October is a great month to see the wildlife that isn’t with us all year long. Many species head for Scottish shores for the winter, leaving countries like Iceland and Greenland behind until the warmer months, while mammals like grey seals come ashore to breed at this time of year. So grab a pair of cosy boots and a scarf, and head outside to take it all in.
What to see in Scotland this month X
“Honk-honk...” - does that sound made you stop and look up? How about: “Whoopa... whoopa”? If you’re out wildlife watching this month, you’re going to become pretty familiar with these noises.
In October, pink-footed geese and whooper swans start arriving in Scotland, to spend the winter months with us. Pink-footed geese usually fly in what we call ‘skeins’ (like the picture above); great flocks of birds moving in a V-shaped formation. More than 150,000 pink-footed geese migrate here from Iceland and Greenland, with individual flocks containing up to 40,000 birds! Good places to see this species include our Loch Leven and Loch of Strathbeg nature reserves or at the Montrose Basin, which is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
When they arrive in Scotland, pink-footed geese remain fairly sociable creatures, moving around in large groups. At dawn, the geese leave their night-time roosts together and head for feeding grounds before returning at dusk.
The whooper swans that winter here also come from Iceland but their numbers are significantly lower, somewhere around the 4,000 mark. Whoopers are slightly smaller than mute swans, with long, thin necks and a black bill with a large triangular patch of yellow on it.
They have a loud whooping or trumpeting call which is thought to have originally given the bird its name. Both whooper swans and pink-footed geese will stay in Scotland right through the winter before departing for their breeding grounds once again by mid-April.
While many species do not breed at this time of year, some do. And that includes one of Scotland’s brilliant marine mammals; the grey seal. Seals spend most of their time at sea and could end up covering thousands of watery miles during the course of their lives, but they do come ashore to breed.
For grey seals that time is now; they gather at communal breeding beaches from October in Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides, the Monach Isles and on the mainland around Helmsdale and at Loch Eriboll.
Pups are born on these beaches and mating takes place a weeks later when the female has finished suckling her calf. Roughly a third of the world population of grey seals breeds on the coast around Britain.
And, on the subject of mating, October is actually the peak team of year for the red deer rut. Red deer are Britain’s largest land mammal and we have a fair few of them in Scotland. This amazing spectacle is basically when male red deer come together, locking antlers in battle, fighting to gain control of the largest harem to mate with.
Mornings and evenings are probably the best time if you want to get out and see this for yourself. You’ll come across the red deer rut anywhere that you’d find deer; the Highlands are a good place to start. But do be extremely careful and don’t get too close – red deer can be really aggressive at this time of year.
Happy wildlife watching! We’ll be back with a new blog on what to see around Scotland in November.