Northern Seas & Coasts: Ornithological highlights from Scotlands northern waters

  • Scotland's Bird Club

    Scottish Birdwatchers' Conference



21 March 2020


£35 incl. VAT per person, £25 students and under 25s


Registration from 9am


Elgin Town Hall, 1 Trinity Place, Elgin, IV30 1UL

Every year the Club arranges a one-day Scottish Birdwatchers’ Conference, organised by a local branch of the SOC, in conjunction with our partners, BTO Scotland. This years' theme explores birds and other marine life along Scotland's northern shores. 

Northern Seas & Coasts:
Ornithological highlights from Scotland's northern waters

Elgin Town Hall, 1 Trinity Place, Elgin, IV30 1UL

Presentations: Saturday 21st March 2020

Field trips (optional): Sunday 22nd March 2020


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Conference costs

Rates are per person and include registration fee, lunch and teas/coffees.

The charge for the conference is £35 (incl. vat) per person. A limited number of discounted places are available to under-25s and students, priced at £25. We regret that no refunds can be issued after 8 March.



Registration and tea/coffee

Welcome and introduction - Ian Bainbridge

The marine environment - Setting the scene - Colin Moffat

Overview of seabirds of the northern seas - Daisy Burnell


Moray Firth Curlew studies - Bob Swann

A breeding study of Greenshanks in coastal Northern Sutherland - Ron Summers

The birdwatcher's year in Spey Bay - Martin Cook


Reminiscences of seabird work on Fair Isle - Roy Dennis

Tracking Arctic Skuas in the northern seas - where do they go to feed? - Liz Humphreys


Seabirds and plastics - Nina O'Hanlon

Cetaceans in the northern seas - Barbara Cheney


Summing up - Chris Wernham

Close of Conference

Evening meal (optional)

Click here to download the conference programme

Here's who we have lined up for you:

Colin Moffat, Chief Scientific Advisor, Marine Scotland

Colin Moffat, Chief Scientific Advisor, Marine Scotland

Initially studying chemistry, Colin completed a PhD in heparin biochemistry, including links to tumour angiogenesis. On moving to Torry Research Station he examined the structure of fish lipids and their nutritional benefits, before investigating organic contaminants in the marine and terrestrial environments, pathological samples, food producing animals and food products with a specific interest in the biological effects of contaminants on marine biota.

Colin developed an interest in understanding the consequences of wider human activities on the marine ecosystem and has worked at an international level on integrated assessments, most recently leading on the production of the OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017, which covers the North-East Atlantic, and contributing to the World Ocean Assessment 2020.

Colin continues to study contamination of marine systems, including by plastics and other marine litter. He also advises on the implications of climate change and ocean acidification, not only in respect of contaminants, but on the wider issues that ultimately will affect both marine and terrestrial life.

In addition to being CSA Marine, Colin is a visiting Professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at Robert Gordon University.
Daisy Burnell, Seabirds Count Project Co-ordinator, JNCC

Daisy Burnell, Seabirds Count Project Co-ordinator, JNCC

Daisy currently co-ordinates the 4th breeding seabird census for Britain and Ireland, a project developed by the Seabird Monitoring Programme partnership and lead by the JNCC. Prior to working for the JNCC, Daisy spent five years studying at the University of Aberdeen. The first four gained her a BSc in Marine Biology, and the last an MSc in Applied Marine and Fisheries Ecology. Her passion for seabirds, and their conservation, was sparked during her MSc research thesis, which looked at the foraging behaviour of fulmars during the breeding season, in relation to proposed marine renewable sites.
Bob Swann, Highland Ringing Group

Bob Swann, Highland Ringing Group

Bob has been a keen Scottish birdwatcher and member of the SOC for over 50 years. Bob lives in Tain, Ross-shire and is secretary of the Highland Ringing Group. The group is involved in long term studies of seabirds, particularly on the Isle of Canna, wildfowl and waders. The latter have been studied on the Moray Firth since 1977 and the group’s recent work on Curlew is the subject of Bob’s presentation.

Bob was awarded the Bernard Tucker Medal by the BTO for his contribution to BTO survey work. He was Scottish organiser for the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas and was a co-author of the final book. On top of all this, being an ex principal teacher of Geography, he is a keen traveller, and has built up an impressive list of Western Palearctic birds.
Ron Summers, Highland Ringing Group

Ron Summers, Highland Ringing Group

Ron Summers is a biologist working for the RSPB in Inverness where most of his work has been involved with the conservation of pinewood birds. He was born and brought up in Dundee, and attained a BSc in Zoology after studying at the universities of St Andrews and Aberdeen. He remained at Aberdeen and gained a PhD in 1974 on the ecology of Flounders. Post-doctoral work took him to the University of Cape Town, where he studied waders on Langebaan Lagoon, helping to designate the lagoon as the West Coast National Park. He also worked with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, dealing with bird pests in agriculture: Starlings and Brent Geese. Having moved to Inverness, he joined the Highland Ringing Group and been involved with various studies of waders.
Martin Cook, Moray Bird Club

