The wide range of habitats in the area, from ancient pinewoods and ‘temperate rainforest’, to mountains, moorland, lochs and sea, support an amazing diversity of wildlife, much of which is rare or difficult to see elsewhere. Local wildlife trips give great opportunities to get close to wildlife, but they can also be spotted from good vantage points on land, including from Cairns cottage garden and nearby coastal paths.
Minke whales, basking shark, seals (common and grey), porpoise, dolphins (common and bottlenose), otters, white-tailed eagles and blackthroated divers have all been seen from here, although binoculars or a telescope greatly enhance your views. Seals are frequently seen at Shieldaig and Gairloch harbour. Birds in the area include the spectacular golden eagle, white-tailed sea eagle, peregrine falcon and other birds of prey, although they are rare, so don’t expect to see them all the time!
On land, red deer, otter, and pine marten are found around Cairns cottage. During the red deer rut, in October, you can hear the stags roaring at night. In the garden you might see pipistrelle bats swooping on insects in the summer evenings, short-tailed vole dashing from the cover of the drystone wall, or palmate newts, common frog, common toad, and slow-worm. Many birds and invertebrates use the garden for feeding or shelter, including some lovely dragonflies. The gold-ringed dragonfly is a spectacular species of Wester Ross but there are many others.
The area is also botanically rich with many distinctive plant species, including a number of orchids. What you see depends on the time of the year; in spring the native bluebells and primroses are delightful, in August the hills are purple with flowering heather. Some flowers are restricted to particular habitats, e.g. creeping lady’s-tresses orchids in native pinewoods. Even the road verges here can be rich in wildflowers, many of which have been lost elsewhere. Broadleaved woodland in this high rainfall area is described as ‘temperate rainforest’; the trees and ground are festooned with mosses and lichens, many of which are not found anywhere else.
Take some time to enjoy this magical place, and keep a look out for all the wildlife around. Your enjoyment of the area will be enhanced by being prepared for wet conditions with boots and waterproofs – as we say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing! But don’t forget the sunscreen and midge repellent too!