Natural history and wildlife in Ardnamurchan

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Ardnamurchan has a wealth of flora and fauna and is one of the least spoiled regions of Britain. Anyone with an interest at all in wildlife will find enough to keep them busy for a week, a month or a lifetime. There are a wide variety of well-preserved habitats from mountain tops to rock pools on the shore, or even off shore attractions for divers. You will see something interesting everywhere- possibly a golden eagle whilst drinking coffee in one of the several tearooms! The climate and lack of pollution make this area the richest lichen habitat in Europe. The same is also true of mosses and liverworts. The following habitats can be explored at leisure.

The Open Sea

The sea is never still and always fascinating. From the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan point you may see whales, basking sharks and dolphins during the summer. Off shore there are shearwaters and when the weather gets rough, storm petrels can be seen. A host of other seabirds are to be seen around the coastline, including terns, gulls, divers, several species of duck, gannets and many more. A boat trip on Loch Sunart to see the seals may also afford a good view of a white-tailed sea eagle, once extinct from the U.K. but now making a comeback on the west coast of Scotland.

Rock Pools

The seas around Ardnamurchan are totally unpolluted and the variety of life to be found on our rocky shores is as good as anywhere in Europe. With the help of a handbook, you will be amazed at the numbers of crustacea and seaweeds to be found.

Sandy Beaches

There are lovely sandy beaches at Sanna, Gorten, Dorlin and Ardtoe. Keen eyesight should reveal some false cowrie shells at Ardtoe.Kentra Bay at low tide is an enormous expanse of sand populated with cockles, lugworms and razor shells with many wading birds present. Otters are often seen in this area along with the less popular mink.

Salt Marshes

There are patches of salt marsh with its distinctive vegetation in many sheltered parts of the shoreline such as Kilchoan village, Glenborrodale and Sailean na Cuileag near Salen village. There are many wild flowers; yellow flag make a fine sight during the early summer. Herons are often seen waiting patiently for the next meal.

Heather Moorland

Heather covers huge areas of Ardnamurchan. Britain's largest land mammal, the red deer, is to be found here in large numbers. Curlew and snipe are present, though there are far less lapwing and grouse than there used to be. The occasional adder can be found basking in summer. They are harmless if left alone and are becoming less common.

Birch Woods

The many scattered birch woods are home to small birds such as willow warblers, chiffchaffs, redstarts and occasional grasshopper warblers. The small roe deer is common but shy - their sense of smell is extremely acute. Bluebells abound in springtime. In the evenings tawny and barn owls may be seen hunting the edges of the woods and woodcock are active.

Bog Land

Small areas of bog can be found all over the peninsula, but the largest accessible bog is at Kentra. All of the common types of sphagnum moss grow there but take care, as the pools can be deceptively deep! All of the British insectivorous plants can be found; sundews, butterworts and bladderwort.

Dunes

Sand dunes are well developed at Sanna and Gorten. Common lizards and banded snails can be found here. The Gorten dunes cover the site of an ancient village and Viking remains have been located here.

Pine Woods

Fragments of the original Caledonian pine forest can be seen around the region, with the trees at Dun Ghallain being particularly fine specimens.Tiny goldcrests and firecrests along with crossbills may be found flitting about in the higher branches whilst long and short-eared owls frequent the younger plantations.

Rough Pasture

Large areas of rough pasture cover the flanks of Ben Hiant and other hills in the area.Here you can still sit and listen to the skylark and around Kilchoan you may also be lucky enough to hear the unmistakeable sound of the corncrake. Several species of orchid grow here, including the butterfly orchid in late summer. The open skies above can provide sightings of both golden and sea eagle, peregrine falcon, hen harrier, buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and merlin - in fact the majority of Britain's raptors. Ravens and the ever-present hooded crow are common here.

Fresh Water Lochs

Many of the smaller lochans have water lilies and there are large populations of frogs, toads and newts. Mallard and teal are common, but moorhens are rarely seen. In October and April, the skies are full of migrating pink-feet and white-fronted geese. Red-throated divers prefer the smaller hill lochans, whereas the black-throated diver tends to frequent larger lochs such as Loch Shiel. Ospreys do not breed here -yet- but are occasionally seen passing through on their annual migration to and from Africa.

Other Habitats

In addition to these habitats, there are many fine species of exotic trees planted in the days of the big estates a hundred years ago and now grown to impressive maturity. At Camus Torsa picnic site, west of Salen, note the Cryptomeria japonica on the other side of the road and also the Douglas Fir with well-developed bark. The area around Glenborrodale Castle hosts many varieties of rhododendron which make a fine display in the spring, but in other parts of the peninsula the common variety is the subject of a continuing campaign of eradication.