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Watch Our Wildlife - Summer


Mary Legg
Dunnet Wildlife Exhibition

Tel: 01847 821531
[email protected]

Marina Swanson
Bruce Building
Sinclair Terrace

Tel: 01955607758
[email protected]

The seabird colonies are in full swing at Holborn head, Dunnet, Duncansby and cliffs south of Wick. July is the best month to watch their young being fed.  Visit at dusk to see young guillemots, razorbills and puffins leaving the cliffs to join the adults at sea. Offshore, watch for gannets and skuas.  Take care on unfenced cliffs. Other summer residents are the arctic, common and little tern feeding in the bays. Look may also see rafts of scoters and divers. Although many waders are on breeding territory you may find migrant flocks of sanderling and dunlin on the shores in late summer.  Moors are best for sites of hen harrier and short eared owl. On mild, dry nights look out for pipistrelle bats feeding along tree/shrub edges and in deciduous woodland.  Daubenton’s bats over the burns at Latheronwheel woodland and Dunbeath Strath.  Cetaceans are following fish around our coast now.  Try headlands such as Holborn, Noss and Dunnet.  Swiney head (Lybster) is a good spot for minke whales, risso and bottlenose dolphins. There is always a possibility of orcas and pilot whalesCommon seals pup in June - try the small harbours.

Coastal grasslands and cliffs are rich in plant life; from thrift, eyebrights, grass of parnassus and numerous orchids.  The second flowering of Scottish primrose is in late June. Look out for this tiny flower at Dunnet links, Keiss & Holborn Head.  The rare oyster plant can be seen along the shingle beaches of Keiss & Dunbeath - look out for the small blue flower with silver green leaves.  Meanwhile peatland sites are full of sundews and the orange flowered bog asphodel.

West Sutherland / Assynt

Andy Summers
Assynt Visitor Centre

Tel: 01571 844654
[email protected]

June is the calving month for red deer. In many of the quiet undisturbed glens young calves are being born. They have to keep a low profile because golden eagle chicks will be leaving the nest soon.  The young eagles continue to be fed by their parents for several more months. They are easily recognised by their bold white tail feathers and white patches on their wing.  Look for them around Kylesku and Ben More Assynt.

Red and black-throated divers are congregating in the sheltered bays at Achmelvich and Clashnessie.  These will be non-breeding and failed breeders. Meanwhile the headlands such as Stoer Point are a good place to look for minke whales and porpoises following the summer spawning herring shoals inshore.  Inchnadamph is Scotland’s largest area of limestone and is a must for wildflower enthusiasts. Mountain avens and dark red helleborines are some of the specialties. Keep a look out for wildcats here at dusk and for pine martens crossing the around Drumbeg and Nedd.

By July there are more waders on the coast especially at Culkein Stoer. For the patient seawatcher, seabirds such as skuas and shearwaters become more numerous offshore. The rockpools at Clachtoll, Achmelvich, and Stoer are full of hermit crabs, sea slugs and other wonderful creatures and will provide wonderful entertainment for the family. Activity at the heron nest, captured through CCTV in Lochinver, will be at a peak with adults bringing in lots of eels and flounders.

Mid and East Sutherland

Ian Paterson
Ferrycroft Countryside Centre
Tel: 01549 402638
[email protected]

The wildflowers reach their peak during the summer months.  Early flowers include the specialist pine wood plants. One-flowered wintergreen, twinflower and creeping ladies tresses can all be found in June at Balblair Woods in the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve.  They are easily observed from the path, so please resist the temptation to stray amongst these fragile rarities.

Dornoch Common Good Lands contain a spectacular range of plants. Although they both have subtle greenish flowers, frog orchid and common twayblade are worth looking out for.  Colour is provided by great drifts of purple milk vetch, ragged robin and kidney vetch.  Later grass of parnassus and seaside centaury, a plant near to its northern limit in the UK, make their appearance.

Offshore, on the sandbanks near Dornoch Point and Loch Fleet you will see common seals. They give birth to their young on these banks during June and July.  Common, arctic, sandwich and little terns might all be seen on a good days birding at Loch Fleet. Spinningdale woods should turn up tree pipit, redstart and wood warbler. Try scanning Loch Shin and Little Loch Shin for black throated divers.

North West Sutherland

Donald Mitchell
Tel: 01971 511756
[email protected]

A spectacular time to visit the northwest with wildlife in abundance. Look closely at the grazed swathes of coastal grasses particularly around Durness and along the north coast.  You may find the diminutive Scottish primrose - a flower unique to Scotland. In the machair it can literally be near impossible to walk without stepping on flowers of dozens of different species including many varieties of orchids including early purple, heath spotted, fragrant, lesser twayblade, others including eyebrights, grass of parnassus, trefoil – creating a riot of colour and scents.

The north and west coasts are certainly the place to see the seabirds just now as they breed in vast numbers.  Handa island near Scourie is one of the best bird islands in Britain to visit. With more than 200,000 birds it would be a pity to miss this dramatic spectacle. Guillemots, puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and skuas are there in abundance. Cape Wrath and the Clo Mor cliffs also have huge breeding colonies and there are more approachable nesting cliff sites at Faraid head by Durness.  However the cliffs are naturally collapsing all the time so beware!

Look out for whales, dolphins and porpoises as well as otters.  Otters are best seen at low tides and in early mornings. Kylestrome and Scourie coasts are good for them but keep your eyes peeled from many coastal viewpoints.

North Sutherland

Donald Mitchell
Tel: 01971 511756
[email protected]

Mary Legg
Tel: 01847 821531
[email protected]

Strathy Point, Melvich Bay and Invernaver are a must for plant lovers.  Mountain flowers such as mountain avens grow amongst ground hugging juniper.  Orchids abound, as do eyebrights, bedstraws and speedwells.  Catch the second flowering of Scottish primrose at Strathy point.  And while you are there, look out for cetaceans; minke, dolphin and porpoise.  Off the headlands in late summer you might catch the movement offshore of large numbers of seabirds and migrant waders.  Go to the Kyle of Tongue to experience hundreds of terns amongst wonderful scenery. 

In contrast to the coast the straths and peatlands are the habitat of rarer birds such as red and black throated divers, dunlin and greenshank.  Visit Forsinard RSPB reserve for update on what to see.  They should have a video link set up onto a hen harrier nest. The flagstone trail here is also the best way to experience the amazing plant and insect life of the ‘flow country’.

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