Loch Lomond, Stirling and the Trossachs - Wildlife and Birdwatching Holidays
No other part of Scotland has quite such an accessible combination of Highland and Lowland elements. Look for ravens and red deer in the hills and red squirrels, redstarts and bluebells in the wooded glens. Watch grey geese by the thousand come to lochs and reservoirs in winter and be amazed by the sheer size of one of Britain’s biggest bogs. Much of the area is within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park – a reflection of its importance for natural, scenic and cultural heritage.
- Butterflies and broadleaves
- Pied flycatchers and primroses
- Freshwater herring
- Walk the faultline
- Ospreys and red squirrels
- Great crested grebes
- Mountain hares and whales
- Walk a royal hunting ground
- Bluebells and damselflies
- Red kites up-close
- Swans and geese
Loch Lomond’s bonny banks live up to the song lyric in many places, including the native woodlands along its shores. At Cashel, 2 miles north-west of Balmaha, follow walks through restored broad-leaved woodland on the slopes of Beinn Bhreac to look for butterflies such as orange tip and mountain ringlet and birds such as buzzard, red grouse and raven.
At Inversnaid, 4 miles short of the northern tip of Loch Lomond, a trail (steep in places) goes up through birch and oak woodland then out to the open hill. Boggle at bluebells and primroses in late spring, see wild garlic and sanicle in summer and listen for oakwood birds, including wood warbler, tree pipit and pied flycatcher.
The waters of Loch Lomond, Britain’s biggest sheet of freshwater (in terms of surface area) are famed for their fish. These include salmon, sea, brown and rainbow trout, pike, perch, roach, chub, dace and powan – an uncommon freshwater member of the herring family found only here and in Loch Eck. So if you see tiddlers in the shore-side shallows, you could be looking at any one of many species. In recent years, use of live bait brought in from other places by some anglers has threatened the survival of Loch Lomond’s native fish.
Take a ferry from Balmaha boat yard to reach the nearby island of Inchcailloch, at the heart of the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve. Use trails to explore the contrasting plantlife on this hilly isle, which sits precisely on the Highland Boundary Fault – the major geological feature that marks the divide between the Highlands and the Lowlands. Acidic soils to one side of the faultline are big on plants such as blaeberry. To the other side, woodruff and guelder rose grow on the richer soil. Listen for the scolding of jays and the jazzy song of garden warbler in the oaks and other woodland here.
Much of the Trossachs – famous for its scenery since the late 1700s – is cloaked in different kinds of woodland on the lower and middle slopes of its shapely hills. The huge Queen Elizabeth Forest Park has trails both through conifers and old oak, birch and mixed woodland in the forests of Loch Ard, Achray and Strathyre. Get your bearings at the David Marshall Lodge visitor centre (Mar-Oct, remote viewing of osprey (nest in summer) beside the A821 ‘Duke’s Road’ just north of Aberfoyle. Take themed walks (such as the waterfall or Highland Boundary Fault trails) from here. Watch for roe deer, red squirrel, jays and buzzards.
Scotland’s only lake – the Lake of Menteith - may have got its name through a mix-up with the Scots word ‘laigh’, meaning ‘low ground’. Go to the jetty at the Port of Menteith car park to take a boat trip to Inchmahome Priory (Apr-Sept), watching for the locally breeding great crested grebes on the way. Scan the loch from the same place to see swallows and martins hawking for flies in summer or to watch big skeins of pink-footed geese coming in to roost in winter.
As befits the best surviving bog of its kind in Britain (lowland raised bog, to the connoisseurs), Flanders Moss is most easily appreciated dry-shod and at a distance. Stop at one of the interpretation points along the A873 (South Common, Thornhill and Flanders View) to look out across a plain of Sphagnum-moss-swelled mire. The sea covered this area (whale bones have been found here), at a time when the dry-land link between lowland and highland Scotland was only a few miles wide. Now grey geese, dragonflies, roe deer and (unusually at low level) mountain hares thrive here.
The two glens that circle Meall Cala, the hill close to the north end of Glen Finglas reservoir, have perhaps the finest surviving ancient pasture woodland in Scotland. This was a hunting ground of Scottish kings and other landed gentry until the 18th century, where deer were chased on horseback through the alders and other trees. If you fancy a major hike (up to seven hours), tramp the 19 mile round-trip from Brig o’ Turk, up Glen Finglas and back by Gleann nam Meann. The alders look like gnarled lollipops, thick with lichens. Look up for ravens and buzzards and listen for the roaring of red deer in autumn.
To enjoy bluebells, blue damselflies and other wildlife on a varied amble, go from Little Drum car park, opposite the entrance to Lendrick Steading off the A821. The Brig o’ Turk loop walk from here takes you on a circular route through oakwood, moorland and across a boardwalk section through the local marsh, good for bog moss colours year-round.
Visit Argaty, off the A820 just north of Doune, to see red kites at central Scotland’s only kite feeding station. Thanks to pond creation and other work on the wildlife friendly Lerrocks Farm, you could have a chance of seeing many other kinds of birds here, plus wildflower meadows. Guided walks (Apr-mid Sept), car park and picnic area, shelter, viewing hide.
Gartmorn Dam, in the tiny former county of Clackmannanshire, is one of Scotland’s oldest reservoirs, built in 1713 to help with drainage of mines at nearby Alloa. Now you can visit a country park here and walk the dam side to see grebes and mute swans in summer and migrant greylag and pink-footed geese in winter. Take the A908 from Alloa to Sauchie and follow signs to the country park.