Caithness Wildlife Diary
The Wildlife Diary summarises some of the wildlife that is likely to be present in Caithness at different times of the year.
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Throughout the year, various birds of prey, such as buzzards, kestrels, merlin and hen harriers, can be seen patrolling the cliffs, moors, woodlands and wetlands. Seals are also present year round, deer roam the hills, and otters may be seen at any time along the rivers, lochs and coastline of Caithness.
Spring (March to May)
The sea cliffs and headlands of Caithness come alive in spring as nesting sea birds return to breed. Puffins, fulmars, razorbills, kittiwakes, guillemots and shags find old nest sites and burrows and rekindle partnerships on the sea cliffs. Later in spring, Great skuas (bonxies) can be seen patrolling the sea cliffs looking for unattended eggs and chicks.
The cries of curlews and lapwings can be heard over farmland and moorland from early spring, and lapwing aerobatic courtship displays are a great sight to watch. Redshank, dunlin, plovers and turnstone can be found on rocky shores and rivers. Other waders such as greenshank and sandpipers return to the rivers and wetlands during spring. Migrants such as black-tailed godwits, wigeon, and European teal can also be seen as they pass through on their way to summer breeding grounds further north. Smaller migrants such as wheatear, warblers, redstarts and blackcaps may stop for the summer or could just be passing through.
Summer (June to August)
Sea birds are busy rearing their chicks. Gannets can be seen diving for fish offshore, and terns (common, sandwich, Arctic and little) feed in the bays around Caithness. Dolphins, porpoises, orca and minke whales can sometimes be seen from the headlands, while seals hang out in the bays and small harbours. Common seals pup in June. Red-throated and black-throated divers nest on coastal and inland lochs. Over the moors and wetlands, hen harriers and short-eared owls hunt for small birds and mammals. At dusk, small pipistrelle bats swoop among the trees and hedges catching insects, and on calm sunny days you may be lucky enough to see the great yellow bumblebee or small blue butterfly.
Autumn (September to November)
Autumn is a busy time in Caithness with many migrant birds either passing though or arriving for the winter. Whooper swans, geese and other waterfowl arrive back on the lochs, rivers and fields of Caithness, and flocks of waders such as sanderling, turnstone, dunlin, knot, plovers, curlew and redshank gather on the coast. Red-throated, black-throated and great northern divers can also be seen in the bays of Caithness. Grey seals come ashore to pup and mate on the beaches in October and November. In October, the roaring of rutting deer stags echoes round the hills.
Winter (December – February)
Flocks of waders such as sanderling, plovers, turnstone, dunlin, knot, curlew and redshank gather on the Caithness beaches and bays during winter. Long-tailed ducks and great-northern divers over-winter in Caithness and can be seen diving in the waves and further offshore in some of the bays, while geese and swans gather on the lochs and in the fields. Small birds such as twite, snowbunting, fieldfare and redwing form large flocks in fields and on the beaches. Otters are often easier to see in winter as they hunt for prey during the short days. On higher ground deer, eagles, ptarmigan and mountain hare in their winter colours may be seen.