Merkinch Local Nature Reserve is a bit of a hidden treasure, located only about a mile (2 km) outside of Inverness along the shore of Beauly Firth. As the only nature reserve in the highlands, it is the perfect area to observe the diverse wildlife of this sparsely populated region and enjoy a day outdoors. There is a visitor center, once used as a ferry ticket office, where you can delve into small exhibitions and also pick up maps or hire a guide for a walk around the area. Animal spotters will also find a logbook detailing the latest wildlife sightings and can then set out to spot the highlands' biodiversity themselves.
Looking over the Beauly Firth shoreline, you can watch steel blue barn swallows catching insects, buzzards sitting tall atop tree branches, pheasants with bright gold and brown plumage, shy curlews probing the waters for crabs with their extremely long curved beaks and the big grey herons stalking their prey. If you're lucky, you can even see bottlenose dolphins coming up for air, common seals and the more active European otters. They all live in and around tidal pools and both salt and freshwater marshes, some of which are partially connected to the sea.
It's possible to walk to the reserve via Kessock Road toward South Kessock or to save time by catching bus 14. There is also a small parking area at the entrance. The site is open all year-round, while the visitor center is open only on weekends from April to September.