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Watch Our Wildlife - Summer

Watch Our Wildlife Winter

Watch Our Wildlife - Spring


Mary Legg
Dunnet Wildlife Exhibition

Tel: 01847 821531
[email protected]

Marina Swanson
Bruce Building
Sinclair Terrace

Tel: 01955607758
[email protected]

Prior to migrating north, you can still see wintering geese and whooper swans at the lochs of Mey, Calder, Heilan, Watten and Wester with the rarer Greenland whitefronteds at Loch of Mey and the Calder / Broubster area. Simultaneously the first wave of wheatears and swallows are arriving from Africa.  Look out for great and Arctic skuas at both east and north coast headlands as they patrol the seabird colonies building up at Holborn Head, Dunnet Head, Duncansby and cliffs south of Wick.  Some waders such as red knot and turnstone will be coming into breeding plumage.  Look for them at tidal sections of both the Wick and Thurso rivers and also on rocky shorelines at Castlehill, Ham and Harrow Harbour and Keiss where you might also see a few remaining goldeneye and long tail ducks. Skylark, lapwing and curlew are holding territory in moors and fields. Sinclair`s bay and Dunnet bay are good for great northern, red-throated and the occasional black-throated diver.

The first flowering of Scottish primrose is showing at Dunnet, Holborn Head and Sinclair`s Bay. There is a good display of common primrose on cliffsides and stream banks and of blue spring squill in coastal heaths at Corbiegoe, Dwarick, Dunnet and Duncansby Head.  The small blue butterfly is on the wing at Dunnet.  Two orchids appearing and are fairly common; the small heath and the northern marsh. The pyramidal bugle is flowering in Dunbeath and Langwell Straths.   Your best chance of seeing otters is to take a walk down the rivers Thurso or Wick, or else keep an eye on the rocky shores. Try the small Harbours and Gills bay for seals.

West Sutherland / Assynt

Andy Summers
Assynt Visitor Centre

Tel: 01571 844654
[email protected]

Red deer shed their antlers about now and you may come across them half chewed and
scattered on the heather. This is a difficult time of year for the deer.  They have used up most of their winter reserves and are desperately waiting the first flush of grass.  The carcasses of dead deer however provide food for both golden eagles and whitetailed sea eagles. Golden eagles will have laid their eggs by mid March and maybe feeding youngsters by early May.  It is always worth scanning the hilltops around Inchnadamph or Kylesku for this magnificent bird.

Wheatears are one of the first migrants to arrive and can be seen around the crofts at Stoer and Drumbeg from early April.  Greenshanks are also early to arrive selecting a territory on the boggy areas often in the vicinity of small lochans.  Ring ouzels take up positions around Inchnadamph from 10th April onwards.

Black-throated divers breed on many of the larger lochs in West Sutherland.  They arrive on site in early March.  The smaller red-throated diver does not arrive until late April choosing the smaller hill lochans.  The occasional wintering great northern diver will hang around until May in sheltered bays like Clashnessie or Achmelvich.  Lochinver Tourist Information Centre opens at Easter, where there will be live TV footage of a nearby grey heron in her nest incubating eggs.  On calm days in April and May it is worth spending a while sea-watching with binoculars.  Harbour porpoises and minke whales are commonly seen from headlands such as Stoer lighthouse.

Mid and East Sutherland

Ian Paterson
Ferrycroft Countryside Centre

Tel: 01549 402638
[email protected]

Mid/East Sutherland hosts an impressive osprey population and these will have returned to their nest sites by early April. Loch Migdale, Mound car park and Loch Fleet are three good places to watch their incredible fishing skills.  Morning and evening visits can be rewarded with an unforgettable osprey experience.  Black grouse will be indulging in their spectacular mating displays at leks throughout this period.  Searching out such sites is discouraged because of the risk of disturbing the birds, but please join the ranger service to visit a black grouse lek at the end of May.  Details in our events programme.

A good view of a pair of hen harriers in aerobatic display is a very exciting spectacle.  Try looking for the birds on the high point of the Lairg - Rosehall road or around the young plantations between Lairg and the Crask Inn.  Sound of the month belongs to the grasshopper warbler.  Their song resembles a very prolonged grasshopper stridulation!  This increasingly common summer visitor can often be heard in Ferrycroft Woods, Lairg or in the marshes which border the narrow stretches of the Kyle of Sutherland around Invershin.

North West Sutherland

Donald Mitchell
Durness Visitor Centre

Tel: 01971 511756
[email protected]

Migrant birds are naturally later in the north and it is worth heading to the coast for first sights of some species; fulmars come in early – already in Durness by mid-January and rock pipits seem to be ever present. Shags too will be settling in around the breeding areas such as Faraid Head. Whilst out on the cliffs look carefully for some gems of early flowers such as moss campion and purple saxifrage, more commonly found at high levels are at some special sites near Scourie, Fanagmore and Sandwood Bay.

April sees the departure from Durness of overwintering barnacle geese. Up to 800 birds flit between Eilean Hoan and the fields of Balnakeil. Greylag geese, mallard, curlews, golden plover and early arriving lapwings also feed in the fields here. In late April the ever popular puffins return to Faraid head and Handa island. Birds of prey are regularly seen along the north coasts, peregrines are early nesters and buzzards display to their mates becoming uncharacteristically aerobatic. Look in the deep dark dubh lochans for signs of stirring frogs and in the warmer days for the palmate newts, often be found in remarkably small pools.

North Sutherland

Paul Castle
Durness Visitor Centre

Tel: 01641 521884
[email protected]

A good place to go for plants and shore birds is Invernaver National Nature Reserve where you will find mountain plants at sea level such as the early flowering purple saxifrage. In May look here and at Strathy Point for Scottish primrose at its first flowering.  Other great plant sites are Melvich and Strathy with cowslips, orchids, globe flower and bedstraws. Scan the bays, river mouths and the Kyle of Tongue for waders, divers, herons, terns and sea duck checking out the rocky river banks for otters.

Look out from the headlands, particularly Strathy Point. as it’s the start of the movement of whales, dolphins and porpoise following fish shoals around the coast.  For a taste of the Peatlands then Strath Halladale is worth exploring, with a visit to RSPB Forsinard for an update on what is about.

Watch how you watch our wildlife;
their welfare comes first!

• Wear muted colours and blend into your surroundings.
• Keep noise to a minimum.
• Use binoculars to get clear views while still distant enough to avoid disturbance.
• Use hides when possible (your car is a good hide).
• Be particularly careful during the breeding season.
• Be patient and the wildlife may come to you.
• Dogs and wildlife don’t mix.
See Also
Caithness Biodiversity Collection

Caithness Rangers
Highland Wild Encounters
Caithness & Sutherland Map
Sutherland Biodiversity Plan
Nature Pages
Walking Pages