Scotland’s best kept secret for wildlife lovers

I’m fairly well travelled around Scotland and much of the UK. I’ve been to numerous reserves down south and every one of them has their own charm and unique appeal. Whether it’s the wetlands at Grange over Sands, or New Forest with its dense woodlands and gorse heathland, or Troup Head with thousands of gannets or the South Downs with chalk streams; each one has something magical about it.

This weekend however, we headed over to somewhere called Bullers of Buchan. This coastal reserve is north of Aberdeen and often not on people’s radar. It’s fairly nondescript, unsignposted and not overly managed. But I think this might be my favourite wildlife location I have ever visited.

I’ll try and outline this blog in the form of a story showcasing what it was like there and what we saw. If you want to skip to the good bit then here’s a link to a video I made all about it. You can save your reading and just watch it here:

After a fairly late start to the day we made our way across Moray and then Aberdeenshire until we reached the east coast. My colleague at Wild Things had spoken highly of Bullers of Buchan because he used to work for the RSPB and said that he would regularly recommend to people that they should visit if they wanted to glimpse puffins. We wanted to do just that and so we were somewhat disappointed when a lady in the carpark informed us that “there were no puffins around, you’ll have to come back at sunset to see them”. – how wrong she was!

After arriving at the carpark, you head down a small track towards the sea where the path almost immediately opens up into a large raised bay of exposed rock which is alive with seabirds. The telltale calls of kittiwakes deafens you and the raspy calls of guillemots drone underneath. It’s a real cacophony, and that’s nothing compared to the smell if you’re caught in a windy updraft!

From this initial vantage point we headed right, along the cliff tops, soaking in the views. The place was virtually empty with a handful of people sat on the scurvy grass watching the wildlife. we clambered down a small lip and peered down to the water; spotting a few guillemots in good light and happily started snapping away.

This common guillemot was sat in the perfect location for a colourful image

While we were happily photographing the birds below I suddenly noticed movement a couple of feet below me. I creeped forwards and to my surprise a puffin was sat there looking up at me! (so much for no puffins around!). I managed one very grainy image before he flew off but what a treat. After that we looked at the sea below us more carefully and saw that it was in fact teaming with puffins. These colourful little birds are always a rare surprise and every time I spot them I’m reminded of how small they are; about the size of a tube of Pringles (sorry but I needed a unit of measurement that everyone would be able to appreciate. And no, I’m not talking about those tiny miniature Pringles cans but a conventional can size… anyway I digress)

After all the puffin excitement we continued around to the end of the headland where things seemed a little quieter. There were even fewer people here and, even though my entirely inappropriate footwear broke and left me barefoot, we clambered down the slope a little to sit on some rocks looking out to sea. To our surprise a small group of guillemots was perched right below us and soon we were clicking away at these beautiful birds. We had the added advantage of lots of colourful flowers and a bright sea behind to make the images pop and I ended up almost filling my SD card with these guillemots alone!

Just as we got up to leave Alice noticed a razorbill sat on a rocky outcrop just behind us and so we angled ourselves and started shooting. As we watched a second razorbill joined the first. You can tell the gender of razorbills by their size – males are larger. As we watched, this pair of love-birds (not lovebirds) preened and cuddled one another. It was truly stunning!

Just when we thought that the day couldn’t get any better, we got up to leave and spied a small pod of dolphins feeding 50m from the coast. Cetaceans are common along the Scottish coastline but it’s always magical to see them for yourself. They are surprisingly large and their intelligence and teamwork is obvious when you can see how the move as a group around an area, clearing up the fish before moving on.

Aside from the wildlife there was an abundance of native flora around too. Scurvy grass, miners lettuce, ling, bell heather the colours and texture of the place was astounding. We were lucky that it was a clear sunny day when we visited but even on a rainy day, the rock formations alone are wonderful. As I said at the beginning, every reserve has its own unique selling point. You may well visit Bullers of Buchan and find it quiet or damp but I can guarantee that whenever you go, you won’t find it boring.

Will Hall Wildlife

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