Ten things to DO in Dornoch: Wildlife

Ospreys, red deer, sea birds, seals, dolphins and ducks are all to be found in and around the Dornoch Firth. Our natural landscape is rich in habitats and provides safe havens for many resident and migratory species. Here are our top ten wildlife highlights for you to spot when you visit Dornoch.


There are many Osprey nests around the Dornoch firth and you are likely to spot them fishing in the Firth if you are walking along the edge or even from the road. They are also spotted around Loch fleet and Loch Migdale.

If you fancy travelling abit further afield and getting a close up view, the Loch Garten Ospreys at Abernethy are well worth a visit.  The osprey re-introduction took place here, in this ancient Caledonian Pineforest and The Loch Garten Osprey Centre provides fantastic views of these magnificent birds on the nest, as well as close up views using a CCTV camera. The reserve is also worth visiting to view red squirrels, dragonflies and crested tits. You can join them in spring for their ‘Caper-watch’ and experience the spectacular display of the Capercaillie, Scotland’s largest grouse.

2) Red Deer

You are likely to see red deer when driving or walking in more remote parts of the area. A likely place to view deer on the hills is on a trip to Loch Brora. Loch Brora is often visited by fishermen and you can hire boats locally. You are able to fish for Salmon, brown trout and sea trout here. It is also a lovely place for a walk or a spot of wild camping.

3) Salmon

Visit Shin Falls to see salmon leaping the falls to return to their native breeding ground.
The River Shin flows from Loch Shin at Lairg  until it reaches the Kyle of Sutherland just north of Bonar Bridge. About half way along its course lies the Falls of Shin.  Every year throughout the summer the salmon return from the open sea to spawn. These fish have swum up the Dornoch Firth and the Kyle of Sutherland to return to the river that they themselves were spawned in. However in order to get to the spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the River Shin they have to pass the raging torrent of water at the falls. Using their powerful tails they leap against the current, often jumping completely clear of the water. Some make it first time and are able to continue their journey while others have to try and try again.
This is an incredible sight and well worth the trip (approximately 20 miles from Dornoch)

4) Seals

Loch Fleet, a sea loch which lies just north of Dornoch, is a haven for fauna and flora. It has a variety of species including otters and seals, wild fowl and sea birds, orchids and butterflies. You can expect to see Seals here daily, lounging on the sand bars during the rising tide.
The loch is a large tidal basin with sand dunes, coastal heath and pine woods. The woodland supports species such as Scottish crossbills, crested tits and pine marten.
There are coastal and woodland walks and 4 car parks all with information boards to help you find your way.
The reserve is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

5) Otters

The best place to see otters is also Loch Fleet. Look out for the Otter signs on the road on the mound on the way to Golspie- this is where they cross the A9! You are also able to see otters at Cuthill point and at other spots on the shore line around the Dornoch Firth. Golspie beach is another place where otters can be spotted.

6) Dolphins

During a ferry trip from Nigg (25 miles drive from Dornoch) to Cromarty,  you may see the elegant curve of dolphins breaking the water surface. They will be part of the unique Moray Firth family of bottlenose dolphins, the most northerly population in the world of these special mammals.
You are also able to see the Moray Firth Dolphins daily at Rosemarkie beach on the rising tide.

7) Seabirds

Further afield a visit to Handa Island makes for a memorable day out. Cross in a small boat to the dazzling white sands, then take the boardwalk around this tiny island to watch the puffins, guillemots and razorbills in their nesting colonies.

8) Migratory  birds

The diversity of habitats in the Dornoch Firth with mudflats, salt marsh, dunes, links and sandy beaches, provide an ideal environment for a range of birds. Summer brings common, arctic and little terns up from Africa to their coastal nest sites. Sea duck and waders are at their peak numbers in autumn and winter, with large eider rafts not uncommon. Winter visitors include Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Velvet Scoter, Long Tailed Duck and Widgeon. The surrounding woodlands contain tree pipit, redstart and wood warbler.
In August and September you may be lucky to see less common species such as Little Stint, Curlew, Sandpiper, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, and Green and Wood Sandpipers. In April and May up to 500 Sandwich Terns can be found at Dornoch Point.
Oystercatchers (known locally as ‘mussel-pickers’) can be seen all year on the beaches, links and coastal farmlands. In March, bird song from lapwings, grey partridge and the skylark can be heard.

9) Rockpools

A wide range of animal and plant life can be found in the Rockpools on Dornoch and Embo beaches. The Dornoch Beach Treasure Walk takes approximately 1.5 hours and is great way to explore the beach and learn a thing or two about the wildlife along the way! It is available on our app (Discover Dornoch) or as a booklet which you can pick up from the Visitor Centre or the beach carpark.

10) Butterflies and Moths

There are a huge array of Butterflies and Moths to spot in the Scottish Highlands and the Tain Field Club host Butterfly and Moth events throughout the year.

Look out for the Highland Ranger walks where you will be taken on a highly informative walk by one of the Highland Council’s countryside rangers.