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  • Writer's pictureOlly Slessor

Winter gives way to Spring in the beautiful Scottish Highlands

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Spring will soon be here in the stunning Scottish highlands. Our Day Guiding throughout February and early March has been fantastic, with some wonderful wildlife sightings; there is so much to encounter, in a variety of habitats and sites.

I will start with mentioning a favourite species of mine that is seen regularly up on the hills and slopes. The Mountain Hare needs no introduction, a beautiful enchanting creature that is always a delight to see on any day guide. At this time of year their white fur stands out well against the dark background of the hills making them easier to spot and study. They are also easier to see at this time of year because during the summer months they are found at higher altitudes, so require more walking and hence more effort to locate.

Mountain Hares occur in mountainous areas above 300m; they moult their grey coat in early winter turning white so they blend in with the snow. In the UK they are mainly found in Scotland but some also occur in England in the Peak District. When they feel threatened they crouch down with their ears to the ground, but can bolt away fast at high speeds to avoid predators. Mountain Hares are threatened by climate change and with milder conditions this can cause the closely related Brown Hare to expand their range uphill and outcompete them.

Mountain Hare resting
Mountain Hare (Olly Slessor)

Another iconic Scottish speciality that can often be found not far from the Mountain Hare is the splendid shy Red Grouse. These are truly wild, native gamebirds, unlike other species of gamebird found in Britain that are reared and released. The handsome male Red Grouse has a lovely deep reddish brown plumage with a distinctive red wattle above the eye. Red Grouse require extensive heather moorland away from trees as their breeding grounds. Male birds display by puffing out their feathers and drooping their wings. In the UK, Red Grouse are a distinct subspecies of the Willow Ptarmigan, with the Red Grouse differing in retaining its reddish brown plumage all the year round. In flight they are a delight to watch, with whirring wingbeats and glides on bowed wings; they certainly have a lot of character. Red Grouse are a species of conservation concern; amber listed as there has been a moderate decline in their population. During the 20th century the population fell as moorland was afforested.

Red Grouse resting
Red Grouse (Olly Slessor)

Out on the rivers and streams an enchanting small water bird can be found. The Dipper is a distinctive species, a plump little bird, dark sooty brown and black in colour with a broad white breast and throat. It was great watching their behaviour, bobbing on the rocks by the fast flowing rivers and streams, then watching them fly with great persistence over the water. Dippers are unique in being the only small songbird to walk into water, swim and dive. They have an obvious white eyelid that is seen when the birds blink. Dippers are scarce birds and need fast flowing rivers to survive; they are restricted in the UK to hilly regions and are therefore absent from south east England.

Dipper resting
Dipper (Olly Slessor)

I will end with a majestic and powerful raptor that was seen recently on our day guides. The awesome Peregrine Falcon is famous for its speed and skill in hunting. It is another bird species that is scarce; it is always a thrill to encounter this fantastic predator. When seen well they are distinctive raptors, heavily built with broad shoulders; they have an obvious black moustache which contrasts with their white face. Peregrine Falcons have made a recovery from a decline in the 20th century and there are now around 600 pairs that breed in Scotland.

If you would like to book a place on a guided day out with an experienced wildlife guide you can check availability and book online.

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