Hills & Mountains
*I am in the process of redesigning this section to include notes and many more high-res shots (page under construction)*
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Kincardineshire, also known as the Mearns is a historic county, registration county and lieutenancy area on the coast of northeast Scotland. It`s bounded by Aberdeenshire to the north and west, and by Angus to the south. Although I`ve included the county in the Hills & Mountains section, the area is better known for its coastal walks, one of which is featured here.
Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve
Despite a drastic reduction in the number of breeding seabirds throughout the British Isles in recent years, the RSPB reserve at Fowlsheugh near Stonehaven is still one of the best, and most accessible, places in the UK to experience a hectic cliff top seabird colony. The reserve is reached via the minor road for Crawton which leads east off the A92, approximately 3 miles (4.8km) south of Stonehaven. There is a small designated parking area just before the cluster of houses at the road end.
This information board is just inside the entrance gate. The path continues north and soon reaches the most spectacular nesting spots.
Above: Looking south down the coast from the south end of the reserve.
In spring and summer the ground between the ploughed fields and cliff edge is a carpet of thrift, campion and other species of wildflower which in turn attract butterflies and day-flying moths including Six-spot Burnet and Thrift Clearwing.
Species present at nesting time include various gulls, Kittiwakes, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot which can be seen in their thousands whilst a small number of Puffins apparently still nest here although I didn`t see any when I visited earlier this month. There`s probably a better chance of spotting them through binoculars as they fly past offshore, or among the rafts of auks and eider out on the water.
There`s very little avian activity here outwith the nesting season although Grey and Common Seals, Bottlenose and Common Dolphins and Minke Whales can sometimes be spotted offshore. At this time of year gorse adds large splashes of vivid yellow to the already colourful summer landscape. Above: This Razorbill has found a perfect ready-made nest site created when erosion conveniently dislodged a large rounded stone.
With no fences or protective barriers at the edge extreme caution should be exercised at all times - it`s a long way down and there have been several fatalities over the years. Two birdwatchers in the shot below* emphasise the size of the cliffs and the degree of exposure. The sheer cliffs are undercut in many places and there are several sea caves.
Probably the best way to appreciate the scale of the colony is on one of the wildlife viewing boats that operate from Stonehaven during the summer months. // Extreme caution must be exercised on the clifftop path, especially when wet, as it goes very near the edge at some spots.
Curious Fulmars glide effortlessly in the breeze near the top of the cliff face as they ride the updraughts and will often fly past at eye-level to check out visitors. Despite appearing gull-like these birds are actually related to Albatrosses. Although there`s not much chance of visitors doing so at Fowlsheugh, should intruders wander too close to their nests, the birds will defend themselves by spitting out a foul-smelling oil.
In additional to the Fulmars and gulls etc, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Rock Pipits, Linnets, Yellowhammers and Pied Wagtails, are among the smaller species that breed on the reserve and adjacent farmland. (to edit)*
The RSPB reserve at Fowlsheugh is home to one of the largest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Around 80,000 pairs of six different species breed on the 1.5 mile length of red sandstone cliffs. These cliffs, up to 65 metres high, are deeply indented and allow good close-up views of the birds without causing disturbance. The best way to experience the colony though is on one of the tourist boats that leave from Stonehaven during the summer months. The reserve is located three miles south of Stonehaven which is in Aberdeenshire. The birds are ashore from April until mid-July and there is little of interest outwith this period, although the walk itself can be good at any time of year.
The reserve is very colourful in late spring / early summer with plenty of flowers in bloom. There are a few benches at the best vantage points, all at the southern end of the reserve. As well as thousands of seabirds, Jackdaws and Rock Doves build their nests on rock face ledges. Skylark, Meadow Pipits are common in the fields while out to sea Eider and the occasional Puffin can be spotted. Seals often bask on the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs.