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Wildlife in Scotland – which creatures to look out for in the Highlands in autumn!

Posted on Sep 04, 2012 by Sarah Morton


The Highlands are without a doubt one of the best places to spot wildlife in Scotland – creatures great and small are often elusive and shy, and the sparsely habited areas in the Highlands are the perfect place for them to live in peace and quiet without the threat of intruders! Of course there is also the abundance of lush greens and fresh nibbles to keep them looking healthy and feeling satisfied. With that in mind, it is no wonder that people travel from all over the world with the hope of spotting some of the native wildlife in Scotland!

The vast wilderness of the Highlands means that spotting wildlife in Scotland can be done without disturbing the animals in their natural habitat, not only is this good news for the animals it allows you to see them living as they do in the wild – a genuine experience that is truly unrivalled. Of course this means that you are not guaranteed to catch sight of anything at all, but with careful planning – knowing what to look for, and when to look – you give yourself a good chance of some encounters that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime!

Wildlife Spotting in Autumn

It’s with good reason that Wildlife Spotting is number 1 in our Top 5 Reasons to Visit Scotland in Autumn. The wildlife in Scotland is pretty active year round, but one of my favourite times to spot wildlife in Scotland is definitely autumn – perhaps it is the golden colours and dramatic sunlight against a backdrop of forest-green Caledonian Pines that makes it all so much more romantic, I’m not sure, but there is just something about the amazing Highland creatures that begin to emerge during this season that really makes me smile.

If you’re planning a trip to the Highlands this autumn, be it specifically to spot wildlife in Scotland or not, here’s a few of our locals that you should definitely keep an eye out for:

Red Deer

Winter Wildlife: How to recognise those tracks

Sometimes you’ll see just one, other times there could be a whole herd, regardless, red deer are just stunning and as they move to lower ground for the colder months they really become much more visible with autumn the best time to see them. Most active in cold weather they love the rain and wallowing in mud! There’s a population of about 300,000 living in Scotland – most of which are in the Highlands and Islands. Autumn signals the start of the rutting season, when the strongest males round up the females for mating. Hear the haunting roars that comes with rutting echoing in the glittering Torridon mountain range on our Applecross & Torridon trip.

Grey Seal


40% of the international grey seal population can be found in Scotland during autumn and winter, and with silky-white furry pups being born in the autumn you can expect to see hundreds chilling out in the autumn sun on the coastal rocks around Orkney and Rona.

Barnacle Geese

Autumn and winter are really the only times you will see these stunning birds in Scotland, coming in from the Arctic and Scandinavian countries they descend on the Hebrides to nest on the high cliffs safely hidden from predators.  Barnacle geese are truly magnificent to look at with silver, grey and black reflective wings and a white face nested within a black neck and head they are quite unique looking creatures but a treat to spot nonetheless.


Two very similar breeds of swan make the Highlands their home during the colder months – the Whooper from Iceland, and the Bewick’s from Siberia. Both are similar in appearance, and perhaps tricky for the untrained eye to spot which is which, however, the Whooper is the larger of the two by a good ten inches. Both are snowy white with a yellow and black bill. You can expect to see them in a number of areas in northern Scotland, particularly the Orkney Isles.


A large range of geese breeds make the Highlands of Scotland their home during autumn and winter but two breeds that you are most likely to spot are the Pink-footed Goose from Greenland and Iceland, and the Greylag Goose migrating to Scotland from as far away as Asia! The Pinkfoot is a lovely goose with brown and white feathers, a short black bill with a bright pink flash across the middle and, of course, pink feet! They are keen on farmland and large flocks can be spotted in Aberdeenshire with one of the largest known flocks of about 65,000 birds seen at Loch of Strathsbeg. The Greylag is a large, bulky goose but is unfortunately on the decline in the UK, which is a pity as they are such lovely birds – blue grey feathers with cute pink feet and an orange or pink bill! Best chance of sighting a Greylag is in the Outer Hebrides.


Recently released back into the Scottish wilderness beavers are pretty cool little creatures to catch a glimpse of especially when they are working away building dams and foraging for food. Because there’s not that many of them, they are quite tricky to spot, and being nocturnal animals who prefer to be in the water you should probably count yourself very lucky if you do manage to see one in the wild! Although these brown furry creatures could be mistaken for another small rodent, their distinctive, flat tale is a true indication of a beaver! Found mostly in the heart of Argyll.

Red Squirrel

red squirrel

Although grey squirrels are a good bit more common than red squirrels in most areas of the UK, in the Highlands red squirrels rule! Found scampering across many a woodland floor or racing up coniferous trees these little chaps are highly prized by Highlanders who just love to see them playing and foraging for food. Most active in the early morning and the later afternoon to evening time, they prefer to stay out of the heat during the day – even in the autumn! And out of reach of the talons of birds of prey. They love to gather nuts and seeds, but since they have a pretty bad memory can often be found scratching around trying to find their hidden stash! Found all over the Highlands – some of which are quite used to seeing humans, and may come close enough for a photo opportunity!

Want to Look Out for Scottish Wildlife on one of our Exciting Trips in Autumn? See Below for Our Next Departure Dates!

Trip Date Name Price Availability Book
1st Oct - 8th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - The West Highland Way £1,49510 place(s) leftBook Now
3rd Oct - 7th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Autumn Highlands £1,1504 place(s) leftBook Now
6th Oct - 12th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Wilds of Assynt £1,3958 place(s) leftBook Now
6th Oct - 12th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Cairngorms National Park & Royal Deeside £1,3958 place(s) leftBook Now
6th Oct - 12th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Outer Hebrides & Skye £1,5952 place(s) leftBook Now
10th Oct - 14th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Autumn Highlands £1,1508 place(s) leftBook Now
17th Oct - 21st Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Autumn Highlands £1,1506 place(s) leftBook Now
17th Oct - 21st Oct 2018 Photography - Assynt & Coigach £1,39510 place(s) leftBook Now
24th Oct - 28th Oct 2018 Wilderness Walking - Autumn Highlands £1,1508 place(s) leftBook Now

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