One of the main attractions for Dude and I holidaying in Scotland (even before we moved) was the diverse wildlife that either lives here permanently or chooses to visit. Neither of us would call ourselves Twitchers but we do own binoculars, a spotting scope and some bird books. We’re not totally clueless but I would certainly say that we are enthusiasts. Over the years, since my first road trip in 2009, we have been really lucky to have visited many wildlife hotspots in Scotland. I thought I would share some of them with you.
Firth of Forth
Less than an hour’s drive from our home in Perth is the Firth of Forth. A busy shipping channel with three bridges stretching out over the water, you would think it an unlikely place to find wildlife.
The Dude and I have been out on boat trips here – leaving from both North Berwick and South Queensferry.
Before the Queensferry Crossing (aka the new bridge) was complete, we were invited to join the crew on the Maid of Forth and take a trip to Inchcolm island. The weather wasn’t particularly good for this trip, dry but grey. Let’s call it atmospheric.
Whilst on the boat the Captain pointed out to the passengers some seals and their pups relaxing on rocks. Once we had arrived at the island we disembarked and had ninety minutes to explore the abbey and it’s shores. We spotted a variety of gulls, razorbills and eiders nesting, all making this secluded spot home whilst they sat on nests. A safe haven from predators.
Our next trip was from North Berwick to Bass Rock. This volcanic rock can be seen for miles along the coastline and is a protected site due to it’s impressive colony of gannets. Around 150,000 birds call this place home.
We are able to get close enough in the boat to admire these beautiful birds, watch them at home on their nests and also smell them! From a distance you can see that Bass Rock is white and as you get close up you realise why. It’s not from the amount of birds but the guano (proper word for bird poo).
Nothing takes away from the experience of seeing these magnificent birds up close. Soaring over our heads and diving in to the water. It’s special.
On the same trip we also saw puffins on Craigleith island. This was my first time seeing these wee cheeky characters in the flesh and even from a distance, they were everything I imagined.
I’m still yet to experience them close up with a visit to the Isle of May (also in the Firth of Forth) an opportunity to take photographs and just sit and admire them.
When people mention Islay it’s usually followed by mentioning a distillery or name dropping their favourite peaty single malt. This place is so much more than that.
For our last visit to the Queen of the Hebrides we spent a week getting to know her. Our first visit was a wet whirlwind of a trip but we saw enough to realise that we should go back.
There is an RSPB reserve on the Oa peninsular and a chance to see golden eagles and possibly hen harriers. We didn’t see either of these birds (maybe because of the high winds?) but we did spot choughs and sky larks.
It wasn’t totally uneventful as the walk itself is really pretty and we did get our first sighting of the wild goats. They were happily munching their way around, not too perturbed by our presence and happy to have their photo taken (from a safe distance with a long lens).
This wasn’t to be our only encounter with these beauties as we spotted more later the same day with kids. Too cute.
During our stay we also saw seals. Maybe seventy or eighty grey seals in one place. Something neither of us have seen before. We knew that the harbour at Portnahaven and Port Wemyss were home to these guys but we didn’t see them during our first stay. This more than made up for it. We spent more than an hour watching these curious animals. They spent nearly as much time checking us out too.
Then Dude spotted more over on one of the small islands and once our eyes tuned into them on the beach, we realised the huge numbers. Really quite special.
We also saw a couple of deer roaming Port Charlotte too. Happily munching on a patch of sweet grass before disappearing between the houses.
Isle of Mull
The first time I visited this cracking wee island I left a piece of my heart. It’s magical. Before we moved to Scotland, I had only visited during winter and even then this place did not disappoint. Don’t get me wrong, that meant a lot of time was spent in the car and it also meant it was just pure luck that we were in the right time at the right place.
Mull wildlife taught me that even in the depths of winter, short daylight hours and sometimes harsh conditions, there’s always a chance you could see something. Over the years we have learnt where we can see the otters and seals. We know the rough where abouts of golden eagles and where a pair of hen harriers can be found. We have watched otters sneak up on a juvenile white tailed sea eagle who was resting on a rock in the loch.
Oh and the red deer. These magnificent beasts always look like something off of a postcard.
A couple of years ago whilst I was working in Tobermory and talking to tourists, I spotted a sea eagle. In my excitement I changed the subject and pointed it out to them and handed them my binoculars which were in the van. They were delighted. After being on the island for four days and not seeing one they were pleased of the experience (albeit from quite a distance).
