Loch Gruinart - including RSPB Reserve, Gruinart Flats, Ardnave and Killinallan

The greater part of the inner half of Loch Gruinart and three-quarters of the Gruinart Flats (the pastures to the south of the loch) are part of the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve. Please, therefore, keep to the roads in this area and do not wander over the fields. Two of the principal aims of the reserve are to provide safe and undisturbed feeding for the wintering geese and ideal conditions for breeding waders and ducks, as well as to show these to the many visitors to the reserve, all of which can only be achieved with the minimum of disturbance. The loch virtually empties at low tide and the ducks and waders feeding on the mud become very spread out and not easy to see. At high tide, the small island in the middle is an important roost.

Loch Gruinart Copyright: Islay Natural History Trust
Loch Gruinart - Key birdwatching locations are detailed below:

A. Gruinart Flats and RSPB Reserve (middle roughly at NR2867)
A road (the B8017) runs right across the Flats. It is single track but with ample large lay-bys which enable one to get superb views of the wintering geese in the fields on either side. In spring and summer the fields are full of nesting waders. The best goose viewing is from a car. Resist the temptation to get out as it only flushes the nearer geese and sometimes all of them, which spoils it for you and any other birdwatchers there.Gruinart Flats Copyright: Malcolm Ogilvie At the western end of the road is the RSPB?s visitor centre and farm, Aoradh. The centre contains an exhibition explaining the importance of the reserve and has a fine viewing gallery looking out over the fields. A large hide is situated overlooking the bunded and flooded fields to the north of the farm, reached from the lane opposite the farm entrance, signposted Ardnave. There is a small carpark opposite the path to the hide while a woodland walk runs north from here for over half a mile (1 km) with a branch to a second hide overlooking more floods. There are regular walks conducted on the reserve, as well as other events depending on the time of year. Call at the Reserve or check posters in hotels and the Tourist Office for details.

Typical species: Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese, plus occasional Brent, Canada, Pinkfoot; Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Skylark breeding; Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Peregrine, Golden Eagle hunting through area; Whooper Swans in autumn. Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Lapwing, Redshank, Black-headed Gulls, Snipe in the flooded fields; Chough around the derelict buildings; Corncrake in ungrazed fields and nettlebeds.

B. Ardnave Loch and Peninsula (NR2872 north to NR2974)
The lane past the hide continues for about three miles (c.5 km) before becoming a track beside Ardnave Loch. The fields on either side of the lane contain geese in winter, but views of Gruinart Loch are distant, although closer, and elevated, views can be had from beside the historic Kilnave Chapel, which is signposted on the right about three-quarters of the way along. Ardnave Loch, one of the most fertile on the island, often holds swans as well as a wide variety of ducks and some waders. Walk from the loch through the dunes and down to the shore of Loch Gruinart. From here one can overlook a muddy bay to the right or walk left along the shore. It is possible to walk right round the peninsula and back to Ardnave Loch via a farm track which reaches the west shore. The farmer here is managing the land for birds in conjunction with the RSPB. Part of that management includes controlled grazing of different areas to encourage both Chough and Corncrake, so it is vital that gates are kept closed. In order to alleviate past problems with this, a number of 'kissing' gates have been installed to remove the need for walkers to open the big ones.

Typical species: Little Grebe, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted, Goldeneye on Ardnave Loch, also Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe, all of which breed in the wet areas throughout the peninsula; divers, Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Curlew on Loch Gruinart; Arctic Tern fishing in channels; Chough, Twite, Snow Bunting among dunes, particularly where cattle are fed in winter; Barnacle Geese on pastures; Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Snow Bunting on shore of peninsula; Great Northern Diver between Ardnave Point and Nave Island. Both Gruinart and Ardnave Lochs are frequented by Otters.

C. East side Loch Gruinart, Craigens to Killinallan (NR2967 north to NR3072)
On the far side of the Gruinart Flats from the RSPB farm, there is a turning to the left if one is coming from the farm, or to the right if coming from Bridgend. This lane, which has a rather poor surface on it with lots of potholes, runs up the east side of Loch Gruinart and gives better views than are possible on the other side. There are plenty of lay-bys. The lane first passes between fields much favoured by geese, then crosses a cattle grid by Craigens Farm gate. Just after this there are views to the left of the mouth of the Gruinart river and, at low tide, a large expanse of sandflats much used by waders. The lane then passes a shallow freshwater pool, often dry in summer, before dropping down to run beside the shore. The small shingle island in the middle of the loch is a high tide roost for hundreds of ducks, waders and gulls and is well worth scanning, though a telescope is helpful. Further along, the shore becomes stony and birdlife is more restricted. The lane ends at a padlocked gate, but a way-marked track for walkers continues on for some miles,Killinallan Copyright: Becky Williamson with indicated access to the shore at a number of places, where there is excellent walking on the sand. The small bay and rocky headlands just past the gate are often productive. Grey Seals lounge on the sandbanks while Otters frequent the rocks.

Typical species: Barnacle and Greenland Whitefronts in the fields; Teal, Shelduck, Grey Heron, gulls around the river mouth; Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew on the sandflats; Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, waders, gulls on the island; divers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Arctic Tern, Grey Seal, Otter beyond the locked gate.

See also: Main Birdwatching Localities on Islay