Having recently gotten a pretty awesome camera lens and become RSPB members we wanted to check out some of the reserves local to us so we took a trip up to Fowlsheugh at Crawton about three miles south of Stonehaven on the North East coast of Scotland. It was amazing to be able to see thousands of sea birds and their fluffly chicks clinging to cliffs only 45 minutes drive from our doorstep.
The three of us had a bit of a lazy Sunday morning before getting our gear on, once we made our lunches we set off on the short drive. On our way to the reserve we had to pass Dunnotter Castle, a place we had never been before so we made the point of stopping to go find out what we had missed..
The castle has a rich history involving some of Scotland’s and the UK’S most famous historical characters. William Wallace captured the castle in 1297, Mary Queen of Scots visited in 1562 and the Scottish Crown Jewels were held here before being smuggled out in 1652 while under attack from Oliver Cromwell’s army.
Even on a gloomy day the castle is beautiful against the back drop of the North Sea disappearing over the Horizon and is really worth a visit. Some seals could also be spotted playing in the crystal clear water of the bay, it was great to watch them.
Having taken in the view for an hour or so we made our way back to the car to drive a mile further down the road where we took the gravel road on the left to the tiny little village of Crawton where the RSPB reserve is.
Once we parked up we got our waterproofs on and headed down the lane to the reserve entrance. As we approached we could hear the sounds of noisy seabirds but it wasn’t coming from the reserve, it was coming from further down past the village.
We walked as far as we could before reaching private land and could see thousands of birds flying around a bay we couldn’t get to. As we turned to walk back to the reserve’s entrance we noticed a gate and a public footpath not part of the reserve and got a glimpse of one of the prettiest waterfalls I have ever seen..
We walked down the path and sat on the edge of the small cliffs right across from the waterfall.
The cliffs around the waterfall were also packed with sea birds mainly Kittiwakes and Razorbills. After five minutes we noticed that lots of them were cozied into little balls of fluff on the cliffs..
It was amazing to sit and watch these birds look after their young. We wondered if this is what the small cliffs were like what would the reserve be like? So we set off to find out!
Once in the reserve we climbed the hill and walked for a bit through the grassy areas along the clifftops.
Along the path there are numerous viewpoints you can stop to look out over the North Sea. During summer if you are lucky you can see Grey and Common seals and Bottlenose and Common dolphins from the cliffs. If you are even luckier you might also catch a glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise, White-beaked dolphins or Minke whales so it’s always worth keeping an eye on the water just in case.
From the various viewpoints where we had stopped to look out across the water we got glimpses of the large sea cliffs and found ourselves even closer to the Kittiwakes, Razorbills and their young.
At one of these stops we saw a bright orange beak right in the corner of the cliff. It was our first puffin of the day! It looked like it had just returned from the sea with it’s wet feathers.
It was obviously trying to remain anonymous by hiding behind the wild flowers so we gave it it’s privacy and walked a bit further around and got our first full view of the size of the sea cliffs and the thousands of birds living on them.
In summer there are estimated to be around 130,000 birds fighting for space on the cliffs. It certainly sounded and smelt like it!
There were thousands of Guillemots lining the cliffs as well as others diving in the water below to hunt among the mass of Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.
With the rain coming down we were able to get some good snaps of a Razorbill landing trying to avoid the rain.
After all we had already seen we still hadn’t reached the prime bird viewing location at the end of the reserve just beside the hide.
So we walked a bit further as we got to the hide we saw a small group of people, cameras in tow looking down. We walked around to join them to find there were a group of Puffins sitting on the cliff, so we got ourselves comfy by the edge and sat and watched these beautiful birds.
As we sat down a puffin fight broke out!
To our disbelief they actually rolled off the cliff edge and fell about 10 feet onto the next edge below with a thud. One immediately got up and flew off, the other dusted itself down before settling down for a sleep?!
The only Fulmars we had seen all day didn’t seem bothered.
After a better fight scene than Quentin Tarantino has ever produced the colony settled down again and went about their normal routine.
Some of the puffins were constantly flying in from and back out to sea. We weren’t quick enough with the camera to snap them as they flew in but we did get a couple of pics as they left the cliffs.
Just as were honing our photography skills the rain came down really heavy for the first time and we ran into the modern RSPB hide. While we waited for the rain to die down we realised we had missed a golden opportunity to take a thermos and relax in the hide between showers!
Realising the rain wasn’t going to die down and that it was getting on into the evening we decided to call it a day and make a run for it back to the car. It turned out to be pretty funny with both girls sliding through the mud and Kirsten falling over twice! Once in the car we took off the wet stuff we could, looked at some pictures we had taken and then headed along some of the coastal drive through Inverbervie and Montrose before getting home. What a great day.
Our tips for a visit to Fowlsheugh;
1.) Make sure you wear appropriate clothing, especially footwear. The sea cliffs are really windy and it can start to rain at anytime so make sure you wrap up warm and wear some waterproof clothing. I would even consider taking a change of clothes in the car depending on the weather forecast. A good pair of boots is also essential, the track even when dry can be slippy but is especially slidely when wet.
2.) Don’t just visit the reserve! Walk just past the reserve and you’ll get a glimpse of the waterfall on your left, around about there will be a gate you can go through and get close to the waterfall on the opposite side and watch all the Kitiwakes and Razorbills around it.
3.) If you have a bit more time definitely visit Dunnotter castle and drive at least some of the Angus Coastal Route (you have to take the road that is part of the route from Stonehaven to get to the reserve anyway!) to see some of the most breathtaking views Scotland has to offer.
4.) Be careful around the cliffs, they are very high so don’t get to close to the edge at any point. Be particularly careful when using binoculars or a camera as it’s easy to lose sense of where you while watching the birds, seals or dolphins (if you’re lucky).
5.) There are no public toilets at the car park or in the reserve, so make sure you go before a visit.
As usual, If you have any further questions please just contact us through our contact page
Until our next adventure
Kirsten & Elliot