This part of Scotland is rightly famous for the birds and wildlife which live and thrive here. As well as species found in other parts of the UK, there are also opportunities to see and photograph birds and mammals which are now rarely seen outside Scotland.
You can hire tour guides with local knowledge to take you to the places where you stand the best chance of seeing the more elusive creatures, or visit some of the many nature reserves nearby. We use Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris.
Both red and black grouse can be seen – the more common red grouse is seen and heard frequently on the heather moorland – the much rarer black grouse is rather more elusive but will put on a great show in the spring months, strutting around traditional lekking grounds.
The lekking grounds are also busy during April and May with this larger cousin of the grouse. The RSPB hide at Loch Garten is a good vantage point for Capercaillie.
Raptors & Owls
There are many raptors in the Highlands- Buzzards, Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Short-Eared Owls and Hen Harriers to name but a few. A juvenile White-Tailed Sea Eagle has also been seen from time-to-time. The Findhorn Valley (or Raptor Valley as it’s aptly known) gives a spectacular backdrop for those wanting to watch the aerial displays. It’s especially spectacular to watch the larger, slower birds being mobbed by the smaller and faster Ravens and Peregrines.
Osprey regularly fish the local waters and a good view can be had in the nesting season from the hide at Loch Garten.
Crossbills & Crested Tits
Crossbill can be found feeding on the pine and spruce cones high up in the canopies of Glenlivet and Crested Tits also nest and feed in this forest, especially in the northern end of Strathavon.
These breed at a much higher (and colder) level and can be seen on the Ben a Bhuird plateau (Ben Avon) and towards the top of Cairngorm Mountain. They are particularly stunning in their white winter plumage and are usually seen in small groups.
Waders, Dippers & Divers
Waders breed in the upland valleys and moors in some numbers and from spring, Lapwings, Golden Plover, Curlew, Redshank and Sandpiper are all likely to be seen, whether on the water or putting on a fantastic aerial show. In the winter months, the Moray Firth plays host to visitors such as Sanderling, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Curlew, Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Oystercatcher, Bar Tailed Godwit and Dunlin as well as the resident Cormorant, Shelduck & Redshank. Dippers are frequently seen bobbing in their characteristic way along the Spey and Avon rivers
Gannets & Puffins
The cliffs at Troup Head on the Moray Firth play host to many sea birds – especially in spring when they’re breeding – as well the only mainland colony of Gannets in Scotland. You should see Kittiwake, Guillemot, Fulmar, Shag, Razorbill and Puffin.
Wild Cat & Pine Marten
The best time of year for spotting nocturnal predators like these is during the summer. This is because there aren’t sufficient hours of darkness for the animals to catch enough prey to feed their growing families. They are very wary of people but you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
Brown Hare & Badger
As with the Pine Marten and Wild Cat, the long summer evenings mean hares and badgers can’t always feed under the cover of darkness and there is an increased chance of seeing them grazing and foraging. (if you wish to view Pine Marten and badger at close quarters contact Speyside Wildlife)
In the early summer, both Roe and Red Deer are likely to be seen on open ground and hillsides as they graze on the new, sweet grass. As Autumn arrives, so does the rut and to accompany the roars of the bucks and stags, you will see them defending their harems and fighting for the right to mate.
The Scots Pines provide these adorable creatures with the cones they love. They will also scavenge for nuts and scraps or steal from bird tables and can be quite brave when they’re tempted by something tasty.
Otters are resident along the Livet and the Avon and will follow spawning salmon into the Braes of Glenlivet so they can feast well before the onset of winter.
Mountain Hare are difficult to spot and the best time to see them is obviously when they’re less camouflaged. During the winter, their coats are white so it’s almost impossible to see them in the snow but they’re more obvious after a thaw. Conversely, while they still have their brown coat, an early or late fall of snow means they will still be visible.
Introduced in 1952 The Cairngorm Reindeer herd is the only free ranging reindeer herd in Great Britain. The herd is split between roaming the ladder hills and the Cairngorm Mountains, if you are walking locally you may see them! If you visit Cairngorm Mountain pop into the reindeer visitor centre where you can book a visit to see and feed them (it’s a good idea to ring in advance, they sometimes disappear!)