Martin Cook, Moray Bird Club

Martin has lived in Moray and enjoyed its birds since 1976 - especially his local 'patch' on the lower River Spey. He has been SOC regional recorder for Moray and Nairn since 1984 and has edited the Moray and Nairn Bird Report (now called Birds in Moray and Nairn) annually since 1985. In 1992 he wrote 'The Birds of Moray and Nairn', and a second edition of this book is in preparation. He was Moray organiser, and co-editor with Ian Francis, of 'The Breeding Birds of North-East Scotland' (2011) - our regional tetrad atlas. He runs the local website 'Birds in Moray and Nairn' and is currently working as editor of the SOC's new app - Where to Watch Birds in Scotland.
Roy Dennis, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation

Roy Dennis, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation

Roy Dennis MBE is a field ornithologist and wildlife consultant, living in Moray; he worked as assistant warden at Fair Isle Bird Observatory 60 years ago and was the warden from 1963 to 1970 when sea bird numbers were rising rapidly, and arctic skuas were common but there were no breeding gannets. His talk is about the island’ seabirds before GPS and data logging. His Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation is active on raptor reintroductions, latest sea eagles to the Isle of Wight and ospreys to Poole Harbour.
Liz Humphreys, Senior Research Ecologist, BTO Scotland

Liz Humphreys, Senior Research Ecologist, BTO Scotland

Liz has been been based with the BTO since 2005 following her PhD and Post Doc on kittiwakes and gannets. She has worked on a wide range of projects including urban ecology, impacts of woodland management on birds, importance of coastlines to wintering waterbirds, interactions between waders/hedgehogs and goose management policy. Over the last six years she has been working primarily on understanding the impacts of offshore renewable energy on seabird populations as well managing a number of tracking projects in Scotland.
Nina O'Hanlon, Post-doc Research Assoc, Univ of the Highlands and Islands

Nina O'Hanlon, Post-doc Research Assoc, Univ of the Highlands and Islands

Nina is a seabird ecologist living on the north coast of Caithness, working as a post-doc at the Environmental Research Institute (University of the Highlands and Islands). She has had an interest in birds since childhood, which has led her to live in some amazing places across the UK, including the west coast of Scotland where she spent four years looking at Herring Gulls for her PhD at the University of Glasgow. Her main interests are in conservation and ecology with a particular focus on the impact of human activities on species. However, she is passionate about all aspects of ornithology, and is a member of the BOU’s Engagement Committee as the Social Media Support Officer and with British Birds as a director.
Barbara Cheney, Research Fellow, Univ of Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Station

Barbara Cheney, Research Fellow, Univ of Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Station

After working for British Airways for a number of years, Barbara decided to follow her passion and changed career. She graduated in Marine Biology from the University of Aberdeen and shortly after began working at the Lighthouse Field Station in Cromarty. Firstly, on their northern Fulmar study in Orkney, but since 2006 she has managed their long-term Bottlenose Dolphin photo-identification project. She completed her PhD in 2017 and her research focusses on the use and development of photo-ID techniques to study aspects of individual ecology, to contribute to conservation and management.

Local birdwatching

Whether you are interested in exploring the area independently or joining an organised group outing, there are several sites with easy reach of the conference centre. 


Viewing the lagoons, saltmarsh, shingle banks and main channel of the Spey Estuary. Birdlife will include wildfowl, gulls (perhaps Iceland or Glaucous), divers and sea ducks. Meeting at the Scottish Dolphin Centre in Tugnet, then walking a short distance across the shingle to view the river mouth and sea. 


The estuary is bound by dunes to the north and Lossie Forest to the east. As well as wildfowl, the estuary holds significant numbers of gulls (Iceland and Glaucous both possible). Small groups of Snow Bunting can often be seen near the dunes. Meeting in the estuary car park and walking along the waterfront to Lossiemouth Harbour to look for Purple Sandpipers, seabirds and seaducks. Total walk length ~6 km.


A spectacular almost land-locked tidal bay which holds significant numbers of waders over the winter months plus varied wildfowl including Pintail. We will meet at the bird hide car park at the entrance to Findhorn village and then walk a short distance to the bay. We will then drive to Burghead Bay where we can expect sea duck including Velvet Scoters and Long-tailed Duck as well as divers and possibly Slavonian Grebe.


We will have permission to drive through Culbin Forest to gain easy access to the remote RSPB reserve at the
Bar. The site is characterised by areas of saltmarsh and at low tide extensive mudflats and sands which hold
good numbers of waders. Wigeon and Shelduck are numerous in the channels. We will meet in the Forestry
Scotland car park and car share to the start of the walk.


A two-hour trip on a twelve-seater RIB leaving Findhorn Marina. Cost is £30 per person, payable in advance.
The inner Moray Firth has considerable numbers of over-wintering sea ducks at this time of year including
Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter and Eider. Divers and auks should also be seen as well as
many gull species. This trip will be weather dependant.


For those wishing to explore the local area independently then details of other sites (as well as those listed
above) can be found on the SOC app Where to Watch Birds in Scotland. This can be downloaded FREE from
the App Store and Google Play.

Razorbill photo: Richard Somers Cocks


SOC brings together like-minded individuals with a passion for birds, nature and conservation through a programme of talks, outings, conferences and via the Club’s quarterly journal, Scottish Birds.