As temperatures drop and frosts arrive, Scotland’s winter wildlife can be observed. Already the bird table has siskin and goldfinches, birds we have not seen since last March.
The last week of October saw tens of thousands of Redwings and Fieldfare (wintering thrushes from Scandinavia) descend on this year’s heavy loading of Rowan berries. The trees were stripped and the birds moved on dispersing south across the UK. Waxwings usually arrive later in the winter depending on the weather in Scandinavia. On the mountains there are distinct red scats (droppings) from the Pine Martens who rely heavily on the Rowan berries every autumn. Pine Marten scats are wildly distributed and give a good indication of the range of these elusive creatures.
From the hillsides the barks and roars of the Red Deer can be heard. At this time of year the deer are at their noisiest. A mature Red Deer in full roar really is ‘Monarch of the Glen’. By the end of November most of the males will have quietened down and the as winter snows build on the mountains the deer move down to lower grazing. This makes winter is a good time for deer watching, but take care driving at night, both for your own and the deer’s sake. Scottish Natural Heritage has publish information about the problem –http://www.snh.gov.uk/land-and-sea/managing-wildlife/managing-deer/welfare/dvcs/
The cold weather and short nights mean snows will accumulate on the mountains. The Ptarmigan or Arctic Hare adapt to this by changing into their winter plumage or white coats. Only if the weather becomes exceedingly cold or severe do these creatures move down the mountainsides and into the forest edges. The arctic hare survives with a thick coat of fur and usually digs holes under the ground or snow to keep warm and sleep. As the hills sides thaw from the snows these winter-coated creatures become easier to spot.
In the winter coastal areas and lochs become havens for wildfowl. Hundreds of thousands of swans, geese and ducks move south to Scotland from Greenland and the arctic to escape the cold and extreme weather and enjoy the relatively mild weather and wetlands. For example 100% of the Pink footed Geese and Barnacle Geese from Greenland Iceland and Svalbard pass through or winter in Scotland every year.
The island of Islay is internationally renowned for fifty thousand wild geese that visit Islay each winter from October to April. The short winter days mean viewing morning and evening roosting sites of geese is relatively easy and for those long evenings there are eight active whiskey distilleries on the island! Other great places to see wildfowl are the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserves of Caerlaverock (http://www.wwt.org.uk/) or the RSPB reserve at Loch Leven (http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochleven/index.aspx).