The Ythan Estuary is a place we had heard about quite a few times when we looked into Scottish locations to see wildlife although we didn’t get around to visiting this awesome spot until quite recently.
Just north of Aberdeen, the small town of Newburgh is built upon either side of the estuary’s banks. The area is an amazing habitat which is home to a variety of wildlife.
Finding the estuary is probably the hardest part of the trip. Just as you come in to Newburgh from Aberdeen take the immediate right after the Newburgh Inn down ‘Beach Road’. Follow it all the way down to the car park. After parking here follow the footpath past the old unused boat shed. You’ve arrived!
Visiting the estuary for the first time the immediate thing you will notice are seals!
The Ythan is home to both grey and common seals, sometimes as many as 500!
In between feeding in the North Sea the seals come ashore at the mouth of the Ythan to rest after fishing but also to moult and breed on the beach at certain times during the year.
There are often two groups on the beach. One group will be tightly packed together lying flat out (like the video above), these are grey seals. The other group will have a bit more space between the individuals and the seals will hold themselves in ‘v’ shape with head and flippers off the ground, these are the common seals. This is the easiest way to tell them apart.
When they aren’t resting or feeding they playfully swim in the estuary’s mouth and frequently swim close to you to investigate.
The opposite bank of the estuary where the seals haul out is also a good place to see Terns.
The Ythan is home to 4 types of Tern. Common, Artic, Little and Sandwich tern are all found here. The birds who migrate here during the summer use the sand dunes to breed and rear their young between April and August.
The terns feed on the sand eels that swim just below the surface. They glide over the water looking below and suddenly dive into the water to grab their prey. The dive itself is ridiculosy hard to capture but we were able to get some good shots of some successful fishermen.
There are also lots of other sea birds to look out for…
Artic Skua’s can be seen hassling the terns mid-flight to try to get them to drop their catch later in the summer.
There is also around 1,500 Eider ducks that nest beside the estuary where they rear their young.
In the summer months the Ythan is also visited by a King Eider in full breeding plummage affectionately named ‘Elvis’ by the locals. Unfortunately we are yet to get a glimpse of the king himself but hope to see a performance sometime next summer.
Other more common sea birds like Cormorants and Herons also frequent the estuary.
This summer has also been pretty special for the estuary. After our first visit in July there was news of a whale sighting reported on Facebook and subsequently local news.
It turned out to be a Humpback Whale who has become jokingly known as Humphrey!
Humphrey has stuck around and we’ve made two trips up to see him and both have been successful. On our first trip we were fortunate enough to see him fin and tail slapping!
We also saw him lunge feeding- fully breaching out of the water as he ate.
It was an incredible experience!
It is reckoned that the whale has found a sufficient supply of food in these waters that have temporarily stopped it migrating further south to warmer waters where they spend the winter months. Humpbacks are Baleen whales which filter feed on krill, plankton and small fish and can live to be 40-50 years old. No one truly knows why this individual has stayed around so long but long may it continue! There are rumours that there are two whales in the area- if you want more up to date information please join the “NE Scotland Wildlife” group on Facebook. We hope that as whale populations recover worldwide we may get more amazing sightings like this in the future.
Overall, the Ythan is an incredible place to visit for animal encounters amid a beautiful setting which we couldn’t reccommend enough for wildlife lovers.
Our tips for a trip to the Ythan;
1.) If you take a dog please keep them on a lead for their own safety as well that of the other animals. The seals have been known to attack dogs who enter the water trying to chase them and we want your best friend to enjoy your visit as much as you do.
2.) When watching the seals in the water keep still and quiet and they will come close to you for a special experience. Trying to get close to them will only mean they dive under and swim away. Also listen to the eery howls of hundreds of seals resting on the beach.
3.) If you are planning a trip to see Humphrey, on both occasions we saw him on a rising tide. However, there has been sightings of him at all tide times so whenever you are there keep your eyes peeled. We saw him within twenty minutes of arriving on our first visit but we waited for two and a half hours before we got our first glimpse of his dorsal fin the second time around, it was definitely worth the wait.
4.) Twenty minutes drive from Newburgh is Bullars of Buchan where you can also see Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots and other sea birds nestled into the cliffs if you want to make it a day of wildlife watching. Well worth a visit.
5.) If you fancy a break from the beach and have forgot a packed lunch the Newburgh Inn which you pass on the way to the beach offers some delicious pub food and drinks or tea and coffee to warm you up if necessary.
6.) When visiting make sure you pack clothing for all weather conditions. The beach is open and exposed to the strong winds coming off the North Sea so even on a sunny day it can still get cold. There are also no toilets near the beach or in the car park.
Thanks for reading.
Kirsten & Elliot