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6 Jun 2022

Summer wildlife

A red admiral butterfly perches on a pink flower in Kellie Castle Garden, with a blue sky in the background.
Scotland’s seas, skies, meadows and mountains are all brimming with activity as the warmest months of the year unfold. Here are some of the wildlife you can spot at our places this summer!


Where: Inverewe

A boat trip off the coast during the summer can bring great hopes of spotting dorsal fins popping out of the water. Dolphins are always a popular sight, especially as they seem to relish frolicking in the wake of ferries and other vessels as much as people enjoy seeing them – although, in reality, this behaviour is likely be a means of moving more efficiently through the waves. Dolphins travel in pods of up to 15 members and are mean fish-eating machines, perfectly engineered for hunting prey in the cool northern seas. The best chance of seeing them is on a calm and sunny summer’s day.

Also at: Balmacara Estate, Iona, Mingulay, Berneray and Pabbay, St Kilda, Canna

A dolphin sighting is a summer must-see | Image by Stewart Dawber/Shutterstock


Where: Balmacara Estate

The sighting of an elegant, jewel-coloured dragonfly is one of the most evocative signs of summer. The best region in which to spot them is the north-west Highlands, where rare species are thriving alongside some of the country’s more commonly spotted dragonflies and damselflies. Last autumn, the Trust’s team at Balmacara Estate worked with volunteers to dig out bog pools to encourage the local population of the rare northern emerald dragonfly after it had been seen here. Another species that is thriving in the north-west is the azure hawker, which breeds in the sphagnum-rich bog pools of Inverewe.

Also at: Torridon, Corrieshalloch Gorge, The Hermitage

An azure hawker dragonfly | Image by Carlos Pereira M/Shutterstock


Where: Goatfell, Arran

You don’t need to have much birdwatching – or, indeed, bird-listening – experience to pick out a cuckoo in the wild. Their call is one of the easiest to recognise: if it’s cuckoo-ing, it’s probably a cuckoo. Adult birds arrive here from Africa in April, and they don’t stay long: only until June or July. They’re not the most responsible of parents, as when they head home to warmer climes they leave their offspring behind them, having laid their eggs in other birds’ nests. The oblivious adopters are usually physically smaller species, such as the meadow pipits of Glen Rosa on Arran. Keep a look out in July onwards and you might see a comically oversized young cuckoo being fed by its small adoptive parent.

Also at: Mar Lodge Estate, Inverewe, Ben Lomond, Kintail

A meadow pipit sits on a wire fence in a field, beside a much larger cuckoo which is turned with its beak open at the pipit..
A meadow pipit (left) and a much larger cuckoo


Where: Greenbank Garden

Nothing says summer quite like the lazy fluttering of butterflies, making their way among headily scented blooms. Scotland is home to around 35 different species, but some only visit very specific habitats. For example, the mountain ringlet is the UK’s only montane butterfly, and is regularly spotted in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve in July. Of course, the Trust’s gardens are also wonderful places in which to spot butterflies. On a bright day, Greenbank Garden will be brimming with them. If you visit between 15 June and 7 August, you can take part in the Big Butterfly Count and help with conservation efforts.

Read more: The Big Butterfly Count 2022 at Greenbank Garden

Also at: Inverewe, Inveresk Lodge Garden, Threave Garden & Estate, and many more!

Small tortoiseshell butterfly | Image by Richard P Long/Shutterstock

Great skua

Where: St Kilda

Great skuas have a bad reputation – earned mostly due to repeat appearances in nature documentaries where they are seen preying on defenceless seabird chicks. Their aggressive behaviour isn’t limited to young birds either. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the remote archipelago of St Kilda in the summer months, you might witness great skuas dive-bombing gannets for their food. The skuas, also known as bonxies, are even known to pick off adult puffins when hungry. Not easily intimidated, they will also turn their focus to humans if too close to their nests.

Also at: Staffa, Canna, Fair Isle

A bird with plumage of different shades of brown stands on a rock with its beak angled into the air and opened wide.
Great skua! | Image by Erni/Shutterstock

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