Day out: Gartmorn Dam, Clackmannanshire

Take a flutter to the central Lowlands of Scotland where secluded Gartmorn Dam is a haven for feathered winter migrants, including mesmerising goldeneyes

Winter snow on hills by a lake

Set in a hidden corner of Clackmannanshire, to the north of the River Forth, is picturesque Gartmorn Dam. Surrounded by woods beneath the Ochil Hills, it lies within minutes of Stirling, Alloa and the ancient county town of Clackmannan, making it a perfect destination for an easy escape. Gartmorn is particularly appealing now for its overwintering birdlife.

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The dam forms Scotland’s oldest reservoir, dating from 1713, but even before that, its name suggests that this was a watery place; the word Gartmorn means ‘the farm (gart) over the marsh’. 

Bird on water in winter
Goldeneye ducks gather in loose congregations on the open water/Credit: Getty

Wildlife at Gartmorn Dam

Visiting goldeneye and pochard can be seen diving for food along with the local tufted ducks. Less common ducks to look for include gadwall, shoveler, goosander and ruddy. 

Goldeneye feed on the open water, generally in small, loose congregations. The male in particular is a handsome, medium-sized diving duck. It is black and white with a greenish black head and a circular white patch in front of the striking golden eye – a feature it shares with the smaller females, who are mottled grey with a chocolate-brown head. In flight, they show a large area of white on the inner wing, while on the water they give an air of unperturbed calm, their dramatic eye an unmistakable presence. Watch as they dive abruptly, resurfacing after a minute or so. And though slightly comical due to their oversized, bulbous heads, they are masters of the cold thanks to their winter fat reserves.

Winter in hills and snow
Listen for honking geese over Gartmorn Dam in winter/Credit: Geograph

As winter sets in, wildfowl breeding in Northern Europe find it difficult to find food and, as a result, many migrate to spend the season at places such as shallow Gartmorn Dam, where food is available throughout the year thanks to the abundance of pondweed, invertebrates and fish. In fact, the diversity of pondweed in the dam – a Site of Special Scientific Interest – is of national importance.

Greylag and pink-footed geese also roost in winter, filling the dusk air with their wild evocative calls. Large flocks of swans add plenty of drama too, sometimes joined by their noisy Icelandic cousins, yellow-billed whooper swans.

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Explore Gartmorn Dam on the largely flat, three-mile path that encircles the water.