Seeing is believing
SEEING IS BELIEVING - Wildlife encounters on the land, in the water and in the air
With an amazing array of wildlife and the chance to experience many up-close encounters, a trip to the west coast is sure to create memories for a lifetime.
Whether you plan to walk, cycle, kayak or take a guided boat trip, keep your eyes peeled for both resident and visiting wildlife as you explore.
On the land...
The islands and peninsulas are home to Scotland's so-called 'Big Five'. These five species, - red deer, red squirrels, common seals, otters and golden eagles - were chosen by the public as being Scotland's most iconic.
Red deer can be found in hilly and mountainous areas and on moorlands, especially on Skye, Mull and Arran. On Jura, red deer out-number people 30 to one while Rum, in the Inner Hebrides, has long been home to a red deer research project.
Arran is a stronghold for the red squirrel and they are found all round the island in woodlands as well as in Brodick Country Park.
Common (or harbour) seals are found in sheltered waters around the west coast. Good places to spot them include the east coast of the Outer Hebrides, the Inner Hebrides and the west coast of the mainland from Lochcarron south to the Firth of Clyde.
Famously secretive, otters are not so easy to spot in the wild although Scotland's west coast is home to many pairs. The best chance of seeing these beautiful creatures is in the early morning or evening and in waters on Skye, Mull and the Kintyre peninsula.
Golden Eagles are on the increase in Scotland and Mull is a good place to see them, especially if you join a guided wildlife walk.
Another great place to spot a variety of wildlife, including pine martens, eagles and otters, is the stunning Ardnamurchan peninsula. The elusive wild cat has also made its home here but sightings are rare.
In the water...
The island of Mull offers opportunities to spot white-tailed sea eagles, as well as merlin, buzzard and hen harrier and it's a hotspot for sea mammals, too. Take a boat trip or just keep your eyes peeled when walking the coast for thrilling sightings such as minke and sometimes orca whales, as well as dolphins, porpoise and basking sharks. Other islands that are great for wildlife boat tours include Iona, Staffa, Rona and Skye, while the strait between Skye and the Isle of Rasaay is renowned for seeing porpoise.
If you'd like a good chance of spotting basking sharks, head to Coll where these gentle plant-eating giants can often be seen in summer. You can even swim with the sharks thanks to unique sea tours offered by Basking Shark Scotland. (www.baskingsharkscotland.co.uk). Or, if you prefer, there are snorkel outings to swim with seals in a sheltered lagoon environment or paddle a sit-on kayak to see seals close up.
In the air...
During summer, the coasts of many of Scotland's west coast islands are a dream for spotting seabirds. Head to the Treshnish Isles, off the west coast of Mull, as well as Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and Skye in the north west, to see colourful colonies of puffins.
The Hebridean islands are also home to guillemots, razorbills, breeding stormy petrel, shag, cormorant, black guillemot, kittiwake, skuas and terns.
Did you know that the remote archipelago, St Kilda, is the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe? Or that the island chain, 41 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, is both a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and National Nature Reserve? Sailing, motorised boats and kayaking are all exciting ways to reach St Kilda, where you can spot gannets, puffins, fulmars and also the unique Soay sheep.
Lismore is a small island with a lush landscape. Boasting 300 species of wildflower and 130 species of bird, there is a wide network of paths for wildlife-spotting walkers.
A real treat for visitors to the west coast is seeing the myriad wild flowers of the machair and the fertile low-lying grassy plains are particularly spectacular on the coasts of the Outer Hebridean islands of North and South Uist, Harris and Lewis.
Seeing really is believing on a wildlife spotting trip to the west coast.