There's nothing more magical than witnessing a wild animal in its natural habitat. Observe a plump seal sunbathing on a coastal rock, just as interested in you as you're in them, catch sight of a red deer out in the forest, grazing sedately amongst the bushes or gaze up at the sky and spy a golden eagle soar above you, riding the thermals playfully. It's a bit like watching the flame of a fire or crashing waves. Wildlife watching is endlessly fascinating and you can lose all sense of time, wrapped up in the comings and goings of the life that you're observing.
However, wildlife watching can be unpredictable. Sometimes you head out for a walk not expecting to see very much and you end up almost bumping into a magnificent stag or witnessing two red squirrels chasing each other between the trees, weaving impossibly fast between the branches and up and down tree trunks. At other times you come prepared with binoculars, a camera and your trusty wildlife identification guidebook, visiting an area known to be good a spot for catching a glimpse of a specific type of animal, and you see nothing of note. There's no guarantee you'll see what you want to see, but it's very rare that you won't see anything at all. Scotland is a remarkable destination for wildlife watching, but it's all about managing your expectations and being prepared to put some work in.
Patience is a big help and being accompanied by an expert guide can make all the difference to having a fulfilling day. The benefit of going with a wildlife watching guide or joining a tour is that you're being taken to prime locations with eyes trained to catch a glimpse of even the most elusive of creatures, the outline of a large bird of prey flying over the mountains or the fins from a whale or dolphin in the distance. If the elusive ones don't show face, your guide will be able to show many other more common species which are also cool to see out in the wild.
Additionally, you'll hear stories and be shown many different things related to the landscape. Learn about behaviours, tracks, scat, dens and nests, and also about what different species like to eat. Most importantly, an arranged wildlife experience ensures that you don't accidentally do anything to harm any animals or their habitats. Guides will keep you at a safe distance, for your sake and theirs, and do what they can to minimise disruption. This makes for a better experience for you too, allowing you to watch for longer and see more.
We've gathered some of our favourite organised wildlife watching experiences in Scotland, guaranteed to be excellent days out enjoying the local flora and fauna.