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Argyll & Bute - Wildlife & Birdwatching Holidays

Some of the best marine wildlife watching in Britain is possible from Mull and its nearby islands. Add amazing machair flowers and birds, old oakwoods in Knapdale and Kintyre and the island with the biggest breeding bird list in all the Hebrides – Islay of the many geese – and you’ve a recipe for wild enjoyment.


Lush oakwood

The Creagan Bridge to the north of Oban now fast-tracks most drivers on the A828 away from the inner shores of sheltered Loch Creran. Head west for 2 miles along the minor, north shore road to reach the car park at Glasdrum Wood. Take a circular, way-marked trail from here (steep in places) to wind through a lush oakwood, moistened by hill burns and used by pine martens and birds such as garden warbler. Pause in clearings to look for chequered skippers (a butterfly speciality of this part of the Highlands) and appreciate the amazing growth of lichens, mosses and ferns. 

Whale watching

If your sea-legs are strong and you’d like a chance of getting close to minke whales, porpoises and other marine mammals, head for Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Catch up on the latest whale news in the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s drop-in centre/shop on the main street. Then take a boat trip from the harbour, out to the Sound of Mull and perhaps beyond, towards Tiree and Coll. Both Sea Life Surveys and Whale Watching Trips  operate out of Tobermory harbour and offer wide range of trips.

Surf the flowers

Tiree has a big reputation for sunshine and wind-surfing (it’s breezy here). But come in summer and it’s the flowers and birds of its superb machair that will blow your socks off. Sheets of daisies and buttercups are studded with orchids and loud with lapwing, redshank, snipe and other waders. At night, listen for the rasping calls of corncrake.

Corncrakes calling

Though close to Tiree, Coll has a completely different character. It’s big on dunes (look for the astonishing hot pinks of bloody cranesbill) and farmed meadows where corncrakes are thriving. In warm weather, watch for basking shark and harbour porpoise from the ferry. Use the B8070 south from the Ro-Ro terminal at Arinagour (hotel, shops) to view the moors and lochans (red-throated divers).

Isle of Staffa

You can make more trips with added sea salt from Iona and Fionnphort at the west of Mull. Fingal’s Cave on Staffa (world famous for its organ-pipe-like basalt columns) is amazing, but also keep a look-out around this southernmost island of the Treshnish group for black guillemots, puffins and seals Staffa Boat Trips  sail daily from Fionnport or the Isle of Iona to Staffa.

Accessible puffins

To get ashore on Lunga, largest of the Treshnish Isles, take a boat from Ulva Ferry, or from Dervaig on Mull. Lunga has some of the best seabird colonies in the Inner Hebrides, including some of the most easily viewed puffins. A track (steep at the start) goes from the landing beach, past the puffinry (primroses nearby in early summer) to Harp Rock – home to massed guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and other gulls. Fascinating wildlife cruises are available on the Turus Mara.

Choughs and geese

Islay is the bird capital of the Hebrides, with more breeding species (over 100) than any of the other islands. One favourite here is the chough . Have a good look for this characterful crow around old buildings on the Rhinns peninsula in the west. In winter, Loch Gruinart, north-west of Bowmore) is one of the best goose-watching spots in Britain. Tens of thousands of barnacle geese, thousands of Greenland white-fronted geese and other wildfowl come here from autumn onwards. Year-round visitor centre. If you would prefer an organised tour, a good option is Islay Birding.

Ancient oaks

Knapdale, between Lochgilphead and Tarbert, has a beautiful blend of sea lochs, woods and farmland. There are fine western oakwoods here. Crinan Wood sits beside the hamlet of the same name (café) at the seaward end of the Crinan Canal. Walk the trail through it to enjoy wind-honed trees, hear redstarts in summer and see interesting woodland sculptures by the path.

The Big Bog

Between Crinan and Lochgilphead a glorious expanse of bogland called the Moine Mhor fills much of the ground between the River Add and the Crinan Canal. Look down on it from the ancient hill fort at Dunadd to get a curlew’s-eye view. Use the car park by the B802, roughly 2 miles south of Kilmartin. This gives access to a trail (suitable for less able visitors) from which you could see dragonflies in summer or a hen harrier at any time.

Butterfly wood

At Taynish, beside the village of Tayvallich on Loch Sween, use way-marked routes through the woodland, beginning at a car park 1 mile south of the village. Look for more than 20 kinds of butterfly in the woods, grassland and marshland, including the scarce marsh fritillary. There’s all-ability access to the Taynish Mill picnic area.

Mull eagles

Mull is a great place to see a wide variety of predatory birds, including four species of owl, hen harrier, peregrine and both golden eagle and sea eagle.  At Loch Frisa near Dervaig, you can book a ranger-led summer trip (April onwards) to a special see eagle hide that looks across to a nest site. Elsewhere on Mull, you could get a chance to see both golden eagle and sea eagle by travelling the B8035 road that runs from Salen to skirt Loch na Keal, then runs through Glenmore, returning to east Mull along the A849. Mull has a long coastline, with many sheltered inlets. So be alert for signs of otter almost everywhere. 

Seawatch Kintyre

The intimate Machrihanish Seabird Observatory just to the west of the village of Machrihanish is a great site for seabird watching, especially when there is a strong westerly wind. Scan the water for divers, manx shearwaters, gannets and terns. The sheltered bays are good for shellduck, with luck you may also see an otter.

Take a boat trip to the Sanda Island (self-catering accommodation, restaurant, bird observatory), off the south-east coast of Kintyre, to see puffin, razorbill, guillemot and black guillemot in summer. Go on another boat trip to watch for wild goats and peregrine along the Mull of Kintyre cliffs and basking shark and porpoise in the North Channel. Mull of Kintyre Sea Tours offer various trips for wildlife enthusiasts.


Puffin Fratercula Arctica, © RSPB Images