SEABIRDS AND SEADUCK
The Moray Firth is one of Britain's most important sites for seabirds at sea throughout the year and holds nationally and internationally important numbers. It is one of the most important areas for seabirds in European waters. The cliffs of the Moray Firth have the largest mainland seabird colonies and hold nationally and internationally important numbers. Troup Head has the only Gannet breeding colony on mainland Scotland and the Cormorant colony at the North Sutor at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth is the second largest in Scotland.
The inner Moray Firth is recognised as the most important seaduck site in the British Isles, holding just under 20,000 birds. The table below shows those species present in numbers of national and international importance.
Seaduck, Diving Duck, Divers, Grebes etc wintering populations - winter 1998/99
Area Internationally important (peak number counted 1998/99) Nationally important
(peak number counted 1998/99)
Moray Firth as a whole
Slavonian Grebe (98)
Red throated Diver (179)
Black throated Diver (20)
Little Grebe (40)
Long tailed Duck (2704)
Common Scoter (3543)
Velvet Scoter (1090)
Red breasted Merganser (611)
Dornoch Firth Slavonian Grebe Red throated Diver
Black throated Diver
Cromarty Firth Scaup
Beauly Firth Red breasted Merganser
Inverness Firth Scaup
Distribution of Seaduck
At least four main sites for seaduck are recognised within the Moray Firth:
Dornoch - between Tarbat Ness and Brora
Culbin - the area off Nairn and the Culbin bars
Burghhead Bay - off Burghhead Point west to Findhorn
Spey Bay - the whole area eastwards from Lossiemouth to Portgordon.
Eider, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, and Long tailed Duck are found in shallow water within 4-5 km of the shore.
The relative importance each site for seaduck varies from year to year and between seasons and the inner Moray Firth should therefore be considered as one site.
Distribution of Diving Duck
Tufted Duck, Scaup and Goldeneye are generally confined to the inner Firths. The most important site for Goldeneye is Ness mouth/Longman Bay where birds are attracted to the Inverness main sewage outfall. Goldeneye have deserted other sites in the Moray Firth where improvements have been made to outfalls, such as at Invergordon but the overall population is fairly constant.
The main sites for Tufted Duck are the Ness-Charleston area of the Inverness/Beauly Firth and the inner Dornoch Firth with peak numbers in mid-winter. The three main sites for Scaup are Edderton Bay in the Dornoch Firth, just off Jemimaville in the Cromarty Firth and Longman bay in the Inverness Firth.
Distribution of Divers, Grebes and Sawbills
Red throated and Black throated Divers breed inland but move to the coast in autumn and winter to moult. Divers are generally found in shallow coastal waters, often foraging further from the shore than most seaduck, particularly in areas of extensive inshore shallows such as the outer Dornoch Firth. The shallow sandy areas of the Moray Firth, the Dornoch Firth, off Culbin Forest and Burghhead and Spey Bays are important areas for Divers. The Red throated Diver is the moat common diver wintering in the Moray Firth with main sites similar to those of seaduck. Red throated Divers have also been recorded on the south coast of the Moray Firth from Portgordon to Fraserburgh. Black throated Divers occur in small concentrations in late winter, favouring more open shores than the Red throated Divers and are found mainly in the outer Dornoch Firth and Burghhead Bay.
In winter Slavonian Grebes move to sheltered inshore coastal waters from inland breeding sites and are found in local concentrations throughout the area. Favoured areas are the outer Dornoch Firth, the Cromarty Firth, the Inverness Firth and Burghhead Bay.
The most consistently important mid-winter site for the Red breasted Merganser is the Riff Bank of the Moray Firth. The Cromarty Firth, Inverness/Beauly Firth and more open shores such as Culbin and the outer Dornoch Firth in spring and autumn are also important.
Distribution of Seabirds at Sea
Although precise distributions of seabirds at sea will change on both a short-term and long-term basis, the considerable amount of systematic work in the Moray Firth has enabled some patterns to be determined. The main offshore daytime concentrations of seabirds throughout most of the year have been recorded over the Smith Bank, particularly the north-east corner. The Smith Bank has been particularly important in spring and autumn for Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, gannets and sooty shearwaters, but relatively few are recorded there in winter. Two other areas within the Moray Firth which are important are an inshore area near the Caithness/Sutherland border and the south east corner of the Firth between Troup Head and Fraserburgh.
Numbers of seabirds at sea increase sharply at the end of the breeding season when the colonies on land are deserted and peak in August when flightless flocks of auks, such as razorbills, occur, consisting of both adults in moult and chicks. Numbers then decrease to winter levels as these flocks disperse.