrion Crow, Rook, Raven, Jackdaw, Wren, Dipper, Eider, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Linnet, Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Dunnock.
Resident (but non-breeding)
Dunlin, Long-eared Owl (formally breeding)
Winter visitors
Greylag Goose (now also breeding in small numbers), Fieldfare, Redwing, Crossbill, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit.
Occasional visitors
Waxwing, Red Throated Diver, Shoveler, Pink Footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Osprey, Peregrine, Merlin, Water Rail, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart, Black Grouse, Brambling, Golden Eagle, Red Kite, Nuthatch, Goldcrest.
Wildfowl and water birds
Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye, Long Tailed Duck, Smew, Red Breasted Merganser, Goosander, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Moorhen, Coot, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Oystercatcher, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Ringed Plover, Pintail, Wigeon, Redshank, Greenshank.
Summer migrants
Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Whinchat.

Sites within Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park

Castle Semple Visitor Centre and Country Park

Located in Lochwinnoch, just off the A737 Irvine to Glasgow road on the shores of Castle Semple Loch. Open daily throughout the year with refreshments, and easy access into Parkhill Wood or a stroll along the loch. The Sustrans cycle route from Glasgow to Irvine conveniently passes by the Centre where you can hire mountain bikes or row boats and canoes. Outdoor activity courses and taster sessions such as sailing and kayaking are also available from Castle Semple Centre. Phone 01505 842 882. RSPB Nature Reserve at Lochwinnoch is located nearby.

Muirshiel Visitor Centre and Country Park

Located 6km north-west of Lochwinnoch at the top of Calder Glen, Muirshiel provides access to great walking country and the Renfewshire Heights SSSI. The Clyde Muirshiel Hen Harrier Viewing Project is based at the Centre, with a dedicated Project Officer in post April to August. There are woodland and moorland walks, BBQ and archery sites. Grid reference NS 19 630. Phone 01505 842 803

Cornalees Visitor Centre and Loch Thom

Located near Inverkip beside Loch Thom at the top of Brisbane Glen, Cornalees provides a great access point to the Greenock and Kelly Cuts for level walks with panoramic views of the Clyde and islands or a wonder in the native wood of Shielhill Glen. Highlights of the Clyde Muirshiel Hen Harrier Project can be viewed at the Centre as well as the resident breeding swallows. Grid reference NS 248 721. Phone 01475 521 458

Barnbrock

Located 6km north of Lochwinnoch is the Park Headquarters and is also the location of the Park’s attractive rural campsite that includes eight wooden shielings. They sleep -4 people and need to be booked in advance. Telephone 01505 614 791 in office hours or 01505 842 882 at weekends. Woodland walks nearby include a link route to Muirshiel Country Park. Grid reference NS 56 640.

Lunderston Bay

Located 2km north of Inverkip (NS 203 736) is the nearest sandy beach to Glasgow and is popular for coastal walks and a children’s adventure playground as well as sighting of many coastal birds.

Contact

Clyde Muirshiel Ranger Service
Castle Semple Centre
Lochlip Road
Lochwinnoch
PA12 4EA

Email: info@clydemuirshiel.co.uk

Capringstone

Location and Access

Capringstone Flash is a flooded field beside the Annick Water on the eastern edge of Irvine at NS 56 89. The best place to view is from the minor (though wide and busy) road from Bourtreehill to Springside where it crosses the River Annick at NS 56 87. Given how busy the road is, please park with care.

A cycle track running parallel to the road passes close to this site. This track continues to Kilmarnock via Springside.


No suitable place to park.

National Route 73 passes the site. This forms part of the Irvine Circular Trail.

Birds

The flash has breeding Mallard, Mute Swan, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen and Snipe. Swallow and House Martin breed in the nearby farms and houses, and feed over the water. Flocks of Lapwing and Curlew roost around the flash. Grey Heron can often be seen. In winter, the flash can become busy with wildfowl such as Teal, Mallard, Mute Swan, Shoveler and Wigeon (up to 400) with Green-winged Teal a recent rarity. During passage the site attracts birds such as Common and Green Sandpiper, and Garganey (2 males were present in spring 2002). Kingfisher are regular in the adjacent Annick Water.