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Birsay Moors - BirdForum Opus

Photo by Mark Hows
The Hide at Cottascarth



In the north of the Mainland of Orkney, this is a large and undulating heather moorland reserve with areas of dry heath, blanket bog, marshy areas and streams.

The Dee of Durkadale is a calcareous valley mire with willow scrub and some reeds. There are also small lochans on some of the hilltops.


Notable Species

This site is unusual in its high density of breeding Hen Harrier, in addition there are Merlin, ground-nesting Common Kestrel and Short-eared Owl. Gulls of four species also breed on these moors as well as small numbers of Great Skua and Arctic Skuas.

Nesting waders include Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Eurasian Curlew and there are breeding Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and Red-breasted Merganser.

The hilltop lochans are home to Red-throated Diver. Passerines include the most numerous birds of the moors, Eurasian Skylark and Meadow Pipit, as well as Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Common Wren and Twite.

The Dee of Durkadale has Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler.

Birds are few in Winter but Greenland White-fronted Goose are present.


Birds you can see here include:

Red-throated Diver, Greater White-fronted Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Hen Harrier, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian or European Golden Plover, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Common Wren, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Sedge Warbler, Hooded Crow, Common Starling, Twite, Reed Bunting

Other Wildlife

The predatory birds feed to a great extent on the Orkney Vole, a distinct subspecies of the Common Vole, widespread in Europe but absent from Britain except on Orkney and Guernsey. Otter are occasionally seen in the streams.

The Dee of Durkadale is a botanically rich area with many species of sedge and orchids including Heath Spotted, Northern Marsh and Early Marsh Orchid.

Site Information

The best times to visit are Spring and Summer although Autumn can be productive with migrant waders and possible rarities.

Areas of Interest

There are three sites of interest

Burgar Hill has a hide overlooking Lowrie's Pool and breeding Red-throated Diver, leave the A966 at Evie north of the B9057, there are small RSPB signs to follow. Parking for the hide is at HY344258. There is a layby further south to park in at HY343243 and the moor can be accessed from there following the tracks.

The Dee of Durkadale can be found by turning right on the track at the southern end of Loch Hundland which leads to the abandoned farm. There is a layby to park in at HY293251. The area is good for Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl.

Cottascarth is further south there is a hide at HY365197 a 10 min walk from the car parking. The car park is in the farm at Cottascarth. Take the road Brough / Breck of Cruan and at Settiscarth follow the Cottiscarth signs to the end of the road. This site is good for both Hen Harrier and Merlin.

Access and Facilities

The Birsay Moors can be viewed from the B9057 Dounby to Georth road and Cottascarth is reached on a track off the A966 Finstown-Evie road, 5km north of Finstown. This leads to a hide with good views of the moorland and usually, Hen Harrier.

Grid Ref: HY340240

Ferries run daily from Scrabster in Caithness to Stromness on Mainland Orkney, a two-hour trip.

Contact Details

Tel: 01856 850176 (RSPB)

External Links

Content and images originally posted by Steve


glasgowbirder's review Okay so I saw a male Hen Harrier at about 20 feet. But that was in the car park after 3 hours in the hide.

In marked contrast with the other reserves there was almost no wildlife save for some sheep and a few pipits.

Go if you want a good chance of seeing Hen Harriers.


  • Hen Harrier site!


  • Location poorly signposted.

Gramayr's review The location is a bit out of the way, and parking is limited if several cars turn up at once. The guided walk was very informative, including local area information on plants and wildlife. Saw male and female Hen Harriers folowing the line of the fences, also Short-Eared Owls were another highlight.

Well worth a visit if in the area.

Warning: if you don't like walking amongst cattle then give it a miss.


  • Informative talks/walks by RSPB


  • Can be a bit muddy as cows are roaming about.