Loch Indaal - Bowmore to Port Charlotte (NR3160 to NR5825)

Loch Indaal offers excellent viewing for the birdwatcher in a car as well as easy walking. The following places are keyed with letters on the map and mostly allow a car to park off the road, including at some specially provided birdwatching lay-bys. BE VERY CAREFUL if stopping elsewhere, the road is full of blind bends. Obviously the state of the tide is important as, when it is right out, waders in particular can be a long way off. At high tide, they often roost on the edge of the saltmarsh. However, this only applies to the head of the loch as the shores either side of Bowmore and from Glenburn to Bruichladdich are equally good regardless of the tide. The seaducks and other birds on the water seem little affected by the tide state.

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

A. Bowmore south to Gartbreck (NR3160-NR2858)
This stretch can be overlooked from the unclassified lane that runs south out of Bowmore to the council rubbish tip, but only at a distance. A track leads from beside the school playing fields down to the shore and one can then walk south to Gartbreck. There is also access to the shore down tracks beside Ronnachmore and Ardlarach, and along the track that continues on from the entrance to the tip.

Typical species: winter geese in the fields; gulls, including Glaucous and Iceland, as well as large numbers of Ravens, at the tip; Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover between the islets and the shore; Shag, Eider and Common Seals on and around the islets.

B. Bowmore Pier to Generating Station (NR310610-NR320602)
There are three good viewing places long this stretch of coast: Bowmore Pier; the lay-by immediately after the last house on the left leaving the village; and the balcony of the Gaelic College (ICCI). This last is good because elevated.

Typical species: Scaup flock and other seaducks (Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Long-tailed), divers and Slavonian Grebes; swans and Wigeon just offshore usually to the right of the generating station; Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone on rocks near the pier.

C. Gartmain (NR 328607)
An obvious pull-off by a small bridge and opposite two bungalows. It overlooks a small burn flowing out through a promontory as well as extensive sandflats.

Typical species: swans, geese, ducks, waders and gulls all come to bathe, drink and roost. At low tide, ducks and waders will be feeding out towards the tide edge.

D. Bridgend Merse (NR330612-NR323627)
The road now wriggles round the head of the loch. Bridgend Copyright: Malcolm OgilvieThere is a pull-off on the left on a sharp right-hand bend, just after a small cottage above the road on the right. It is quite easy to turn into coming from Bowmore, but harder to get out of because of poor visibility. Although grassed over, it has a hard surface underneath. From here, scan the channel of the River Sorn as it runs out through the sandflats; a telescope is helpful. A high tide roost of waders is situated on the small saltmarsh islets to the left. Barnacle Geese sometimes feed on the saltmarsh very close in to the road.

Typical species: swans, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew. Barnacle Geese on the merse; Grey Heron on merse and on islands beside river channel.

E. Carnain (NR319628)
At Bridgend, turn left on to the A847 towards Bruichladdich. The road runs alongside the merse, and, shortly after a small bridge, there is a birdwatching lay-by on the left. This gives good views over the merse as well as distant views of the sandflats. A little further on, as the road swings sharp right round a large outcrop, turn off left at the end of the wall on the left-hand side. This track leads to two cottages so do not block it. There is a muddy tidal pool here as well as a view over the sandflats. Back on the road there is a rushy pool on the left opposite the next two cottages, which is good for dabbling ducks and breeding Redshank.

Typical species: Grey Heron, Shelduck, Teal, Pintail, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Heron; Barnacle Geese on the nearby grassland.

F. Glenburn (NR308620)
The road now runs across unfenced grassland, which undulates over the underlying pebble ridges formed as a succession of beaches when the land gradually rose several thousand years ago. This area is much used by Barnacle Geese in winter and nesting Lapwing and Redshank in spring and summer. The road then descends to a sandy beach and crosses a burn. A birdwatching layby has been constructed on the left just past the bridge over the burn.

Typical species: Scaup flock often close in, with Slavonian Grebe, while Wigeon, Eider; Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit roost at high tide.

G. Blackrock (NR305626)
At the end of the small bay the road climbs over a rocky promontory. A parking area large enough for several cars has been created on the left on the crown of the hill. From here one overlooks the offshore Blackrock and the sea to either side. There is a gate in the fence to allow walking down closer to the shore to get a better view of Blackrock and the sea to the right, which is a good area for divers and seaducks.

Typical species: Common and Arctic Terns nesting on Blackrock; Shag and Cormorant perched on it; Slavonian Grebe, Scaup, Eider, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser offshore.

H. Traigh an Luig strand (NR298630-NR275630)
The road runs alongside the shore for the next two miles (c.3 km) of a sweeping sandy beach backed by shingle and an extensive area of unfenced grassland.Uiskentuie Strand Copyright: Malcolm Ogilvie The steep-sided ridge at the back of the grassland is the outwash from a glacial river, cut into by the sea when the sea level was much higher than it is now. It is possible to pull off on to the grass at several points along the road. Probably the best place is about two-thirds of the way along the beach where a shingle spit sticks out. Arctic Terns nest most years close to the base of the spit as well as at different places along the beach. If you see them there, please stay at a safe distance, both to stop being dive-bombed and to avoid the risk of treading on their extremely well camouflaged eggs and young.

Typical species: Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew; Turnstone on spit and intertidal zone, especially on rotting seaweed; Eider and divers offshore; Curlew, Greenland Whitefronts and Chough on the grass; Ravens and Buzzards soaring along the ridge.

I. Bruichladdich (NR2661)
After Traigh an Luig, the road becomes very bendy with few stopping places, but also fewer birds until Bruichladdich. Opposite the first group of four bungalows and two houses are extensive tidal rocks with a convenient lay-by by the second house. There are large pull-offs on the shore side opposite the village shop and the distillery. It is also possible to walk out onto the pier.

Typical species: Shag, Wigeon, Eider, Ringed Plover; Purple Sandpiper along the shore; Turnstone on rocks opposite shop and distillery; all three divers and Common Scoter from pier.

J. Port Bhan War Memorial (NR260602)
This is on the shore side half a mile towards Port Charlotte. There is a pull-off on the right-hand side of the road. A telescope is useful here either from the car or when standing beside the war memorial. The fields either side of the road are a regular location for Whimbrel in the late spring, while they also hold a substantial population of Brown Hares. Barnacle, White-fronted and Greylag Geese are all regular during the winter.

Typical species: all three divers, Common Scoter all year; Manx Shearwater, Gannet, flocks of Guillemot and Razorbill in summer.

K. Port Bhan to Port Charlotte (NR260602-NR2558)
It is possible to stop along this road and see the same species as at Port Bhan though not usually as easily. Port Charlotte village houses the Islay Natural History Centre, clearly marked on the left just over the narrow bridge as you enter the village. Information and displays relating to all aspects of wildlife are housed here and your own records are especially welcome as contributions to our knowledge of the island's birds and other wildlife and for inclusion in the annual bird and natural history report. The Centre is open from May to September

See also: Main Birdwatching Localities on Islay