(Before I start, a quick note: unlike most of my blog posts, the majority of the photos in this one are not mine – they have been nicked from ‘tinterweb (from sites where you’re allowed to do that – I checked!). The reason for this will become apparent very shortly…
Scotland is *teeming* with amazing animals and birds. For such a small country we are spoiled: our long coastline and numerous islands mean that we are a haven for sea mammals and nesting seabirds; our mountains host a wide array of interesting birds of prey and adders; our woodland areas provide a veritable joyland for wee rodents and red squirrels; after dark, our cities are over-run by foxes and bats.
Oh, what a privilege it is to be delighted by the sights of these magnificent beasts as we travel around Scotland, gasping and “oohing” and “aahing” at the wonders of nature.
Is the sarcasm obvious yet? No?!
I bloody love animals. And I don’t mind (most) birds too. But there is a problem: no matter where I go, no matter when, I am a jinx. I *never* spot anything exciting. I have been all over Scotland, to many of the main “hot spots” for wildlife spotting, but – without fail – I miss everything. It’s actually becoming a complete joke. So let’s go through some of the best-known animals in Scotland one by one, with my tales of epic failure to see them.
Otters are by far my favourite animal. On our recent holiday in Skye (read a bit about it in my blog post about the Fairy Pools), we stayed at “Otter Lodge” (lovely place, BTW). Note the name. The first thing I saw when I arrived was this handy folder:
And, the friendly and helpful owner of “Otter Lodge” *assured* me that he’d let me know of any otter spotting opportunities, with the high likelihood that I’d be lucky! GREAT! I thought. *FINALLY* a good chance to see one in the wild properly! (I did once see one very, very briefly as it disappeared back under the water in Melvaig, Wester Ross – but, to this day, I’m not convinced it wasn’t just a big ripple in the water and I’d had too much whisky. I also saw the ones in the Oban Sealife Centre who are *awesome* but I don’t think that counts as “in the wild”, no matter how many “wild”, shrieking weans were there at the time.)
You will not be surprised to hear, however, that the photo above was not taken by me. Otters eluded me once again at (Nae) Otter Lodge. I *knew* that I was jinxed as soon as I clapped eyes on that hopeful folder.
But that’s not my best Fail re otters. A lovely pal of mine was working in Oban at the start of this year and Grown Up Boyfriend and I were planning a trip there (blog here). “Oh!” exclaimed my lovely pal. “You’ll get to see the baby otters!”
“BABY otters?! Surely you jest?!” I replied.
But, no – she had seen them with her own eyes, on a number of occasions, right in the harbour of the town, just under the bridge “You know, where the taxi rank is,” she told me in a helpful and encouraging manner. She even sent me a VIDEO she’d taken on her phone of the wee treasures! Dawwwwwwwww.
Excitedly, I went to the exact spot she’d told me about. Peered over the harbour wall. Ducks. More ducks. Ooh a swan! Seagulls. Bloody seagulls. Baby otters? Baby otters my auntie arse. Despite a number of trips back to the spot over the couple of days we were there, nada. Zilch. Bum.
2. Basking Shark
In the summer, it appears that these bad boys decide that the west coast of Scotland is where they want to be:
Now, obviously, I didn’t take that photo: a) I can’t really swim b) I know they don’t eat people but, still, FUCK THAT. But, allegedly, you can spot them just off the west cost shores during the summer months – and a number of companies offer boat trips to see them a bit more close up. The best story I can recall re failure to see these guys was on another trip to Skye a couple of years back. Grown up Boyfriend and I had just been to Neist Point – it’s beautiful, by the way:
On the drive back, we stopped in at a wee croft, where the crofter has a shop selling crafts. She was chatting away about Neist Point asking what we’d seen. The answer was – natch – a couple of seals’ heads and bloody seagulls. Her response was something along the lines of: “Ooooooh, you should’ve been here yesterday! A load of basking sharks, just off the beach! In fact, they’ve been there most of this week!”
By the way, this type of comment comes under the “Here’s what you could have won!” bracket. A la Bullseye:
You remember Bullseye, don’t you? When the two blokes with bad moustaches (or women – also often with bad moustaches, to be fair) gamble their prizes of a teasmade, fishing tackle and VHS video recorder with remote control (but not the money for charity because “it’s safe!”) for what’s “hiding behind Bully”; then they get just 29 in 6 darts, so don’t win and Jim says “here’s what you could have won!” and shows them a speedboat? That. It’s *exactly* like that when someone says “oooooh – a tourist was in here just yesterday and they saw a basking shark with an otter riding on its back while an albatross flew overhead right where you’ve just been!”. Ok, slight exaggeration there, but you get my drift. This is similar to when you arrive at a hotel or B&B in Scotland and it’s pissing down with rain and the hotel owner *assures* you that it’s been tropical right up until the day YOU arrived! The other main “here’s what you could have won” instances are those blackboards that boat trip providers put up next to where you pay. “What we’ve spotted today / this week” etc. In my experience, these may as well be renamed “Look at what you won’t see if you go on this boat trip with THAT WOMAN” – with an arrow pointing at me.
