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Monday, 6 October 2014

Scottish wilderness - August in Ardnamurchan with Naturetrek

James Mace



I spent almost all of August in the Ardnamurchan Peninsular on the west coast of Scotland, leading tours for Naturetrek. This is one of the most remote and, to my mind, one of the most beautiful areas in the Scottish Highlands. It is a privilege to spend time here with like-minded people who really appreciate the opportunity to see wild animals in an unspoilt landscape.



Each week was different but every we all saw four of Scotland's "Big Five" - Otter, Pine Marten, White-tailed and Golden Eagle. The weather is mixed at this time of year but there are always sunny spells in between the showers!


Emma J Shipley

Otters are not easy to find on Ardnamurchan, despite the fact that Loch Sunart is designated a Special Area of Conservation for Otters (and other wildlife)! The reason is that there is simply so much excellent habitat. We found our Otters in the bays to the west of Glenborrodale, in Laga Bay and on the Isle of Carna.


James Mace (through scope)

Pine Martens are normally very hard to see but there is a high density around our base in Glenborrodale. We had many prolonged views of up to four at a time and sometimes even in daylight...very special moments.




White-tailed Eagles are spreading across the Highlands and Islands and are now breeding on Ardnamurchan. Our best views were on the boat trip, when we sailed close to the north shore of Mull. On different occasions, we watched both adults and immature birds flying close overhead or perching up on tall pines or crags close to the shore. These majestic raptors are Britain's largest bird of prey and one of the biggest eagle species in the world. Golden Eagles are often harder to see on Ardnamurchan and so it proved this summer, with only fairly distant views in the vicinity of Ben Hiant (the largest mountain on the peninsular).


Mike Fell

The one member of the "Big Five" that we could not find was Scottish Wildcat. The dire conservation status of this iconic highland species is well known and numbers on Ardnamurchan have dropped significantly in recent years. However, a new project, entitled Wildcat Haven, has been established on the peninsular in order to protect and then boost numbers of Wildcat. All local domestic and feral cats have been neutered and camera traps have been set up to monitor the movements of Wildcats. A new captive breeding programme on the Isle of Carna is intended to boost the numbers in future years. Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy views of this superb predator in the not too distant future.

The wide range of wildlife combines with stunning scenery to make Ardnamurchan such an exciting wildlife destination. Other birds seen during August included Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin, Short-eared and Tawny Owls, Red-throated Diver and a host of seabirds. We enjoyed watcing groups of resident Porpoises and on different occasions we also had superb views of Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins.


James Mace

One each of Basking Shark and Minke Whale were also seen and Common Lizard was a first for our tours. Butterfly species were limited but we saw lots of Scotch Argus and several Dark Green Fritillaries. Thanks to the expertise of group members, we find new species on every tour; this year we added several new insect species and found 4 species of bat. There are also lots of beautiful wildflowers, especialy amongst the maritime grass and machair. Grass of Parnassus, for example, can be abundant.


Mike Fell














I have worked closely with the Ardnamurchan Estate over the past three years and gratefully acknowledge their support, which has been invaluable. I would like to thank Andy and Tom of Ardnamurchan Charters for the excellent boat trips and visits to Carna - I highly recommend their wildlife boat trips to anyone visiting Ardnamurchan. Big thanks also to Hamsa Yassin of Wild Highland Tours for his expert input on our night safaris.  Finally, a huge thank you to all the people who joined me in Ardnamurchan; it was a great summer and I hope I can meet you again, maybe on future Naturetrek tours!


Emma J Shipley