Strathy Bay On the North Sutherland Coast – Scotland

Strathy Bay - O.S. Ref: NC 837 658

Bird Life around Strathy

The Strathy Bay area may not be as widely known for birding as some sites in the north of Scotland, nevertheless it can produce a varied and interesting range of species. It does not attract the number of bird watchers as the more popular sites, and being under-watched, it is probable that interesting species are missed.

The bird year may be divided broadly into three sections; the breeding season, migration (both pre and post nuptial) and winter. These periods can have significant overlap, making it impossible to apply strict dates to them.

Raven at Strathy Bay

Raven at Strathy Bay

The Breeding Season

The core season is May to July but given the range of species in the area, the season can begin as early as March, occasionally earlier and it can extend to August or even September, particularly for Red Throated Divers. The sea cliffs do not support large colonies when compared to places like Dunnet, but all the usual species are present, and we can find Kittiwake,  Fulmar, Shag, Cormorant, most of the common gull species, Auks, Rock doves and a few Puffins.  Also on the cliffs are Raven which can start nesting in February and March, Buzzard and Kestrel. A few pairs of Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover are scattered across the area and fields behind the cliffs hold Lapwing, Snipe and Skylark. Recently a small colony of Arctic Terns appeared in the dunes after a long absence. The area also holds a range of small birds including Meadow and Rock Pipit, Wheatear and Stonechat.

From viewpoints along the sea cliffs either side of the bay, it is not unusual to see birds such as Red and Black Throated Divers which may or may not be nesting locally. Gannets can be seen following fish shoal and Sandwich Terns are often in the bay.

Great Northern Diver at Scrabster

Great Northern Diver at Scrabster


The main migration times are March to May, and September and October, but wandering birds may be encountered throughout the year.

The area lies west of the main migration routes, but significant movements of birds can be seen.  The most obvious is in early spring and autumn, when flocks of geese and swans pass over on their way to or from their breeding areas in places like Iceland. Flocks of over 100 geese are not uncommon. Large groups of Redwing and Fieldfare also pass through every year. Strathy Point extends about 4km into the North Atlantic and is therefore an excellent sea watching site to observe Petrels, Shearwaters and Gannets passing out at sea. Less obvious birds also use the area as landfall or a jumping off point. The various small areas of whins and stunted trees provide excellent shelter for migrating warblers etc.  Species like Bluethroat,  Little Bunting, Rose-coloured Starling and Bee Eater have been recorded  and there is little doubt that similar species pass through annually. Diligent searching at the appropriate time could provide interesting rewards.

Iceland Gull at Scrabster

Iceland Gull at Scrabster


Winter can be broadly considered to be November to March.

Bird numbers are low, but a surprising list can be accumulated. Visiting raptors have included Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Ravens are seen regularly. Sea watching in the bay often reveals divers, including Great Northern, with an increasing possibility of White Billed. Small groups of long tailed ducks may be found and rarer gulls do appear, recently both Iceland and Glaucous have been seen. Surprisingly both Golden and White Tailed Eagles have been seen on Strathy Point.  Of course the usual gulls, cormorants etc are always present along with small birds including stonechats and pipits which have moved to the coast from harsh inland conditions.