Wildlife watchers may consider bird-watching as the first nature activity that comes to mind, there’s much more to our flora, fauna and sea life.
Wildlife thrives in the Western Isles
Of the birds, the Golden and White-tailed (Sea) Eagles are perhaps the big prize for many wildlife enthusiasts, but there are very many other rare species, such as Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Black-throated, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Corncrake, Red-necked Phalarope, waders and sea-birds. St Kilda boasts Europe’s largest Gannet breeding colony. You may see Puffins on a St Kilda trip or on the Shiant islands.
Red deer are common throughout the islands, while smaller mammals include Mountain Hares on Harris and Lewis and rabbits throughout. The rabbit is a beneficial source of food for the numerous birds of prey.
Long-tailed Field Mice and Field Voles are common in the Uists, providing food for the Short-eared and other Owls. Britain’s smallest mammal, the Pigmy Shrew, may also be found.
Common (Harbour) and Grey Seals will be seen all around our coasts, often basking on rocks as you pass on an inter-island ferry. Sometimes, on ferries from the mainland, or from land viewpoints, you may see Bottle-nosed and Risso’s Dolphins, Porpoise, Killer and Minke Whales, plus the occasional Basking Shark – a very calm water day helps. On both inland and sea-shores, you may also catch sight of an otter – more often when you’re not expecting it than when you’re on the look out.
Using a local expert to guide you is often an excellent way to get to see wildlife. You may wish to contact Chris Ryan, a qualified STGA regional guide, whose experience as a countryside ranger gives him an edge in the living landscape. Tours based in Lewis and Harris.
Steve Duffield, who worked for both SNH and the RSPB in the Shetlands, also as a warden, seabird surveyor, seal warden and most recently as goose officer. Steve provides a variety of tours in the Uists.
Jamie Boyle, the RSPB warden at Balranald, Uist, runs guided otter walks, especially around the Langass area.