Wildlife you can spot in the South of Scotland

by Scotland Starts Here, 5th June 2020
Wildlife you can spot in the South of Scotland

Uninterrupted views, rolling hills and lush greenery. From just a few minutes to a full day, spending time taking in nature can offer respite as well as a sense of calm. Knowing what to look out for in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders adds to this the excitement of getting up close and personal with your surroundings. Especially while we all stay local and explore close to home, looking at our landscapes with fresh eyes holds great adventures.

Whether you are out on a leisurely walk, a cross-country cycle or doing some snorkelling, you will encounter our local wildlife. So, read on for what you might spot in our woodlands, on our riverbanks and along our coastlines. Here is our guide to some of the wildlife you can see in the South of Scotland.


Please note: If you are going for walks or exercise, always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.



Mammals

Though quite a few mammals such as grey squirrels can often be spotted in parks around towns and cities, others are not as common. Thus, exploring the forests, hills and moors in the South of Scotland offers an opportunity to look out for some of these animals.

Red Squirrel

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Keep your eyes open and be as quiet as possible if you’re hoping to spot one of these little fellows. An impressive three quarters of the UK’s red squirrel population lives in Scotland’s forests and woodlands. And many of them live in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway. Look for them in coniferous areas or near bird feeders – nibbled pine cones can be a sign that red squirrels are nearby.

Hare

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Often mistaken for rabbits, both brown hares and mountain hares feel at home in the South of Scotland. Unlike rabbits though, hares do not live in burrows. Instead, they live in a shallow nest in long grass and heather. And that is the environment to look for: Fields, hillsides and moorlands all provide excellent habitats. So, pick a spot and sit quietly. If you can make out reddish-brown fur and long black-tipped ears, you have spotted a brown hare. And if its coat is greyish or even white (during the winter months), well done, you have spotted a mountain hare!

Roe Deer

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Found throughout Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to the rolling hills of Galloway, Roe deer can often be spotted across the landscape. Usually, by themselves or in small groups of up to three, they feed mostly on leaves or fruit. They can thus also be encountered in shrubby, sheltered areas. Look closely: It’s easy to distinguish between the male bucks and female does by the males’ short, straight antlers. 


Birds

Gliding gracefully across the landscape or plunging rapidly while on the hunt for food, bird watching can be quite the spectacle. And with the South of Scotland rich in birdlife, there are lots of opportunities to try it yourself. Here, well-known game birds such as grouse are joined by rare and majestic birds of prey, while the coastline sees impressive seabird colonies. So, why not see if you can spot some of the below on your next trip. 

Kingfisher

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With a range of rivers and streams, the south of Scotland offers the perfect area for spotting kingfishers. These shy birds are well known for their bright blue and orange colouring, and the speed at which they dive into the water to catch small fish. The slow-moving or even still waters of the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway offer a perfect environment for kingfishers, and they are regularly seen along the banks of the Tweed, Ettrick and Ken.

Osprey

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If you spot birds of prey while you’re out and about, they might be ospreys. You can quickly identify them by their white underparts and white heads with brown stripes across the eyes – almost like a mask. After an absence of over 100 years, ospreys are now once again a well-established fixture in these parts. Thanks to highly successful conservation projects, the rare and beautiful raptors call the forests of the Tweed Valley their home – check out Kailzie Gardens, Glentress and Born in the Borders for their osprey watch camera feeds. In Dumfries and Galloway projects at Threave, Caerverlock and Wigtown Bay also monitor breeding pairs with viewing platforms or live camera feeds.

Owl

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The variety of habitats in Southern Scotland, with its rolling hills, vast fields, woodlands and streams, means a wide range of wildlife feels at home here, including many birds of prey. In the evenings and early mornings, you might, for example, see barn owls or short-eared owls sweeping across the moors and hillsides. Estates such as Bowhill near Selkirk offer special ranger tours and updates on the birds’ activities. 

