You don’t have to be a serious ornithologist to appreciate the majestic sight of birds of prey in their natural environment. Eagles, buzzards and falcons can all be seen in the Highlands of Scotland if you know where to look. Whether you are on a specific birdwatching holiday or just taking a scenic walk on the off chance of spotting something interesting then you should not pass up on the opportunity to witness these most amazing creatures.
The North Harris Eagle Observatory provides one of the best places in Scotland for viewing this impressive species. Nestled in between the spectacular Harris Hills, this purpose built hide has commanding views up Glen Meavaig, from which you can see the daily activities of the resident pair of golden eagles. The undisturbed, open and rugged, Harris terrain provides fantastic eagle habitat and the surrounding area is home to 20 pairs, one of the highest densities in the country. Your best chance to see them is on blustery days when they are typically seen flying above the skyline. In addition to the golden eagles, sea eagles are also regularly seen in the glen, particularly during the winter when they come inland to feed on deer carcasses and salmon. Tamana is a luxury cottage for four and is located on the road to Hushinish close by. It almost feels like cheating but it is quite possible you might just spot an eagle from the comfort of the hot tub. If you don’t, there is still the consolation of outstanding views and the nearby beach.
One of the best spots to see white tailed eagles is on the Eriskay to Barra ferry. On the approach to the sound of Barra the journey will take you past several small uninhabited islands where these massive predators have set up home since their re-introduction to the area in the 1970s. Often described as a ‘flying barn door’ due to their sheer size and broad wings these spectacular creatures, when fishing, fly low over water, stop to hover for a moment and drop quickly to snatch fish from the surface. A sight to behold if you are lucky enough to witness it. The ferry journey can sometimes feel like a wildlife cruise as visitors also regularly spot bottlenose dolphins and seals. Eriskay Views Cottage is just a short walk from the pier where the ferry departs from so is ideal for day tripping to Barra by car or bike. Eriskay is also connected by causeway to the rest of the Uists but it feels like a completely self-contained community and there is so much to see and do here you may not want to leave for the duration of your stay.
The short-eared owl is Scotland’s only day flying owl and is a common sight on the Uists where voles, their favoured prey, are abundant. The best time to see them are on calm mornings and evenings. One top tip to bear in mind for spotting them (as with any bird of prey) is to watch for the reactions of other birds. Crows, waders and gulls will frequently mob birds of prey in an attempt to drive them away. Their alarm calls are often the first sign that one is about. From Clachan Sands Cottage on North Uist it is a short drive to one of the best places to spot them on the committee road as well as being not far from the official RSPB reserve at Balranald which has been a huge draw for ornithologists for many years.
The final stop on our Hebridean birds of prey tour is Loch Stiapabhat, right at the north end of Lewis. This Nature Reserve is a refuge for large numbers of wildfowl and waders especially during migration and a hide here provides excellent views over the loch and its surrounding wetland. The activity attracts regular visits from hunting peregrine and hen harrier, in addition to the resident buzzards. The main attraction of this vast peatland is the chance to see merlin. The smallest British bird of prey, these tiny falcons can be identified by their characteristic low darting flight in pursuit of other small birds. Taigh Eilidh is just a 15-minute walk away, a luxurious and modern retreat for couples it has great views over the tranquil Port of Ness and its white sandy beach.