Wildlife is a particular passion for us and we actively seek out experiences which will (hopefully) bring us up close and personal with a range of local animals. I’m going to jump around, both chronologically and geographically to share with you some of the awesome wildlife encounters we have had.
I have a thing for puffins! They are comical looking birds with brightly coloured beaks, short wings and sad expressive eyes. When they fly they beat their wings extremely rapidly, resembling clockwork toys. They are very amusing to watch. Wherever we travelled where puffins were known to nest we made attempts to see them. We had an abortive trip in July 1984 to the remote island of Røst off the coast of northern Norway. When we arrived after a very long-boat trip, an immensely dense fog descended and it was not safe for the puffin tour boats to go out! Røst is very small and flat and positively reeks of drying fish, so we left.
August 1984 and we were in the UK and read that puffins roost on Bass Rock, a volcanic lump of rock in the Firth of Forth, Scotland. We found a tour in a tiny boat leaving from North Berwick and ventured forth (no pun intended!) Well, apparently there had been puffins there – in July – but they had left now, with only gannets remaining. There were thousands of gannets all nesting precariously on the steep-sided rock. Historically, Bass Rock has also been inhabited; I cannot imagine why.
Anyway despite the lack of puffins, gannets are fascinating birds to watch as they dive bomb their prey at tremendous speeds. All in all, if you are a bird fancier this is a great little trip.
Fast forward to July 2001, we were back in Scotland pottering around Fife: St Andrews is where all the tourists go, but we fell in love with a small fishing village called Anstruther (pronounced Anster). We had a lovely walk along the coast, dodging golf balls whilst crossing a bizarrely located cliff-top golf course, and experiencing four seasons of weather in about an hour! Anstruther had a boat tour to the Isle of May, five miles off the Fife coast.
The tour company had brightly coloured brochures of puffins – we were hooked. According to the website http://www.isleofmayferry.com/
“The Island is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and is the home of incredible wildlife which includes eiders, puffins, guillemots and razorbills but also the breeding colony of grey seals, the offshore reefs and small fishes surviving on them and the plants that grow on the cliffs. Well known for visiting migrant birds and the island is the best Puffin site in the UK.”
We were not disappointed, there were thousands of puffins. You had to be careful where you walked so as not to disturb their burrows. Puffins flew all around you, it was exhilarating!
Oh, and if you’re interested, the Isle of May has a lighthouse and was the site of one of the earliest Christian Churches in Scotland, founded in the 9th century.
Just a warning; despite being July, we were well rugged up. There was a howling wind on the island which threatened to bowl us over if we faced the wrong way and made it quite chilly.
Seals are a fairly common sight around Britain, however if you wish to get a really close-up experience opt for a boat trip from Dunvegan Castle pier on the Isle of Skye. In a traditionally built clinker boat, the trip is 25 minutes on Loch Dunvegan. Unless you have endless patience and no children in tow, I would not recommend trying to spot otters from the hides on Skye.
Anyone who has enjoyed The Wind in the Willows will like badgers. Besides we don’t have them in Australia so they are, naturally, exotic and worth trying to see. Badgers are nocturnal animals and so are difficult for your average Aussie traveller to find, however…
…at Dinefwr in Wales the staff have worked out that if they gradually lay out peanuts for the badgers earlier and earlier in the evening, then they can get the badgers to appear during daylight hours in the summer. Hides have been built where visitors can watch the badgers without disturbing them. We visited in July 2005 and, with only a handful of others, were entranced and entertained for ages by a family of badgers. So cute. We also saw a fox; just passing through. There is a short, guided walk through the estate to reach the hide which is both attractive and interesting. In addition to badgers, the estate has a very rare and ancient breed of white cattle, and is a place of considerable historical significance.
“People have lived at Dinefwr for more than 2,000 years. Buried under the parkland are an Iron Age farm, two Roman forts and an ‘English’ town created by Edward I about 700 years ago. Still standing is the castle, created by the Lord Rhys and rebuilt over the centuries to leave the great building we see today.” http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr/history/
We stayed in a fabulous B&B, which at that stage had only just opened. Located on a working farm and surrounded by woodlands it was just beautiful. Refurbishment of the farm buildings to create the B&B was meticulous and the accommodation was fresh and comfortable. Breakfast consisted of local farm produce including home-made sausages and was delicious.The proprietors were friendly and very welcoming.