Argyll's iconic wildlife
Argyll and The Isles is home to some fantastic wild animals and birds. Follow this journey through Argyll to discover some of Scotland’s iconic wildlife, including golden eagles, otters and red squirrels. As you explore Argyll’s hills, forests, lochs, shores and seas, you’ll be treated to some unforgettable wildlife encounters. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t forget to pack your camera and binoculars!
Red squirrels – Cowal
Argyll has a healthy population of red squirrels, and the Cowal peninsula, with its many woodlands and forests, is a great place to spot them. Start your journey at Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon. Stroll down the impressive avenue of giant Redwoods, and look out for the cheeky chaps scurrying among the trees. Nearby Puck’s Glen, a magical woodland world of gorges and tumbling waterfalls, is another habitat for red squirrels. There are a couple of way-marked routes here. Glenbranter Forest, Ardkinglas Woodland Gardens and Kilfinan Community Forest are other good places to see red squirrels in Cowal. The best time of year to see red squirrels is in spring when they’re out and about getting their dreys ready high up in the trees and autumn when they’re gathering food for the winter.
Next up is the beautiful island of Bute. From Dunoon drive to Colintraive on Argyll’s Secret Coast where you can catch a ferry to Rhubodach on the north-east of Bute.
Seals – Bute
Seals live all around Argyll’s coastline and you’ll see these curious creatures basking on the rocks, swimming in the sea and popping up in bays. Scalpsie Bay on the west coast of Bute is home to a large colony of seals, both Common and Grey. This beautiful stretch of sand – just a five-minute walk from the road. From Seal View viewpoint you can watch the seals on their rocky perches. The state of the tide will determine the number that you see, but if you hit the right time you might see up to 100 seals.
From here, you’re heading to the beautiful inner Hebridean island of Islay to see some wonderful birdlife. Catch the ferry back to Colintraive and then drive to Portavadie via Tighnabruaich to catch the ferry to Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula. Drive south to Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay.
Birdlife - Islay
There’s something for the birdwatcher all year round on Islay. One of the most spectacular sights must be the autumn arrival of thousands of white-fronted and barnacle geese. In spring you can see wading birds, including snipe, lapwings, redshanks and curlews. There are two RSPB reserves on Islay, both offering trails, hides and visitor information. The Oa RSPB Reserve at the southern end of the island has wild sea cliffs and open moorland, making it the perfect habitat for birds of prey. Look for golden eagles soaring over the cliffs. Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve at the northern end of the island is the place to watch the wintering geese arrive.
Red Deer – Jura
It’s just a 10-minute ferry from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin on Jura. Mountainous, wild and sparsely populated, Jura is very different from neighbouring Islay. Only around 200 people live here; the red deer population by contrast numbers between 6000 and 7,000. These magnificent creatures, Britain’s largest land mammals, are everywhere. The stags can be huge, easily weighing up to 17 stone and more. They’re also incredibly photogenic and are often seen striking dramatic poses on the skyline, so a decent telephoto lens will help you capture their undeniable majesty. In autumn, listen out for the stags bellowing in the hills.
Your next stop on the Argyll wildlife journey is Knapdale. Catch the ferry back to Kennacraig, then drive north on the A83 to Lochgilphead and the A816 to Cairnbaan and the B841 to Crinan and Knapdale.
Beavers – Knapdale
Knapdale is an unspoilt, sparsely populated and ruggedly beautiful are of Argyll, bounded to the south by the Kintyre peninsula and to the north by the Crinan Canal. It’s also home to wild beavers. The first Knapdale beavers were released in May 2009 as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial and quickly settled into their new surroundings. At Barnluasgan in Knapdale you’ll find scenic trails which will allow you to see the work of this shy creature. If you’re lucky and time your visit right – dusk or dawn is best – you might even spot one.
Next up is Oban. Pick up the A816 north again and enjoy a glorious drive up the west coast to Oban.
Sealife – Oban
The waters around Oban are rich feeding grounds and prime cetacean-spotting territory. Dolphins, porpoises, minke whales, seals, basking sharks and even the occasional orca can be seen. The Firth of Lorn Special Area of Conservation, just south of Oban, supports a huge variety of marine species. The common (or harbour) porpoise thrives in the waters around Oban. In fact, they’re one of the reasons that the Firth of Lorn received its special conservation status. Summer is the time to see basking sharks in the waters off Oban. Take a trip with Oban-based Basking Shark Scotland to see these magnificent creatures. There are a number of Oban-based operators offering wildlife-watching boat trips.
Eagles – Mull
From Oban, catch a ferry to the island of Mull, which is famed for its eagles. Mull has the highest density of nesting golden eagles in Europe, and this spectacular predator can often be seen soaring over the island’s remote glens, moorland and mountains. But it’s the white-tailed eagle, also called sea eagle, that is truly the king of the Scottish skies and, arguably, the highlight of a trip to Mull. Weighing up to 15lb and with an eight-foot wing span, it’s the UK’s largest bird of prey. Mull Eagle Watch operates from two sites and allows you to get great views of the birds from hides without disturbing them. Another way to see the sea eagles in action is on a boat trip. Mull Charters, which operates from Ulva ferry on the west coast of Mull, has designed a trip that gets you close to these magnificent creatures.