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Scottish wildlife certainly takes in cetaceans - a posh collective name for whales and dolphins, pronounced, roughly, 'set-ay-shuns' (if you're Scottish, anyway). Best to take a dedicated whale and dolphin-spotting cruise, if you want to improve your chances of seeing cetaceans. Scotland has a good choice of these kinds of Scottish wildlife excursions, with the islands of Mull and Skye promoted as whale hotspots. On the Outer Hebrides, I once saw minke whales from the carpark at the Butt of Lewis, by the lighthouse, but I can't promise they'd still be there, as it was 1988.
Again, read some of the promotional material on whale and dolphin spotting and you would be forgiven for thinking that you're going to be lucky to get back ashore without the vessel being rammed by an orca, maddened by the smell of Goretex. Killer whales are at the glamorous and exotic end of the Scottish wildlife scale. Yes, even they turn up, from time to time. You never know with cetaceans. (Wonder if the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society uses headed cetaceanary when they write letters?) Sorry, about that. .
Amongst Scottish wildlife, I have a soft spot for dolphins. The bottle-nose dolphins of the Moray Firth are the big beasts of the Scottish wildlife and tourism scene. This species actually has a wide global distribution but because these northern waters are so cold, these dolphins can't prance around in skimpy costumes. No, they insulate themselves with a good layer of blubber, making them the largest examples of their species. Big ones go up to about 14ft, over 4 metres. Again, there are cruises from several Moray Firth harbours but you could be lucky and see them from the shore. Once and once only, from a shore vantage point near Portsoy, I was so close that I heard them exhale. But don't hold your breath for the same Scottish wildlife encounter. More information on Scottish wildlife - Moray Firth dolphins here.
Ah, the shy and elusive otter, scoring high for cuteness amongst Scottish wildlife. As far as I can see, depending on where you are in Scotland, you will see either virtually no otters or plenty of otters. There are certainly lots of otters on, say, Shetland, and a lot on the Outer Hebrides, and on wild parts of the western mainland seaboard. Skye and Mull are also good. Again, as an outdoor sort of chap, nearly all my otter sightings have been on the coast. There is an otter spotting hide at Kylerhea, on Skye, near the Glenelg ferry. Yes, you may well see an otter. We had fine views of a family of them at Plockton, whistling to each other, on the day we hired a rowing boat. The one in the picture here I photographed on South Uist. I think that's a crab leg in its mouth. The 'otters crossing' sign (below, left) is on the causeway between South Uist and Eriskay.
The red squirrel is also a high scorer for cuteness. Its nemesis, the grey squirrel, an introduced species that some say should be called 'The North American Tree Rat', is much more common in most parts of Scotland. It's the one you'll see in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, for example. (The greys seem to go a bit reddish in autumn and winter, but don't be fooled.) The red squirrel just can't take the competition from the grey, which, consequently, gets a very bad press. The red squirrel somehow just looks Scottish - a kind of see-you-Jimmy squirrel. (I appreciate there may be many of you out there who have no idea what I'm talking about.) I expect it's the fiery red.
Some people get quite emotional about its apparent decline in Scotland, though, truth to tell, it's widely distributed right across Europe, Russia and as far as Japan. So there's nothing uniquely Scottish about it at all. But it tends to live in wild and attractive woodlands, especially pinewods in the north of Scotland, where there are few or no grey squirrels. Walk in the woods near Grantown-on-Spey, for instance, near the river, and you're sure to see them.
Amongst Scottish wildlife, this is the only poisonous snake. It is easily recognised by the zig-zag markings down its back. It seems to be fairly widely distributed but seldom in large numbers. I don't see them that often. They very occasionally bite people, but usually only when they stick their hands into bracken or otherwise encounter an adder before it has time to slip away. So, joking apart, keep a close watch on small children and also small dogs, at adder hot-spots (such as the edges of the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian. Leave your dog at home if you're visiting the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Woodhall Dean, for example.) But you can wonder around the countryside for years and never see adders.
There are two species of seal, common and grey, with the grey having a more doggy face - see picture, taken from the back of the breakwater in Mallaig on the western seaboard. They are quite common, up and down the coasts. There's a tame one in Dunbar harbour in East Lothian, that expects his breakfast from the local sea anglers. And the man who hired us the boat at Plockton (mentioned above) was probably called Calum. He has seal cruises that actually (and uniquely) come with a guarantee: if you don't see any seals you get your money back. Please note that this is not the same as saying that you will definitely see seals. But the chances are pretty good……otherwise he'd be broke.
If you really have time on your hands, then you can go seal-spotting on Googlemaps on that link. This takes you to the A9 road, north of Dingwall, beyond Inverness. There are usually seals hauled out on the rocks all along here, but Mr Google went past with his camera when the tide was a little high I reckon. (Yes, I know on my link it looks like a wee boat with two tiny wee boats behind it but I'm sure it's four seals. If your boss sneaks up and asks you what you are doing, I'm not sure that replying 'Looking for seals in the Cromarty Firth in Scotland' will be sufficient explanation. That's your call.) See what you think. But come back afterwards. I wouldn't want you to miss hearing about hedgehogs.
I don't know why I've grouped them together. In fact, I'm not even sure why I've included them at all as they are more of a short food-chain than a sub-heading. For every thousand or so rabbits you notice, you will see one stoat, if you're sharp-eyed. If that ratio alters much towards the mustelids, I expect the bunnies get nervous. You can tell a stoat from a weasel because the stoat has a black tip to its tail. There's nothing especially Scottish about them, though my father would call them 'whitrets' or futtrets' (This is from Middle English 'white-rat' presumably referring to the stoat's winter colouring. I call them that as well, but only in the company of consenting Scots.)
Oh, gosh, I forgot to mention hedgehogs - all over the place and not just flattened on major roads throughout Scotland. Sure, we can do hedgehogs too. Oddly enough, apparently you'll never find a hedgehog where there are badgers, as badgers manage to open up a balled-up hedgehog. So, that's badger dinner taken care of.
By the way, don't mention hedgehogs if you're a ground nesting bird in the Uists, that is, part of the Outer Hebrides. (There's a page on the lovely Isle of Eriskay here.) Introduced (stupidly) by someone with a slug problem in their garden in 1974, the hedgehogs ate the slugs and then moved on to chew their way through the nests of internationally-important major populations of ground nesting birds. This in turn seemed to galvanise well-meaning hedgehog-hugging (ouch) organisations, most of which probably had the word 'Tiggywinkle' in their name, to rescue the animals, assess them after a probing interview, then allocate them new homes on mainland Scotland. (I kid you not.)
No-one comes to Scotland to see these (as far as I know), unless they are very, very odd. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the 'unique' Orkney vole being offered by tourism promoters as a reason to visit Orkney. (The link to the Scottish wildlife page mentoning this is just below.) Finally, in 2009, the Forestry Commission even issued a press release trumpeting the introduction of the release of 600 water voles in the Trossachs and the positive impact this would make on tourism. Are voles the secret ingredient for tourist industry success? I think not. Anyway, there are some larger animals to see on this other page about Scottish wildlife.
If you like your Scottish wildlife with wings, then take a look at theScottish birds page.
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Ooh, I did. How could I forget about our two hare species, brown and mountain? The mountain hare turns white in winter. The picture above is from Ben Chonzie in Perthshire - it's a good place for them.
Scotland in Three Days