From the Scottish Wildcat to the Red Squirrel, you never know what you’ll see next at Ardanaiseig.
The Red Fox
Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the most widely spread wild canines in the world, living in Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. These resourceful creatures can be seen many places around Scotland, from the shores of lowland lochs to mountainous terrain. They are active year-round and can be seen in the daytime, with winter being a particularly good time to hear the loud call of the vixen as she tries to attract a mate.
The Scottish Wildcat
Mysterious, powerful, and endangered, the Scottish wildcat is the only large wild predator left in Britain. They were roaming the land long before domestic cats, or even mankind, arrived and they can be distinguished from house cats by brown and black stripes on the body and thick rings on the tail, as well as thick fur and an overall large size. Found only in Scotland nowadays and classified as an isolated island population of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), there are less than 100 Scottish wildcats surviving in the wild today. Around the Ardanaiseig estate, there have been sightings of Scottish wildcats, as well as many hybrid wildcats, so keep your eyes open for these shy creatures on your next stroll through our grounds.
Corncrakes (Crex crex) are often noticed by their distinctive rasping call, which has been heard around the Ardanaiseig estate and gives away their location, often hidden within tall vegetation. Being related to coots, rails, and moorhens, corncrakes have bright chestnut wings and trailing legs when they fly. They visit western Scotland between mid-April and September and can be found in Argyll, as well as along the north west Highland coast, and the islands of Mull, Lewis, Harris, and Orkney. They can also be seen at RSPB reserves on the islands of Coll and Balranald. However, they are one of the rarest breeding bird species in Scotland and according to the RSPB, numbers are falling.
With dense fur and webbed feet, semi-aquatic otters (Lutra lutra) are well adapted to life on the water. Otters mainly eat crustaceans, waterbirds, fish, and amphibians, with their habitat being lochs, rivers, and the sea, especially on Scotland’s west coast and islands. With chemical spills and the industrialisation of Scotland’s coastline and rivers, fish numbers fell in the recent past, which posed a threat to otter populations. However, thanks to the cleaning up of these waterways, their numbers have risen to around 8,000, making Scotland home to one of the biggest concentrations of otters in Europe.
Confined to grassy, damp areas of western Scotland, the Chequered Skipper butterfly (Carterocephalus palaemon) is a protected species. They can be found among bracken, light shrub, or at woodland edges, moving quickly and showcasing their distinctive yellow markings. These butterflies mainly feed on purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), which needs mild winters and damp summers to remain green well into autumn. For those keen on spotting these rare species, the Allt Mhuic butterfly reserve, 20 miles north of Fort William, features around 100 hectares of native woodland, grassland, and moorland that are ideal sites for the Chequered Skipper, as well as many other butterfly species.
Greater Spotted Woodpecker
On a springtime walk through woodland, or even a park or large garden, you might hear the drumming sound of the greater spotted woodpecker as it clings to a tree trunk. Without a song like other birds, it’s consistent drumming with its beak is a way of attracting a mate. It can also be located by its distinctive and loud call, however it tends to hide away from approaching humans. About the size of a blackbird, these woodpeckers can be identified by their black and white wing patterns and the males have a red patch on the back of the head. Since 1995, the population of greater spotted woodpecker has risen across the UK, including Scotland. One contributing factor could be the increasing use of bird feeders by garden owners, which provide valuable food especially during the winter months. Listen for their drumming sound in springtime around Ardanaiseig.
The Red Squirrel
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) populations have declined mainly due to competition for food and habitat with the invasive non-native American grey squirrel. Of the estimated 160,000 red squirrels in the UK, 75% are recorded in Scotland. Winter, when the leaves are gone from deciduous trees, is a good time to look for red squirrels, which may be more visible as a result. Winter is also the time when the males become ready to breed, although the females come into season later. Kittens, as baby squirrels are called, venture out of their drey from mid-April onwards so keep an eye out during this time as well. Thanks to extensive woodland habitat, red squirrels are often seen in Ardanaiseig’s grounds, particularly in Autumn when they collect horse chestnuts, sweet chestnuts, and acorns for winter.
Wild Red Deer
Once hunted by wolves and bears, the red deer (Cervus elaphus) has no surviving natural predators and is the largest wild animal in the United Kingdom. During the winter especially, red deer find shelter in woodlands and forests. However, on the west coast of Scotland and in the Scottish Highlands, they can be found on hills and open moorland. The rutting season runs from around mid-September to late October, when the stags put on impressive displays to attract hinds. This includes roaring that can be heard from miles around and fighting among themselves to assert dominance. They can be seen around Argyll, including the forests near Ardanaiseig, as well as islands including Jura, which has nearly 7,000 deer, Scarba and Lunga. Calves are born in May and June.
In the same family as weasels, otters and badgers, the pine marten (Martes martes) can be found in the woodlands of northern Britain. Their superior climbing abilities mean they can live up in the forest canopy, nestling into holes in trees, old birds’ nests, or squirrel dreys. Although elusive, they can be seen on the Ardanaiseig estate year-round, their brown coats punctuated by a distinctive pale yellow colour on their throat and chin. You may just see a bushy tail disappearing up a tree trunk, or you may hear their shrill call which has cat-like echoes. Pine martens eat insects, eggs, birds, small rodents and fruit and litters of 3 to 5 young are born in spring.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are present in the UK from late March to September, before they migrate to Africa for the winter. Having been extinct in England for 150 years due to persecution, this fish-eating bird of prey saw numbers begin to rise in Scotland during the 1950s. They have since spread south, with nearly 300 breeding pairs now living in the UK. Every year, a breeding pair nests beside Loch Awe, which is a rare and exciting sight, so keep a lookout during the summer months. Visitors can also see this majestic bird at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre near Aviemore.
Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are the most common species of deer to be seen around the Ardanaiseig estate. Male roe deer, called bucks, have straight, short antlers that drop in winter and grow once more in spring. Rutting season takes place in August and young are born in early summer, which means they avoid competition for territory with the larger red deer. Look out for them crossing the road or dashing through the undergrowth.
Widespread throughout the UK, buzzards (Buteo buteo) make a distinctive shallow ‘V’ shape with their dark-tipped wings when they fly, fanning out their barred tail. They can be seen year-round in Scotland and can be recognized by their distinctive call that could be mistaken for a cat’s mew. Plenty of buzzards can be seen regularly around the Ardanaiseig estate.