The Rinns (south of NR58) and Frenchman's Rocks (NR152540)

The Rinns (also spelt Rhinns) is the name usually given to the whole of the western peninsula of Islay, but here I will concentrate on the southern half from Port Charlotte southwards. A road runs right round, starting from and returning to Port Charlotte. Continuing south from Port Charlotte village, the A847 takes one through mixed farmland and rough ground with smaller fields than in much of the rest of the island. Just after a substantial farm, Octofad, on the left-hand side of the road, about three miles (c.5 km) south of Port Charlotte, a gated track leads off to the right. This runs right across the peninsula to the road on the west side, passing through extensive conifer plantations. Although planted in the 1980s, growth of much of it has been very slow and it is still open enough to hold Short-eared Owls and to have Buzzards and Hen Harriers feeding over it. It is possible to take a car along the track, but it is very bumpy and badly pot-holed in places and walking, or cycling, is recommended.

Back on the road at Octofad, after another mile, with views over the plantation on the right, there is a large pool on the left. This is part of a former waterfowl collection. It is no longer open to the public, despite what some guidebooks still say. The pool is well worth checking for wild ducks such as Tufted and Teal, while Greenland Whitefronts regularly feed in the surrounding fields.

The road passes further rushy fields, well used by geese, then runs through a small glen and reaches the twin villages of Port Wemyss and Portnahaven. Port Wemyss and Portnahaven Copyright: Malcolm OgilvieTurn left to Port Wemyss at the former school and then right when the lane reaches the sea. There are magnificent views here of Orsay island, on which stands the Rinns Lighthouse, and of the neighbouring MacKenzie Island, as well as of the fierce currents surging between them and the mainland. Divers, shags and seals frequent the channels and Greylag Geese and Arctic Terns breed on the islands. The road wriggles round to Portnahaven, where the rocks at the harbour mouth are good for Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones, as well as Grey Seals. Leave the village past the church and take the first lane on the left. This runs through crofting areas of small fields, up and down and round rocky headlands, before levelling out by Claddach, the last house, with room on the grass on the left to pull off. Not far away, though out of sight, is Islay's wavepower generator, a replacement for the small, experimental one that was just below Claddach, but now (2014) due for dismantling. One can walk from here, or from the wide gateway just up the hill past Claddach, respecting the various signs concerned with access, to the point overlooking Frenchman's Rocks, three stacks lying about 300 yards (0.5 km) offshore. This is the premier seawatching site on the island, with August to October probably the most productive months, though there is something to be seen throughout the year. The early morning is probably the best time, before the sun moves round and gets in the way. Many of the birds flying past are kind enough to follow the channel inside the rocks!

Continuing past Claddach takes one by a small loch where Red-throated Divers are sometimes seen, as well as Whooper Swans in autumn and often some wintering Teal and Mallard. The lane then leads back to the Portnahaven road. Turn left to continue round the Rinns. This road winds its way through moorland and some farmland, past the end of the track back to Octofad and eventually descends close to the sea at Kilchiaran,Kilchiaran Bay Copyright: Malcolm Ogilvie where there is a mediaeval chapel beside the small burn leading down to the bay, as well as a fine circular steading in the nearby farmyard. The cliffs round Kilchiaran Bay hold nesting Fulmars, while from just before the steading a public track leads up to a hilltop holding various telecommunications masts. For the energetic, or those who can be collected at the other end, one branch of the track skirts round to the left of the hilltop, then descends north along the coast to Machir Bay. Meanwhile, the road climbs back up and over the spine of the Rinns, through conifer plantations and back to Port Charlotte.

Typical species: Greenland Whitefront, Corncrake, Chough in fields; Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl hunting over plantations; divers, Shag, seals at Port Wemyss and Portnahaven; Fulmar, petrels, shearwaters, Gannet, Kittiwake, auks, all at Frenchman's Rocks, plus less frequently divers, wildfowl and waders; Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Chough on west side of Rinns; Fulmar, Dipper, Chough at Kilchiaran; Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Short-eared Owl by road back to Port Charlotte.

See also: Main Birdwatching Localities on Islay