Interview: Wild Skye

As this is the year of Natural Scotland, we asked John Phillips, Senior Countryside Ranger for The Highland Council Countryside Rangers, about wildlife watching in Skye and Lochalsh.  If you want to experience Skye’s wild side, take a look at his recommendations.

What are your wildlife-related highlights of Skye and Lochalsh?
Pipewort and Iceland Purslane – a couple of Skye’s rarest plants.  Sea eagles and golden eagles all over the place.  Basking sharks close to Soay, from where Gavin Maxwell used to hunt for them.  Adders at Kinloch Forest in Sleat.  Red deer at Corran in Lochalsh.  Massive sand martin colony on the Abhainn a’ Ghlinne Bhig, downstream from Dun Telve near Glenelg.  Common seals at Loch na Cuilce on the way into Loch Coruisk by boat.

What kind of wildlife can you see in the area?
We take a lot for granted here.  Animals like otter, common seal and red deer and birds like sea eagle, golden eagle and raven are all commonplace in Skye and Lochalsh.  I was amazed a few years back at the enthusiasm of a party of visiting Italian biology students for a (to me) routine visit to study the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tides).  Then I realised that the Mediterranean Sea has some of the smallest tidal ranges in the world and what we have here is really very special with a tidal range of between 2.5 and 4.5m, giving rise to a coastal strip crammed with biodiversity of all sorts.

Do you have a favourite place to watch wildlife?
It depends on the time of year.  Poking around on the low shore during the spring tides is a lot of fun.  Birdwatching at the coast in the spring and autumn months is good too. Though scarce as a whole in Skye and Lochalsh, native woodlands like Coille Thogabhaig in the south of Skye or Coille Mhòr in Lochalsh (managed by the National Trust For Scotland) are great for fungi in the autumn too.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Exploring the less visited parts of Skye and Lochalsh.  Meeting interesting people and seeing wildlife along the way.

Can you recommend a family-friendly walk where you can usually spot some wildlife?
There are so many good options. Have a look at walkhighlands for Skye and Lochalsh and take your pick!

Are there any places that are particularly good to visit in the autumn?
The coastal fringes turn up a wide range of passage migrants in the autumn months, whales are also migrating south so peninsulas like Rubha Hunish, Waternish Point, Neist Point and the Aird of Sleat are worth watching.

If a visitor only has one day to explore the Skye and Lochalsh area, what would you recommend they do?
Come back again when they have more time to spare!  No, seriously, visit the brochs in Glen Beag near Glenelg in the morning, take the Glenelg ferry over to Skye and drive to Elgol and take a boat trip out to Loch Coruisk or head north and take in some of the some of the sites in North Skye like the Old Man of Storr or the Quiraing.  A boat trip out from Portree to see the sea eagles is another good option.

Elgol on Skye

Do you have any tips for visitors that they might not find in a guidebook?
People are very fond of letting their dogs run around free on the shore, blissfully unaware of the disturbance they are causing to feeding and nesting birds.  My tip would be to keep dogs on the lead when at the coast and preferably take them elsewhere to run off their excess energy!

Do you have any other suggestions for visitors to the area?
Check some of the area specific wildlife websites e.g., www.skyeraasayplants and before your visit to see what is around that you might like to see when you are here.  Also check our leaflet on the wildlife of the area and where to see it.

Take a look at the Highland Council Countryside Rangers Facebook page for information on wildlife, walks and events in Skye, Lochalsh, Ross and Cromarty.

Questions or comments? Leave them below.


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