Wildlife and Nature

Any visitor driving up to the Loch Ness area has a chance of seeing Britain's largest land mammal, the red deer - unless summer heat has made them retreat to the higher mountain corries. Even the casual observer should spot basking seals on coastal rocks. In short, some Highland wildlife is easy to spot - and more than one western seaboard hotel with a shoreline outlook boasts that otters are frequently seen from the dining room!

Many a bird table is visited daily by photogenic red squirrels - and there are plenty of woodlands where this charming animal is conspicuous. However, not all wildlife is quite so cooperative. It takes luck, sometimes, to encounter a pine marten, the shy denizen of the old pinewoods, and it could be that your wildcat sighting will just be a glimpse in the headlights as you drive through some northern glen. But from roe deer at the woodland edge to otters foraging along the tide-line, be ready with your eyes open (and your camera handy) for a Highland wildlife encounter.

Birds of Prey

Wild, unspoilt and spectacular country tends to mean wildlife to match - so that the Highlands are the stronghold of a number of 'high profile' species. By their nature, birds of prey usually have large territories and cover large distances while hunting - so that a sighting of a diving peregrine, a soaring golden eagle or just a glimpse of a merlin skimming the heather-moor can never quite be predicted, nor ever forgotten as a part of a Highland wildlife experience.

There are more than 400 pairs of golden eagle in Scotland, many in the Highland area. Summer visiting osprey can be surprisingly conspicuous and have spread beyond their old strongholds along the River Spey. Red kite can be seen frequently while driving on the A9 north of Inverness, though the other re-introduced species, the sea eagle, takes more spotting in the Skye area. Both these areas are easy day trips from your base in the Great Glen.

Closed circuit tv cameras at osprey, hen harrier, red kite and sea eagle nests in various parts of the Highlands deliver a close-up portrait to the visitor - but nothing will compare to your own first eagle sighting in the wild. It looks much bigger and darker than the widespread (and much smaller) buzzard.

Sea Life

The wild and unpolluted seas are more than just a blue backdrop to fine scenery - they offer a good chance to see wildlife such as whales, dolphins and most commonly, seals. The bottlenosed dolphins of the Moray Firth are perhaps the most famous cetacean species in the northern waters. Here, the cool rich feeding grounds allow them to grow bigger than bottlenose dolphins anywhere else in the world. The mouth of Cromarty Firth, Chanonry Point, North Kessock (visitor centre) and Fort George are all good watching places and dolphin cruises are also available. Minke and killer whales can also sometimes be seen.

However, the western seaboard also offers cetacean watching. Mallaig, Armadale, Kyle of Lochalsh and Gairloch, all easily accessible from the Great Glen, are some of the places offering sea-life cruises. A variety of dolphin species may be encountered, as well as minke and killer whales. Harbour porpoises are the smallest species regularly seen. While sightings of cetaceans cannot be absolutely guaranteed, the records suggest that you are never quite sure what you may see - Atlantic white-sided dolphins, pilot whales and even sperm whales are just some of the sightings - and in any case, seabirds and seals in plenty will keep you entertained!