Golden Eagle

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These majestic birds of prey have a long history in the South of Scotland and play an essential part in the local environment, hunting for rabbits, hares and other small mammals. Thanks to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, the once declining numbers are on the rise again. Today, you might see a golden eagle soaring high while you walk the Annandale Way, starting in the town of Moffat – the nearby hills are one of their preferred habitats. Their warm, almost golden brown plumage is a sight to behold, so keep your eyes on the sky!

Puffin

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You will hardly ever see just one species of seabirds when you’re exploring the coastlines of the South of Scotland during the warmer months. The plunging cliffs and sea stacks at St Abbs and along the Berwickshire Coastal Path provide an ideal habitat for kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and many others. Along the Mull of Galloway expect guillemots, black guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and shags, all of which nest on the steep cliffs. Peregrine falcons patrol the skies. Such a variety of seabirds breed along both coastlines that the soundscape will stay with you for a long time. Puffins, however, are more elusive. You will need to look closely to identify their colourful beaks. A tip: The small birds prefer nooks in the cliff face as well as grassy banks for nesting. 

Gannet

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Scotland is well known as one of the best places to watch these sleek sea birds fish, nest and raise their young. Their bright white plumage and distinct light grey beak are a sight to behold. And being the largest – and possibly noisiest – seabird in the UK, watching a gannet colony is truly a spectacle. 


Marine Life

The wildlife of Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders is as impressive on land as it is underwater. Thousands of species call the waters off the coasts their home, making it perfect for diving and rock pooling. Berwickshire hosts the country’s first voluntary marine reserve, crystal clear waters and landscape defining rivers, the extraordinary marine life deserves particular attention.

Otter 

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Otters are at home in many of Scotland’s river systems, and the south is no exception. Head out on a riverside walk, and you have a good chance of spotting one of these playful, yet elusive animals. The clean water and plentiful food supply offer the perfect habitat. Look out for overgrown banks that otters use for hiding and muddy slides along the riversides where they haul themselves, and their catch, out of the water. 

Salmon

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The Tweed and its tributaries provide the perfect habitat for many fish, including trout and grayling. Salmon, however, deserves a special mention. Scottish salmon is well-known across the world, but in the South you can spot them in the wild, making their way upstream to lay their eggs. If you are lucky, you can even see them jumping at small waterfalls along the river. Alternatively, head to Philiphaugh Estate & Salmon Viewing Centre for a fish-eye view of the river, interactive displays and lots of info. 

Seal

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You can see seals all year round in Scotland, either dipping in and out of the sea or relaxing on rocks and pebbled beaches. The smaller grey seal feels especially at home along the Berwickshire Coast and off the coast of the Mull of Galloway. And if you visit during the winter months, there is a good chance you will see adorable seal pups. Make sure to respect their space though, and only admire them from a distance.

Bottlenose Dolphin

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A calm sea offers the best chance to spot these playful creatures. Bottlenose dolphins usually travel in small groups close to shore, splashing and sometimes even jumping. And if you’re looking out for bottlenose dolphins, you might even spot their larger cousins – orcas! The sea around Eyemouth and St Abbs is an ideal spot for sightings and those hoping to have a closer look can head out on a rib trip from Eyemouth or St Abbs. 

Lobster

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Have you ever considered seeing lobsters, crabs and crayfish in their natural habitat? The coastal waters of southern Scotland offer the perfect opportunity to do just that. Here the crustaceans burrow freely, almost blending into their surroundings. Spotting them and the other species inhabiting the Berwickshire Marine Reserve is truly an adventure! The area is also a haven for encountering octopus, wolffish and corals, creating a colourful underwater landscape. With a dedicated snorkel trail, diving tours and more it’s like discovering a whole new world. 


Still, this is just a selection of the animals you can see. For more information on what you can spot across Scotland, check out Wild Scotland or visit Wild Seasons for additional advice on spotting wildlife in the South of Scotland.