The RSPB's Loch Garten Osprey Centre can be found on minor roads off the B970 some six miles north east of Aviemore, or two miles south west of Nethy Bridge. It lies within the wider Abernethy National Nature Reserve, which covers over 12,754 hectares or more than 49 square miles, and extends from the valley of the River Spey in the north, to the Cairngorm plateau in the south. The Abernethy NNR is itself part of the Cairngorms National Park and most of it is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The Loch Garten Osprey Centre is a fascinating visitor attraction in its own right, and it also serves as one of two gateways to the wider Abernethy NNR. It is well signposted from the main roads in the area, and the main car park is set within the trees of the ancient Caledonian pine forest. This is on the opposite side of the road to beautiful Loch Garten, which even offers visitors a fringe of sandy beach.
You can be forgiven a slight "is this it?" moment when you see the wooden building near the car park. The answer is "no it isn't". This building only houses the visitor reception and some toilets. Once beyond it you follow very well made tracks though forest and heathland for 300 yards to the much more substantial Loch Garten Osprey Centre itself. The quality of the tracks greatly eases accessibility: for more information see the full access statement linked from the Visitor Information section on the right.
The main Osprey Centre is a deceptively large building. It was developed here because this part of the Abernethy NNR provides an ideal habitat for the Osprey that live and breed here from March or April to August or September. There are only about 200-250 pairs of these magnificent fish-eating birds of prey breeding in the UK each year, and Loch Garten is one of the very best places to see them. The birds spend the winter in Africa and, appropriately, the Osprey Centre is only open seasonally, though the paths through the forest are open all year round.
The facilities on offer in the Loch Garten Osprey Centre are superb. Hatches on the east side of the building (the opposite side to the one you approach from) open to afford a direct view of one of the Osprey nests in the area: a large tangle of twigs and stick at the top of what remains of a long-dead tree. Some visitors bring their own telescopes and binoculars: but a number are also provided.
With the best will in the world, however, you can only catch glimpses of the activities in the nest, and here technology comes to the fore. One wall of the Osprey Centre carries a series of screens showing the feed from live CCTV cameras placed at various points around the nests in the vicinity. Regular watchers of "Springwatch" and its sister programmes on the BBC might feel a little blasé about the idea of seeing inside a bird's nest without disturbing the birds. But there really is something rather special about knowing that what you are seeing is live action from a location just a short distance away from you, with no editorial input or control.
The Osprey Centre is also home to some well thought-through information areas intended to appeal to visitors of all ages; a children's learning area; and a large gift and book shop.
It is worth noting that the Osprey Centre is not just about Ospreys. Visitors can also see red squirrels, dragonflies and a wide range of other natural flora and fauna. Each spring it hosts "Caper-watch", which allows visitors to see the spectacular mating display of the capercaillie, Scotland’s largest grouse.