Wildlife in Argyll & the Isles

Scotland's Wildlife Coast

Argyll and the Isles is home to some fantastic wildlife. Here you can spot Scotland’s ‘big five’ – red squirrels, otters, red deer, harbour seals and golden eagles AND much more.

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!

From white-tailed eagles and basking sharks to beavers and barnacle geese, our region is a haven for wildlife.

Red Squirrels

Argyll has a healthy population of red squirrels, with its many woodlands and forests, there are many great places to spot them. 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.

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.

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The otter is a fascinating creature to watch. Highly sought after but hard to spot, Scottish otters are mainly found of the west coast of Scotland. A helpful fact for those seeking them out is that coastal otters tend to be more active during the day while those from freshwater habits are nocturnal for the most part. You can also aid your search by keeping your eyes peeled for signs left by them alongside riverbanks and sandy shores, including their five-toed footprints.

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Red Deer

Mountainous, wild and sparsely populated, Jura is very different from neighbouring Islay. Only around 200 people live here but the red deer population by contrast numbers between 6000 and 7000. These magnificent creatures, Britain’s largest land mammals, are everywhere. The stags can be huge! 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.

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Habour Seals

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.

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The island of Mull 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. 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.

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These hardy little birds are one of the many bird species you will come across on your travels to Isle of Staffa. The best time to spot these colourful birds is in the spring months of March - May.

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If you want to get up close and personal with a beaver in the wild, Knapdale is the place. Knapdale is an unspoilt, sparsely populated and ruggedly beautiful so it was the perfect place for the reintroduction of beavers. 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.

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Take a boat from one of the region’s many harbours for a chance to see seals, basking sharks, minke whales, porpoises, white-beaked and bottlenose dolphins in the wild. If you’re very lucky you might see sperm, humpback and orca whales around the northern isles of the Inner Hebrides.

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 also a number of boat tours offering wildlife-watching boat trips.

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Migrating Birds

Argyll & the Isles has three RSPB Nature Reserves.

The Coll RSPB Nature Reserve is a key site in the Corncrake Recovery Programme and a haven for wintering geese, breeding waders and farmland birds.

There’s something for the birdwatcher all year round on Islay. 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.

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