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Early Spring Wildlife in Scotland

Posted on Mar 13, 2014 by Jonathan Willet

The daffodils are opening and the birds are tweeting! Spring is on the way.

Guide and wildlife expert, Jonathan Willet explains Early Spring Wildlife in Scotland.

This has been just about the mildest winter in Scotland for 6 years and nature is waking up a bit earlier than of late. Above the snowline, roughly 2500 feet or 770 metres, things are very different even though it is starting to warm up now.

Some of the signs of Spring are to be seen on the trees. Buds are growing but catkins are the most obvious sign of the coming Spring. Two common tree species have very early catkins, the Hazel and the Alder. Catkins are the flowers of these trees, with the male ones being the largest and most obvious. The word catkin comes from the Dutch meaning kitten, referring to the resemblance of it to a kitten’s tail.

Early Spring Wildlife in Scotland

Catkin Crop

Hazel catkins were the first out (in February) and at this time of year are very obvious as there are no leaves to obscure them and they are a pale yellow colour. The catkins can be upto 12 cm long. These are the male flowers, the female flowers are almost completely concealed in the buds only a tiny red style is visible. A style is part of the flower that the pollen lands on. So if you are passing a Hazel soon, have a close look to see if I am telling the truth!

Alder catkins are green and purple in colour, the male ones are like the hazel ones but a bit shorter at about 6 cm. The female catkins are like miniature pine cones, only 6mm long, last years’ ones are often still on the tree at this time of year. They appear about a month after the Hazel’s. Both Hazel and Alder are wind pollinated as there are just about no insects about at this time of year.


In terms of birdlife some species I have been noticing on the inland rivers are the Goldeneye and Goosander. They ducks winter at the coast, but when the weather warms up they head inland. Look out for displaying males and pairs of males and females. Both, incidentally, nest in tree holes.

One other bird I have noticed out on the moors is the Stonechat. This little bird is usually seen perched on heather and in summer you hear its familiar call a whistle then a chak, chak noise like two peebles being hit together. As the winter has been mild their mortality was been low, so there are plenty about singing their “zingy” short song. Males have a rusty breast, black head and a white collar.

One last bird that isn’t here just yet but will be soon is the Wheatear. This is the first summer migrant species to appear, usually in March. It is a very obvious species as it has a white rump. Its old name was White-arse, but the Victorians didn’t like that so much and changed it to Wheatear!

Have you noticed any signs of Spring around you yet? Please let us know in the comments.

About the author

Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

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