From mountain to the sea is Aberdeenshire’s tag line and the area does indeed have it all from the high tops of the Cairngorm mountains to wide, open sandy beaches. Here are just a selection of some of the most popular places to view wildlife and nature.
Cairngorms National Park
Located just 20 miles west of the Mega campsite, the Cairngorms is one of only 2 National Parks in Scotland. Famous for its high mountain tops, including the second and third highest peaks in the UK there are also some of the largest remnants of Caledonian pine forest left in the country. This ancient woodland is all that’s left of the forests which grew up after the last ice age and is home to red squirrels, capercaillie, black grouse and pine martens.
Large parts of the National Park are clothed in heather moorland. In August the heather is in full bloom and the purple hillsides are full of bees busily making heather honey. Other animals to look out for are mountain hares, red grouse and hen harriers. If you’re lucky you may even spot a golden eagle soaring high overhead.
Some of the best places to visit for wildlife watching within the Aberdeenshire part of the National Park are the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, Glen Tanar or the Muir of Dinnet. Mar Lodge will be familiar to some as the location for past Winterwatch series. Here you can take a walk through the pinewoods to look for squirrels and red or roe deer or head out into the mountains or moorlands for a chance to see deer, eagles and grouse.
Muir of Dinnet is another nature reserve on Deeside which is home to the Burn O’Vat, an amazing geological feature, complete with an Earthcache of course. Carved out by a whirlpool of melting water from glaciers; walking into the huge pot hole is a highlight of any trip to bag the earthcache. You can take a walk around Loch Davan or Loch Kinord to look for otters, ducks or ospreys as well as the Narnia geocache trail or head into the birch woodland or heather moors along the Firmounth geocache trail while you keep an eye out for deer and squirrels.
Aberdeenshire has a number of wide, sandy beaches perfect for sandcastle building and paddling in the admittedly freezing waters of the North Sea. Some of the most popular are found at Balmedie, Newburgh and Cruden Bay. Take a walk along the sand as you look for porpoises and dolphins out in the waves and terns diving for fish. More than a hundred seals regularly haul out onto the sand at Forvie nature reserve. To get the best views of the seals walk along the beach at Newburgh on the south of the Ythan Estuary – this reduces disturbance to the seals and allows you to get really close, although do keep dogs out of the water. If you’ve never heard the sound of several hundred seals calling to each other it’s an experience not to be missed.
Not a bucket and spade person? Why not head to the RSPB’s Troup Head reserve which is home to the UK’s only mainland gannet colony. Or visit the amazing Bullers of Buchan where the sea has eroded the rocky cliffs into arches and stacks. The rocky ledges are perfect high rise dwellings for a seabird city. Although the main peak of activity is usually over by August, you should still get good views of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills (or tysties as they’re known here) and guillemots. As you walk along the narrow coastal path keep an eye out for hunting peregrine falcons as well as a series of interesting geocache containers.
The east coast of Scotland has a resident population of 200 or so bottlenose dolphins which regularly travel up and down the coast. Aberdeen Bay is one of the best places to spot them close to shore. Torry Battery just south of Aberdeen Harbour on the coast road is an excellent viewpoint with dolphins (and otters) regularly spotted during the RSPB/Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphinwatch project. The battery itself is a fascinating historical ruin – and of course there are a number of geocaches to find as you travel round the headlands.
Seaton Park, which lies along the banks of the River Don is home to otters, kingfishers, herons and goosanders as well as a Wherigo cache.
The Saving Scotland’s Squirrels project has been working hard to protect and encourage red squirrels which are now making a comeback into many parts of the City. Red squirrels are now a common sight at Hazlehead Park which also boasts the first camera trap sighting of a pine marten in a City park and where you can while your time away searching for a number of traditional, mystery and night caches.
Finally, around the campsite and Mega venue keep an eye out for red kites. These birds have recently been re-introduced to Aberdeenshire and Deeside is proving a popular haunt for growing numbers. If you do see a kite, look out to see if it has any coloured wing tags. Each individual bird is fitted with its own unique tag – please pass on any sightings of tagged birds to the RSPB.