The Wildlife of Skye

The Isle of Skye is quoted as being a “special place” in numerous blogs, guidebooks and websites. This year I visited the isle for the first time with Thistle Trekking and it is special for a very good reason. Skye has dramatic mountains, beautiful coastlines, the infamous Cuillin Ridge (the longest mountaineering expedition in Britain) and is steeped in history. Skye also has a variety of wildlife that inhabits the epic landscapes and makes a trip to Skye a must for anyone that enjoys the outdoors.   HeatherPlant life is abundant on Skye but missed by many, scenery you expect to see in any cinema blockbuster on the horizons are so good that they steal your gaze. Its when you stop and look around your feet that you will find a swathe of common mountain plants such as tormentil, field gentian, wild thyme, heather (ling and bell), crowberry and purple saxifrage. Wander off the tracks into boggy ground and the yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel will greet you. The latin name (Narthecium ossifragum) literally means bone breaker and refers to a traditional belief that eating the plant caused sheep do develop brittle bones. Bog Asphodel however favours acidic low sodium soils so more likely the sheep were eating grass that was calcium poor! Most people avoid boggy moorlands choosing to keep their feet dry, venture further into the bog when you glimpse the yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel, as the same habitat they flourish in are also home to over 17 different varieties of Orchids. Orchids have a distinctive flower spike with each symmetrical flower consisting of three petals and flower from May to September so plenty of opportunity to marvel at their beauty.   Otter Skye is an island and thus surrounded by sea, the Skye trail briefly skirts the coastline around Elgol and at the northern most tip of Duntulm. As you walk you may get a glimpse of seals (common and grey), dolphins and if you are lucky the plankton eating basking shark. I was surprised to see otters in the sea but the European otters around Skye can be found in the sea, in lochs and in rivers. They eat a huge variety of foods such as small fish and frogs and a little bit of patience sitting staring out to sea will usually reward you with a sighting.     Sea EagleElgol has a great cafe called the blue shed cafe and inside you can find a useful board that describes recent wildlife sightings. Just two days before our trek passed through a golden eagle was spotted. It is more common to see the white tailed eagle known as a Sea Eagle in Skye, which is the largest bird of prey in Britain. There are currently 113 pairs of white tailed eagles in Scotland, the remarkable results of a reintroduction programme. The cliffs around Skye, particularly around Portree, offer some of the most reliable sightings. Another bird of interest has a distinct brightly coloured parrot like bill and will be seen diving into the sea waters while hunting fish. The puffin is not regularly seen on Skye but there are occasional sightings between April and March. If you are visiting the area then a quick boat ride to Canna (a nearby island) guarantees you a view of this impressive bird.   To experience the wildlife of Skye you sometimes need to go off the beaten track. Although only four kilometres from Broadford, while descending Beinn na Caillich I stumbled upon at least 20 Red deer elegantly bouncing over the rough ground that I had been struggling with for the last 10 minutes. There red coats contrast beautifully with the backdrop of brown moorland and mountains shrouded by cloud and although common a highlight of my trip. One animal I wanted to glimpse in the failing light was a Pine Martin (a member of the weasel family). They are mainly active at night preferring woodland environments and have only recently arrived on Skye across the bridge! Although I didn’t see it this trip I saw such a variety of wildlife that I was anything but disappointed. Multi day trekking on Skye is a great way to enjoy the variety of landscapes you pass through and an opportunity to relish in the abundance of wildlife that you just won’t see driving from sight to sight on the island. Thistle Trekking run a 7 day trek on the Skye Trail that includes the Trorrernish Ridge and increases your chances of an encounter with the wildlife described. For more information see Skye Trail.

About the Author

Dean Russell, is a climber, mountaineer, trail runner and snow sports enthusiast that after 10 years in the environment sector is retraining to share his passion for adventure with others.  He has climbed 6000m peaks in Nepal, scaled mountains in the Alps and recently ran the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.  While in the UK Dean can be found running the fells of the Lake District, climbing the stunning coastline of Pembroke and mountaineering in Scotland. Join Dean on a guided trek with us in 2019!