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Winter walks and wildlife

A couple and a dog walk along a snow-covered, tree-lined path. It is snowing.
As temperatures dip, there’s no drop in interest levels at many of our countryside places! Here are some suggestions of great walks with wildlife-spotting highlights for you this winter.

1. Killiecrankie

A still section of river in a gorge, with the steep sides covered in snow.

The Pass of Killiecrankie is a magnificent wooded gorge with the River Garry flowing through it. During winter, the reduction in foliage brings a greater sense of space and scale, so you’ll see more of the landscape and the wonderful wildlife that lives in it.

Listen out for the dipper, a bird which starts its courtship in the winter with a song that sounds like the babbling water in which it feeds. Blankets of snow will always reveal how alive the outside world remains: the tracks of pine martens, red squirrels, foxes, badgers and different birds all tell stories of foraging, hunting and escape.

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2. Threave Garden & Nature Reserve

Six white swans stand in a snowy field as snow falls. The bright yellow bills and black legs really stand out. The swan in the middle raises its neck up, as if calling.

There are plenty of trails and woodland walks to enjoy across this hugely diverse nature reserve in Dumfries & Galloway. The estate encompasses farmland, forestry, wetland and a 2-mile stretch of the River Dee, ensuring year-round wildlife interest. Much of the action can be viewed from easily accessed nature hides overlooking the Dee.

A magical combination of light, sound and texture makes winter a particularly evocative time to visit Threave. Whether it’s the distant honking of whooper swans, the whistling call of a pintail duck, the barking of a fox at dusk, or just a fine mist hovering over the marshes, there’s an element of power to such places at this time of year.

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3. Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve

A wide glen, with a river snaking through the middle of it, is covered by snow.

Hill walking on Mar Lodge Estate is unsurpassed. You’ll find no fewer than 15 Munros, including the second highest mountain in the UK – Ben Macdui (1,309m). You can also enjoy a number of low-level walks with views of the rushing falls, several mountain bothies as well as opportunities for wild camping.

The estate is rich in wildlife all year round. On the high ridges and slopes, mountain hares and ptarmigan brave the elements, both turning white to escape the attention of eagles and other predators. Lower down, foxes hunt voles and other small mammals, while snow buntings gather in busy flocks.

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4. House of Dun

A flock of geese fly across a blue winter sky.

House of Dun & Montrose Basin Nature Reserve is an internationally important site for waders and wildfowl. Every winter, this vast tidal basin is home to thousands of pink-footed geese, escaping the harsh winters of Iceland and eastern Greenland. They are joined by elegant whooper swans, plus thousands of wigeon, knot, redshank, shelduck and many other species.

House of Dun offers a perfect vantage point from which to enjoy this most dramatic of estuaries, as well as various woodland walks.

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5. The Hermitage

A waterfall rushes through a snow-covered landscape, with laden branches hanging over the river banks.

Follow in the footsteps of notable visitors including William Wordsworth, Queen Victoria, Felix Mendelssohn and J M W Turner as you wander through this magnificent landscape. Walk among giants – the Douglas firs here are among the tallest trees in Britain.

Winter at the Hermitage, where spray from the surging River Braan leaves a sheen of ice crystals on rocks and trees, shows signs of otters at play. Snow chutes, created by their sliding bellies, indicate their presence in winter, as do signs of their feeding – half-eaten salmon and trout can be spotted on rocks by the water’s edge.

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6. Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve

The Ben Lawers mountains are covered in snow and glow with an almost pink colour due to the low sun in the cloudless sky.

A choice of high-level walks take in one or more of the incredible summits at Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, but there are also less energetic ways to enjoy the mountain landscape. Waymarked trails on the lower slopes offer superb views of the summits and over Loch Tay, with the chance to see some of the plentiful wildlife in our regenerating habitats.

Winter views at Ben Lawers are likely to include sightings of deer – animals that stand out clearly against a snowy landscape and are often found much lower down in sheltered coires. Listen out for ravens, which make plenty of noise during their acrobatic displays.

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7. Glencoe National Nature Reserve

The distinctive pyramid shape of Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe is covered in snow and contrasted against the pale blue sky.

Pop into Glencoe Visitor Centre to get some help to select the perfect route for you in Scotland’s most famous glen. You’ll also find all the latest daily weather and hill conditions info. A seasonal highlight is the walk along the edge of Loch Achtriochtan for some of the best views of our winter birdlife. Whooper swans join us from Iceland for the winter whilst dippers are still present searching for food under the icy water. Look out too for goldeneye ducks.

As the weather gets colder and the tops of the hills are covered by snow, red deer move lower in search of food. They can often be seen browsing the lower slopes of the Glencoe hills. With their keen senses, they’ll spot you before you spot them!

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Walking in Scotland

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