Birdwatching in Fife

 

Birdwatching in Fife

Extracted, with revisions, from the SOC Guide to Bird Watching in Fife (1991).

 

Introduction

FIFE is an excellent place in which to watch birds. This is partly because the region, although fairly small by Scottish standards, covers a surprisingly great variety of habitats, almost all of which are easily reached by public road or track. But it is also because Fife is surrounded on three sides by water. At migration time this increases the chance of interesting and unusual birds of passage, and it provides good sea-watching at all times of the year.

Fife is predominantly rural, with the small industrial belt lying in central and west Fife. The Kingdom is bounded to the north by the Tay Estuary (stretching from Newburgh out past Tentsmuir Point) and to the south by the huge Firth of Forth. At the eastern tip of Fife lie Fife Ness and the North Sea.

North-east Fife is rich, cultivated, arable land, with few trees and hedgerows. The River Eden runs through Cupar and opens into a two-mile long estuary at Guardbridge, by the historic university and golf town of St Andrews. The East Neuk is the collective term for the south-east fishing villages of Crail, Anstruther, Cellardyke, Elie, Pittenweem and St Monans.

Fife contains almost no natural woodland of any size, with the two biggest areas of trees being the forestry plantations at Tentsmuir and Devilla Forests. The long Fife coastline is composed of both rocky shore and sandy beaches. The Isle of May lies about 5 miles south of Crail at the entrance to the Firth of Forth.

The top Fife sites are covered in detail further below but there are a number of other sites which can prove worth a visit. Lochs and reservoirs include Ballo Reservoir (NO225050) and Holl Reservoir (NO226037) on the southern flanks of the Lomond Hills. They have been known to have hosted a few Tundra Swans during the winter. Lindores Loch (NO265165) has all the common wildfowl in good numbers and in west Fife, Craigluscar Reservoir (NT070906), near Dunfermline, is also worth checking out.

Devilla Forest (NS960890) is a commercial coniferous forest with lochs so a good variety of wildfowl and woodland species can be found in the area which covers over 700 hectares.

Fife has few upland areas but in the west of the Kingdom are the Cleish Hills (NT043958) and more central the Lomond Hills near Falkland and Leslie (NO198067 – NO244062).

There is often a good autumn passage of skuas and terns in the Firth of Forth, best viewed in Fife from Kinghorn Harbour (NT261851), North Queensferry (NT134804) and Inverkeithing Harbour (NT130822).

Finally the Isle of May (NT650995) in the Firth of Forth would be considered the top birding spot in Fife but it is covered separately in the SOC Site Guide.

Cameron Reservoir (NO472112)

Description

A former 40 hectare reservoir situated four kilometres south-west of St Andrews. The south bank is planted with conifers and has fairly thick cover along the shoreline. The north side is more open, with scrub and mainly broad-leaved trees. A marsh adjoins the west bank and all parts are connected by a circular path. There is a hide accessible to Scottish Wildlife Trust and SOC members.

Access

Take the A915 St Andrews – Largoward road and after three kilometres turn right along the farm road signposted Cameron Reservoir. There is a car park at the end of the track, beside the east embankment.

Birds

Cameron is internationally important as a Pink-footed Goose roost although, it has to be said, numbers have decreased in recent years. Smaller numbers of other geese appear irregularly and, among various ducks, there is the possibility of Smew, Greater Scaup, Red-necked or Slavonian Grebe turning up. Short-eared Owls frequent the marsh and Long-eared and Tawny Owls are often present. Smaller birds to be seen include European Siskin in winter and Willow Warbler and the occasional Common Grasshopper Warbler in summer, with Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting and Goldcrest throughout the year. Migrating waders possible include Spotted Redshank, Ruff and sandpipers.

Birnie & Gaddon Lochs (NO282128)

Description

Formerly sand and gravel pits, this site has recently been restored as a wetland with full public access. Both lochs have islands and there is excellent surrounding grassland with many weed species suitable for finches.

Access

From the A91 between Cupar and Auchtermuchty, take the B937 south. A car park and circular footpaths are accessed on the left approximately 250 metres from the junction with the A91.

Birds

A good number of duck species can be seen including Goosander, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard and Eurasian Teal. Common Snipe and Water Rail breed. Passerines to be seen are Yellowhammer, European Goldfinch and Common Linnet. Passage waders noted previously on the reserve include Green Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit, and Little Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper have put in an appearance in recent years. There is a large gull roost in winter.

Denburn Wood, Crail (NO614081)

Description

Denburn Wood covers a very small area but contains a variety of mature broad-leaved trees with a good understorey of shrubs. A slow moving burn runs throughout the wood and nearby are a cemetery, churchyard and grassy fields.

