Loch Gorm (NR2365), Machir Bay and dunes (NR2062)

Loch Gorm is much the largest loch on the island but by no means the best for birds as it is both large and exposed, so that the shoreline is prone to significant wave action, and aquatic plants, which would provide food and shelter for birds, are greatly restricted. Nevertheless, it does hold some birds and can be most easily viewed from the south side where the road to Kilchoman and Machir Bay runs not far from the shore and is usefully elevated above it. There are lay-bys where one can pull off the road, though a telescope is almost essential. The fields around Loch Gorm are good for Barnacle Geese and Greenland Whitefronts, with Sunderland and Rockside on the south side particularly favoured.

There is a road junction soon after the track on the left to Rockside (signposted to the trekking centre there). Go straight on and follow the road round sharp to the left. This leads to Kilchoman Church, now derelict. The dunes and fields on the right are good places to see Choughs. The inland cliffs behind the church attract soaring raptors as well as being the nesting place for Fulmars, despite being over half a mile inland.

Instead of turning left up to the church, carry straight on down a stony track, suitable for cars, and park on the flat grass area at the bottom. From here, check the dunes on either side for Choughs or walk over a small footbridge on to the sands of Machir Bay. Machir Bay from Kilchiaran Copyright: Malcolm OgilvieCorncrakes can usually be heard calling in this area in the summer months. Unfortunately the beach is poor for birds, probably because excessive wave action prevents the establishment of any kind of invertebrate population. Bathing and roosting gulls and the occasional strand wader are all that can be expected, though seaducks and divers do occur offshore. A few Snow Buntings can sometimes be found wintering along the inland edge of the beach, to the north of the track.

Back at the road junction, take the lane heading north round the loch with fields either side often containing good numbers of wintering geese. After passing through an area of moorland and rushy fields, the road reaches the coast again at Saligo Bay. There's a locked gate at the corner with some limited parking, and it is possible to walk north along a track from here, passing wartime bunkers. The farmland here is being managed with birds in mind, growing crops such as oats to attract seed-eating birds like Twite, and grazing with cattle to encourage Choughs, while Corncrakes have reappeared in the last few years.

From Saligo Bay, the road continues through more farmland much frequented by geese, with breeding Lapwing and Redshank in summer, before another junction with an old-fashioned red telephone box (still there in late 2014, at least!). The turning to the left leads to Sanaigmore Bay, past an extensive reedbed. Park by the memorial to the loss of the 'Exmouth' and walk down to the beach. The bay regularly holds Great Northern Divers and sometimes sea ducks. The cliffs to the left have some small colonies of breeding auks and Kittiwakes, though only those round the first headland, Ton Mhor, are readily viewable. Alternatively, continue to the Outback Art Gallery where you can not only admire the paintings and jewellery on display, but enjoy a coffee and cake!

Back at telephone box junction, the road continues round Loch Gorm, though at some distance, before the next junction allows you to turn left for Gruinart or continue straight on to complete the circuit.

Typical species: Greenland White-fronted Geese in fields and on Loch Gorm, where also divers, grebes, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, otter; Buzzard, Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Chough, Jackdaw around and behind church; Chough, Corncrake, gulls, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Goldeneye, divers at Machir Bay; Choughs, finch flocks, Corncrake at Smaull; divers in Sanaigmore Bay; nesting seabirds at Ton Mhor.

See also: Main Birdwatching Localities on Islay