There’s more than one reason to bring a pair of binoculars with you when you visit Scotland. From the sweeping landscapes and endless skies – a chance to watch the weather rolling in from the distance or a castle perched menacingly on a hill – there are so many things to spy from the roadside.
But all that pales in comparison to some of Scotland’s most prized fauna – the wildlife that calls these gnarled forests, the ancient lowlands and uplands, the glens and lochs and rocky strands home. From the skies to the earth beneath your feet, everything every element is full of life and ready to be observed by new explorers.
Hiring a motorhome in Scotland is an excellent opportunity to spot a few rare sights, and we’ve known plenty of visitors to return with incredible stories of close encounters.
The Pine Martin
Looks like: while the pine martin features the elongated body and small, pointed face of a weasel or stoat (to which it is related), its legs are considerably longer. They also feature a yellow bib, along with a golden-hued brown fur coat.
While pine martins are nocturnal, anyone caught near the woodland at twilight might just see a pine martin making its way along the forest floor. They are particularly shy creatures, so bring a good pair of binoculars and prepare to sit still for some time if you want to be in with a stronger chance of spotting one. There are also a few purpose-built pine martin spotting booths dotted around Scotland.
Pine martins hunt for rodents and birds, along with their nests (they are particularly fond of eggs, after all).
The Water Vole
Looks like: with a neat, round little body and an inquisitive face, water voles bear a slight resemblance to a well-fed hamster or rat.
As their name suggests, water voles tend to be found near any one of Scotland’s many freshwater rivers or streams. They are small and quick to scamper at the sound of approaching footprints, but their appetite for vegetation means that it’s not uncommon to spot them out and about on any given day.
While their numbers are sadly in decline, water voles are still fairly prevalent in Scotland, so keep an eye out. Our motorhomes make for an excellent wildlife observation booth, with big windows looking onto the landscape (and ready access to sustenance)!
Looks like: an osprey is an incredible sight to behold, and not at all easy to describe. With white bodies, a wingspan of up to 5 feet, and a distinctive streak of brown across both eyes (sometimes affectionately known as the osprey’s flying goggles), these birds command attention as they stalk their fishy prey from the skies.
Once driven to extinction, the osprey’s numbers have bounced back thanks to reintroduction in the mid-twentieth century. These birds are known to hunt in freshwater and along the coastline, looking to catch fish as large as salmon to bring back to their nests.
For your best chance of spotting an osprey, make sure you visit the Lock Garten Nature Reserve.
The Red Squirrel
Looks like: the more prevalent grey squirrel (surprise, surprise!) but with a very charming rust colour and long, spiked ears.
The red squirrel was driven to the point of extinction towards the end of the Victorian era, thanks to the introduction of the North American grey squirrel. Fortunately, this beautiful species was not totally wiped from the map.
Today, most of Great Britain’s red squirrels can be found in Scotland (estimates suggest around 75%). There are special habitats and sanctuaries in place to ensure history does not repeat itself, but there are also plenty of red squirrels in the wild. They are still outnumbered by the grey squirrel, but that’s not to say you won’t see a distinctive streak of rust darting between the trees.
The Atlantic Puffin
Looks like: the puffin is a unique little species. With colouring reminiscent of an emperor penguin, but a small, stout body and a striking peak of orange, yellow, and black, the Atlantic puffin is unlikely to be confused with any other bird.
Puffins tend to be spotted nestled into the craggy faces of cliffs, close to their hunting ground (the open water). Puffins hunt by swimming on the water’s surface, using their wings to propel their bodies forward. They are also impressive divers, capable of staying under for up to 60 seconds.
It’s hard to get close to a puffin (unless you visit a sanctuary, that is). With a good pair of binoculars, however, you can look up and spot their bright faces peeking out from the rocks above.
The Red Deer
Looks like: tall and majestic with a russet colour, the red deer is a relatively common sight thanks to its position at the very top of the food chain.
While locals may well be accustomed to catching glimpses of the red deer, they never quite lose that sense of awe these creatures inspire. The males in particular, with their incredible antlers as wide as one metre (and weighing the equivalent of up to two car tyres), the sight of a stag is enough to stop you in your tracks.
You may see them crossing the roads in Scotland, or by exploring one of our many hiking trails. If you happen to come across a red stag or hand, remember to keep your distance, avoid any sudden movements, and make the most of a face-to-face encounter.
The Eurasian Beaver
Looks like: beavers are relatively small – about the size of an adult domestic cat, but with shorter legs and chunkier bodies.
Beavers are easiest to spot as they make their way up and downstream, although you may catch sight of one at the water’s edge. Their existence offers a lot of benefits to local wildlife as they work on their damns and reduce the risk of flooding in certain areas.
Beavers build these dams as effective protection against predators. Hidden beneath the uppermost layer of twigs and branches of the ‘dome’, beavers move around through small tunnels and fish in the pond they create.
Scotland is home to so many incredible and inspiring creatures. A lot of work has been put into conserving the country’s biodiversity, and ensuring that once-endangered creatures are able to continue to thrive, in spite of new threats. Travelling across Scotland is an excellent way to ensure you spot as many of these beautiful animals as possible, whether you park up and nature watch from your motorhome, the middle of the woods, or the shoreline.