Assynt is one of the few remaining unspoilt habitats of the UK and supports a wide variety of flora and fauna seldom seen elsewhere. There are a number of ecological niches within its boundaries, each with their own individual assemblage of birds, plants and indigenous wildlife. They include the Atlantic coastline, the Arctic-Alpine regions of the mountain tops, moorland and blanket bog, managed croft-land and the largest area of limestone hills within Scotland.Birds
There are few parts of the British Isles as wild or remote as the North West Highlands. Assynt at first sight can be seen as a hostile place for birds with its rocky coast, sparsely distributed trees and blanket peat covering much of the landscape.
However we have a unique assemblage of birds and hold some of Britain’s rarest breeding birds including black-throated divers and common greenshanks. 215 species of birds have been recorded in Assynt in recent decades. 107 of these may be reasonably called regular breeders. A further 20 can be classed as regular winter visitors and the rest are regular or rare passage migrants.The Assynt Field Club video
plays an active role in recording bird sightings and several organised field excursions are held throughout the year.
Nesting seabirds can be seen along the cliffs at Stoer Point and Faraid Head near Durness. However one of the largest colonies in North West Europe can be seen on Handa Island, accessible by boat from Tarbet (near Scourie). http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/handa-island/
A ferry operates throughout the spring & summer – April to August – although May / June are the best times to visit.Marine
The North and West coasts of Scotland are some of the best places in Europe to see cetaceans such as whales, dolphins and porpoises with sightings of 24 species currently reported. Recent and previous sightings are recorder by the Field Club at http://www.assyntwildlife.org.uk/?cat=15
The headlands at Culkein Stoer or Drumbeg Viewpoint are ideal locations from which to observe these - although be prepared to devote a few hours constantly scanning out to sea with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
For more information or if you have sightings please send details to the local Highland Council Ranger at the Assynt Visitor Centre at Lochinver firstname.lastname@example.org
The Seawatch Foundation also collects records of cetacean sightings at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk
There are also many other places along the Assynt coast where otters, seals and other smaller sea creatures can be seen close up. In particular the rock pools at Achmelvich are ideal for a small scale safari with bucket and fishing net. A knowing look from a grey seal or an inquisitive glance from the smaller common seal; but how to tell the difference? Look at the head bobbing in front of you - a roman nose with parallel nostrils distinguishes the grey seal from the more dog-like head of the common seal, whose nostrils meet in a V-shape. Both can dive to 50m or more, for up to half an hour, but these fishing trips are more likely to last just a few minutes. Common seals gather in large groups during the spring. They have their pups in ]une and breed in a few favoured spots on offshore islands. Often they can be seen from the bridge at Kylesku. Grey seals require more secluded sites for their breeding season in October, since their youngsters are more vulnerable until they are able to swim, at three weeks old. Though the males mature in about six years, it may take ten years for them to gain a place in the breeding group. The harems are made up of older bulls and females that are at least three years old. Common seals can live to an age of thirty and grey seals may reach thirty-five or more.Land.
With hundreds of truly wild red deer parading across the open moors, they are an increasingly common sight. Inchnadamph literally means feeding ground of the stag
, which is worth remembering when driving at night - no zebra crossing here! Red deer today are smaller than their ancestors. They moved into Scotland with the spreading forests when the Ice Age came to an end 10,000 years ago. Wolves and lynx used to prey on the abundant herds, keeping the population in check, but now the only natural predators of sickly calves are the fox and golden eagle. Unfortunately, they are now out of balance with the food supply and are damaging their own habitat. Red deer are sociable animals; the herds are not just random gatherings. For ten months of the year the sexes remain separate; the hinds in large family groups, the stags roaming together, but more loosely. A group of hinds consists of a dominant female, her mature daughters and all their dependant offspring. The group may contain 10-30 members. The calves are usually born in early June. A hind will stay with her dappled calf through the first day, then leave the youngster to lie hidden in the heather or bracken for a few days, returning to feed it three times a day. By the end of September, the rutting stags roar to warn others away from their territory and herd their harems.