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by Linda Jackson

Take your camera, binoculars and plenty of time to
discover Scotland’s amazing wildlife scene.

Scotland's Wildlife

Let’s face it. If you have a tendency to go wild, Scotland is the place to make a beeline for. From comical-looking puffins with their vivid orange feet and waddling gait in Argyll and the Firth of Forth; wild reindeer roaming the Cairngorms; seabird colonies arriving in their thousands off the East Lothian coast; and basking sharks as long as a bus and as heavy as an elephant arriving at their feeding grounds in sheltered Scottish bays... to the primeval ritual of the red deer rut in the Highlands, Dumfries and Galloway; otter hotspots in Shetland and Mull; soaring golden eagles in Argyll, Bute and the Highlands; and seal, dolphin, porpoise, minke, pilot, fin, humpback and killer whale spotting off the coasts, Scotland is blessed with incredible wildlife.

Even beavers have just been experimentally reintroduced in Argyll, after being extinct in Scotland for 400 years.

All this, surrounded by some of the best scenery in the world, what more could anyone wish for?

    

Well... a good pair of binoculars, a camera with telephoto lens, plenty of time, plus a well-informed naturalist would make a good start. But when and where to hear the screeching mating call of wildcats, the rasping cry of the elusive corncrake, the roaring of stags and clashing of antlers; or to see ospreys returning from warmer climes to reclaim their nesting sites; thousands of puffins spring-cleaning their burrows for the arrival of new chicks; seal pups, plump and fur-coated; signs of shy beavers in the wild; the spectacle of 25,000 geese descending on meadows, salt marshes and mud flats; and 140,000 gannets cloaking a volcanic plug as if it was covered in snow?  Read on...

      

    

SUMMER months are when Scotland’s seas are populated with cetaceans of all shapes and sizes - the west coast with an abundance of minke whales around Mull and the Small Isles, orcas in the Minches, humpback whales around Shetland, dolphins around the Hebrides and the Moray Firth, and gentle giants in sheltered bays - the plankton-eating basking shark, the second largest fish in the sea.

The world’s largest single rock gannet colony spends most of the year at Bass Rock, a 313-ft high volcanic plug off the East Lothian coast - the gannets stay until the end of October and return in January while, across the country, swallows and martins gather in pre-migration groups; while the elusive corncrake make the north and west islands their haven.

Summer is the time of year for osprey chicks who favour freshwater loch, river and Scots Pine forest locations (the core UK population of ospreys being in the Scottish Highlands), and the season for red squirrel litters.

In the glens red deer will be calving; early summer (morning and evening) is the best time to watch hinds and calves, while late summer is the time to see stags shed the velvet on their new antlers.


AUTUMN in Scotland is announced by stunning colours which accentuate the splendour of the glens; they echo to the roar of gathering stags for the dramatic annual rut - undoubtedly the best time to see the red deer. By the way, they tend to be more active in cold weather and rain, and love wallowing in mud. Most of the red deer (current population 300,000) live in the Highlands and Islands: they’re found in their thousands in upland forests and moorlands, although there are large numbers in the Galloway Hills. Great places to view the rut in full flow are the Perthshire Highlands, the Galloway hills and on the Hebridean islands of Jura and Rum.

Forty percent of the international grey seal population can be accounted for in Scotland, also best demonstrated in autumn - as are some 25,000 barnacle geese from Spitsbergen that descend on the meadows, salt marshes and mud flats on the Solway coast of Dumfries & Galloway; hundreds of swans (Icelandic whooper and Siberian Bewick) and many geese (pink-footed and greylag) arrive at the same time - it’s quite a spectacle.

This autumn would be a good time to visit Knapdale Forest in mid-Argyll, it’s in a National Scenic Area (flanked by Crinan Canal to the north) where beaver families have been reintroduced to the area (May 2009) after an absence of 400 years. Time your visit for early morning or early evening for the best chance of spotting them in the wild.

    


    

WINTER can be anything from snow-swept in the Cairngorms to damp and breezy on the south-west coast but that won’t spoil wildlife-spotting opportunities.

Around Spey Bay, Montrose Basin and the Solway, a great variety of ducks, geese and swans are present - with mergansers, goosanders, golden-eye and eider ducks providing an impressive courting spectacle during January and February, a time when (and reason why) red squirrels become more playful and are easier to spot.

Mating is also on the mind of wildcats in the Highlands; listen out for their screeching call. Badger cubs are born during winter months, reindeers in the Cairngorms are beginning to shed their antlers, and mountain hares start growing their new spring coats.


SPRING heralds a new wave of bird and animal life; it’s also when the salmon run starts (around late-March, lasting until October).

The best viewing sites of Atlantic salmon negotiating waterfalls and man-made obstacles are Pitlochry Fish Ladder in Perthshire, Philiphaugh Fish Pass on the Tweed near Selkirk, and the Falls of Shin in Sutherland, although all major rivers in Scotland offer key locations from which to admire the salmon’s upstream battle in order to spawn.

Nearly a million puffins take up residence around the country’s coast each year but whilst the larger puffin colonies position themselves on remote islands such as  Staffa and the Treshnish Isles off Mull, there are populations easily reached on a day trip from Edinburgh - St Abb’s Head, Fowlsheugh, and the Mull of Galloway.

Spring in the Highlands and Borders sees ospreys returning from warmer climes to reclaim their nest sites; gannets, fulmars and shags arriving at seabird colonies around the coasts - Noss in Shetland, St Kilda, and the Bass Rock being the most spectacular (the award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, East Lothian, offers great telescope and live camcorder viewing of nesting seabirds on Bass Rock).

    


   

Being home to such a diverse range of wildlife, from the smallest insect to the largest mammal, and with expert guides on hand to identify and offer detailed information on local wildlife, how can anyone possibly not go wild about Scotland? 

But when you do explore the wild side of Scotland, do remember to take your camera, binoculars and most importantly... plenty of time.

 To discover where the above-mentioned wildlife hotspots are, click here for a map of Scotland which has links to nearby Luxury Scotland members - the finest hotels in Scotland, www.luxuryscotland.co.uk/directorymembers 

LINKS

Map & Accommodation, www.luxuryscotland.co.uk/directorymembers/index.html
Scotland’s Wildlife Species, wildlife.visitscotland.com/species
Scottish National Heritage, www.snh.gov.uk
Scottish Wildlife Trust, www.swt.org.uk
Wild Scotland, www.wild-scotland.org.uk
Wildlife excursions/tours/safaris, www.wild-scotland.org.uk
Wildlife Watch Scotland blog, www.wildlifewatchscotland.blogspot.com
Scottish Beavers Trial (Argyll), www.scottishbeavers.org.uk
Scottish Seabird Centre (East Lothian), www.seabird.org
Writer - Linda Jackson, www.linda-jackson.co.uk

      

Luxury Scotland
Tel: +44(0)1383 825 800 
Fax: +44 (0)1383 825 700
E: jeremy@luxscot.co.uk

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