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Issue 10 - Time to get in a flap

Scotland Magazine Issue 10
September 2003


This article is 15 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Time to get in a flap


The islands and remote shores around the coast of Scotland heave with a proliferation of grey seals in October and November as the females arrive onshore to give birth to a single fluffy white pup each. With an estimated 90,000 grey seals around the coast of Scotland the chances of spotting these blubbery beauties are good.

Head to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick which has a series of live ‘Big Brother’ cameras trained in on the Isle of May some 14km away, giving some of the best views of seal action in Scotland. The females usually give birth a day after arriving onshore and they nurse the pup for the following 17-18 days. Only 30 minutes from Edinburgh, the centre also attracts some 200,000 nesting seabirds many of which can still be seen in October.

This year the Centre announced the introduction of a live camera link with the UNESCO World Heritage site on the island of St.Kilda some 300 miles away on the west coast. The cameras afford such close views that visitors can read the numbers on the rings of birds’ feet.

“No other project of this kind currently exists in the United Kingdom, or the world,” commented Tom Brock, director of the Scottish Seabird Centre.

More than half a million people have visited the Scottish Seabird Centre since it was opened three years ago by HRH Prince of Wales.

There is also an underwater camera located just off the Isle of May. Visitors can see a variety of seabirds and seals diving and fishing. Puffins and guillemots, for example, behave quite differently underwater, as they arch torpedo-like and dive for fish. Nocturnal birds such as Leach’s petrels and storm petrels and manx shearwaters might also be picked up with the night vision capabilities of the cameras.

This time of year also sees the start of the ‘rutting’ – or mating – season for red deer. The elaborate displays of antler rattling battles for dominance among the male stags can be seen with a little luck throughout Scotland.

“The deer are normally found in lower ground during the winter and spring period,” says Rob Donaldson-Webster, the director of the British Deer Society. “This is when they are often seen by travellers on the A9 road between Perth and Inverness or on the various highland railway routes.”

The red deer is Britain’s largest land mammal and can live for up to 18 years. They are no longer uncommon in Scotland, says Donaldson-Webster.

“In fact red deer are surprisingly widespread, occupying most areas of hill ground and large forestry blocks throughout Scotland.”

They mostly feed on grasses, heather and bilberry and the best time to see them is at dawn or dusk.

October at the RSPB Vane Farm Reserve in Kinross sees the arrival of thousands of pink footed geese. About 40,000 are also expected at the Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve, arriving from their breeding grounds in Iceland and eastern Greenland.