3. Dolphin / Porpoise
I have actually seen a porpoise! Once. I went on boat trip with the Gairloch Marine Life Centre (highly recommended) and saw a single porpoise. Groovy. But I’m reliably informed that on most trips out there people see a hell of a lot more than ONE porpoise. Dolphins are also apparently UBER common all over the place in Scotland. But, other than seeing a pod WAY out on the horizon with binoculars, from Melvaig in Wester Ross, again, I haven’t been lucky.
4. Killer Whale
Nope. Look, if I’ve never seen a dolphin, do you really think I’ve seen a feckin killer whale?! Have a word.
5. Minke Whale
Now, I *did* see a *bit* of one of these fellas once!
(Not my pic – it was the only “free” one on ‘tinterweb, so not the best – but google image search it and you’ll get better pics). Of course, I was looking the other way when my attention was alerted and, being a bit slow on the uptake, just caught sight of it going under the surface. This was on the magnificent boat trip from Ullapool to the Summer Isles with Summer Queen Cruises (now called Shearwater Cruises):
Despite not seeing much wildlife, this is by far one of the best trips I have ever been on. The water was like glass and the scenery is so beautiful. If you find yourself in Ullapool (and, let’s face it, that’s a kick ass place to be for any reason) get yourself on that boat trip. Hopefully you’ll see more than the back of a Minke Whale’s arse too.
6. Scottish Wild Cat
This is the Holy Grail for a crazy cat lady like myself. But since there are only about 100 in the wild, your chances are pretty slim. Some fantastic info about them and their conservation can be found here.
Since you’re SO unlikely to see a wildcat in the wild, go to the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms National Park. They have some. When I went, there were even some kittens! Squeeeeee! Utter joy.
7. Red Squirrel
I have actually seen one of these! Again, just the once and only briefly – in Rothiemurchus Forest, near Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. I was SO excited! Only to be brought down to earth with a bump when a friend said “Ach, there’s loads of them at Centreparcs in the Lake District”. Humph.
8. Sea Eagle
Aha! Something to buck the trend! Not only have I seen one, but I got a proper long good look AND this photo!
OK, I lie – Grown Up Boyfriend took the photo. But I was able to watch this guy for quite a while. This was on our recent trip to Skye, on the fantastic Wild Skye boat trip, from Carbost. The excellent skipper, Stephen, knew exactly where to go to get the best sightings and was really knowledgeable. He even chucked fish in for the eagle to catch – something very special to see.
So, all in all, I am rubbish at seeing cool animals and birds on my trips away. The ones above are far from an exhaustive list of my fails. I am, however, VERY GOOD at seeing these bastarding things:
Mainly, outside Tiny Flat on Shit Street. Shit Street is, seemingly, the very favourite place in the whole feckin city of Edinburgh for seagulls to pitch up and nest. And to laugh at you. No, really, they do. Their vile, nasty, evil squawking (usually at around 4.45am) sounds exactly like insane laughter. It has almost driven me to screeching out of my window at them “STOP MOCKING ME!!! STOP MOCKING ME!!!” but I fear that would lower the house prices even more. The local car wash places do a roaring trade. This is because the seagulls on Shit Street are very particular about what they shit on: only cars that have been through the car wash as recently as that morning will do. And your car ends up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting gone wrong. Bastards. Utter bastards.
OK, so let’s be fair, though. I am unusual when it comes to folk travelling around Scotland and not seeing much interesting wildlife. And I have seen some (eg seals, puffins, skuas, jellyfish, bats, deer, golden eagle, leaping salmon…). And you must not be put off Scottish wildlife spotting yourself just by the fact that I am an utter jinx. There are plenty of spots that you are highly likely to see all of the animals listed above – and more. Plus, I’ll admit it, I am dead impatient! So: do your research, find your spot, chill out and wait. I am sure you’ll be rewarded. There are some fantastic organisations that can help you plan so you have the best chance to see some special creatures in some special places. Try Wild Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a starting point.
Me, though? With my luck, I reckon I’m just as likely to see the famous animal that lives here rather than a feckin otter 😉 :