We are definitely well over due a visit. It was on our last ferry crossing back to Oban that we decided to move to Scotland. You can see why it’s special to us for more than just the wildlife. Even though most of my visits to Mull have been in March, I have also managed to sit on a beach in Iona, in a tshirt, eating a picnic. It’s not all bad.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is home to the UK’s only free ranging reindeer herd. I was astounded to learn this when I lived down south and in fact, had to look it up! Really? Actual reindeer in the Cairngorms. Yup. Very cool.
Back then I didn’t know much about this wilderness and it’s harsh winter conditions but now I totally understand why this is THE most perfect place for them to be. Best of all, you can take guided walks up the hillside and get up close with these beautiful creatures.
Dude and I did just that with the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre a few years ago. Conditions were perfect. With snow already on the ground and another light flutter of snow whilst we were up with the herders, it made for the most perfect experience. We got to hand feed some of them and chat with the guys who look after them and know each reindeer by name!
The herd of around 150 beasts, is split and whilst some of the animals are in a huge enclosure the others are free to graze the mountains. There have been reindeer roaming this area since 1952 and they absolutely thrive here.
The centre offers guided hill tours up to the herd nearly all year round (with the exception of Jan- early February) and come highly recommended from us.
If you have never seen an osprey then Loch Garten at Abernethy is well worth a visit. The large hide is manned by RSPB staff and volunteers who can answer any questions about the birds. It is a great space with spotting scopes, binoculars and screens with a live feed from the nest for a close up.
As members of the RSPB we always enjoy visiting reserves and trying to learn a bit more about the wildlife. It’s not always about the birds either. On this site we also found a dragonfly and red squirrel. The Crossbill have, so far, eluded me and I am yet to see them (a good excuse to go back).
I had my first sighting of Snow Buntings in this area too. Cute wee things.
I can’t do a wildlife post and not include Perthshire. I want to share with you some of the fabulous things I have on my doorstep.
My social media feeds are crammed with photos and video‘s of one of my local walks – Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park. Within a stones throw from the city centre and overlooking the river Tay. If you are lucky you might spot red squirrels, roe deer, tawny owls and woodpeckers. There have been some years when peregrines have also nested here.
It can get busy (weekends and holidays) so I would suggest that if you fancy a bit of wildlife spotting that you get up early.
Just north of Perth at the Hermitage runs the river Braan and Black Linn waterfall. This is where we first saw the wild salmon leaping to get to their spawning grounds up river. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking in equal measure but a natural wonder I wanted to witness.
We also enjoy watching dippers along the river here too. From the Hermitage if you walk out to Pinecone Point, in early summer you can see many types of butterflies and beetles.
Not far from the Hermitage and the sweet village of Dunkeld is Loch of the Lowes wildlife reserve. For many years now ospreys have successfully bred here. They are, more recently, joined by beavers and it is an excellent place for wildlife experiences. Managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, staff and volunteers monitor the comings and goings of their star attractions and update new comers and regulars to the goings on around the loch.
There are local Perth outdoor adventure companies who also do kayaking along the Tay and regularly report seeing otters and beavers. If only I had the courage to kayak I would be all over that! I have only seen captive beavers down south (ones bred for release in Scotland) and to see them in the wild would be amazing.
Better luck next time
Of course, the wildlife doesn’t always come up trumps. I have been on a cruise along the inner Moray Firth, where there is a well known pod of bottlenose dolphins. Did they make an appearance for our trip? Did they heck as like! But we met some fabulous people and the crew were knowledgeable and passionate about the local area and the animals. I would definitely do it again.
I have tried looking out for the same dolphins out at Chanonry Point where I have seen many photos of dolphins breaching the water. Someone must have tipped them off about my visit because I did not see a single dorsal fin! I might add that both of these dolphin spotting trips were with my friend Alice. I’m glad we are good friends but I do reckon she is jinxed when it comes to seeing wildlife.
To be fair, if you stand still long enough you will discover wildlife hotspots in Scotland are all around. I’m lucky enough to enjoy brown hares on the drive and in the fields at home and that is something I hadn’t experienced before moving to Perthshire. Road trips with the Dude are always interesting and we often stop mid sentence just to blurt out the animal that has caught our eye; “What are we having for din…… buzzard.” and then carry on as if nothing had happened “What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Please remember to treat the animals with the utmost respect. Do not approach them to try and feed them (even the ones that seem friendly are still wild and unpredictable).
*The boat trips (on the Firth of Forth) that are mentioned in this blog post were on a complimentary basis in return for blog posts*