This article has been written with the support of CalMac.
Where do go birdwatching on Scotland's west coast islands
- Katherine Jones
- 27 March 2019
Awash with everything from gannets to guillemots, Scotland's islands are a birdwatching heaven. Dr Katherine Jones details where you and your binoculars should be heading
Scotland's fertile seas and wild, remote coastlines and islands make it one of the best places in the world to see seabirds. Nearly half of the world's gannets breed in Scotland, and almost a third of the world's Manx shearwaters nest on the Isle of Rum alone.
From the deck of the ferry, gannets will be the largest seabird you'll glimpse. Look out for groups fishing as they drop like arrows from the sky. They hit the sea at speeds of over 50 miles per hour, their specially adapted skulls offering some cushioning against the impact. Gannets nest in a few large colonies (St Kilda is one of the biggest) and can range hundreds of miles in search of food; this means they can be seen almost anywhere.
Like gannets, other seabirds like to nest together in colonies and the scale of these 'seabird cities' can be vast: the noise, the activity and even the smell, makes them one of nature's spectacles. Each species has its place in the colony; gannets on the summits, puffins in burrows in the grassy slopes, and kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills on tiny ledges on the sheer cliffs. The colonies on the Shiant Islands, between Harris and Skye, are home to 63,000 pairs of puffin, as well as many thousands of guillemots, razorbills and other seabirds. Look out for the islands, and for its puffins, on the ferries to Lewis. A recent rat-eradication project (also seen on the Isle of Canna) offers the prospect of better breeding success for the puffins and the return of Manx shearwaters to the islands.
The Isle of Rum is famous for its Manx shearwaters, nesting in burrows high up on the island's mountains. In March, around 100,000 pairs return from their wintering grounds off the coast of South America and you can see them on any of the ferry routes,riding on stiff, straight wings, almost touching the surface of the sea as they search for food. (Dr Katherine Jones)