The entire Highlands and Islands are a diverse treasure trove of nature. Neither of us are specialists, but we are well-versed in identifying a wide range of species and their habitats. However, it takes extraordinary patience and great good luck to spot iconic species such as golden eagle, sea eagle, red deer or dolphins. Listed below are some destinations where we might be lucky with sightings.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve: a 23,000-acre gem in the Scottish Highlands, about 1.5 hours north of Inverness. The Estate is involved in a long-term project of rewilding their land by replanting lush forest and reintroducing original Highland plant & animal species. Alladale is famous for its rugged terrain, dramatic glens, colourful hills, glistening rivers, and herds of majestic red deer. More info
Basking sharks (boat trip from Mull in late season); currently only departures are from Tobermory; depends on season; follow local guidance. More info
Beinn Eighe: In the Torridon area of Wester Ross, this 10,000 acre National Nature Reserve is a great place to observe the Red Deer Rut. This NNR is famous for its native biodiversity. It is a favourite haunt of pine martens, dragonflies and many other species now absent from many parts of Scotland. Accommodation available in Kinlochewe and at the Torridon Inn. More info
Black-grouse leks (early April) in Sutherland – a bit of a long shot and requires careful research and an early-morning start. An unforgettable experience. More info
Dolphins (Chanonry Point or boat trip from Cromarty or by car trip to Chanonry Point car park – not far to walk to dolphin ‘nursery’. No guarantee to see the animals – depends on season, tides and salmon runs; adequate footwear required.
Falconry in the extensive garden grounds of Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, East Sutherland (see also Castles). Unparalleled demonstration of falconry with excellent comments on history, animal behaviour and training techniques. Two shows a day exercising different birds; in the summer season only. Updates on their website
Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve. Approx. 43 miles west of Helmsdale on the A897. The visitor centre provides full information on the dynamics of blanket bog and its habitats for a wide variety of native animal and plant species. More info
Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig: Highland species and animals from alpine and arctic zones around the world in very extensive enclosures and/or free-ranging); excellent facilities. Further info
Knockan Crag, Assynt, North West Highland Geopark. Very good interpretation of Highland geology in relation to the impacts of earth’s tectonic plate movements which produced our rock formations in the Highlands and Islands. Evocative displays and fantastic views across to the Assynt mountains. May combine with tour including Ullapool. More info
Nesting seabirds on cliffs at Dunnet Head Lighthouse, north coast: NB puffins leave by mid-July, other seabirds leave as soon as young are fledged. Seabirds’ nesting season usually starts early May. Beautiful moorland drive from Dunnet; easy walk to viewpoint.
Osprey hide and viewing centre, run by RSPB at Abernethy, Loch Garten, near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms National Park. April to September. Alternatively, we are likely to find a nest in an area of Sutherland which we know well.
Red deer: Potential views driving from Helmsdale to Forsinard; Strathconon valley from Marybank or strictly by arrangement with Fannich Estate. Deer management is an essential conservation measure in Scotland; deer therefore very shy. More info.
The 10,000 acre NNR Beinn Eighe is said to be a great place to observe the Red Deer Rut; accommodation available in Kinlochewe and at the Torridon Inn.
Red squirrels at Nethy Bridge; squirrel feeding station in walking distance from Visitor Centre parking.
St John’s Loch, Caithness, for wintering wildfowl e.g. white-fronted gees at St John’s Loch, Caithness, would combine with visit to Dunnet Head Lighthouse and/or John O’Groats; Castle of Mey is closed in winter.
Sea eagles: Shieldaig The brochure ‘Shieldaig and its magnificent Sea Eagles’, refers to a breeding pair hatched on Gruinard Island and Loch Maree. The community of Shieldaig in Wester Ross (NW Highland) is proud of its very special residents. Nesting platform in secret location closely monitored by RSPB.
Tollie Red Kites: Attend a regular feeding session for these colourful birds (once extinct in Scotland) on Brahan Estate by Beauly, not far north of Inverness, would combine with visit to the lovely town of Beauly and/or a visit to Wardlaw Mausoleum for OUTLANDER fans. More info
Ythan Estuary at Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, for breeding seals, terns, eider ducks and other species. Even in summer, warm clothing including woollen hats, stout footwear and reasonable fitness required for walks out to the dunes. More info