Access

In Crail, take the Fife Ness road, signposted Balcomie, and park by the Church. Access to the wood is along the road and through a wooden gate.

Birds

A number of common birds can be seen throughout the year but the wood is at its best after a fall of migrants in the autumn. Rarities seen include Yellow-browed Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Thrush Nightingale and Rosy Starling.

Eden Estuary (NO480195)

Description

This small estuary, a local Nature Reserve and an SSSI, is one of the least polluted estuaries in Scotland. It holds great numbers of birds throughout the year but most especially in winter.

Access

The estuary is covered by bye-laws preventing disturbance to the main feeding and roosting areas. Access to the outer estuary and the tidal area above Guardbridge is unrestricted. Car parking is available at Guardbridge (NO455189) and Outhead (NO494197). There is a new public hide on the Guardbridge-Leuchars road next to the paper mill. A permit is required for the North Shore and a key for the public hide in Balgove Bay, both of which can be obtained from Fife Ranger Service, Silverburn House, Largo Road, Leven KY8 5PU – Telephone 01333-429785.

Birds

This outstanding site for passage and wintering wildfowl and waders can have 15,000 birds feeding and roosting during the cycle of the tides. Common Shelduck and Red-breasted Merganser reach internationally important numbers whilst Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank are found in nationally important numbers. During passage time Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Little Stint are usually seen. The Eden has the most northerly wintering flock of Black-tailed Godwit in Britain and Snow Bunting is a regular winter visitor. Peregrine is regularly seen in winter but Merlin only occasionally.

Fife Ness (NO639098)

Description

For our purposes Fife Ness covers the peninsula eastwards from Crail. The major habitats are rocky shore, farmland and scrub but there is also a sandy bay, a tidal pond and ‘The Patch’ (officially called Fife Ness Muir), a small area near the Coastguard Station which has been extensively planted with trees and shrubs. It is an SWT reserve as is the Kilminning Coast, a 0.8 kilometre coastal strip towards Crail. Also worth a visit during the migration period is the walled garden at Balcomie Farm.

Access

Take the Balcomie road from Crail all the way to park in the golf club car park (paying your fee to the golf starter). Alternatively towards the end of the old airfield (opposite the turn-off for Balcomie Farm), turn right and follow the track down to the Council picnic area which marks the start of the Kilminning Coast reserve. Walk eastwards to Fife Ness following the coastal footpath.

Birds

Sea watching is of interest, especially during the passage season when shearwaters, skuas, terns and divers can be seen. The Patch and Kilminning are havens for migrant passerines including Black Redstart, Eurasian Wryneck, Bluethroat and Red-backed Shrike in the spring and Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler and thrushes and flycatchers in the autumn.

Kilconquhar Loch (NO488018)

Description

A loch of 55 hectares situated about two miles inland close to the village of Kilconquhar. It is uniformly shallow and probably the best inland site for duck in Fife.

Access

Enter the village of Kilconquhar and park near the church. Access to a viewing stance is through the gate into the churchyard and following the path down to a gap in the hedge. Fife Bird Club members have access to a nearby hide which is situated by the lochside, within the grounds of the Estate.

Birds

Most of the year it is possible to see Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Common Goldeneye, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Common Coot and Common Moorhen. Ruddy Duck were also regular but Kilconquhar Loch was one of the places chosen for part of the national cull of the species. In the trees and reeds there are Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat. In recent years Eurasian Reed Warblers have become commoner on passage. Unusual species seen at this site have been Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Red-crested Pochard, Smew and Garganey.

Largo Bay (NO420010)

Description

Largo Bay has an eight kilometre sandy beach stretching from the River Leven eastward, through Lower Largo, to the Cocklemill Burn (NO468013) and Ruddon’s Point (NO454005). The bay is tidal, with mud, sand and rocky outcrops in particular around Lower Largo.

Access

The whole eight kilometres make a good walk and the beach is accessible at various points. In Leven there is a car park opposite the old Power Station and parking is available at the east end of Lower Largo. Kincraig Caravan Site gives easy access to Ruddon’s Point and Cocklemill Burn but, if you take the car all the way into the park, there is a charge payable and the gates close at 4pm from October to April.

Birds

This is one of the best areas in Fife to see large numbers of divers, grebes and sea-duck in winter and one of the best areas in Britain to see Surf Scoter. The bay between Largo and Ruddon’s Point is the best area for Red-necked Grebe and Slavonian Grebe. Sea duck can be present in spectacular numbers around the outfall of the River Leven by the Power Station. However the Power Station was closed at the beginning of 2000 and the warm water outflow, which has long been thought to attract the birds, will no longer be flowing. Duck regularly seen include Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Black and Velvet Scoter, Common Goldeneye and Common Eider. Sanderling, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and sometimes Purple Sandpiper are among the many wader species to be found. In recent years Iceland and Mediterranean Gulls have been regular visitors to Leven.

