Title graphic North of the Border
Red squirrels
Pine marten
Reindeer
Bottlenose dolphins
Common dolphins
Atlantic puffins
Bank voles
Landscapes
Over the past 2000 years, Britain's larger mammals have been decimated by over-hunting (in some cases to the point of extinction), habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species. Some of the best mammal-watching opportunities that remain are in Scotland's highlands and islands (the closest we have to 'wilderness' in Britain), and the region also offers the best prospects for the reintroduction of native species such as the Eurasian beavers, lynx and perhaps even grey wolves. Even in Scotland, wildlife can be difficult to spot and I've now made four visits with varied success (on one occasion I even resorted to watching birds - albeit extremely cute ones), but the scenery never disappoints.
Red squirrels
On my most recent visit in May 2013 I was lucky enough to have red squirrels right outside my cabin as well as in the nearby woods. One individual had stashed some nuts in the ground and once he'd retrieved them was quite happy to feed within a few feet of me.
Red squirrel
Red squirrel
Red squirrel
Red squirrel
Red squirrel Red squirrel

Pine marten
Pine martens are steadily expanding their range in England and Wales and could be an unexpected ally to the red squirrel. The martens hunt squirrels but where there are both native reds and non-native greys, there is evidence that the martens prefer to hunt greys - they are much heavier, making it harder for them to escape along the thinner branches, and also making them better meal. However this female wasn't surviving on squirrels - she had decided that a baited hide offered much more reliable food, and she appeared within about 20 minutes both times I visited the hide in May 2013.
Pine marten
Pine marten
Pine marten Pine marten
Pine marten
Pine marten
Pine marten
Reindeer
In August 2006 I went to see Britain's only herd of reindeer in the Cairngorms National Park. This once-native species was 'reintroduced' to Scotland in 1952, but the animals are not wild - they roam over a large but enclosed area, and are habituated to people. Hopefully we will see the reintroduction of truly wild reindeer soon.
Reindeer Reindeer
Reindeer Reindeer
Reindeer Reindeer
Bottlenose dolphins
In May 2013 I went on a boat trip into the Moray Firth to look for
the famous resident bottlenose dolphins, but they weren't in residence that day. However on the way home we stopped off at Chanonry Point, and some of the dolphins were feeding less than 20 feet off the beach, which was amazing to see.
Bottlenose dolphins
Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins

Common dolphins
During my August 2006 visit, I also went dolphin-watching in the Moray Firth, and we had an extremely unusual encounter with some friendly common dolphins - a rarity in this area.
Common dolphin
Common dolphin

Atlantic puffins
In May 2000, I went whale-watching from the Isle of Mull, but the seas where the whales should have been were so rough that it was too dangerous to go there. Instead we moored off the small, uninhabited island of Lunga and went ashore in our boat's inflatable to see the Atlantic puffins. These birds have little fear of humans, in fact they become more confident when people are around because the skuas and gulls that frequently attack them and their chicks tend to make an exit when humans appear.
Atlantic puffins Atlantic puffins
Atlantic puffins Atlantic puffin
Atlantic puffins Atlantic puffin
Atlantic puffin Atlantic puffin

Bank voles
My August 2006 tour included a visit to Loch Garten Forest Reserve, where bank voles have taken up residence beneath the bird feeders. They thrive on the fallen seeds and entertain the non-birders! 
Bank vole
Landscapes
Even when the wildlife proves elusive, the highlands and islands of Scotland always deliver in terms of fantastic scenery. Here are a few landscapes from my visits.
Loch na Dal, Isle of Skye
Loch na Dal, Isle of Skye
Loch na Dal, Isle of Skye
Loch na Dal, Isle of Skye
Near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms National Park
Near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms National Park
Uath Lochans, Cairngorms National Park
Uath Lochans, Cairngorms National Park
Chanonry Point, Moray Firth
Chanonry Point, Moray Firth
Glen Strathfarrar
Glen Strathfarrar, Highlands
Mellon Udrigle beach
Mellon Udrigle beach, Highlands
Mellon Udrigle beach
Mellon Udrigle beach, Highlands
Mellon Udrigle beach
Mellon Udrigle beach, Highlands
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Last updated 26 June 2013