Scotland is home to a dazzling array of wildlife so, for your pleasure, we’ve selected ten fantastic ways in which you can get close to these amazing animals.
The orca or killer whale can grow to eight metres long and weigh five tonnes. These sociable animals live in large groups known as pods, and are easy to spot thanks to their huge dorsal fi n. Shetland is the best place to see them, especially in spring or summer, when they can be spotted from shore or boat.
2. Sea birds
The Bass Rock, just over a mile off the East Lothian coast, is perfect for anyone keen to see sea birds, dolphins and seals. The Scottish Seabird centre organises trips there (www.seabird.org). Ailsa Craig, off the Ayrshire coast, is also worth a visit for its amazing wildlife, especially the huge gannet colony. Traditional vessels sail to the island all year.
3. Inland birds
Winter does not spell the end of the birdwatching season. In the stunning landscape of Sutherland and Caithness, the highlights for twitchers include the chance to see a wide variety of birds, such as the whooper swans, majestic white-tailed eagles and purple sandpipers.
After 400 years, beavers are back in Scotland, as part of a trial that has been extremely successful. Look out for these amazing rodents on one of a number of woodland walks in Knapdale Forest, Argyll. Families at Dubh Loch and Loch Linnhe have been seen the most by visitors, and have had the greatest impact on the landscape. The best time to watch them swimming around is early morning and evening. Visit HERE for more information.
5. Whales and dolphins
A rich variety of sea creatures populates the depths of Scotland’s many lochs, but you’ll have to travel offshore to see the most impressive of all aquatic dwellers. Whales and dolphins are there for the spotting in the North Minch, just above the Isle of Skye. These waters are the perfect place for getting a good sighting of humpback whales, killer whales, harbour porpoises, bottleneck dolphins and even, if you’re very lucky, basking sharks.
Home to 100,000 puffins, the Isle of May, off the coast of Fife, is a fantastic place to see these beautiful birds, as well as a wealth of other seabirds, including terns, kittiwakes, shags, guillemots and razorbills. April and July are the best months for seabirds, and between July and August for porpoises and whales. Seals can be found all year round.
If you want to catch a glimpse of a seal, one of the most endearing creatures to be found around our shores, head to the idyllic Isle of Eigg. Both common and grey seals can be seen here, particularly on the reefs near the harbour at Galmisdale and Eilean Thuilm at the north end of the island.
There are various ways of looking for otters in Scotland, but the best way of doing it is with the International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF), which organises very special trips around the Isle of Skye called Otter Watching Days. Visitors can go in search of wild otters, learning the uninitiated the art of spying on the creatures without disturbing them. All profits go towards the works of the fund. Visit www.otter.org for more information
There can be no better way to view the wildlife of the Ayrshire coast than on horseback. One and two-hour hacks through the stunning countryside around Culzean and along the picturesque beaches of the west coast can be found.
10. Red deer
The stag standing proud on a mountain crag is a Scottish icon, but it’s not always easy to spot red deer. Autumn, when stags and hinds come together for the breeding season, is the most promising time.