Wildlife spotter’s guide to Goatfell

The National Trust for Scotland is creating a series of online guides for different areas they manage in Scotland, and the one included here is for some of the wildlife to look out for if you are lucky enough to be walking on Goatfell!

The wildest and highest parts of Arran are also home to an incredible range of amazing wildlife, including a number of Scotland’s most iconic species. Featured image shows Goatfell in cloud. All photo credits to NTS.

Adder 

Although many people feel anxious about encountering an adder whilst out in the countryside, they’re not so keen to meet us either! Adders have a very distinctive zigzag pattern along their back and will give a loud warning hiss if you get too close – they don’t want to be stepped on! They’re fascinating creatures: unusually for reptiles, they give birth to live young, up to 20 at a time. Scientists think the adder could become extinct by 2032, unless habitats are protected and disturbance reduced.

That’s why we’re monitoring our adders in Glen Rosa and undertaking landscape scale habitat revival. Goatfell has an amazing adder population including (no joke) black adders!

Habitat: Woodland, moorland – they like sunbathing on rocks or logs
Food: Small mammals, small birds and lizards
Other Trust places to spot them: Ben Lomond and Mar Lodge Estate

Emperor moth

These large moths can have a wingspan of up to 8cm. They emerge from their cocoon in late March, and then spend a busy 6 weeks mating and laying eggs. Emperor moths are the only moths to have an ‘eye spot’ on each of their four wings. These day-flying males are a dusky orange and have spectacular antennae that resemble feathers. Males use their antennae to track down females by detecting the pheromone scents released by the females. The females, although typically larger, are a pale blue and do not have the fancy head gear. Caterpillars hatch in May and feed during the summer before spending winter in their protective silk cocoon. The mature caterpillars are bright green with yellow, or sometimes pink, spots in black hoops.

Habitat: Heathland, moorland, edges of woodland
Food: Caterpillars feed on heather, brambles and birches
Other Trust places to spot them: Ben Lawers, Grey Mare’s Tail and Mar Lodge Estate

Golden eagle

One of Scotland’s Big 5, this bird of prey is the king of the skies. Soaring on the thermals, the golden eagle is a magnificent sight: its wing span is huge, with some adults reaching well over 2m. Golden eagles are twice the size of common buzzards with which they’re most commonly confused; they have much broader wings, with fingery feathers at the tips. Golden eagles are one of Scotland’s few remaining natural predators and play an essential role in maintaining Highland ecosystems.

Habitat: Mountains in the Highlands and Scottish islands
Food: Rabbits, hares and grouse as well as carrion (mostly sheep and deer)
Other Trust places to spot them: Burg, Glencoe, Inverewe and West Affric

Green tiger beetle

Easily recognised by their iridescent green body with yellow spots, these tiger beetles are some of the fiercest predators found on Goat Fell – do not be fooled by their diminutive (around 1.5cm) size! They have long legs (all the better to run fast with), large eyes (all the better to spot their prey with) and large teeth (all the better to eat with). They dig burrows in which to lie in wait for unsuspecting meals to wander past; the larvae then live in these burrows over winter. Tiger beetles can often be seen on sunny days from April onwards, especially on sheltered and sunny parts of both the Glen Rosa and Goat Fell paths.

Habitat: Bare hillside with little vegetation
Food: Insects, caterpillars and spiders
Other Trust places to spot them: Mar Lodge Estate

Hen harrier

This bird of prey (with a strikingly owl-like face) has a buoyant, graceful flight and can occasionally be spotted flying low across the heather moorland. The male is an unusual slate grey colour with black wing tips; the female is dull brown in colour with a distinctive white rump. Unlike other areas where hen harriers have been threatened to the point of extinction due to persecution, the Isle of Arran has a significant number of breeding pairs. Hen harriers are ground nesting birds so their success on Arran is partly due to fewer ground predators, with no foxes, stoats or weasels present on the island.

Habitat: Open upland moorland
Food: Small birds and mammals
Other Trust places to spot them: Mar Lodge Estate

Highland midge

What would we talk about without this wee beastie?! The humble midgie features in so many of our holiday memories and can be very easily spotted at many places from midsummer onwards. Midgies are a favourite food for bats and many birds (especially warblers and swallows). Out on the restored peatlands of Goatfell, they are also food for our carnivorous plants, the sundews! It’s only the female midgie that bites us; the males eat nectar. If, for some reason, you’d rather not tick this creature off on your wildlife-spotting list, then we recommend early May or late September as the perfect time to visit. Try and pick a dry, windy, cloudless day!

Habitat: Upland and lowland areas, especially damp ground like bogs, river banks and coastlines
Food: Blood from sheep, cattle, deer and us!
Other Trust places to spot them: ah … nearly all of our west coast places have healthy populations of the Highland midge

Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is exclusive to the Scottish Highlands in the UK. Its Latin name is Lagopus mutus, where mutus somewhat misleadingly translates as ‘silent’. Far more fitting is the Gaelic name tarmachan, meaning ‘croaker’! These mountain birds have adapted to the cold climate by having feathery feet; paradoxically their prints are distinctive by being less distinct! They also grow a totally white plumage in winter to camouflage against the snow. In the recent past, ptarmigan regularly bred on Arran, but climate change has shrunk their range and now they are only occasional visitors.

Habitat: Highland mountains
Food: Leaves, buds, berries
Other Trust places to spot them: Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond, Mar Lodge Estate and West Affric

Whinchat

Early May and the click, click sound of two stones knocking together alerts walkers to the return of the whinchat to their breeding grounds in Glen Rosa. Male birds, with their spectacular white eyebrow, perch on top of the bracken fronds, calling out to passing females, advertising their suitability as a mate. Whinchats have shown a dramatic decline in numbers in many parts of Britain. We’re monitoring their numbers in Glen Rosa and ensuring that their breeding grounds are maintained in a good condition. As the habitats change as part of our habitat revival project, it may mean that we require some localised grazing with Highland cattle to help us keep an open sward. Vegetation and whinchat monitoring are all part of our work to help inform our habitat management.

Habitat: Upland areas
Food: Insects and seeds
Other Trust places to spot them: Ben Lawers