Wildlife

Native Scottish Wildlife

Argyll and the Isles is home to some fantastic native Scottish animals, such as Otters, golden and sea eagles, basking sharksand birds. From white-tailed eagles and basking sharks to beavers and barnacle geese, our region is a haven for wildlife.

The region’s hills, ancient forests, remote shores and seas teem with fabulous flora and fauna. Argyll’s National Nature Reserves and many more wildlife centres are home to a huge range of rare plants, animals and birds including Scotland’s only wild beaver population.

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!

Otters, golden and sea eagles, basking sharks, seals, puffins, porpoise: the shores and seas of Argyll and the Isles are teeming with wildlife.

 

Mull has become known to many as ‘Eagle Island’ thanks to its population of golden and white-tailed sea eagles.

Over on Islay, in autumn thousands of geese flock to the island. 

 

Scottish Wildlife

Otters, golden and sea eagles, basking sharks, seals, puffins, porpoise: the shores and seas of Argyll and the Isles are teeming with wildlife.

Discover Scotland’s ‘big five’ – red squirrels, otters, red deer, harbour seals and eagles – as you explore Argyll’s wild places.

1. Red Squirrels

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

2. Otters

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.

3. Red Deer

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.

 

4. Harbour 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.

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.

Puffin

These hardy little birds are one of the many bird species you are bound to come across on your travels around Scotland.

Where: Isle of Mull, Isle of Staffa, Shetland, Orkney, the islands of the Firth of Forth and the Isle of May.

When: The best time to spot these colourful birds is in the spring months of March - May.

Sealife

Take a boat from one of the region’s many harbours for a chance to see seals, basking sharks, minke whales, porpoises, risso’s, 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.

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.

Beavers

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 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.

Eagles

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.

Birds

Argyll & the Isles has three RSPB Nature Reserves. The Coll RSPB Nature Reserve, 1,075 hectares of mire, bog, machair and dunes on the west coast of the island, is a key site in the Corncrake Recovery Programme and a haven for wintering geese, breeding waders and farmland birds.

Over on Islay, an island which is world renowned its birdlife, there are two RSPB reserves 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. Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve at the northern end of the island is the place to watch the wintering geese arrive.

And if you want to see the king of the Scottish skies, the sea eagle, then head to Mull Eagle Watch which offers guided visits from two sites on the island.

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.

Where to spot

Argyll has some of the finest remaining Atlantic oak woods in the country. They’re home to some magnificent wildlife and an array of rare ferns, lichens and mosses. Glasdrum Wood near Creagan Bridge is one of Scotland's National Nature Reserves. Ash and oak dominate this beautiful woodland. 

Taynish National Nature Reserve, just south of Tayviallach, is one of the largest remaining oak forests in Britain. The woodland, grassland, heath, saltmarsh and shoreline are home to an amazing variety of wildlife. 

Shian Wood, managed by the Scottish Widlife Trust, is an ancient semi-natural woodland typical jutting out from the southern shore of Loch Creran. Ballachuan Hazelwood on the Island of Seil cloaks a low ridge overlooking Cuan Sound and supports an exceptionally large number of lichen, mosses and fungal species.

Argyll Forest Park stretches from the Holy Loch to the jagged peaks of the Arrochar Alps. It’s Britain’s oldest Forest Park and has so much on offer. You can enjoy the park and its wildlife in three levels: drive the scenic roads, walk or cycle the many way-marked trails or climb up to the mountain tops and ridges.

Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve is a lowland raised bog and one of Europe’s rarest and most threatened wildlife habitats. This rugged and beautiful landscape near Crinan is home to dragonflies, hen harriers, curlews and other moorland and wetland species.

Staffa, an uninhabited island, is a 45-minute journey from Mull by boat. It’s best known for its basalt columns and spectacular sea caves, as well as its incredible wildlife.

 

 

 

Nature Reserves and Unique Habitats

Birds
Argyll & The Isles has three RSPB Nature Reserves. The Coll RSPB Nature Reserve, 1,075 hectares of mire, bog, machair and dunes on the west coast of the island, is a key site in the Corncrake Recovery Programme and a haven for wintering geese, breeding waders and farmland birds. Over on Islay, an island which is world renowned its birdlife, there are two RSPB reserves 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. Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve at the northern end of the island is the place to watch the wintering geese arrive. And if you want to see the king of the Scottish skies, the sea eagle, then head to Mull Eagle Watch which offers guided visits from two sites on the island.

Forests
Argyll has some of the finest remaining Atlantic oak woods in the country. They’re home to some magnificent wildlife and an array of rare ferns, lichens and mosses. Glasdrum Wood near Creagan Bridge is one of Scotland's National Nature Reserves. Ash and oak dominate this beautiful woodland. Taynish National Nature Reserve, just south of Tayviallach, is one of the largest remaining oak forests in Britain. The woodland, grassland, heath, saltmarsh and shoreline are home to an amazing variety of wildlife. Shian Wood, managed by the Scottish Widlife Trust, is an ancient semi-natural woodland typical jutting out from the southern shore of Loch Creran. Ballachuan Hazelwood on the Island of Seil cloaks a low ridge overlooking Cuan Sound and supports an exceptionally large number of lichen, mosses and fungal species.

Argyll Forest Park stretches from the Holy Loch to the jagged peaks of the Arrochar Alps. It’s Britain’s oldest Forest Park and has so much on offer. You can enjoy the park and its wildlife in three levels: drive the scenic roads, walk or cycle the many way-marked trails or climb up to the mountain tops and ridges.

Unique habitats
Moine Mhor (the great Moss) National Nature Reserve is a lowland raised bog and one of Europe’s rarest and most threatened wildlife habitats. This rugged and beautiful landscape near Crinan is home to dragonflies, hen harriers, curlews and other moorland and wetland species. Staffa, an uninhabited island, is a 45-minute journey from Mull by boat. It’s best known for its basalt columns and spectacular sea caves, as well as its incredible wildlife. If you want to get up close and personal with a Eurasian beaver in the wild, Knapdale is the place. At Barnluasgan you’ll find scenic trails which will allow you to see the work of this shy creature and possibly even spot one!