Loch Gelly (NT201925)

Description

This is a large loch situated east of Cowdenbeath and to the south of the Fife Regional Road (A92). It has an excellent wetland at its western end with extensive reedbeds where a muddy spit is the central feature.

Access

From the A92 take the B9149 signposted Lochgelly, but immediately turn south towards Auchtertool. Park in the first opening by the lochside and a flight of steps leads to the water’s edge. Alternatively approach from Auchtertool, park at the east end of the loch and follow a rough footpath along the shore to the reedbeds.

Birds

Most duck and waders have been seen with a few of the unusual visitors being Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes, Tundra Swan, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Garganey, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Black Tern and Common Grasshopper Warbler.

Lochore Meadows Country Park (NT165955)

Description

This site has undergone a remarkable transformation from mining wasteland to beautiful countryside. Coniferous and deciduous plantations merge with grassland around a large loch and two ponds. The latter form part of a very interesting Nature Reserve.

Access

The main car park is approached from Crosshill and situated at the visitor centre. There is a public unroofed hide at the west end, overlooking the Nature Reserve. Approach from the B990, park at NT151949 and follow signs for access to this hide, which can also be reached by footpaths from the visitor centre.

Birds

Tufted Duck, Common Pochard and Common Coot are most common on the loch where a Ring-necked Duck took up residence for a few weeks at the beginning of 2001. Great Crested and Little Grebes, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Gadwall, and the occasional Whooper and Tundra Swan frequent the nature reserve ponds. Eurasian Woodcock breed in Harran Hill Wood where Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler can be heard and seen in early summer. Whinchat and Common Cuckoo breed in the open peaty ground between the loch and the ponds. Short-eared Owl and large flock of Eurasian Siskin and Lesser Redpoll feature in winter, with the occasional Mealy Redpoll.

St Andrews Bay (NO504180)

Description

This is a shallow tidal bay bounded by approximately six kilometres of coastline from Outhead, at the mouth of the Eden Estuary, to Kinkell Ness. There is a long sandy beach, the West Sands, backed by a narrow strip of dunes, rocky shore with low cliffs at St Andrews and a smaller beach, the East Sands, to the south of the harbour.

Access

Car parking (free during the winter months) is available anywhere along the West Sands road, reached by driving past the Golf Museum, and at the entrance to the Eden Estuary Local Nature Reserve at Outhead. St Andrews Castle is an excellent vantage point (worth the entrance fee), as is the harbour pier. To reach the East Sands, walk along the shore from the harbour or, by car, turn down Abbey Walk (A917 to Crail) and, after about one kilometre, turn left at the parking sign.

Birds

More than 100 species have been recorded in the bay. Divers, grebes and sea-duck, such as Greater Scaup and Long-tailed Duck, are present throughout the winter months during which one of the largest flocks of Black and Velvet Scoter in Scotland builds up. Purple Sandpiper is present in small numbers during the winter and the area is also good for rarer passage waders such as Whimbrel, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Late summer is excellent for Arctic, Great and Long-tailed Skuas with Manx Shearwater often seen offshore. Surf Scoter is a regular winter visitor.

Tentsmuir (NO485250 & NO505280)

Description

This huge part of the Fife peninsula contains some of the most interesting habitats in the region. It has one of the largest and oldest Forestry Commission plantations in lowland Scotland, covering some 2500 hectares. On the seaward side of the forest are extensive and dynamic dune systems, the northerly part of which is a National Nature Reserve adjoining the Tay Estuary.

Access

Public vehicular access is restricted to Kinshaldy (NO500237) where the Forestry Commission provides a car park and visitor facilities. There is a no restriction on pedestrian access but it is a long beach.

Birds

Many species breed including Eurasian Woodcock, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers as well as all the common species of tits and finches. Along the shoreline Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Terns feed and Arctic and Great Skuas are common in late summer. There is a large moulting flock of Goosander off Tayport in the autumn. Large flocks of sea-duck gather in winter with Black and Velvet Scoters and Red-breasted Merganser reaching relatively high numbers but none exceeding the winter flock of up to 20,000 Common Eider which have been counted in the outer Tay estuary in the past. In recent winters a drake King Eider has been present in the flock although it can be very elusive. Many species of wader are best seen from Tentsmuir Point at high tide.

Useful links

Find out more about SOC Fife branch

Visit the Fife recording area page

Go back to the where to birdwatch menu