Not surprisingly, this diversity of habitat is directly linked to the nature and numbers of birds to be found here. More than 130 species of birds are routinely recorded in the area in an “average” year, and what you see depends both on where and when you look. For convenience the habitats can be considered under four major headings, although it must be emphasised that nature is rather less keen on hard boundaries than we are! These habitats are:
- The water bodies – lochs, rivers and the sea,
- The shorelines of, and air over, the water bodies
- The open country – hillsides, moors, bogs and fields
- The woodlands – natural, planted, coniferous and mixed
Ptarmigan Black Grouse Eider Duck
As elsewhere in Europe, the birds of Wester Ross can (more or less) be classified as residents, summer visitors and winter visitors. This website sections should give (hopefully) a basic idea of what can be seen here. However, almost anywhere,anytime, can produce “good” birds and other animals, and this is one of the real joys of a holiday here. It is assumed that most visitors will be in the Gairloch area between March and September, and the seasonal descriptions and identification guide sections do not include the winter months.
It is also assumed that most people will be very familiar with the common garden birds such as Chaffinches, Blue Tits etc, so most photographs favour those species that are perhaps more characteristic of this Highland environment. Obviously there are no hard and fast rules, and many of the species occur throughout the UK, but happen to be particularly common here (e.g. Eiders).
So....what can you see in the area?
Well, here goes! During March, we still have an amount of winter birdlife in the area such as Whooper Swans, and with numbers of Divers increasing steadily, it is not unusual to see groups of up to 20 or 30 Black Throated Divers in some sea lochs.
Black Throated Diver
By April, most of the summer visitors have appeared, the winter birdlife having moved on elsewhere. ChiffChaffs, Willow Warblers, Wheaters, and Cuckoo join the throng. On the sea lochs, Common Terns are harassed by Skuas, and Shags perch on the rocks.
Common Tern Shag Great Skua
Throughout the next few months, a ready assortment of Siskins, Tits of all shapes and sizes from Long Tails to Coal, via Great, and the beautiful little Goldfinches can all be seen in the area. Throughout all of this, sightings of Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles can be mixed with Peregrine Falcons and Sparrowhawks. Particularly with Sea and Golden eagles however, these are not quite as common as the tourism authorities would have you believe - so a sighting is a rare and special treat. They do all live here, however, and numbers are holding up well.
Goldfinch Sea Eagle Siskin
White tailed Sea Eagle
These birds have been resident here for several years now - find out more about them and watch a live webcam at the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre, near Kinlochewe
On the sea, although the local boat trips are very successful at Whale spotting, they also afford an opportunity to look at Skuas (in extreme detail on many occasions, some of the birds coming within a few metres of the boat!) and you can regularly see Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, and Terns.
With the approach of the Autumn months, the Cuckoos leave - thank goodness for that, if you happen to live beside a favourite nesting place! The occasional Greylag goose is seen, and eventually some of the beautiful Whooper Swans re-appear.
By mid Autumn, Fleldfares and Redwings are in the garden, bolstered by the brightly coloured Waxwing. And what's the crow - like bird that you can see? It's a "Hoodie" - a Hooded Crow, a Northern derivative of the better known Carrion Crow (except you also get these in Sicily.....)